Andrew Stoeten

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What Are The Jays Smoak-ing?

smoakSEA

A little late to the party on this one, but on Tuesday the Blue Jays announced that they had claimed Justin Smoak on waivers from the Seattle Mariners. A real head-scratcher.

It is both intriguing — Smoak is a switch-hitting 1B/DH reclamation project who provides some cover in the event that the Jays move Adam Lind, albeit at a not-insignificant salary (which could actually be a good omen, financially) — and curious — Smoak is kinda terrible, out of options, not a particularly cheap piece of roster fodder, and certainly not an actual replacement for Lind.

Smoak made $2,787,500 in 2014. He has just over four years of MLB service time, so even though he has a club option for $3.6-million in 2015, the Jays could decline it (he has a $150K buyout) and go through the arbitration process with him. Players almost never take pay cuts through arbitration, and in fact the most allowable by the CBA is 20%, meaning that with the buyout factored in the absolute least they could pay him is $2.38-million, and it will certainly be higher than that given that he’s managed to hit 74 home runs over his career.

Because he’ll go through the arbitration process, the Jays will be able to cut him in the spring and be on the hook for only one sixth of his salary, plus the buyout, but one assumes they’re haven’t picked him up just to blow 800,000-odd dollars and ditch him.

It’s just… then what did they pick him up for?

Smoak couldn’t possibly be viewed as a lineup regular — a cheaper replacement for Lind — could he? I understand the fear among those maybe willing to assume the worst when it comes to the Jays and money, but though in 2013 he posted a 111 wRC+ over 512 plate appearances, (.238/.334/.412 with a .278 BABIP), including an impressive 137 mark against right-handers, in 276 plate appearances in this year his wRC+ was an abysmal 77. For comparison, Munenori Kawasaki’s wRC+ was 78. Juan Francisco’s was 108 (though in the second half it was 53). And while that number may be not be entirely representative of Smoak — and certainly isn’t representative of what it was once thought he’d be capable of — the soon-to-be 28-year-old has never come close to producing at the level of Lind, who I’ve noted many times of late has been as good as anybody in baseball over the last two seasons at hitting right-handed pitching.

“There are worse players in baseball than Justin Smoak, and he was a pretty decent prospect not too terribly long ago,” Dave Cameron points out in his instant reaction piece at FanGraphs. “But Justin Smoak is a remarkably slow-footed first baseman, so to be a valuable contributor in the big leagues, he needs to hit. And he just hasn’t. Over the first five years of his career, he’s posted a wRC+ of 94, putting him in the same group as Vernon Wells, Brennan Boesch, and Peter Bourjos, among others. If he could run like Bourjos or even play the outfield in a reasonable manner, he’d have some value, but as a plodding first baseman, a 94 wRC+ is basically replacement level.”

That’s what his WAR totals tell us, too. By FanGraphs he was about a half win above replacement in 2011 and 2013, and about a half win below in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Baseball Reference had him worth 1.4 wins in 2013, and at 0.9 in 2011, but below replacement level every other year of his career.

He was the centrepiece of the Mariners’ acquisition of Cliff Lee back in 2010, but that was a lot of time, and a lot of big league failure ago. “Even if they can just get his BABIP up from the .260 to .280 range, he could be a useful part-time player,” explains Cameron, setting a low bar that it’s not even a slam dunk that Smoak can cross. It’s not impossible that he could end up having some success here either, it’s just if not, then what?

If he’s not someone they want to give regular playing time to, and he shouldn’t be, he’s a bit of a luxury. So… that could be good! If, y’know, you think it’s good for a presumably cash-strapped front office to go pissing away 2% of their payroll on the hope that they can do for Smoak what they did for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (and Lind himself, following his years in the wilderness), but couldn’t for… pretty much anyone else. It might at least show that they finally have some payroll breathing room again, though we won’t know that for sure until we see what happens with Lind, and I suppose with some of their other players with options still to be picked up (Dustin McGowan at $4-million, for example). It might mean they’re going to move Lind and cross their fingers that one of several possible DH options ends up being not completely useless. It might also mean that even Lind’s very palatable salary is simply too much, which… yeesh.

