With the Winter Meetings in full swing, I missed last week’s Griff Bag, but fear not! Griff is back in the mail bag groove, filing a fresh one for us to enjoy (read: hijack) on Monday afternoon over at the Toronto Star. So… let’s get to it!
As always, I have not read any of Griffin’s answers.
If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, submit it to Griffin here, and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!
I understand AA’s wish to keep Jeff Mathis as a defensive catcher and someone to manage the young pitchers, but I’m also wondering if people aren’t underestimating John Buck. Most of the knock on him seems to be (a) payroll, and (b) his low batting average. The payroll is irrelevant at this point — it is what it is and was part of the deal. As for the batting average, I believe I read that the Marlins’ new stadium is more of a pitcher’s park than the Rogers Centre. If that’s true, then we might see Buck once again have a career year, or was he just not making contact at all?
The other thing I’d like to ask about is R.A. Dickey. Given AA’s inscrutability, and that the Jays are rumoured to be interested, that would seem to negate the possibility, but it seems to me that having a knuckleballer in the mix to screw with batters’ timing would be great, do you think AA would be interested in trading with the Mets? I mean Dickey is 38, but knucklers also tend to have longer careers. Finally, any thoughts on Canada’s chances at the Baseball Classic?
Thanks for the insights, as always.
Richard Worzel, Toronto
I’d suggest you not go nuts here, Richard, and that it’s not quite reasonable to believe we could see a career year from a 32-year-old catcher whose production has declined in each of the two seasons since his 2010 peak, but I do think you’re on the right track by looking at his home park for the last two seasons.
Buck was much better on the road in 2012 (a .299 wOBA, compared to .269 at home), and while that wasn’t the case his first season in Miami, the new ballpark, according to the park factor data at StatCorner, was even more pitcher-friendly than the old one, with a HR factor for RHB of 84 (100 is neutral, Rogers Centre was 118), and a tangible but not-quite-so-staggering divergence on doubles and triples, as well.
Buck has learned (or, at the very least, has been again allowed) to take a walk during his time in Miami (he walked in 12.3% of his plate appearances last year, compared to 3.7% in 2010), and on the road in 2012 produced an ISO that’s not too far off his 2010 number.
That power wasn’t there (home or road) in 2011, so we need a pretty big grain of salt to take that information with, but for me, there’s certainly a chance he surprises people with how much better he looks in a better offensive environment– especially if he has any kind of BABIP bounce, up from his career low .284 last year.
As for the Dickey stuff, I think there genuinely is something to it. I know we’re supposed to believe that if we’re hearing it, it isn’t true, but that’s an awfully convenient trope for Alex Anthopoulos more than it is anything resembling reality. I mean, the Halladay stuff was getting leaked like crazy as that deal was happening, the Farrell stuff got leaked like crazy, The Trade with the Marlins was all public knowledge long before it was official, and there are all kinds of other examples of that old saw simply not holding up.
That said, the asking price for Dickey being what we’ve been led to believe it is, and his contract demands to the Mets being as reasonable as they are, I have a hard time seeing them actually dealing him– or, perhaps better put, another team offering the prospects necessary to make a trade worth New York’s while.
That said, I’m not terribly concerned about Dickey’s aging, given that he’s only looking for a short deal, and I’d be all for the Jays finding a way to get him. But six years of MLB control of someone like Travis d’Arnaud or Anthony Gose– who I likened, somewhat hackily, to Michael Bourn in a post yesterday– just seems like far too much. And with the Mets wanting more than just one elite prospect? I don’t think the Jays are that desperate to take the risk that Dickey comes here, signs an extension, succeeds in the AL East, doesn’t age at the normal rate for pitchers, that JP Arencibia is able to catch anything he throws, and that the prospects don’t come back to haunt them. There are reasons to think each one of those things is possible, but all of them? I dunno.
