Here’s an idea I’m instantly regretting: instead of empty open thread posts for playoff games, as we’ve done around here in years past, each day I’m going to attempt to have a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2013 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise.
5:30 PM ET – Oakland (2) vs. Detroit (1)– Dan Straily (1.2 rWAR) vs. Doug Fister (4.1 rWAR)
8:00 PM ET – Boston (2) vs. Tampa Bay (1) – Jake Peavy (1.5 rWAR) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (-0.8 rWAR)
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When the Jays signed Maicer Izturis eleven months ago nobody jumped for joy, except maybe for his agent, who’d somehow managed to land him a contract three years. Yes, the term was a little longer than you’d like to see on a utility player who had posted an on-base over .334 just once in five seasons, while what little power he’d exhibited faded to almost nothing. But he had positional versatility, had for years been generally well-liked by both DRS and UZR at second- and third-base, wasn’t budget-busting, was about league-average in terms of his walk rate, struck out less than average (something the Jays felt their OBP-averse lineup needed), was an actual damn switch hitter(!), and seemed a reasonable enough upgrade over Omar Vizquel as an infield backup.
In other words, it wasn’t crazy.
I mean… shit, in our post when the signing was made official, I passed along a comment from a reader– *COUGH* Brad Fullmer Fan *COUGH*– that compared his career numbers favourably, or at least evenly, to those of Marco Scutaro.
And when it was first being reported that the two sides were close to a deal, I also opined, somewhat tepidly, that “he’s not nothing. And while in an ideal world he’d be a versatile guy to have on the bench, it’s not even such a horrible thought to consider a guy like that as a fall-back regular for second base– someone you could plant there to give Hechavarria more time in Buffalo, but who can still be pushed aside if Adeiny absolutely forces your hand, or if Izturis fails to maintain his average-ish bat against right-handers or doesn’t return to his career norms against lefties.”
Yes, tough as it is to remember sometimes, Izturis was brought in to play alongside a guy like Hechavarria. Funny enough, they did end up next to each other… at the bottom of FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard for position players! HEYO! By that metric, Hechavarria’s -1.9 wins just edged out Maicer’s -2.1.
That it was a disaster of a first season in Toronto for Izturis, then, is beyond obvious. His defence, by both advanced metrics and the eye test, was below sub-par, and the hope for a rebound at the plate was unfounded, as his wOBA slumped to .269, eighteen points down from 2012, and forty-nine points below his 2011.
There’s not much sense in dissecting the particulars. Izturis, at least through our TV screens and from the stands, appeared professional and affable enough, despite the disaster that continued unfolding around him until an ankle injury ended his season in late August, but that’s a pretty sad positive to be taking from a season put in by a player still owed a bunch of money over two years. He was bad enough that it’s probably worth paying him the $6-million just to free up the roster space.
In that sense, he may end up something of a canary in the mine shaft that is the Jays’ budget– if they keep trying to hump the dream of getting value out of that contract, it might not portend well for the club’s payroll flexibility over the rest of the winter.
But what I think is possibly the most troubling thing about the Izturis deal isn’t that, nor is it the huge whiff on the deal in the overall. It’s the fact that signing Izturis was the first example– or perhaps second, or maybe even the third, or… well, an early example– of a series of notable, visible instances in which the Jays seemed maybe a little too far removed from operating under any semblance of a damn plan.
Now, obviously the Jays aren’t, top to bottom, as an organization, just making it all up as they go along, and obviously it’s unreasonable to expect that the club can meticulously plan out when opportunities are going to come their way or how they’re going to use the assets they’ve acquired, but consider all this strangeness from the last year or so:
- In an obviously futile attempt to add a win-now starter at the trade deadline of a lost season, they deal several prospects (albeit tarnished ones) to Houston for J.A. Happ.
- For no particular reason whatsoever, the club signs Jeff Mathis to a two-year contract extension.
- After preventing John Farrell from taking a job with the Boston Red Sox after 2011– and demonstrating in the process that they didn’t need to let an under-contract manager leave unless they didn’t actually want him there– the Jays decide that they’ll negotiate a deal to allow their manager to move to a division rival.
- The club reportedly gets money approved to make a move for Jake Peavy, only to have it fall apart– granted, perhaps because of the player himself.
- Having recently reportedly haggled for a number of days over the price for John Farrell, they flip recently-acquired Mike Aviles and blocked C/1B/3B prospect Yan Gomes for failed starter Esmil Rogers, who has just finished his first and only half-season of success in the big leagues, pitching out of Cleveland’s bullpen.
- They sign Izturis to be their utility infielder, then a week later pull off a blockbuster trade, reportedly incorporating the money that had been approved for the Peavy deal, bringing in the very similar Emilio Bonifacio, plus Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and dealing away the just-signed Mathis.
- Alex Anthopoulos flies in John Gibbons, possibly to offer him a bench coach job, then suddenly makes him his manager.
- Using two of their top three prospects they acquire R.A. Dickey, in the process ending up with catcher Josh Thole and non-prospect Mike Nickeas (then eventually Henry Blanco), having at mid-season been able to boast Mathis, Gomes, Carlos Perez, and Travis d’Arnaud behind J.P. Arencibia– a poor defensive catcher who, they fail to identify, is about to have one of the worst offensive seasons in the history of the sport.