The rest of the off-season remains unwritten, of course, and perhaps by the time all is said and done this one will make more sense. Right now, though, I don’t quite get it. Not that I don’t like the idea of someone taking a flyer on Smoak, but I really don’t see how it fits into what the Jays are planning, unless they either actually have money to spend on luxuries that we haven’t yet been willing to believe is available, or they’re actively aiming to get worse. Uh… maybe they just wanted to strike a blow to Seattle’s DH depth in the hopes of peddling Lind their way? I dunno. I highly doubt any of those scenarios is true, but… shit, because of a raise on $1.35-million coming for Juan Francisco, I thought he was a non-tender candidate. So what’s this?

lindsmiling

“If you want to take a guess on the first significant trade of the offseason, the Blue Jays moving Adam Lind is a good bet,” writes Joel Sherman in his latest for the New York Post — a piece that comes complete with a picture, near the bottom, awesomely captioned “hirsute Adam Lind.”

We’re not hearing much more than that — and not much more than what we heard by way of Bob Elliott a week ago. Aaaand it’s a nebulous late-October rumour, so let’s not go tossing our Adam Lind jerseys onto the ol’ bonfire just yet, even if we all ought to know by now that the “if there’s a rumour involving us, it’s not true” stuff is complete bunk (thanks to the very public R.A. Dickey negotiations, the Jays’ long rumoured interest in Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson, and several other rumours that actually did come to pass).

Here’s what mild speculation we are hearing:

The Mariners and A’s stand out as teams that could dedicate significant DH at-bats to Lind. In theory, Lind also could play first base, but he is a limited defender. Also, he fits a model Oakland — among others — deploys when it cannot find an everyday player at a position: Obtain a player who can be used against a specific type of pitching.

Not much concrete, but perhaps an issue of “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” especially since, as was noted in last week’s piece, the Jays have until three days after the World Series — which could end as soon as tomorrow night — in order to pick up Lind’s option. It wouldn’t shock me if the front office would prefer to act quickly and get a deal done before that deadline, ensuring that his 2015 salary never ends up on their books.

Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t do it, either, but it at least sounds like a thing they might think about doing, doesn’t it? And while the two teams mentioned by Sherman are hardly the only ones he might appeal to, there are definitely some intriguing scenarios — especially involving the Mariners.

While the A’s could use a bat like Lind’s, they may not be the greatest match, because like the Jays they need middle infield help, with the impending free agency of Jed Lowrie, and the mid-season trade of his natural, in-house replacement, Addison Russell. The Mariners, though, have DH Kendrys Morales heading to free agency, and more importantly have bullpen pieces they might be willing to part with, the intriguing but rather Rasmus-like Michael Saunders, and a pair of shortstops in LHB Brad Miller and RHB Chris Taylor who Lookout Landing noted earlier this month are both projected to be among the top six players at the position (if given 600 plate appearances, which they both can’t get if they remain in Seattle) according to the Steamer600 projections at FanGraphs. (Jose Reyes is among the top six as well, FYI).

Now, obviously those are just projections. They need to be taken with some giant shakers of salt-like substance, and if the Jays were to acquire either player it would be to play second base, at least for now, which would lessen his value. But on the other hand, the fact that either one could spell Jose Reyes at short on days when he’d be asked to DH in 2015, as well as in the future, is a major plus. They’re also both pre-arb players at a premium position with very little MLB service time, which means their salaries are cheap and under team control for a long time. Of course, that also means they have a tonne of value — more than a couple of years of Adam Lind for around $7-million each — but they provide for an interesting starting point, at the very least.

Plus, it’s not like they have astronomical value, as neither fits into Seattle’s infield picture if everybody is healthy, and both players clearly have warts. Miller hasn’t translated his minor league success to the big leagues yet, and put up 1.4 WAR over 123 games on the strength of his defence in 2014, despite an 86 wRC+ (.221/.288/.365) and a 23% strikeout rate. Taylor, a 2012 fifth-rounder who was the M’s ninth best prospect heading into 2014 per Baseball America and didn’t make Keith Law’s Mariners top ten, has hit at every level, and put up a 103 wRC+ and a .347 on-base in the majors in 2015, but in a mere 151 plate appearances.