WBC: I think Canada can make a nice run. Mexico isn’t as strong as you might think, and we’ve got to beat Italy this time, right? Right??? Canada shouldn’t have much trouble getting out of the group, but after that it’s going to be tough. Should be fun, though! There is definitely enough Major League talent on Canada’s roster to make it interesting– assuming guys are allowed by their teams to play, because the roster gets thin pretty quick beyond the top tier.
What do you think of the hiring of John Gibbons, who they fired just four years ago? Boggles my mind. Seems to me he was essentially fired because he alienated the team by his aggressive nature. Hiring Gibbons is an overcorrection in my mind to the issues of the past year, way too far to the other extreme, and likely to produce the same result. And somehow I can’t believe that Gibbons chose DeMarlo Hale, as your article says, as bench coach, since he has been coveted by the Jays for the last two years. Seems to me this is AA and Beeston’s choice and Gibbons is going along with it. Hopefully Hale will balance off Gibbons’ approach. I think his hire is key and gives me faith again after I lost it when they hired Gibbons back.
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
I had to stop reading after you suggested he was “fired because he alienated the team by his aggressive nature,” which is such a grotesque misremembering of history that I don’t even know where to fucking begin.
Gibbons was fired 74 games into the 2008 season, more to take the heat off of his flailing GM– whose club was struggling once again, whose “big signing” at shortstop couldn’t field the position, and who had just embarrassed himself by shitting all over Adam Dunn in a radio segment, then kept on digging, claiming he’d spoken to Dunn to apologize, which the player claimed was a lie.
Those weren’t the only reasons he was fired, of course, but it was awfully convenient for the supremely cynical Ricciardi to turf Gibbons when he did, and to replace him with the returning hero, Cito Gaston.
The confrontations you’re referring to, with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly, both happened during the 2006 season– the Jays’ best season under Gibbons. He wasn’t fired until two years later.
So… I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I also can’t fathom where all this knowledge of the qualities of DeMarlo Hale comes from, or why you’d assume his hiring was out of Gibbons’ hands.
Q. I’m curious to hear your opinion on the two recent Red Sox signings — Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. To me, while they are both pretty good players, they are neither pieces the Sox can build around, nor are they good enough to make the Sox contenders in the short term. It just feels like they are building toward the middle. Is this simply the Red Sox trying to make their team less terrible during their rebuilding phase?
Jonathan Maile, Toronto
I think they’re a little more helpful to them than that, but I also kind of really want to believe they’re hilarious. Maybe not as hilarious as the notion that John Farrell is going to magically fix Lester and Buchholz, but… not deals that I’d be thrilled about if I was a Red Sox fan.
That said, Napoli is a solid bet to crush in that park, and probably won’t match the career high strikeout rate he set last season. But his 2011 season sure looks more like an outlier to me than a new normal, and I don’t think he matches the production they lost when they dealt Adrian Gonzalez.
Victorino will provide some defensive value and value on the bases, but his bat– above average just a couple years ago– has become a question mark. Particularly, he had an awful season against right-handed pitching– Keith Law of ESPN.com suggested that his bat speed was down, and if true, the deal was rightly panned. But let’s not forget that this was a six win player in 2011, and productive for many years before that– and his 2012 offensive numbers were dragged down a bit by his move to Dodger Stadium and the NL West. There’s clearly some amount of value still to be mined there– maybe not enough to match the contract, but it’s short enough that I don’t think Boston cares.
You’re right in one respect, though: these certainly seem like moves to try and tread water for a couple of years, hoping that the pitching comes back and some of the assets in the farm system pays off. But… is that so crazy? It’s not like it couldn’t work, especially since a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury who is even half– literally– of the 9.5 win player he was in 2011 could go a long way to making the Sox a very dangerous team in 2013. We can’t overlook them.
Q. With Atlanta’s apparent interest in Emilio Bonifacio, is there a possibility the Jays make a deal for Dan Uggla?
Joel Hardy, Calgary
You really want to pay $13.2-million each of the next three years for a second baseman about to turn 33, who wasn’t good defensively even when he was younger, and whose power numbers appear to be in a pretty clear decline? The WAR figures flatter him, I’d say, thanks to an unusually strong season by UZR and DRS– metrics that rated him terribly in the three years previous– so… for that cost, I don’t think I’m interested in going there.
