My suggestions here won’t be quite as delicious as the one made the other week by Jon Hale of the Mockingbird, who figures J.P. Arencibia can improve his on-base by simply never swinging when the count is full, but there has been a lot of good debate on Twitter of late about just what the Blue Jays can do to improve themselves next year, especially given the obvious fact that– as I noted among my Assorted Weekend Thoughts yesterday– the Jays have had absolute black holes at four positions on the diamond this year, ranking last in MLB in wins above replacement for catchers and second basemen, 27th of 30 teams when it comes to third basemen, and 25th for left field.
They also ranked 27th in WAR for starting pitchers, though elsewhere things are brighter: 10th for relievers, 3rd at first base, 11th at shortstop, 4th in right field, 6th in centre, and 1st at DH.
Of course, some of these rankings are a little wonky [read: horribly imprecise]– they include all the value provided by the guys who’ve regularly taken turns at each position, rather than just the value provided while they were playing at the position, meaning Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion’s WAR totals are simply combined to create the figure for both 1B and DH– but apart from those two positions (where they should probably be knocked down at least a couple of spots in the rankings for each), they generally pass the smell test, I’d say. Meaning, then, that the Jays mostly really need a whole lot more out of C, 2B, 3B, and LF.
Right away, though, I think we all feel pretty safe removing third from the must-be-improved equation. If Brett Lawrie is healthy, even if his bat continues to trend solidly below expectations, defence alone will provide the Jays an upgrade on what they’ve seen at that position in 2013. (And if his bat carries on the way it has since he moved to a quieter, more upright stance following the All-Star break, hello!)
Left field is a different story, but not as dire as elsewhere. How the position goes will all depend on Melky Cabrera’s health, whether they decide to even keep him on the position (DH you very much?), and what the backup plan is (Rajai Davis or Kevin Pillar/Anthony Gose platoon you very much?). I’m as big a believer in Melky as anybody who didn’t put a $16-million contract in front of him, so I’m not entirely sure that they need to do something here, and with all that money invested and the likelihood of getting out from under the contract slim, for good or for bad, I think we can set left field aside for now.
From a positional standpoint, what can’t be ignored, though, is the total lack of production from J.P. Arencibia and the cast of characters the Jays have run out there at second base.
Behind the plate, it’s easy to quantify: J.P. Arencibia has been exactly replacement level in his 99 games, while Josh Thole has been 0.6 wins below replacement, and Henry Blanco, while he was here, was 0.1 below. As a group their WAR is -0.7.
At second, the dead-last-in-the-Majors thing is a bit misleading because all of the negative WAR produced this season by Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio, regardless of where they’ve lined up on the diamond, is included here. Disentangling the numbers is a bit tricky– not that it makes a whole hell of a difference with the completely unscientific place I’m going here anyway.
Let’s just say this: Izturis has been about equally bad by UZR/150 at each of the positions he’s played this year; he’s played regularly, if not always at second (Bonifacio, in fact, still has had more plate appearances while manning the position than Izturis has); and you’d figure he’ll be in line to be the club’s regular second baseman next season, should nothing change in the meantime.
This year his value, per FanGraphs’ WAR, is -1.9.
So… basically, by some fuzzy math, if the Jays continue on with the status quo, and neither player gets any better– which could go either way, but with each having declined at the plate for two straight years, I wouldn’t bank on it– they’re starting from a position of being about three wins above replacement in the hole.
What’s good is, though, it sure isn’t going to be difficult to get better. In fact, practically anything is going to be better. A two-win guy at each spot and your looking at a 7 WAR swing!
Now, expecting to find a couple of guys like that just hanging around the bottom of a dumpster is probably a little much, but it’s going to be a lot easier to improve these areas of the club than I suspect a lot of people dreaming on the Brian McCanns and Howie Kendricks of the world are ready to believe. (The rotation, of course, is another story).
Here is a custom FanGraphs leaderboard featuring all the free agent catchers available for next year, and here is another featuring all the second basemen and shortstops (minus a pair of guys who’ll surely have their club options picked up, Ben Zobrist ($7-million) and Derek Jeter ($8-million)).