And there’s another, not-quite-so-valuable Mariner who will struggle to find playing time in an infield already occupied by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager: Tyler Kelly is a 26-year-old left-hitting 3B/2B who doesn’t exactly have a great pedigree — he was traded to Seattle from Baltimore for Eric Thames in mid-2013 *COUGH* — but who has hit everywhere he’s been, holds a 16.6% walk rate in the minors, and can be used in the outfield as well.

As their off-season outlook at Roster Resource points out, the Mariners also have relievers with closing experience — namely Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen — behind Fernando Rodney in their bullpen pecking order, who would certainly be of interest to the Jays. They need to find a hitter to replace Morales, and they also could probably use finding a pitcher to solidify the back end of a rotation that will rely on James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, while hoping for the recovery of Danny Hultzen from rotator cuff surgery. There could be a lot of moving parts in talks between the two clubs, in other words, and while I can’t imagine that the Mariners would have much interest in a reunion with Brandon Morrow (assuming, obviously, the Jays picked up some of the $10-million cost it would take to exercise his option), J.A. Happ could help them, I think.

I’m probably over-simplifying things here, and getting too deep into specifics on this stuff is just asking to get picked apart, but I dunno… before arbitration raises and whatnot the Mariners have $61.7-million committed for 2015, compared to a $90.2-million payroll this year. They started their clock ticking with their hugely expensive signing of Robinson Cano last winter. They have young pitching on the horizon, but need to get more competitive in the near-term. To do so they definitely need to find a middle of the order bat, and adding solid back-end starter for a year would help too, you’d think. The Jays, meanwhile, could use a little bit of salary relief. They could use an everyday infielder. And they could use a late-inning reliever.

Hmmm.

I’m probably selling one of the teams’ assets short here, or not considering how each club could do better for themselves making separate deals or with different trade partners, or missing something that ought to be obvious about why this surely won’t happen, but… maybe there’s something there? And maybe we’ll see find out soon!

So… there’s that.

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At this point it’s old news that “super agent” Scott Boras doesn’t much care for the Toronto Blue Jays’ annual eschewing of the free agent market under horseshit pretenses, and we all know exactly why that’s the case. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still fun when he takes shots at the club, or that we shouldn’t take a moment to pause and reflect on why he’s absolutely right, even if it’s so obviously in his own financial interest to goad teams who normally wouldn’t into bidding up the prices of players, futile a pursuit as that may be. And that’s especially so when his interest in the matter was sparked by something we haven’t often talked about around here — the Rogers co-owned Maple Leafs signing seven-year deals in the last calendar year with both Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson.

From Bob Elliott’s piece in Monday morning’s edition of the Toronto Sun (which hopefully is several pages away from the stink of the racist shit that’s also in there, courtesy the same guy who curiously drew a Jays logo that looked an awful lot like it had a Nazi SS symbol in it back in August *COUGH*):

“First thing I thought was … great news for Toronto Blue Jays fans,” said Boras at AT&T to watch Game 5 of the 110th World Series.

“If they can give one of their hockey players a seven-year deal, why can’t they give a seven-deal deal to a baseball player?” asked Boras. “If they have the same ownership in both the hockey team and the ball club, shouldn’t it follow that the Jays should be using the free-agent market as a weapon in order to compete?

“Being in the free-agent market would allow them to fulfill their needs.”

Now, obviously the Phaneuf and Clarkson deals don’t make great cases on their own for signing long-term deals… because they’re hilarious. And obviously hockey is different — the salary cap makes it so. And obviously the Leafs are different. And obviously Rogers co-owned is different than Rogers owned. But unquestionably Boras is right.

It’s quite amazing, in fact, how lately we’ve felt that we have no choice but to have conversations about how best to trade assets to improve the team without damaging the organization’s thin veneer of depth, as though that’s the only possible way to make the on-field product better. It obviously isn’t, and spending money on the free agent market can often be doubly positive because creates depth from thin air. Had the Jays signed Ervin Santana last winter, for example, perhaps they’d have felt more comfortable trading a J.A. Happ, or one of their young arms, for a mid-season addition that could have propelled them more fully into the playoff race.

