Thoughts of The Salamathematician
Thoughts on 2012 Toronto Blue Jays Lineup: Welcome a Prince

As the Blue Jays season winds down, it is time to look forward to the offseason, where I believe Alex Anthopoulos will have some tough decisions to make. In the next few weeks, I will be writing a few blogs addressing the lineup, starting rotation, bullpen, bench and lastly minor leaguers and coaches. I believe the Blue Jays have two main priorities that they have to address within the next two years, a middle of the lineup bat and a bonafide number two starter. Now some of you are asking, Shakeel, have you been sleeping through the latter parts of the games and missing the exquisite work done by the bullpen this year blowing saves? Answer, no I have not, and I will eventually address the bullpen, but today, I shall analyse the lineup and address what element is missing.

 

First, let us tackle the top third of the lineup, Escobar, Thames and Bautista. I have been impressed with the job Escobar has done this year in the leadoff spot. He works the count, draws walks and hits for average. Ideally Escobar would be a second hitter in the lineup, with a ‘speedier’ version of him hitting leadoff, but the Blue Jays are fine with him leading off. In my opinion, one of Rasmus or Johnson should be hitting second next year. Rasmus possesses adequate speed, ability to work the count and draw walks and hit for average. On the other hand, when Johnson is having a good year (judging by the trend, next year should be good), he can also hit second, as he can hit for average, draw walks and has adequate speed. Though I’d rather Johnson hit lower in the lineup due to his power he does posses. Eric Thames is suited for a role lower in the lineup due to his inability to work the count and draw walks. Rounding out the top third, the Blue Jays have this hitter named Jose Bautista hitting third … and you must be living on Uranus if you have not heard of this MVP candidate. I guess this qualifies him to hit third, right?

 

Now I am going to jump to the bottom third of the lineup and this is how the Blue Jays should line it up. I think it will feature one of Travis Snider or Eric Thames in leftfield, J.P Arencibia catching and possibly Johnson hitting ninth and playing second base. At the moment, Thames is ahead of Snider in the depth charts, though Snider does posses more tools than Thames. I think Snider will use the offseason to re-tool his swing and come back to spring training and start there. J.P. Arencibia has impressed many of us with his power and for a catcher he is having an okay season. He is ranked sixth in terms of slugging percentage among catchers; though it would be great if can work the count and be more selective. In terms of Johnson, many people keep on saying that the Blue Jays should let Johnson walk and sign/trade for another second baseman. The market for a second baseman is really weak and I believe Johnson hitting ninth next year will not hurt the team at all.

 

This leaves the middle third of the lineup. I think Brett Lawrie will hit sixth and play third base and Adam Lind should hit fifth and play first base. I am a big fan of Adam Lind and he has had some bad luck this year. He had a phenomenal first two months of the season and then he became one of the coldest hitters during the past two months. I do understand his on-base percentage is now below .300, but I do believe that is partly to do with the coaching philosophy he is following (Dwayne Murphy will be addressed another day). I also believe that Lind should have never hit fourth this year as he is a typical fifth hitter. Lind has had an interesting year to say the least. So who should be hitting fourth you ask? Prince Fielder and here comes the explanation.

 

One of the most frustrating stat this season is the amount of time Jose Bautista was intentionally walked so opposing pitchers could face the struggling Lind. What Fielder would bring to the lineup as a fourth hitter is power and his ability to drive in runs. With hitters like Escobar, Rasmus and Bautista htting in front of him, (all have the ability to get on base), Fielder could be crucial in driving in runs with runners in scoring position, a stat with which the Blue Jays have struggled with. How often does a bat like Fielder become available? The last big bat that was available was Mark Teixiera in 2008. If the Blue Jays pass on this opportunity, they might not be able to acquire the ‘big bat’ they are looking for when they are ready to compete. After all, Fielder will take them a huge step forward towards competing in the AL East. Now there are many reasonable arguments that are brought up when I debate the Fielder issue with others. I am going to list a few of them and then address these issues:

 

·      Fielder will command a large amount of money

·      Fielder will cost a draft pick

·      Fielder is not a great fielder at first

 

The money issue always creep up when I discuss Fielder. Yes he will cost a large amount of money but let us clear up a few things. Firstly, the Yankees and Red Sox already have locked up Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez as their first baseman, respectively. In terms of DH, the Yankees will most likely feature Jesus Montero and the Red Sox do have David Ortiz (though Red Sox could let Ortiz go in favour of Fielder and Yankees could trade Montero and sign Fielder). Both teams have bigger issues to address in the off-season, namely pitching. In addition, Fielder is not going to be the only big name bat on the market, as there is also Albert Pujols. Many say Fielder will ask for the same amount of money as Teixiera did, but one must remember that Teixeira is a gold-glove, athletic first baseman whereas Fielder is all bat. Thus Fielder would be playing as a designated hitter and play sparingly at first base. Fielder himself was quoted as saying that he wouldn’t mind playing as a designated hitter next year (as per John Harper of the New York Daily News). Further to the point, I can only name the Orioles, Rangers, Brewers, Giants, potentially the Angels and possibly the Cardinals as being interested in the services of Fielder. Would signing Fielder cost the Blue Jays their first round pick? Not necessarily as if the Blue Jays finish in the bottom half of the standings, their pick will be protected (as they will keep their pick while signing a Type A free agent as in Fielder; they will lose their second round pick). At the moment, the Jays are on the cusp of having a protected pick.