Q. Years ago we used to get regular updates on minor leaguers in winter ball leagues. Do we not cover this anymore?
Allan Robertson, London
I honestly can’t tell you why this stuff has disappeared– I can, however, tell you why I don’t miss it: the stats that would be available to us don’t tell us a whole hell of a lot anyway. Take the Arizona Fall League, for example. People get all hot and bothered when a prospect appears to be tearing the cover off the ball down there, but they tend to forget that most organizations have shut down their best young arms by the time competition in the AFL starts. For the most part, hitters are facing inferior competition– and even if they’re not always, there are enough shitbags out there to skew the numbers, not to mention a bunch of environmental factors, potentially, as well (park factors, dry air, altitude, field conditions, etc.).
If you don’t have guys legitimately scouting the leagues and providing context for the raw numbers, there really isn’t much of a point.
I’ve left comments about this on numerous sites and I’d like to read your response on this matter. I think it’s crucial to have at least two solid LHP in the pen that can get guys out. Grandpa Oliver is taking forever to decide if he’ll play and Aaron Loup was good but he might have a Jesse Carlson-like second season (disaster) and Brett Cecil can’t really be counted on. AA hasn’t mentioned LHP for the pen but do you think he’s overlooking this situation?
Rasmus’s name hasn’t been mentioned in a long while which would indicate to me that he could be on the move. Could this happen? Lastly, do you think AA might surprise MLB again with say . . . signing Hamilton to a 4 year +2-3 year options?
Thanks Richard and happy holidays!
Kam H, Richmond Hill
In reverse order: absolutely no way the Jays land Hamilton on a deal like that, or at all, frankly– though AA could certainly still surprise us with something, y’know, not crazy. And I do think there’s the possibility that Rasmus may be involved in a deal, though it would be a real sell low move, at this point, and the Jays are probably better off giving him a chance to start the year fresh, and either build some value or give Anthony Gose a chance to force his way past him on the depth chart. I still believe in the tools Colby’s got, so unless a team is making you an offer on him that equates more to his potential than his current value– which isn’t terribly likely– why do it?
As for the lefties, why can’t you count on Brett Cecil? By FIP he was considerably better as a reliever in 2012 (3.09 to 5.46 as a starter)– though his xFIPs… not so much. He was able to throw with max effort when pitching in relief, seeming to add a little zip on his fastball, and most importantly, he was effective against lefties, posting a 3.16 FIP (4.00 xFIP) in that split and holding LHB to a .268 wOBA. Darren Oliver he is not, but that’s still possibly worthy of a spot in the ‘pen, I think– and perhaps he could get even better as he cuts back the number of pitches he uses to just his best ones, now that he’s transitioned to a full-time relief role.
That said, I think it would be tremendous for the club if Oliver came back, because you’re right, Loup certainly can’t just be pencilled in for the same kind of production he gave them over 30 innings last year– he was better in the Majors than he was in Double-A in 2012, and, in fact, posted the best ERA and FIP of any stop in his pro career so far. I mean… that can’t be right.
Where I don’t agree is with the notion that any of this is being overlooked. It’s still very early, especially for the relief market.
It’s been one of the most interesting Jays’ off-seasons in decades and fans should be looking forward to the 2013 season. One nagging concern is Adam Lind’s bat. When he does hit well, and it’s been a while, he drives the breaking ball to the opposite field and pulls the fastball, like good hitters should. However, in recent years, I see Lind standing far off the plate and constantly chasing breaking balls or off-speed pitches. If Lind isn’t swinging the bat well in spring training, do you see Encarnacion spending more time at first?
Paul Rudan, Campbell River, B.C.
Huh? I think Edwin Encarnacion is the club’s full-time first baseman. Lind will DH, and while he may get some early looks against left-handed pitching, he’ll almost certainly wind up hitting exclusively against right-handers. There’s too much history on him to think otherwise.
