On most days around the time I intended to have this published, I’d be tossing up an Afternoon Snack post, but let’s be honest, today there were really only two things in the Jays-a-verse worth discussing, and everybody’s already been talking about them: Ricky Romero’s continuing struggles, and the talk Alex Anthopoulos gave to assembled reporters before last night’s game. So I’ll focus in on those. I began earlier with last night’s tales of Romer-woe, and continue here with AA’s talk…
Alex Anthopoulos spoke with reporters prior to yesterday’s loss to the Mariners, which naturally led to a number of stories in the local papers– for example, John Lott reviews the chat’s highlights at the National Post, Mike Rutsey has it covered for the Toronto Sun, and Brendan Kennedy provides a handy digest at the Toronto Star.
Here in the online world, however, space isn’t at the same– or any– kind of premium, meaning that Kennedy, in the Star, as well as Gregor Chisholm of BlueJays.com, at his North of the Border blog, have been able to provide full transcripts. That not only means that everyone can read the entirety of what was said, but that other sources– like yours truly, for example *WINK*– can pull out whatever they feel was most interesting. And, indeed, there were some nuggets.
“Ricky works so hard in-between starts, off-season, you wonder if it’s a matter of maybe learning to pace himself a little more,” the GM said, quite possibly making some sense. “Roy Halladay needed to scale back his off-seasons and bullpens. It’s just learning to work a little smarter. Maybe that’s one of the solutions, I don’t know. I’d still like to see how these next starts play out to have a more definitive answer.”
Later, in a much less satisfying grope for answers, Anthopoulos compared where Ricky is now to where Brandon Morrow was last season. I mean… sure, it’s true that Morrow was probably worse than we remember– over 24 starts from mid-May to mid-September he posted a 5.50 ERA– but the issues weren’t nearly so ethereal. He struggled from the stretch, couldn’t get a double play ball to save his life, and battled inconsistency– in 13 of those 24 starts he surrendered three earned runs or fewer.
Romero on the other hand has posted a vomitous (and not just because it reminds you of dousing your hours-old hot dog with nacho cheese and Robert DeNiro before puking it all into the snowbank, Luke) 7.11 ERA over his last 20 starts. And even though it’s miraculously been eight times this year that he’s allowed three earned or fewer, a couple of those have been in fewer than five innings, and that number includes last night, where he was undeniably not good.
I get where the GM is going, though. His general point is that Morrow looked like he was steaming towards a… uh… steaming turd of a season last year, turned it around in three September starts, and then hit the ground running like a fuckin’ ace in 2012. Likewise, Romero can theoretically still be salvaged. But not even the team knows for sure.
“There’s no manual on this stuff,” Anthopoulos cautioned. “A lot of it is trial and error and you just take in as much information as you can. So if you’re getting clues or hints– maybe that extra day of rest led to New York, that outing. Maybe he is fatigued and doesn’t realize it. We’ve talked to our trainers and medical people, sometimes players are fatigued and they don’t even realize it. I’m not sitting here saying that’s the reason, maybe it is. We’re trying some things to see if it might work.”
Perhaps the most immediately newsworthy information to come from the GM’s talk was the fact that he actually admitted that Adam Lind’s hold on a full-time job is tenuous, at best, and that there are a few spots where the club is open to making upgrades.
Of course, not a whole lot of this really matters– the fact that the GM said his starters were “entrenched” at every position but left field, second base, and one of either DH or first base, hardly means that JP Arencibia can breath easy that he’ll remain in the organization. Nor does it mean that Lind, David Cooper or Moises Sierra definitely won’t be in the lineup on Opening Day. (Note: Ugh.)
In fact, Anthopoulos said as much himself, reminding reporters that such entrenchments “might change in the offseason if we make a trade or we sign a free agent.”
Still, at the very least the GM gave hope to those of us who feared that Lind may return simply by default: by virtue of the fact that he is still under contract, that he is not far removed from being a supposed franchise cornerstone, and that he potentially– thanks to injury derailing his season after he came back from the minors and looked almost, kinda, relatively rejuvenated– could have flown into next season’s starting lineup on yet another unicorn of lame excuses.