 

Now there are others who say the Blue Jays can acquire their first baseman/designated hitter via a trade and a name that constantly gets bounced around is Joey Votto, a native of Toronto. This is a possibility but you can kiss good-bye to two (or three) of the Blue Jays current top prospects, a move nearly impossible with Anthopoulos at the helm. I believe Anthopoulos values these prospects more than the money Fielder will command. Am I worried about the money he will command, not really, I am more worried about the length of the contract. I know many Blue Jays fans are caught up with the rebuilding process that Anthopoulos has initiated. Don’t quote me wrong, he has done a great job but the goal is not to build the best minor league system, but rather win a championship. Prince Fielder will be a great addition to the lineup and will help this team get over the hump and compete for years to come. So what would my 2012 Toronto Blue Jays lineup look like you ask?

 

SS – Yunel Escobar

CF – Colby Rasmus

RF – Jose Bautista

DH – Prince Fielder

1B – Adam Lind

3B – Brett Lawrie

LF – Travis Snider/Eric Thames/(Edwin Encarnacion)

C – J.P. Arencibia

2B – Kelly Johnson

 

In my next blog, I will focus in on the starting pitching and look at the candidates that might fill the number two to number five spots. Also, I will share my view on the Blue Jays and the potential of acquiring a number two starter. Many are probably asking why Encarnacion was not mentioned at all in this post, though news is coming out that Encarnacion might see playing time in leftfield near then of the season. Encarnacion has been one of the hottest hitters this season post All-Star break. The options on him are relatively cheap and if he does play left field next year, his versatility will come in handy during injuries with his abilities to play first and third base. If they do decide to let him start in leftfield next year, They can move Johnson to eighth and Arencibia to ninth to balance out a righty-lefty lineup, or place a right-handed bat in between Lind and Fielder (preferably Encarnacion).

 

Hit me up on twitter with your thoughts: @ShakeelSalamath

 

 

Brett Lawrie: A Costly Promotion

Well Blue Jays fans, he will make his MLB and Blue Jays debut tomorrow. The 21-year old third baseman, a native of Canada has been tearing up AAA Las Vegas this year. He was hitting .353/.415/.661 with 18 home runs and 24 doubles in only 69 games. Keep in mind, Lawrie was hitting in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, though. His defense at third has shown signs of improvement and last week I saw him make a few good plays a third. A lot of pressure has been put on Lawrie, especially since Jayson Nix and Edwin Encarnacion (earlier in the year) were playing horrible defense at third and were hitting below .200 combined. There has been a lot of expectations on this kid (am I allowed to call him kid, he is four days older than me?) and please do not expect him to be the savior. I expect him to hit 7th in the lineup and play a decent third base. I want to make it clear that I am absolutely ecstatic to see him get the call and wish him the best of luck. I am glad the Blue Jays did not rush him, as ironically the demoted player in this transaction was rushed to the big leagues.
On the flipside, the promotion cost Travis Snider his job. Snider has been demoted back to AAA nearly a month after his promotion. It’s disappointing to see him get such a short leash, as I thought he would have been here until the end of the season so the Blue Jays get a better look at him. Snider has not played more than 2 months in the big leagues without being disrupted by a demotion or an injury. Now as much as Snider has struggled lately, Eric Thames has been as bad lately, though his great start masks his recent struggles. Travis Snider has been 6 for his last 46 but Thames is currently 8 for his last 46. Since the All Star game, Eric Thames has been hitting .234/.271/.406.
Since the second call up of Thames, many have written off Snider as a bust, even though many scouts still think he does have 5-tool potential. Snider has clearly shown us in his speed, range and arm and a glimpse of his fourth tool, power. Snider has had a rough ride in the major leagues. People must remember that Snider was drafted in 2006 out of high school, not college. If he had decided to go to college, he would have been drafted in 2009, that’s a year after Eric Thames (drafted in 2008). If Snider would have been drafted in 2009, he would have probably made his major league debut in 2011, thus it is normal to see him struggling. To make matters worse, Snider’s route to the MLB has not been easy. He was promoted to the big leagues one year early, where he struggled and was yo-yoed between Las Vegas and Toronto. The following year, he got off to a cold start but just as he was heating up, he injured his wrist and was placed on the disabled list for two and a half months. Upon his return, Cito Gaston wisely decided to platoon him with current Reds fourth outfielder Fred Lewis. Did I mention he was the lead off hitter when Lewis was not playing? Finally, in September, Snider started getting regular playing time and thus, started heating up, though the hitting barrage was cut short as the season came to an end. After such a tumultuous season, Snider managed to play in 82 games, and hit 14 home runs (evidence of power). It is imperative that Snider gets regular playing time for the rest of the season so the Blue Jays can better understand if Snider is truly going to be a great hitter or just a AAAA player. It is unfair to pull the plug on the guy after one month. After all, Snider has always been a slow starter as it took him a month and a half to finally heat up in 2010. 
Eric Thames got off to a great start in his second go round with big league team. However, Thames has cooled off since the All Star game and now has been dropped in the lineup since Rasmus was acquired. Thames features 2 tools at best, power and hitting for average. He is not a great defensively, possess a weak arm and is the slowest outfielder of five the Blue Jays have. Thames has what many scouts would say as ‘holes’ in his swing as he strikes out too many times and does not compensate the fact by drawing a steady diet of walks.
I was annoyed by the demotion of Snider, but the reasoning was even more hysterical. Alex Anthopoulos suggested that the demotion was going to be in between Thames or Snider and if in ten days Thames continues to struggles, he will be demoted to AAA Las Vegas and Snider will be back up. So why could not the Blue Jays wait one week to make a decision and prevent Snider form being demoted in the first place? It’s not like the team is competing for a playoff spot and is dire need of a third baseman. Jose Bautista has done a great job filling in at third and it would have given the Blue Jays a week to observe Thames’ play to determine if he or Snider merits a demotion. Was it because Anthopoulos wanted Lawrie to make his debut on the road? Anthopoulos has done some great things while he has been the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays (click here for evidence), but this move is a real head-scratcher. If he really wanted Lawrie to be up, I would have demoted Thames instead of Snider. The Blue Jays are running out of time on Snider, as he will be out of options next year. The Blue Jays have plenty of time to determine what Thames might become, though many scouts are not sold on him, too. I would not be surprised if the Blue Jays trade Snider in the off-season, though it would not be the wisest option considering he is at his lowest value.
Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached at salamathematician@gmail.com and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.