It’s not quite so simple as that, of course. Such a trade may have blown up in their faces, and with respect to getting free agents to come here in the first place, there is always the internal money issue, and the issue of getting free agents to play in Canada, on turf, in an extreme hitters’ park, and while looking up at the massive advantages held by the Yankees and Red Sox. The question we never seem to get to answer, of course, is just how real are those concerns? Santana had all but formally agreed to come here. Melky Cabrera came here, though with a bad case of ‘roids taint. And as Elliott’s piece notes, years ago A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan came here seeking the highest dollar amounts possible, and Vernon Wells stuck around, too — just like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and many others have in the years since (though the equation with them is quite a bit different, seeing as they were signed before they reached free agency).

And there’s something funny that we don’t think of often enough when it comes to those deals that went so badly wrong for this organization.

Burnett was here from 2006 to 2008. B.J. Ryan’s deal was on the books from 2006 to 2010. Vernon Wells signed his massive extension prior to 2007 (though it didn’t really kick in in a big way until 2010, and he was traded the off-season after).

And the Blue Jays’ payroll in those years? According to Cot’s it was $71.9-million (2006), $81.9-million (2007), $98-million (2008), $80.5-million (2009), $78.7-million (2010), and with Wells off the books, it went down to $70.6-million in 2011.

Obviously some of the differences between those payrolls and the $137.2-million the Jays spent this year have to do with where the team was at, and obviously there have been changes to the economic environment over that span — there’s the new national TV deal in the U.S., which pumps an additional $26-million per year into the coffers of each club, and the Canadian dollar isn’t currently as strong as it once was, for example — but even factoring for that, would spending even more than they were in all those years have been reckless? Would paying all of the $23-million owed to Wells in 2011, and not just the $5-million they sent to the Angels, have been a crippling blow? Would paying the $10.1-million that the Alex Rios contract averaged from 2008 to 2014 have been?

Were the consequences of any of those deals, or deals of that type, so great that they needed to be feared? That contracts needed to be dumped? Could the Jays not have been much better throughout that span if they had been even more willing to spend and less cynical about pocketing revenue sharing dollars?

We’re just taking a very quick and very dirty look only a part of a complicated financial picture here, without much accounting for on-field success, and that doesn’t actually prove anything, I know. But still, clearly the answer to all those questions is “certainly fucking not.” And while there are very real and understandable fears that ownership itself may at any point have imposed limits on payroll that made carrying bigger contracts a problem, the notion that they couldn’t very easily swallow the back end of a Robinson Cano-sized deal and be just fine for it is as much a fallacy as the idea that their refusal to go beyond five years on a deal has anything to do with why they don’t end up signing big ticket free agents.

They choose not to spend more. Boras is right.

I know we know this, but it doesn’t hurt to give ourselves a reminder every once in a while, or at the very least to let Mr. Super Agent do it for us. Especially when it’s within a week of learning that the club is asking us fans to spend more, and on a day when the similarly corporate-owned Atlanta Braves — who two years ago signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75-million deal, and less than a year ago extended Freddie Freeman for eight years and $135-million — may have outbid the Jays for their hitting coach.

Yes, the current payroll is healthy and mostly just poorly allocated, but it’s the refusal to budge on it — a necessary instrument given that missteps are always going to happen — that makes the task of improving the team so much more difficult. And the fact that they do it to themselves, and that we get asked to pay more — and often gladly do! — for the privilege of watching the results of this self-imposed impotence, is as sad as it is infuriating sometimes.

I dunno. I mostly just wanted to write the old-timey headline.

So… there’s that.

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Welp. Here’s something unexpected, by way of Braves MLB.com reporter Mark Bowman…

I’ve never been one to worry much about coaches, but this is certainly a peculiar one, innit? Kevin Seitzer, who had a relationship with John Gibbons from their days on staff of the Kansas City Royals and was presumed to be a “Gibby guy,” if you’ll forgive the phrase, has indeed parted ways with the club. Weird.

This means that the Jays will be moving on to their fourth hitting coach in four years, apparently. Sort of: Dwayne Murphy’s last year with the title was 2012; Chad Mottola took over in 2013, though Murphy was still around as first base coach and functioned as a second hitting coach; Seitzer took over in 2014, and now we’ll have a new guy! That… uh… can’t be good, can it? (Is it necessarily bad, though? You’d think you’d prefer stability, but let’s not pretend we know how much, if at all, that matters).