“I can’t sit here now after the last year and a half and say, ‘I know what Adam’s going to do next season.’ Obviously I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic, but I don’t know that we can sit here and plan and say this guy is going to be our cleanup hitter the following year, I just can’t,” the GM said. ”He’s already been sent down at one point and he’s been hurt, so I think it’s fair to say if we feel someone else can do the job, we’re not going to be afraid to do that.”
But not so fast, David Cooper! Anthopoulos didn’t go anywhere near touching the possibility of anointing Cooper as the man to take over for Lind. He just wants to make the club better, and he’s not sure he can count on Lind to do so.
“It all depends who’s available, what comes up in trade,” he says.
Here’s the area where the GM’s comments, I think, really demand the most scrutiny, as Anthopoulos was maybe not as candid about the club’s payroll as we’ve heard him, but as willing to stick his neck out on the possibility of signing free agents as I think we’ve seen.
“Yes, our payroll is going to go up, no doubt about it,” he said, making a statement that he surely knows will be tattooed on his forehead for the next year-and-a-half if he’s unable to coax free agents to sign here this winter.
He also said all the right, usual, double-talky things about anything and everything being a possibility, if not always realistic.
“As of right now I would say that we haven’t talked about any changes,” Anthopoulos said of Paul Beeston’s hamstringing policy of limiting free agent deals to five years in length, “but I don’t know that I’d ever say it’s set in stone. Things change all the time.”
Payroll, he says, isn’t set, and a number isn’t requested by the club, it’s merely “discussed collectively” among the front office and ownership.
“Depending on circumstances, players, it can vary,” he explains. And “obviously there’s always talk about it climbing to astronomical levels and like I’ve always said, I don’t think that’s realistic, but again it has climbed each year and it will continue to climb.”
That variation happens because, he explains, payroll is based on “a combination of things,” including “what our sales department’s doing.”
“We can have dialogue about anybody at any given time, but we do have a target to try to be around.”
Now, as any regular reader will tell you, I’m no Geoff Baker or some irrationally moaning Rogers-hating fanboy. I fully understand the difficulty in getting free agents to accept money being offered by the club here in Toronto without gross overpayments, and that pissing around cash on the MLB payroll like it’s going out of style isn’t the one true path to championships– or necessarily always a better option than cheaper, internal solutions.
I get that it’s a near certainty that Anthopoulos sold himself to Rogers with a plan to grow payroll slowly– and, conversely, that Rogers probably saw value in hiring a young GM who wouldn’t demand excess spending in the way that an established GM might have. I get that there’s under-the-hood spending that isn’t accounted for when most people discuss the “cheap fucks” who own the club– like the approximately $30-million budget increase for the draft and international free agents in AA’s first two years. Most of all, I totally grasp that Anthopoulos has no choice but to work within Rogers’ framework, to viscerally fear the spending missteps that undid his two predecessors, and I recognize that for fans to hope to get anywhere by pissing and moaning about ownership not lavishing money on the club is as hopeless an enterprise as pissing and moaning about your outrageous cell phone bill.
But holy shit, stuff like this still really fucking gets me:
“To what level does it end up climbing?” Anthopoulos asks, rhetorically, of the payroll. “That remains to be seen. But it does climb and I think it’s climbed a good amount each year. Maybe not by $40, $60, $80, $90 million like everybody else but it climbs and I think if our payroll continues to climb we’ll be in a pretty good area.”
“Maybe not by $40, $60, $80, $90 million like everybody else,” he says!!?!
Now, clearly he can’t be saying every team in baseball has seen this kind of payroll increase, so perhaps we need some context on who he means by “everybody else”– maybe he’s saying that unlike he, who is happy, “everybody else” thinks it should increase by those kinds of amounts– but ultimately, however you read the statement, the question you can’t help but ask is… um… why the fuck shouldn’t it have???
And why the hell should we continue to give Rogers a break by even talking about it as “climbing”?
Payroll was at $76.9-million in 2001, according to Cot’s. By the figures on USInflationCalculator.com, that’s $99.5-million in 2012 dollars– and Rogers was already running the team by that season, as it was again in 2002, when the payroll was essentially the same.