Is This Guy a Magician?

For a slideshow view of the following article, please visit http://bleacherreport.com/articles/788458-toronto-blue-jays-gm-alex-anthopoulos-a-magician
Upon the conclusion of the 2009 season, J.P. Ricciardi was relieved of his duties with the Toronto Blue Jays. Acting president Paul Beeston promoted Alex Anthopoulos to become Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager for the Toronto Blue Jays. I was expecting Anthopoulos to be an interim general manager as the team searches for a veteran general manager. Upon given a chance, he quickly got to work, shuffling the deck, bringing in Dana Brown as a special assistant and hiring many area scouts. He has been the general manger for nearly three years now and he has brought the Blue Jays closer to being a contender since 2006. However, this team is not filled with aging veterans, but rather young talent with a pipeline of younger talent and prospects in the minor league system. This article will look into five major trades that Anthopoulos has pulled off.
Trade No. 5: 
Philadelphia Phillies receive: RHP Roy Halladay and cashToronto Blue Jays receive: RHP Kyle Drabek, C Travis d’Arnaud and OF Anthony Gose (via 1B/3B Brett Wallace via OF Michael Taylor)
The minute Anthopoulos became the general manager; the first order of business he had to care of was trading away the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay. Halladay, the classy person that he is, informed the team that he will not re-sign upon the conclusion of the 2010 season and would not mind being traded to help the Blue Jays in their rebuilding process. On December 15th 2009, Anthopoulos pulled the trigger that landed the Blue Jays Drabek, d’Arnaud and Taylor for Halladay. It was clear that Anthopoulos was not interested in Taylor, as the next day, he was shipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace, a 3B/1B that was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 2005 from high school. The most impressing part of this trade is that it ended on July 29th 2010. Upon hearing that the Houston Astros were trading Roy Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies for prospects, Anthopoulos quickly jumped on the opportunity to acquire Anthony Gose, the prospect he was originally interested in, sending Wallace to the Astros to play first base. At the end, Anthopoulos ended up acquiring the prospects he wanted for Halladay, though it took some extra trading.
Trade No. 4:
Colorado Rockies receive: CashToronto Blue Jays receive: C Miguel Olivo
Apparently the Rockies valued $ 500,000 more than a draft pick. On the eve of free agency, Anthopoulos acquired the catcher (a type B free agent), declined his contract option for 2011 and offered him arbitration. Olivo declined arbitration and became a free agent and the Blue Jays had themselves another draft pick. The Blue Jays received their reward this past June, when they drafted Dwight Smith Jr. with the 53rd pick. Smith was ranked 34th in Jonathan Mayo’s top 50 draft prospects. Here we see Anthopoulos thinking outside the box and his aggressiveness to acquire younger talent.
Trade No. 3: 
Atlanta Braves receive: SSAlex Gonzalez, LHP Tim Collins and SS Tyler PastornickyToronto Blue Jays receive: LHP Jo-Jo Reyes and SS Yunel Escobar
When I read the text message reading the above trade, I almost fell off my chair in the lab I was working at. Anthopoulos is a believer in the theory of “selling high, buying low” and this was an example of that. At the time, Yunel Escobar was having a down year but the Braves were interested in acquiring a veteran shortstop in Gonzalez who was having a career year. It was known that at the time, Bobby Cox was not too keen of Escobar’s style of play and his ‘flash’. Many at the time were not keen of the deal, but I constantly reminded them that Escobar was having one bad year after posting an OPS of .837, .766 and .812 in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively. His OBP in those three years were .385, .366 and .377.  Here we are in 2011, Escobar is having another great year, playing flawless defense and has matured to a new level.
Trade No. 2:
Chicago White Sox receive: RHP Jason Frasor and RHP Zach Stewart
St. Louis Cardinals receive: RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP Octavio Dotel, OF Corey Patterson and 3 players to be named later or cash
Toronto Blue Jays receive: OF Colby Rasmus, RHP P.J. Walters, LHP Trever Miller, LHP Brian Tallet and IF/OF Mark Teahen
 
