Christmas/Chanukah comes early for Blue Jays fans
What an off-season it has been, and it's only mid-November.
At the end of the season, I lamented that the Jays would limp into next season and would perhaps get their payroll up to $100 million next year. They would sign a couple of mediocre pitching talents, maybe resign Villanueva to get the #5 starter, and get a mediocre 2nd baseman to replace Johnson (who will sign somewhere) and shop for an good LF to replace Davis/Gose/Thames/Snider.
I said that Rogers wouldn't spend money, that they have budgets to maintain and that they have to show a profit, and that Anthopolous (the economist) and Rogers (the conservative wireless giant) was too conservative to put a splash in the market.
Fans were lamenting about how lame their Blue Jays would be next year, and with no NHL going on, much more attention is being given to the Jays because well, the media needs to fill space, though the Argonauts are helping.
And up until the beginning of last week, things didn't look great. Farrell and half of the coaching staff was stolen by those bloody Red Sox for Aviles. Davis and Oliver were re-signed and for some reason Davis accepted $500K less than his option. Fans were frustrated that the new manager was not filled. To Cleveland went Gomes and Aviles for Esmil Rogers who had a successful stint in Cleveland and stunk in Colorado.
In came minor leaguers Jeremy Jeffress, Neil Germano, and Bobby Korecky. A minor splash was made in signing Izturis, who is defensively a substandard choice to replace Kelly Johnson and offensively is consistent and can switch hit (quite comfortably). I think he will do well if he can get regular play.
Still, not a heck of alot going on in the Blue Jays camp, and with managers to hire and with holes to fill at pitcher, utility infield / 2B, and LF, fans felt a great deal of miscontent as the off season started. With no NHL on, it was pretty easy to focus on baseball.
I was wrong.
And don't forget folks, we're only at 16 days since players declared their free agency!
So, imagine the shock when the epic trade was announced. Out went Escobar, the maligned, homophobic (well, perhaps not homophobic), boneheaded shortshop who really didn't mature in Toronto as we might have expected. Out went Hechavarria, the young promising shortstop who I am sure will dazzle defensively if he can get his bat working (and there is no reason to suggest he wouldn't). Out went Henderson Alvarez, the two pitch #5 pitcher (who was promoted to #2 this year thanks to injuries). Out went Jeff Mathis, who while defensively superior to JP, was just awful at the plate. And off went excellent prospects in Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony DeSclafani.
DeSclafani boasted a 3.38 ERA and a WHIP of 1.382 in Lansing over 21 starts and is at least two years away from the Majors. Nicolino is a lot more promising, with a 2.33 ERA and a WHIP of 1.070 over 28 starts. Expect to see him in the majors in 2014. And Jake Marisnick may have panned out for the Blue Jays, but with Gose and Sierra in AAA Buffalo and already showing capability in the majors, the depth chart might have been a bit too murky for him. Jake did not have a great end of year in New Hampshire, but if he does well, you might expect to see him in 2014 as well.
To me, Hechavarria was the biggest downside to this trade. In his last 29 games (27 started), there was only 3 games that he did not record a hit, and his line was .287 / .309 / .415. Defensively, he is great, a potential gold-glover, especially in his position as shortstop. This guy I think will be a starting major league shortshop for a long time, and I think he has much more potential than Jose Reyes and certainly Yunel.
On the flip side, the Jays brought in (from worst to best):
John Buck: His career year was in Toronto in 2010, when he hit .281 / .314 / .489. If he stays on the club and doesn't get flipped, he will be platooning with JP Arencibia. Travis D'Arnaud will at least start the year in Buffalo as he proves out his rehab. I expect that one of JP, Wilson or John Buck will be flipped during the off-season and I hope it's not Arencibia. Arencibia showed great defensive improvement in 2012 and his bat was just smoking before his injury in late July, going .321 /.356 / .714 over 18 games. If Buck can maintain a .300 OBP, he will have some value for the Jays. For $6M I am not sure if the Jays can trade him away.
Emilio Bonifacio: This guy is true utility. Over 393 games started, he's started 141 games in the outfield, 116 games at 3rd, 81 at short, and 65 at 2nd. Defensively, he is decent, but he didn't get much infield experience last year. He could be a utility infielder to backup Izturis or Brett Lawrie. He is definitely a fourth outfielder, and perhaps even a 3rd outfielder if Colby has another crappy year. His utility is his speed and his switch hitting bat. With 101 stolen base opportunities last year, he stole 30 bases (caught 3 times). Compare that to Rajai who stole 46 bases in 118 opporunities (but got caught 13 times). I'm happy about this guy.
Mark Buehrle: This guy is a pure workhorse with 200+ inning years for the last 12 years. Yes, he will be 34 next year and will be paid $11M (and $18M in 2014, $19M in 2015). But the guy is a dependable, sub 4 ERA, sub 1.3 WHIP, golden-gloved pitcher. He will be the Jays' consistent #3 starter for the next couple of years. He will take the pressure off of Romero, who is no longer going to be the ace of the club. There is simply no downside to this southpaw besides his age.