Lind’s best season against LHP, by far, was, naturally, way back in 2009 (he’s been unplayably fucking awful since then), and even that only produced a .336 wOBA– Emilio Bonifacio posted a .381 in 2011, and Rajai Davis produced a .363 in 2011 and a .340 last year. Even John Buck, who has been as terrible against lefties as Lind over the last two seasons, has more recent and greater success in that split, posting a whopping .478 wOBA in 2010 (higher than his last two seasons’ worth added together).
Davis is the real eye-opener: he’s hit left-handed pitching better over the last two years than Lind did in the year he won the damn Silver Slugger. And yet the club is still toying with the idea of having Lind fuck around against them, hopeful he’ll find some kind of magic.
I can understand it, I guess, but if the leash isn’t short, you’d better believe you’ll hear some pissing and moaning about it around here.
So… yeah, that’s where Lind’s at.
Long-time reader and I hope to see you in Dunedin some year! My question is regarding Freddy Sanchez. I haven’t been able to find any information about whether he is finally healthy but if he is I wonder if he’s a good fit for the Jays. He could be the starting second baseman and bat ninth and DH against tough lefties . . . thoughts?
Patrick Moloney, Toronto
Uh… do you have a time machine? According to the injury history on his player card at Baseball Prospectus (which is staggeringly long), Sanchez needed labrum surgery at the end of 2011, which kept him out for all of 2012, and then for good measure– perhaps as part of some kind of have nine surgeries and the tenth one’s free deal– he had a microdiscectomy on his back this July.
Don’t think it’s gonna happen for him. Y’know, ever.
I like the new clout that is in the top 4-5 of the jays rotation but I don’t see where it goes from there. I believe that the Jays need starting depth that can both be kept in AAA or as long relief in the pen until needed. We saw guys like Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva do it last year and Pete Walker in years past, but I was wondering if you see the Jays being able to fill that role with players like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan or if you think they need to find something on the market?
John Roszell, Princeton, NJ
I love your columns. I wanted to ask that with Alex wanting to shore up the starting rotation and adding depth to the bullpen, how do you feel about re-signing Carlos Villanueva, who has been one of the most consistent performers the last few years, and can address both issues in case of injury?
Before we get to Villanueva, uh… there are a few problems with expecting anything from Cecil, McGowan and Litsch, John. Specifically: Cecil is a reliever now– as he should be– and I’d be very surprised if they stretched him out to start; McGowan is McGowan, and is hurt, out of option, and impossible to rely on; and Litsch elected free agency earlier in the off-season when the club removed him from the 40-man roster, and he’s also slated for more surgery in January, unfortunately.
Yes, Villanueva makes a lot of sense for the Jays– especially in the role that he’s held the last couple of years. The problem is, one) if you factor in health, I don’t think I could say he’s the “consistent” performer the second questioner believes, and two) he wants a lot more money and more opportunity than he had last year. Those are not unreasonable requests on his part, but surely the Jays could find a guy to fill that role for cheaper, and who’ll be OK with competing with J.A. Happ for the fifth spot in the rotation, rather than having it guaranteed.
That said, I’d hate for the Jays to miss out on him just for the sake of being too economically cute by half. And I’m certain that the notion of a “guarantee” is way overblown. The club would have no obligation to run him out there if he sucks or breaks down– and the concerns about his arm not being able to handle the workload are mitigated somewhat by the presence of Happ (plus Chad Jenkins, Joel Carreno, Claudio Vargas and whatever other, hopefully better, depth arms they acquire), plus the potential mid-season return of Kyle Drabek– or maybe even someone like Sean Nolin, who isn’t far from where Drew Hutchison was when he was called up, though his having thrown only 100 innings in 2012 (and the club’s Triple-A affiliate now being a place it’s actually OK to send pitchers), I don’t really see him being a factor with the Jays.
So… sure, Villanueva. Do it.