I am still trying to understand how the Cardinals gave up Colby Rasmus without receiving a top prospect from the Blue Jays. Here Anthopoulos acted as a facilitator to acquire (or should I say steal) Rasmus, a player the Blue Jays have been eying for a while. The Cardinals talked to the White Sox about a possibility of acquiring Edwin Jackson for their young centerfielder. The White Sox already have Alex Rios in centerfield, and that’s when I assume Anthopoulos decided to jump in and facilitate the trade. The act of facilitating itself deserves an award but when you steal a player like Rasmus to fill the Cardinals short term needs, you deserve a gold medal. Again, what allow this to occur is the strained relationship between Tony La Russa and the young centerfielder.
Trade No. 1:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim receive: OFVernon Wells and $ 5 Million cashToronto Blue Jays receive: OF/1B Juan Rivera and RHP Frank Francisco (via C/1B Mike Napoli)
Let’s rewind five years when Wells had established himself as one of the youngest and best centerfielders in the league. Many were worried he would walk, and the Blue Jays announce they have re-signed Vernon Wells to a 7-year $ 128 Million deal. Was he overpaid? I would say slightly. If Vernon had hit the open market, he would’ve easily made $ 20 Million in salary. If you do not believe me, take a look at what players were making during the time (I’ll help you, take a look at Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito). Hence, what I’m saying is that the deal was earned by Vernon and was not a mistake by the Blue Jays.
Fast-forward to the eve of my birthday (January 21st 2010), Vernon was traded to the Angels for Napoli and Rivera. I would not have minded if the Blue Jays received a lock of Jered Weaver’s hair in return in this deal. To this day I have no idea how Anthopoulos convinced Tony Reagins to take Wells’ contract. What puzzles me even more is that the Angels would refuse to give Crawford an average of $ 18 Million, but end up taking a struggling veteran outfielder that is overpaid. I guess we have to thank Crawford and the Red Sox for getting married earlier this offseason.  Before the deal, when I would build a potential Blue Jays lineup, I always had Wells in there as it was considered an unmovable contract.
Conclusion
What we have learned here is that Anthopoulos has a plan in building his team here in Toronto. He loves players with 5-tool potentials, such as Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. We know he is a firm believer in “sell-high, buy-low” and that’s why I believe there is a better chance Eric Thames gets traded before Aaron Hill. But most importantly, we know he is one of most dedicated general managers in the league and studies his surroundings well. The Blue Jays would have never had Anthony Gose if it were not for him knowing of the Phillies-Astros deal. Furthermore, he pounces on situations where unease is present within a clubhouse due to player-manager rifts and he is willing to give such players a fresh start. I would not be surprised to see him pursue Gordon Beckham or even Hanley Ramirez. I am just waiting for the next star to fall out of favour with his respective team. Last year was Escobar, this year has been Rasmus and next year will be…
Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached at salamathematician@gmail.com and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.

Merry Rasmus?

 

Early this morning (2 AM EST), I read the following rumour: Jason Frasor and prospect for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen. I thought, another rumour, and why do we need those two guys. Fast-forward 10 hours when I roll out of bed from a tweet on my phone. It all made sense why. The Blue Jays were working on the framework that would send Edwin Jackson to the St. Louis for Colby Rasmus. The Blue Jays were eying Rasmus for a while and earlier this week the Cardinals talked to the White Sox about a possibility of acquiring Edwin Jackson for their young centerfielder. The White Sox already have Alex Rios in centerfield, and that’s when I assume Anthopoulos decided to jump in and facilitate the trade. 

 

Thoughts on White Sox – Blue Jays trade 

 

The Blue Jays sent RP Jason Frasor and SP/RP Zach Stewart to the White Sox for IF/OF Mark Teahen and SP Edwin Jackson. I will address the Edwin Jackson part of the deal in the Thoughts on the Cardinals – Blue Jays trade section. Toronto was forced to take Mark Teahen from the White Sox to relieve the money issues that the White Sox have put themselves into by signing Adam Dunn and oh yeah, taking Alex Rios from the Jays. Now the Blue Jays did give up Zach Stewart here, but remember its not Deck McGuire or Henderson Alvarez. People need to remember that Stewart is 25 years old and is having a mediocre year at AA New Hampshire. I can see the White Sox converting him to a reliever and adding him to their struggling bullpen. I do believe that Stewart would have eventually wound up in the bullpen, potentially as a setup man. Teahen, the other piece has struggled mightily since 2007 and is under contract until the end of the 2012. He will replace Patterson on the bench for the remainder of the year, and can be used sparingly as a pinch-hitter and as a backup third baseman and outfielder (and in a real emergency, a backup second baseman). In essence, the Blue Jays gave up two relievers for Jackson and Teahen. It is possible that the White Sox were financially restraint and this deal could allow them to make another move, now that Teahen (~ $ 5M) has been moved.

 

Thoughts on Cardinals – Blue Jays trade 

 

Now this is the most important part of the deal. I am absolutely stunned to what the Jays gave up to get Colby Rasmus. The Blue Jays traded the recently acquired SP Edwin Jackson, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Marc Rzepczynski and OF Corey Patterson for CF Colby Rasmus, RP PJ Walters RP Brian Tallet (I guess Gaston was working with Anthopoulos) and RP Trever Miller. For those of you who are not aware, Rasmus was a top 10 MLB prospect pre-2009 (along with Snider). Snider and Rasmus are really similar, both are young outfielders with 5-tool potentials. Unlike Snider who has struggled in the majors, Rasmus posted some great numbers last year: .276/.361/.498 (OPS: .859) with 23 HRs and 28 doubles. In addition, Rasmus is a player who is not in AA or AAA but is a major league talent. It looks like the Cardinals are really thinking in the short-term with this deal. They acquire Edwin Jackson, a pitcher that might walk at the end of the year, Octavio Dotel, another pitcher that can walk at the end of the year along with Corey Patterson aka Clown360. In fact, five years down the road, the only name that might be remembered in this deal would be Marc Rzepczynski and Colby Rasmus. All the Cardinals did here, is acquire a right-handed specialist, a left-handed specialist, a fifth outfielder and a No. 3 starter.