Most members of the coaching staff go year-to-year, so it’s almost certain that Seitzer was free to talk to any club about any vacancy they wanted — just like the Jays were free talk to ex-Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, which they apparently did, according to a report earlier in the month. So for the moment, we don’t know if the parting was mutual, if the Jays weren’t happy with him, if he wasn’t happy here, if he didn’t like the overtures towards other coaches, if Atlanta simply offered him more money, if he valued the chance to be a bit closer to home (Seitzer still lives in Kansas City, according to reports from last winter about him working with Ryan Goins), or… what.

We really don’t know anything here, frankly. And it would be irresponsible — not to mention kinda boring — to speculate. Maybe if something else comes to light?

Bowman notes in a piece at his blog that “Seitzer has ties to both [Braves president of baseball operations John] Hart and Braves president John Schuerholz. He concluded his career with the Indians, while Hart was serving as Cleveland’s general manager, and made his Major League debut in 1986 with the Royals while Schuerholz was serving as Kansas City’s GM.” So… that’s something?

Here’s what I wrote back when reports surfaced that the Jays were talking to Long:

We could take the opportunity here to sift through the noise of the Jays hitters’ 2014 performances and try to pull in some kind of signal that explains the job their hitting coach did, but even with a massive research project, it would be hard to imagine finding anything conclusive.

Yeah, Jose Bautista used the opposite field more, Brett Lawrie looked like he was coming around before injury hit, and Adam Lind traded power for more doubles (relative to his number of plate appearances) and fewer strikeouts. But in general the guys who you’d expect to be good were good, and the guys you’d expect to be bad were bad.

The team struggled to score runs in August, but it was with three of their most dangerous hitters either out or rushed back into action.

Seitzer seemed ineffective at getting through to Colby Rasmus, and his main off-season protege, Ryan Goins, didn’t hit any better than expected, but… that’s Ryan Goins and Colby Rasmus.

He was there, and the Jays did what they did, but it’s hard to say from here whether he did anything particularly well or particularly poorly. Those who worked with him will surely have a better idea, but that doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with whether a coach will come back either — ask last year’s hitting coach.

Right?

I dunno. Just add getting a new hitting coach to the pile of things Anthopoulos needs to do this winter, I guess.

So… there’s that.

Update

Mike Wilner clears up some of our questions:

So the parting of the ways doesn’t appear to have been mutual, then. There was clearly some desire among both parties to have Seitzer continue on as the Jays’ hitting coach.

Interestingly, it apparently didn’t fall apart because the Braves swooped in with a better offer, eith. To wit:

So… yeah.

I mean, that’s fair. The Jays shouldn’t be expected to pay any cost demanded by an employee. Especially not when it’s someone as inconsequential as the hitting coach. But obviously, given the whole fucking money thing when it comes to this club, people aren’t going to have much trouble trying to put two and two together on this and saying the Jays simply cheaped out and are a joke of a revolving door when it comes to their coaching staff, and to paying their staff.

I don’t think they’re necessarily right — the issue is, at the very least, more nuanced than that — but I can’t exactly say I blame people for going there, either.

Clearly this did have something to do with money, but every instance of the club choosing the least expensive path isn’t a screaming indicator that Rogers is clamping down on payroll and assuring their future doom. It just might be nice if it didn’t always seem to be the same fucking story with this team, eh?

However, I don’t know if I believe Seitzer was ever really Alex’s guy anyway, and more importantly, I also think there’s a perfectly legitimate argument to be made that, unless you’ve got someone you think is really exceptional, one hitting coach really isn’t worth that much more than the next. Especially when you’re talking about the big league level, where there are a lot of guys vying for very few opportunities, and where you’re mostly working with fully-formed hitters anyway (or much closer to it, usually). I likely wouldn’t be quite so flippant about it if we were talking about the architects of organizational philosophy and guys doing heavy player development work — not that I’d know enough to make a judgment there either — but a big league hitting coach? Meh. I mean, sure, on principle I find the “there’s a lineup of people who will do it for this much if you say no, so you’d better take what we give you” corporate mindset a rather offensive way of grinding people to dust, but that’s how they do. Tempting as it might be to read more into the money aspect, I’m not sure it’s much more than just that.