- Arencibia goes to the World Baseball Classic, ostensibly to catch Dickey, because, y’know, he’s going to catch him a bunch during the season, because they’re not really into making Thole his personal catcher.
- Adam Lind, we’re told, is going to get an opportunities to hit against left-handers, despite the fact that lefty killer Rajai Davis is on the roster, and that Lind has been hopelessly unsuccessful against them.
- Emilio Bonifacio is going to be the second baseman, despite having started just 65 career big league games at the position.
- Happ is slated for Buffalo, and Ricky Romero will be the club’s fifth starter. Oh, except Romero stinks up the spring and gets demoted to A-ball for the full Mel Queen treatment. And Happ, little removed from nearly beginning the season in Buffalo, is given a contract extension.
- Arencibia struggles mightily to catch Dickey on Opening Day and won’t do so again for the rest of the season.
- Bonifacio, it turns out, is nobody’s second baseman, but having pried him away from the Marlins, and having Izturis and Mark DeRosa already on the roster as well, the club hasn’t actually managed to get anyone… y’know… good, especially defensively, and is stuck.
- Desperate for starting pitching after a rash of injuries, the club fast-tracks Romero to the big leagues, then loses all faith in him after one shaky start and an absolute disaster.
- They similarly throw Sean Nolin to the wolves later in the month.
- Brett Lawrie, the club decides, is going to be the solution to their second baseman problem. That is, until they decide he’s not.
- Somehow, we’re told, the team didn’t quite take their worsening turf, which was already quite fast, or the fact that they had several catchers not named J.P. Arencibia pass through their ranks, into consideration enough with respect to defence when constructing their roster over the previous year.
Now, a lot of that stuff is perfectly defensible, even in the big picture– I should know, I defended much of it at the time. And let’s not pretend that there isn’t tremendous value in flexibility, which Alex Anthopoulos has seemingly tried to make a pillar of his front office, or that anyone should expect the club to be overly rigid about things. But some of it has nothing to do with that at all– some the items on the above list are just forced reactions to mini-crises that were created internally or inadequately planned for, while others simply demonstrate a strange flippancy. And while part of what’s happened is due to a lack of resources, viewed in totality, those sure do look like a healthy number of decisions that don’t appear to have a lot in the way of common thread, or any sort of unified endgame.
I’m sure you could find numerous examples like these within the processes of every organization, but that doesn’t make seeing it all laid out in this way any less frightening. And it certainly makes you wonder if such examples of poor decision-making– which we may have seen another of last night, if the club actually tries to laughably sell the letting go of Chad Mottola as some kind of pound of flesh offered up in response to poor bunting or situational hitting this season, after several weeks of management harping on run prevention– are exactly what John Farrell was talking about in mid-August, when he tried to articulate the differences between his old organization and his new one.
From our post at the time:
“We can have a seminar on this question — not just because it’s Toronto and Boston,” Farrell said. “There are very distinct differences and it starts, I think it starts, at the top. And the reason I say that: I found Toronto to be a scouting-based organization, which to me is on one plane, one-dimensional. You’re looking at tools. Here, it’s a player-development based system. It’s the paths of the individuals that are running the organization. And that’s not to be critical.
“We all know that there’s three different veins in this game that people advance (through): baseball operations, scouting, player development. Well, in the player-development vein, you’re going to look at things in three dimensions: mentally, physically, fundamentally to address and develop people, or develop an organization. I think as a scouting base, you go out and you evaluate the physical tools. And that’s kind of where it ends, or that’s the look at that time. That was my experience, that was my opinion.”
It’s Farrellspeak, of course, so not immediately apparent, but I’d see what they were saying, I think, if someone suggested that what that list above illuminates is the Jays’ lack of commitment, when you get right down to it, to defined development paths. Their willingness to say “Brett Lawrie’s got the tools to play second, let’s do that,” or “Ricky Romero’s close enough and we need him so let’s try it,” or “Adam Lind’s had a nice run against left-handers, let’s throw away the plan,” or to not bother to see how valuable a guy like Yan Gomes could have been to them; those things do not look quite so bold, or their negatives not so inconsequential, when cast in this sort of light.
Of course, as regular readers will understand from how they were digested at the time, that’s hardly the only light those moves can be cast in. There are clear reasons why most of those decisions were made, and they’re rarely that dubious, if at all– the worst ones seem to have been made when the club felt that they had little other choice– so this isn’t to empower the negative suckholes who’ve already decided that everything is fucked, and are desperate to grab a point from which to work backwards and validate their crumby feelings about the club’s inability to deliver on the instant gratification they pathetically think they’re owed, but after the disastrous season we’ve just slogged through, I don’t think the front office has earned the right to let all those actions stand alone in their little vacuums, the way it’s easy to do when you encounter each move days, and weeks, and months apart.
I don’t know if I think anything is as bad as this negative-focussed post might make it seem, but seeing Farrell’s comments, and seeing the reversed decisions, and seeing the gameplans not always add up– not to mention the admissions of as much when it comes to defence and the turf– it really says to me that it’s not unfair to sort of wonder, do these guys actually know what the hell they’re doing?
Certainly the answer isn’t an obvious “no,” but with the negatives having been so magnified by the expectations and the failures of this season, right now it’s not an obvious “yes,” either.