 

What the Blue Jays got?

 

Along with Colby Rasmus, the Blue Jays acquired P.J. Walters, along with Trever Miller and Brian Tallet. Even if the Blue Jays go ahead and release the latter two guys, they still won this deal. It is expected that Miller would be flipped to the White Sox and Brad Mills will be promoted to the majors as a reliever. I honestly do not mind Brad Mills as a member of the bullpen and to be used as a LOOGY (left-handed specialist). I am not sold on Brad Mills as a starter, but I can see him having success against left-handed hitters. I believe that Tallet might be blocking a roster spot for a pitcher like Danny Farquhar (replacing Dotel) or Luis Perez (replacing Rzepczynski). Farquhar is a side-arm right-handed reliever with the Las Vegas 51s, who I think can replace Octavio Dotel’s role. Most of Blue Jays fans are familiar with Luis Perez, though I would rather see him as situational left-hander. The third pitcher, PJ Walters is a reliever who was used as a starter in the minors. He doesn’t have over-powering stuff, but he has put up some decent numbers in the minors and he will now be given a shot in the bullpen. Although, Zach Stewart was ranked as a top prospect coming into the year, I think the biggest lost for the Blue Jays is Marc Rzepczynski. Like I said before, I think Stewart could have been a setup man for the Blue Jays, though the Jays have plenty of arms that one day, might fill that role. Marc Rzepczynski did a fabulous job this year as late-inning setup man and situational lefthander. It is difficult to find pitchers like him, but maybe Luis Perez can fill that role, given the opportunity. One cannot complain here, as the Blue Jays essentially traded 4 relievers, 2 that are free agents at the end of the year for a star like Colby Rasmus. Imagine if the Blue Jays traded away Travis Snider for Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Brian Bruney, Sergio Santos and Juan Pierre. I don’t believe Anthopoulos is done dealing, I think he might look into adding a piece for the bullpen, move Encarnacion and/or Teahen or even trade Frank Francisco, Jo-Jo Reyes, Shawn Camp and Jon Rauch for Ubaldo Jimenez (Chill guys, I’m joking with the last one!).

 

I did promise a blog about Kyle Drabek and what our bullpen might look like next year. Anthopulos has obviously forced me to re-think about how the bullpen will look like, but those blogs are coming. He also took a different approach with the relievers than I thought (Click here for What I thought would happen), though I did mention that he might ‘prove me wrong’. Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached at salamathematician@gmail.com and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.

 

Travis d’Arnaud or J.P. Arencibia?

It is not easy to find many well-rounded major league catchers these days that can both call a great game and do some damage with the bat. Few that come to mind includes Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, Alex Avila, Carlos Santana and Miguel Montero. Catching is a very demanding position as it requires one to be the on-field ‘captain’ by controlling the running game and the game-calling. Many teams including the Yankees and Red Sox do not have a top tier catcher yet. Going into the 2011 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were blessed to have two catchers in their top ten prospects list, J.P. Arencibia and Travis d’Arnaud.

Both of these catchers come from a common origin, the 2007 first-year player draft. J.P. Arencibia was drafted 21st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Tennessee. With the 37th pick, the Philadelphia Phillies went with Travis d’Arnaud, a high school pick from Lakewood High School, one slot before the Blue Jays picked left-handed pitcher Brett Cecil. It was believed that the Blue Jays were deeply interested in d’Arnaud’s potential and were going to pick him with the 38th pick and potentially move Arencibia to first base. Fast-forward two years and the Blue Jays acquire Travis d’Arnaud in a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies along with Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor for Roy Halladay. With two young studs at the position, who will actually be the starting catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays?

J.P. Arencibia made his major league debut last year against the Tampa Bay Rays and it was a historical one. He launched the first pitch he saw over the left field wall for a homerun. He later singled and doubled and capped the day with a homerun to right field (I would have stopped at third base to complete the cycle). That game showed us a lot about Arencibia and his ability to hit the ball for power. Arencibia has entered into a slump recently, but I truly believe he has the ability to become a catcher that can lead the position in homeruns one day. He possesses raw power, but lacks plate discipline and is too aggressive. This can be proven by a career .507 slugging percentage in the minors, though only a .319 on-base percentage and 357 strikeouts. In order for him to become a better offensive catcher and a middle of the lineup threat, he will need to improve on his plate discipline. Defensively, Arencibia is very athletic and does have a good arm, though he has always struggled with blocking pitches in the dirt. In his minor league career, Arencibia threw out close to 30% of base thieves, though charged with 60 passed balls in 357 games.