Josh Johnson: The Jays will pay Johnson $13.75M next year. In his comeback year after Tommy John, he threw 191 innings with an ERA of 3.82 and a WHIP of 1.28. If he comes back to form and pitches like he did in 2010, the Jays will find themselves with a bona fide ace. The guy doesn't give up home runs. He can strike people out at the rate of 8.2/9. He has power pitches in his fastball, slider, curve and changeup). His problem of course is injury. If he can have an injury-free year, he will impress with better stats than last year. Wow.
Jose Reyes: The Jays have acquired an all star and bonafide lead-off hitter. He has career splits of .287 / .347 / .433, playing in all but two games last year. Defensively, he is an average shortstop. But his strikeout rate is among the lowest in MLB (around 10% through his career), meaning that he is going to put alot of balls in play. This sets up nicely in the AL, where he can reliably complete a hit-and-run and is ideal for putting speed at the bottom of the order in Bonifacio, Rajai, or even Brett Lawrie. And this guy is consistently good. Yes, there are injury concerns -- Reyes will play 90 games on turf (81 at home + 9 in Tampa) which might be hard on him. But he is in the prime of his career, and Rogers is paying big bucks for him: 10 million for 2013, $16M for 2014, and $22M for the three years after. And once again, this is a switch hitter, equally able to hit from both sides.
And finally, last but, certainly not least, the Jays signed testosterone laden Melky Cabrera. The Melk Man stands to earn $8 million next year and will be the starting left-fielder, filling a hole that was never filled in Thames, Snider, Davis, Sierra, Gose, and even Adam Lind. The $8 million question is "which Melky is going to show up?" It's hard to tell what impact Cabrera's PED taking had on his stats. Perhaps he will be the Kansas City version with a .305 / .339 / .470 line. But he might turn out to be the Yankee Cabrera (or worst yet the Braves Cabrera) with a .264 / .321 / .377 line over four seasons. Certainly, if the Cabrera who shows up is that version, the Jays got a bum deal. But Rogers and the Jays won't know until they try. Once again, Melky offers great switch-hitting stats, hitting pretty much equally from both sides. And he will have another fresh start in Toronto. Let's hope it's a good one.
So, the Jays have put it all on the table. Last year, the Jays were able to attract 12% more fans per game over 2011. There was alot of excitement at the beginning of the season with the fantastic spring training and the youth of the team.
So what's left to fill? The Jays' payroll is now inflated to over $120 million. The starting lineup now looks like:
Reyes 6 (.295 / .342 / .440)
Cabrera 7 (.295 / .328 / .432)
Bautista 9 (.259 / .377 / .528)
Encarnacion DH/3 (.271 / .359 / .504)
Lind 3 (vs RHP) (.272 / .329 / .460)
Lawrie 5 (.289 / .342 / .465)
Rasmus 8 (.237 / .312 / .427)
Arencibia / Buck 2 (.232 / .278 / .451) / (.219 / .298 / .384)
Izturis / Bonafacio 4 (.267 / .333 / .360) (.275 / .336 / .350)
The lines above are predicted by Bill James and are available here.
On the bench is Rajai Davis. But then who is the final person on the bench? Looking at the roster, perhaps David Cooper might be a fit to play 1st or DH against LHP. Or perhaps it's going to be Moises or Gose, both who really aren't ready.
On the pitching side, the starting rotation now looks like Johnson, Morrow, Buehrle, Romero, and Happ. The bullpen consists of Oliver, Santos, Janssen, Delabar, Lincoln, and two of Jenkins, Perez, Loup, Cecil, and on the outside Jeffress and Rogers.
Certainly the Jays will be an exciting group next year. They are much faster with the legs of Davis / Reyes and Izturis or Bonifacio. The #1 and #2 hitters are huge upgrades over last year.
But why?Why did Rogers spend the money? Well, the reason is many fold, I think.
First, next year, all teams are going to receive an extra $28 million dollars in revenue from revenue sharing due to renegotiated TV contracts. All teams will therefore spend much more in 2014, players will become more expensive, and therefore the $20 million or so in extra outlay is a one year expense. The Jays would have budgeted $120M in 2014 anyway, because they were already going to spend $100M this year and will receive a boost of $28M in 2014. It seems reasonable to jump the gun this year. Rogers also received $36 million (according to the Globe and Mail, a number that Beeston denies) in TV revenue from SportsNet last year according to Forbes and that number only stands to grow.
Secondly, the Jays now know that the fans react to a good team on the field. Attendance numbers jumped 15% last year before settling down to 2011 levels when the team's injuries put them out of reach for contention. TV and radio numbers were also great. So, putting the talent on the field will fill seats, and bring in more TV and stadium revenue. And with no hockey in town -- yet -- the Jays fans are paying very close attention.
Finally, there was a promise from Beeston made to his season ticket holders at the State of the Franchise meeting in January of this year: "In the next five years, I would expect that we would be in it two to three times," Beeston said. With his contract up for renewal, it was time to make that splash.
Forbes makes an interesting point. Sabermetrics points out that each WAR costs about $4 million on the free trade market. Anthopolous in this set of trades paid $56 million for a 16.8 WAR or about 3.2 million per point: cheap.
Certainly, the excitement for the Jays is now there. The money's been spent, and the fandom is reenergized.
Now, time to hire a manager.