Well here’s a real Darren Oliver twist: per a team release, the man who calls himself Black Magic will return to the Jays for the 2013 season, electing to play for the mere pittance that is the $3-million club option the Jays exercised early in the off-season.
You could say it’s a surprising turn of events, given the bluster over the recent few weeks from his agent, ex-Jay Jeff Frye, but on the other hand, given how much it appeared to matter to Oliver’s camp to squeeze every penny from the Jays, I’m not sure it was ever terribly likely that he’d choose nothing over the $3-million they were happily willing to pay.
That became especially clear when his “I want to be close to my kids” pretext mostly evaporated after Frye clumsily made the negotiation public. And really, I strongly suspect that’s all this really was. The Jays weren’t biting on the behind-closed-doors attempts to renegotiate, and a relatively green agent with a small list of clients– none else who’ve ever had anything resembling the kind of leverage Oliver had– made the rather desperate choice of very openly trying to exert pressure on the Jays. If it didn’t quite backfire, it sure as hell didn’t work, and now Frye and Oliver have sheepishly backed down, and made the only real choice they could have made, if their aim was for Black Magic to actually play baseball for money in 2013.
To steal my own half-stolen joke, Jeff Frye may know a thing or two about cycles, and he certainly won a couple news cycles during this, blindsiding the Jays with his public demands, but as often as we found ourselves debating what to do, there was never going to be a Kelly Gruber coming out of the stands in acid washed jeans to congratulate him after this one.
Hopefully Jays fans understand all that, and don’t hold it against Oliver that his camp exhausted every possible avenue to get as friendly as deal as they could– the way we applaud his bosses for doing on almost a daily basis. Hopefully. But I’m not holding my breath.
I know this whole episode has left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, and despite my arguing that Oliver and Frye were merely practicing all-out, in-bounds capitalism, I can entirely understand what’s upsetting about it (hint: it’s the all-out, in-bounds capitalism). It’s just, who knows how much this kind of stuff happens outside of the public eye? OK, maybe it’s a rare situation to begin with, given how close Oliver is to retirement, but leveraging whatever’s available to be leveraged in order to get a better deal is pretty par for the course in negotiations.
Because a contract was already in place I get that a lot of people are of the mind that any attempt to negotiate is foul, and that the implication they maybe planned this all along– and asked for more money up front for that very reason– suggests bad faith. But, like it or not, this tactic was available to them to ask for more money, and in no way were the Jays being forced– or extorted– into anything. They didn’t have to bite, they could have used the money elsewhere, and they certainly went into the deal last year with their eyes open.
And honestly… whatever. Oliver is back, and the Jays are much, much better off for it.
The left-handed pitchers remaining on the relief market are thoroughly unappealing. While the Jays could have gone with Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup as their LOOGY options (assuming J.A. Happ gets optioned to Buffalo in order to stay stretched out for the inevitable point when he’s needed in the rotation), Oliver has easily the most utility of the group, given the fact that he can actually stay in to face right-handers.
Oliver held RHBs to a .233 wOBA in 2012, compared to .273 for Loup (over a small sample of 57 batters), and .400 for Cecil.
Of the group, Oliver actually had the most trouble against left-handers in 2012, as they hit him to the tune of a .291 wOBA, compared to .204 for Loup and .268 for Cecil. Obviously, though, Loup can’t be counted on to be quite as brilliant again– after all, he wasn’t nearly as good in Double-A, with lefties there hitting him to a .640 OPS and right-handers an .808, according to the numbers at his player page at the not-quite-entirely-reliable Minor League Central. And Cecil, outside of mop up duty, can really only face left-handed hitters, whereas Oliver can be comfortably sent to face anyone.
Oliver’s return knocks those guys, as well as guys like Brad Lincoln, Emil Rogers, and Jeremy Jeffress down a peg, and just makes it look like that much more of a formidable bullpen. Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos look like a solid pair at the top– if Santos is as healthy as we want to believe– with Oliver and Steve “Sometimes You Eat The” Delabar not far behind. Then it’s one of the lefties, plus the big-armed Rogers and Lincoln rounding out a solid crew.
I’m not sure it’s out of the realm of possibility that the Jays add another piece still– especially if, as was discussed in the previous post, they use the difference between the salaries of Henry Blanco and Josh Thole in order to scrape together enough to go fishing for one more.
I mean, why not? They’d said that Oliver’s money was Oliver’s money, and that they wouldn’t necessarily be reinvesting it if he’d turned it down, so… doesn’t that maybe suggest their rumoured interest in the Matt Lindstrom-types of the world was entirely independent of Oliver’s situation? It might. It should.
Stay greedy, Alex.
Image via @mattomic, awesomeness.