On the other hand, Travis d’Arnaud is quietly putting up some great numbers with AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Before this year, many were not sold on d’Arnaud due to his injuries and his struggles at the plate. However, one needs to remember that d’Arnaud is a high school pick and the numbers from the first three years of professional baseball must be taken with a grain of salt. If he had chosen to go to college, he would have been drafted in 2010 as a high first rounder and thus his numbers post-2010 are much more significant than those of pre-2010. And what exactly are those post-2010 numbers like? As of today, d’Arnaud is hitting .320, with an on-base percentage of .389 and a slugging percentage of .538, yielding an OPS of .927. He currently has 12 homeruns along with 24 doubles and 42 RBIs. His game is not one dimensional, but rather he is also great defensively. He has great ‘game-calling’ abilities as scouts would say but defensively, he has done a great job behind the plate and he is also armed with a plus arm. Sal Fasano, manager of the Fisher Cats has raved about d’Arnaud’s defensive abilities, and continues to talk about his progression in that aspect of the game.

So who could be the better catcher? In my opinion, I see d’Arnaud developing to become a better overall player at the position, in comparison to Arencibia. Offensively, d’Arnaud has the ability to work the count, hit for a higher average and hit for decent power. I truly believe that Arencibia can hit for more power than d’Arnaud, though. Defensively, d’Arnaud is more equipped with tools to help him behind the plate, when compared to Arencibia. When I say that I would rather have d’Arnaud be the future catcher of the Blue Jays over Arencibia, I say that with all the respect to Arencibia. It must be made clear that the Blue Jays just happen to be blessed with two great catchers and I am the first to say that I can see twenty-five other major league teams lining up for the services of Arencibia if he were traded. I can see d’Arnaud posting numbers such as .277/.340/.450 averaging 22 homeruns and 35 doubles. On the other hand, I can see Arencibia posting numbers such as .260/.315/.480 averaging 27 homeruns and 30 doubles. Could it be possible that the Blue Jays convert Arencibia to a first baseman to split time with Adam Lind? Or they might find a designated hitter/first baseman that can put up more offensive numbers than Arencibia and they see what they can get for him on the market. Whatever Anthopoulos decides to do, one thing is certain, the Blue Jays are blessed with two young catchers.   

Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached at salamathematician@gmail.com and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.

Can I rent a Bell, please?

Many think that the Blue Jays should be sellers at this deadline and not buyers. But not when Alex Anthopoulos is your general manager. I believe not a single member of the bullpen will get moved at the deadline (For more, read my previous post Relieved by the Deadline?) The only pieces I can see being moved are names like Patterson and maybe Encarnacion. However, late last night Ken Rosenthal reported that the Blue Jays might have asked the Padres about Heath Bell. Now if memory serves me correct, anytime a reported has suggested a rumour about the Blue Jays, it turned out to be false. But let’s assume this one is true, would this make sense for the Blue Jays? What would it take to acquire Bell?

I would like to keep this post short and sweet; so one name I propose is Brad Mills. Brad Mills is a ‘prospect’ pitching for AAA Las Vegas 51s, and is doing a good job at it considering his numbers in the hitter-friendly PCL. Mills has great control, but is not gifted with a great arm. A trade to San Diego means he would be pitching in a pitcher-friendly park. But what’s in it for the Blue Jays?

Well they get a legitimate closer for the remaining of the year and can use the three extra months to negotiate with Bell. If he decides to test the market at the end of the year, the Blue Jays can collect a supplemental pick along with a second round pick for him. In a nutshell, this means Anthopoulos traded a fringe prospect in Brad Mills for two young studs of his choosing from the 2012 MLB draft. To put things into perspective, they picked up Jacob Anderson and Daniel Norris for the departing Scott Downs last year with similar picks. I would take one of Jacob Anderson or Daniel Norris alone for Brad Mills. To me, this seems a way Alex Anthopoulos would be thinking and trying to improve this team and strengthen the minor league system.

Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached at salamathematician@gmail.com and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.

The Comeback of the Century?

Dustin Michael McGowan, remember him? He is the pitcher who got called up in mid-2007 to replace the ‘veterans’ Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano. Many can recall the great facial hair he rocked proudly in 2008, along with those goggles, due to diabetes. (If you forgot how he looked, have you seen Brett Cecil lately?) Last but not least, who has forgotten the complete game one-hitter he threw against the Colorado Rockies? Oh that Jeff Baker, spoiling his no-no bid leading off the ninth inning (That was also the game Frank Thomas launched his 499th HR).

McGowan was a high-school pick in the 2000 draft and slowly worked his way up through the minor league system before making his major league debut in 2005. McGowan struggled early in his major league career, however he finally found success in 2007 upon a mid-season call-up, locking up the 4th spot in the rotation along with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch. I have never seen a pitcher with movement on a high 90s fastball like McGowan (Yeah, not even Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg). I have seen McGowan’s fastball touch 100 mph but also have seen him throw 95-98 mph fastballs with significant sinking and running actions. He also featured a slider/split that touched 90 mph and a changeup that was consistently around 87 mph (Some pitchers wished they had a 87 mph fastball). McGowan was showing a lot of promise and could be compared to as today’s version of Brandon Morrow. Just like Morrow, McGowan is blessed with a great arm and he was trying to establish himself as an elite pitcher in the league (And both have pitched complete game 1-hit shut-outs, with the no-no broken up in the ninth).

There were those who said McGowan was not going to be a great pitcher due to his lack of control indicating his high walks and 4+ ERA. But I was one to believe it takes time for young, hard-throwing pitchers to find their control and I had all the confidence in McGowan. For example, one can look at the great strides Morrow has made over the past year and a half. He has found his control and is slowly becoming a solid No. 2 behind ace Ricky Romero. The last time I saw McGowan was a series in Pittsburgh, when Cito Gaston took over as the manager of the Blue Jays. I never knew that it would have been the last time he threw a baseball in the majors for over 3 years.