The middle infield list is actually not terribly… uh… terrible. Clearly Robinson Cano and Chase Utley are expensive, backloaded, shitty pipe dreams, but even in the middle range of the upper tier you see lower-cost guys like Stephen Drew, who was a tidy pick up for Boston, and (think I didnttt?) our old friend Kelly Johnson.
Of course, you’d rather your team pick up next year’s Drew and Johnson, and not necessarily this year’s ones, but there is some halfway decent depth there, and definite options for a club that’s willing to guarantee someone an everyday job. Shit, even Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Clint Barmes (if you can bear his shittacular stick), and Mark Ellis (though he has a $5.75-million club option)– assuming they all actually make it to free agency without re-signing– would be likely improvements over what the Jays would run out there otherwise, scary as that thought fucking is, and I don’t think anybody on the list (save Cano, Ultey, and maybe, (maybe?) Peralta) would cost the club who signs him a draft pick, either.
Behind the plate things are a little uglier, especially given the fact that the negative value the Jays have accumulated in 2013 has entirely been from their backups, while J.P. Arencibia has been right at replacement level. Ramon Hernandez was worth 0.4 WAR in a very small sample, and while I’m still not entirely convinced I wasn’t wrong when I wondered if he was the best catcher the Jays had in their organization during the brief time he was in Buffalo, I don’t think the .229 ISO is a great indicator of his actual talent, and heading into his age-38 season, I can’t honeslty pretend he’s an option.
I guess the same might go for Yorvit Torrealba, too, who was briefly with the Jays last year– while they still had yet to come to the now painfully obvious realization that J.P. Arencibia needs to go (to put it as delicately as humanly fucking possible)– and is having a nice-enough looking season in terms of his slash line, as long as you ignore the fact that he plays his home games at Coors Field and his wOBA is like 140 points lower when on the road.
So… except for the prize that isn’t coming here, McCann, all of these guys have major questions, really.
Saltalamacchia could be a nifty pick-up– though much sought after, too– if the Red Sox for some reason let him walk, while John Buck doesn’t offer much more at the plate than Arencibia, and A.J. Pierzynski would definitely up the club’s douche factor (and not necessarily a whole lot else). Carlos Ruiz doesn’t strike me as a guy who’ll leave the Phillies, Dionner Navarro and Humberto Quintero are having pretty major outliers at the plate this year (in a tiny sample, too, on Quintero’s end), and… well… looking through the list of what’s available you get the sense of why the Jays have been so reluctant to part with the devil they know for some lesser-known bag of shit.
I took a look around the league at some backups who might be expendable, and shittily, one of the few decent guys who, while not a free agent, but not his club’s primary catcher either, and could therefore perhaps be pried away, is Yan fucking Gomes. The man who went, along with Mike Aviles, for Esmil Rogers, has been worth 2.3 wins for Cleveland this year, while putting up a .374 wOBA in limited action behind Carlos Santana. Shit, Aviles has been worth nearly a win (playing mostly at third) himself, meaning that the Jays could theoretically have been six WAR better in the overall had they kept those two, given a tonne of Arencibia’s at bats to Gomes, passed on signing Izturis, and found a way to get from elsewhere the 0.7 WAR of value that Rogers has produced.
I mean… good for Gomes– that’s awesome– but seriously… ugh.
Moving on, I don’t know… the Angels might be interested in moving one of their two backstops, Chris Ianetta and Hank Conger, each of whom have been worth about a win above replacement thus far in 2013– especially if the Jays send an arm they can slide into their rotation back the other way– while Rangers free agent Geovany Soto has been pretty OK in a really small (33 G, 133 PA) sample in his first year as a full-time backup since breaking in with the Cubs.
Really, though… it’s just… man. The state of the catching position right now is pretty goddamned horrific. So much so that, uh… maybe it’s time we should be seeing if Josh Thole can get into some kind of groove with regular at-bats? It looks now like he might have to be Josh Johnson’s personal catcher anyway, right?
And actually, I didn’t start out planning on coming to this conclusion, but… do we really want to watch another potentially not entirely terrible catcher slip through our fingers because of Arencibia’s too-long stranglehold on incumbency? Can I get a #FreeThole? Maybe?
Shit, I don’t even know anymore.