More recently, it was at $98-million in 2008, and it stands at $83.7-million this year.
So… unless you mean “climbing out of the hole ownership intentionally put it in,” that’s not really an accurate statement.
Yes, I understand that there are reasons it may not have been prudent, or necessarily possible even if they wanted to, for the club to have been spending more over the last three seasons. And very obviously the cheapness slag shouldn’t be laid on the Baseball Operations department, who would be lying through their teeth if they claimed they couldn’t better compete with more resources. But… do you think that maybe the value of the franchise– the value of the TV rights that only exist in some nebulous world of internal accounting– has gone up since Rogers ran $100-million-equivalent payrolls a decade ago, or again five years ago?
Even if I don’t have the context of AA’s comment entirely right, it’s the fucking pre-emptive defeatism that truly jumps off the page– the apparent crushing of the faint hope that, y’know, rather than having merely not spent last winter, maybe they consciously saved money to be spent later on, and truly intended to invest in the club in the way they need to this year.
Sure, there’s a still a lot of potential if you’re saying spending will rise by somewhere between zero and $40-million, and maybe I shouldn’t complain or am getting worried for nothing, but… any kind of thinking about this stuff gets infuriating real quick. And if this was at all a hint from the GM that, in some capacity, the club, despite the size of the market and the national TV audience and the swell of support this spring and the jerseys and hats flying off the shelves, is being told that it supposedly can’t have its payroll keep pace with the rest of the sport… that’s fucked.
It’s totally fucked. And while I don’t doubt in the slightest that Anthopoulos is doing the best he can within Rogers’ framework, and I’m certainly not asking him to turn into a whiny late-era-Ricciardi figure, it’s just… it’s fucked. And I have no idea how Rogers could possibly expect anything but disaster for this little experiment of theirs if the front office is forced to once again explain next spring how they weren’t able to land enough talent to make this club a contender.
Wait another year and they’ll be truly backed into a corner– and we know how well that went for the last two GMs.
We’ll leave off with a few other tidbits that didn’t quite require such a broad category or discussion…
- Anthopoulos was reluctant to say anything negative about free-agent-to-be Carlos Villanueva, but he admitted that it’s not an easy call to re-sign him, largely because of concerns about his durability. “I don’t know if Carlos could tell you if he could pitch 200 innings. Would he make 34 starts? How would he perform over that period of time? We don’t have anything to base that off of. . . Off the sample that we have, he’s been great.”
- He hit the nail right square on the fucking head when asked about the improbable success of the A’s and Orioles this season, noting that if “you look at Arizona last year, they had a great year, Kirk Gibson was the manager of the year. I think they brought back basically the entire team and they added guys like (Trevor) Cahill and some other guys where things didn’t go well. ”
- Essentially he’s saying that one run magic is sometimes just that. But one way to capitalize in close games– as Baltimore has done this year– is by having a fantastic bullpen. “That’s something I’ve started to value more this season. It’s not to say I didn’t value it, I just felt like the team in 2010 and 2011 had more issues to address first. I felt like we could have waited a little bit to address the bullpen. Now it’s definitely a priority for us,” he says. “You can say you have the best closer in the game, the best setup guy in the game, but if the remaining five guys aren’t getting the job done it probably isn’t going to work.”
- In an ideal world, it sounds like Anthopoulos would rather have Gose and Hechavarria in the minors next year– as he brings up the fact that Gose didn’t “dominate” Triple-A this season the way that, say, JP Arencibia did in his final year in the minors, which was a repeat season in Las Vegas. His preference is to “have the prospects more sitting there as insurance until you know 100 per cent they’re ready. Because like I say, they almost all get optioned, almost all the time, and if someone fails or someone gets hurt, you’d like to have them as depth rather than start to integrate three or four kids at one time.”
- Asked, then, what he might do at second base, given that the market seems so thin, he says that “the landscape changes so fast.” He then notes several players who’ve been moved recently– Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez as prime examples– who nobody thought would have been available prior to the season starting. OK… but what if it doesn’t?