Within three years, McGowan has suffered several injuries and setbacks including a frayed labrum, knee articular damage and a torn rotator cuff. However, McGowan and the Blue Jays didn’t give up on each other and Dustin is inching ever closer to a return to the MLB. This has created an immense amount of excitement within Blue Jays fans on twitter, which has introduced a new hashtag, #ComeBackOfTheCentury, inspiration for me to write this blog. The Blue Jays are currently stretching McGowan out to become a starter and his 30-day rehab period is almost over. He is currently pitching only 3 innings, and I think the Jays will have to shut him down soon for 7 days and then re-introduce him to a 30-day rehab so he can build up the innings and stamina (Thanks to @LottOnBaseball for the clarification).

I am one to believe that McGowan will be better served if he came back as a member of the bullpen. This would not only mean a quicker return to the MLB, but less strain on that surgically repaired right shoulder. Remember, we are not talking about Tommy John surgery here (now a requirement for every pitcher, it seems) or one shoulder surgery, we are talking about two shoulder surgeries and the Jays cannot take any chances. McGowan is basically another shoulder surgery away from retirement. To put things into perspective, when Casey Janssen returned from his shoulder surgery, he was stretched out as a starter and he struggled with his command and eventually suffered a setback. He was shut down and has now returned as a member of the bullpen (and has done a great job at it, too). If you’re talking about a role for McGowan, if you want to be aggressive, he becomes the closer, and as a conservative he becomes the set-up man. Many failed starters become closers and set-up-men, namely Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain. The requirement to become a good closer/set-up-man is the following: A great fastball with command and an out-pitch (unless you’re Mariano Rivera, where one pitch fills both requirements). Reports are saying McGowan’s fastball in Dunedin is touching 95 mph and we know he does have that filthy slider/split pitch that he can throw in the high 80s and low 90s. He can also drop in a curveball or a changeup to throw hitters off-guard, too. The second reason why I think McGowan should come back as a reliever is because of the plethora of young starters that can fill the 5th spot in the rotation. The top 4 for 2012 is probably Romero, Morrow, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek with Zach Stewart and Carlos Villnueva fighting for the 5th spot. The Jays also have Deck McGuire and Henderson Alvarez as outsiders that can be called up mid 2012 if help is needed within the rotation. I also didn’t mention Jesse Litsch and Brad Mills, too (I think both will be in the bullpen, topic for another day).

I know a lot of you are saying, “Chris Carpenter made a full comeback”. It’s true, but Carpenter came back from one surgery and like I said, you want to be conservative with McGowan. Maybe let him get going as a relief pitcher for a few years and if no signs of a setback is observed, initiate the conversion to a starter. But all that matters right now is McGowan is pitching with the Dunedin Blue Jays with no setbacks and is inching closer to Toronto (Hey, Octavio Dotel, you might want to switch your number soon).

Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached at salamathematician@gmail.com and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter. Thanks to @Jays_GiantsFan for the inspiration. Blog dedicated to @KaleSherar and @_skennedy.

Relieved by the deadline?

As Brian Wilson notched the final out in the 82nd All-Star game on Tuesday night, baseball entered its next stage in a continuous and long season, the trade deadline season. Shortly after the game, we learned that Francisco Rodriguez was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for a couple of ‘players to be named later’. At the moment, the Blue Jays are considered by many realistic individuals as out of contention and have some key pieces that will interest many teams, namely bullpen help. Names include Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor, all free agents at the end of the year (though, the Blue Jays hold a club option on Frasor, Dotel and Rauch). I believe Dotel and Frasor will garner the most interest as the former has the ability to dominate right-handed hitters, while the latter has been the best pitcher in the bullpen this year. I believe Alex Anthopoulos is actively discussing with teams such as the Cardinals and Rangers about bullpen help, but will he actually pull the trigger?

I personally believe that there is a better chance Anthopoulos pulls a trigger on trading Don Wakamatsu to a team that has fired their manager than one of the relievers being dealt (I mean it Anthopoulos, what can’t he do?). The type B picks that will compensate the Blue Jays at the end of the year will be leverage as to what Anthopoulos will ask in return. If we look at the past few years at names that have been drafted in the compensation rounds, we see names like Travis d’Arnaud and Brett Cecil from the 2007 MLB draft, Joba Chamberlain and Chris Perez from the 2006 draft and Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie from the 2005 MLB draft. The compensation round is where many general managers are willing to take risks on players and gamble on many high school picks and players who might command large amounts of money. Since 2010, Anthopoulos has picked six high-school draftees in the compensation round, namely Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob Anderson, Joe Musgrove, Dwight Smith and Kevin Comer. Anthopoulos has used the draft to re-stock the Blue Jays minor league system, and will continue to use the draft to build a strong minor league system. Do I think Anthopoulos will give up an opportunity to attain such young talented prospect from the 2012 draft by trading away a reliever? No wonder Anthopoulos was asking for one of Joba Chamberlain or Jesus Montero for Scott Downs last year. Turns out the Blue Jays got Jacob Anderson and Daniel Norris in return for Scott Downs. Norris is believed to be one of the best, if not the best left-handed pitcher from the 2011 MLB draft. 

So if a trade were to happen, what do I expect to be returning the Blue Jays way? I expect young talent that is 2-3 years away from becoming MLB players. I see Anthopoulos targeting high ceiling players, as teams will be less resistant to giving them up than a prospect in AAA knocking on the MLB door.

So if I had to guess, I would not be surprised to see Patterson get traded and/or even Encarnacion. Patterson could serve as a fourth outfielder/pinch-runner for a competing team, and he can attempt to steal third base against the Red Sox every time his new team plays against them. Encarnacion can be an insurance policy to a team looking for a power right-handed bat off the bench who has the ability to play first and third base. Also, a team weak at third base might be interested at Encarnacion, too. With Alex Rodriguez out until early September, Yankees might be interested, considering Eduardo Nunez makes Encarnacion look like a gold-glover. I also would not be surprised to see Frasor go, as he might be a candidate that finishes the year as a Type A and re-signs with the club. It would be great to see younger guys get a shot at the bullpen, but in my opinion, the bullpen will look more or less the same. Yet again, this is Alex Anthopoulos we are talking about and he might go and prove me wrong.


Love to hear your thoughts on twitter @ShakeelSalamath

Are we ever going to see the old Aaron Hill?

Dare I say the worst thing that ever happened to Aaron Hill was the 2009 season? Yeah, the season when he won the Silver Slugger Award and was considered one of the best young second baseman in the league. But what exactly was the worse ‘thing’ that happened to Hill that year was the 36 homeruns. Why you ask? If one observes the 2005-2008 version of Hill, one remembers the sweet, compact and quick stroke an ideal No. 2 hitter possesses. That swing earned him the ability to hit for average, with a decent on-base percentage and with some homerun pop. Then 2008 came around and we all remembered the concussion Hill suffered when he collided with the tiniest player in baseball, David Eckstein. We held our breath, but Hill finally returned in 2009 and had a career year, posting a .286/.330/.499 slash line along with 36 homeruns and 37 doubles. But the thing that I remember the most as Hill was quickly building his slugging percentage was him saying he is not a homerun hitter and he doesn’t even know where this power barrage is coming from.

Well then 2010 rolled around, and truly a new Hill was born. If one compares Hill’s pre 2009 swing and his current swing, one will notice that the quick compact swing has been replaced by a longer swing which can include a ‘hitch’ at times, a typical swing from a power hitter. For comparison purposes, when I say power hitter, I mean hitters like Adam Dunn and Jack Cust. It became eminent to me that Hill thought that he was a power hitter and not a contact hitter, hence the increase in pop-ups and strikeouts.
Now what makes the situation worse is that the Blue Jays also think he is a power hitter, allowing him to hit clean-up, fifth and sixth in the lineup. In addition, having Dwayne Murphy as a hitting coach will not force Hill to change his swing from a power stroke to a contact stroke, as he is all about the power. The reality is that Hill is a contact hitter. Here are some highlights from the scouting report of Hill by John Sickels from early 2005:

Hill features a quick bat and excellent strike-zone judgment.” And “but scouts anticipate that he’ll be good for 15-20 homers at maturity. His swing is compact, with pop to all fields. He should contribute a solid batting average and OBP.”
Now that I have made my point about Hill’s role change, I now want to address the issue of how people are ready to send Hill packing. Firstly, one aspect of Hill’s game I appreciate is his hustle he brings to every at bat. He will sprint to first base on a ground ball to the pitcher. In addition, he is blessed with a shortstop’s arm and has great range defensively, especially to his left. This range to his left has considerably helped Adam Lind’s transition to first base. Now I know he is struggling offensively, and no one knows if he will become the old Hill again, but if Hill truly leaves at the end of the year, who will replace him? There are about five second basemen that I would rather have than Aaron Hill, namely Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Rickie Weeks, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips, and Ian Kinsler. Other possible candidates include Dan Uggla, who is atrocious defensively and Gordon Beckham, who has had on good year in the MLB. That is to say if Hill was to hit the free agent market at the end of the year, more than half of the MLB will see Hill as an upgrade at second base and not a downgrade. Teams like the Orioles, Rays, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Twins, Angels, Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, Padres, Diamond Backs, Dodgers and possibly the Athletics would all be interested to upgrade at the position. Unless the Blue Jays are willing to make an outstanding offer to Jose Reyes and convince him to play second base, most likely any addition to the position would be a downgrade at the position.

It seems like this mini-rebuild mode has hurt Hill the most as the club has forced him into a role he cannot handle. He is being forced into being the fourth/fifth/sixth hitter, when he is suppose to be hitting second, seventh, eight or even ninth. If the Blue Jays truly add another mid-lineup bat next year (such as a legitimate DH) coupled with Travis Snider and Brett Lawrie producing to the level that many scouts think they should produce at, would it really hurt the Blue Jays to bring back Hill on a cheap contract to play a flawless defensive second base and bat eighth or ninth in the lineup? Hill could use the off-season to re-tool his swing, just like the Blue Jays transformed Travis Snider’s swing in AAA this year. An ideal Hill year should be similar to the one from 2007, where his slashes were .291/.333/.459 with 17 homeruns and 47 doubles. I would love to see him turn it around as he brings other pieces to the table that is under-rated such as his defense, his plus arm and of course his hustle. Of course, turning it around means that he can lose his nickname King of Pop-up (as Michael Jackson is the only King of Pop).

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue; I can be reached at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.