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Daily?

More tumult in the Rays organization, as manager Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out clause in his contract that was activated when Tampa GM Andrew Friedman bolted for the Los Angeles Dodgers, making one of the games best-regarded managers a free agent.

Maddon won’t be coming here though, just in case any of you thought there was a chance in hell Rogers would actually pay top tier money for a manager. Joel Sherman tweets that executives from the Mets and Dodgers have confirmed Maddon isn’t a target, and he’s “Been told no by #Braves #Bluejays teams thought could be in play” [sic]. Of course, nobody actually believes that the Dodgers are out of the running, but that doesn’t mean I’d be going and holding my breath that the same was true of the Jays then.

We’re still seeing fallout from the Jays’ decision to raise ticket prices. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star speaks to fans surprised and dismayed by the decision, and also Jays senior VP Stephen Brooks, who says that “It’s never an easy decision, as evidenced by the fact we haven’t done it in five years.” Brooks explains, “It’s just trying to get consistency in product pricing relative to other products by section,” and confirms that single game tickets will be going up as well. Welp.

I got a bit conspiratorial last night, tweeting rhetorically, “Would anyone be surprised if we look back next spring and think they were setting the front office up to fail so they can slash $?” What I meant by that is, with all we know about how the suits are watching revenue, giving more reason for fans to stay away — especially if the club has another underfunded, unsatisfying off-season — could provide a pretext for an eventual housecleaning. Honestly, though… it had been five years. I’m starting to believe that they probably didn’t want to do it any more than fans wanted it to be done, but they can’t really be expected to sit at 2009 prices forever, especially given inflation and the sagging dollar. Shit, fans kept coming out despite the traffic mess around the stadium this summer, so maybe they really can get away with it. Better now than following another year of the same story, right?

Speaking of the revenue question, though, Shi Davidi adds this in his piece on the ticket prices at Sportsnet: “Intriguingly, team owner Rogers Communications Inc., reported its third quarter earnings Thursday, with the company’s release noting that ‘higher revenue associated with the Toronto Blue Jays’ helped keep Rogers Media’s operating revenue unchanged in the quarter and up two percent year to date.” Well that’s alright, though he adds that “no specifics were provided.”

One of the reasons this increase has caused bigger ripples than it might have otherwise, of course, is the uncertainty the team faces going into this off-season, and the fact that we simply don’t know if Alex Anthopoulos is going to be able to do the very obvious things he needs to do in order to make this team tangibly better. It begins with re-signing Melky Cabrera (or an adequate replacement), and according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Jays are still hopeful they can do so, and “have begun” talks to bring him back. Hmmm. I’d wager that means formally or something — clearly they’ve discussed it before this point — but either way, that’s alright.

Regarding Melky’s status, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet notes that Jose Bautista, when speaking to Mike Wilner during a World Series pre-game show on the Fan 590, says he thinks it’s 50-50 whether Cabrera will return. Meanwhile, at FanGraphs, they profiled Cabrera as a part of this year’s Contract Crowdsourcing series (in which fans are asked to estimate the years and dollars players will receive on the open market), which highlighted something that ought to be a reality check for a lot of Jays fans who think the off-season hinges on getting him back: Cabrera has averaged 498 PA and 2.1 WAR over the last three seasons, and 2.5 WAR per 600 PA over the last three seasons. He was worth 2.6 WAR in 2014, and is projected to be worth 2.5 WAR in 2015. That makes him a very good player. That doesn’t make him an irreplaceable player.

Sticking with FanGraphs, something else Anthopoulos can do is raise the damn floor of the players that his club gives playing time to, which is something that’s explored with respect to the Orioles in an excellent piece from Jeff Sullivan this week. The O’s made the ALCS despite Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Davis being awful and off the post-season roster, and Matt Wieters and Manny Machado injured. Imagine the Jays having that happen and what we’d be hearing about “everyone has injuries, so we can’t use that as an excuse, but look at all our injuries!” The reason, Sullivan surmises, that Baltimore was able to weather that storm is not their magical manager (sorry spirit animal lovers), but the fact that GM Dan Duquette has actively worked to raise the floor of the players at his disposal as much as he’s worked to raise the ceiling, too. Over the last three years the Orioles have accumulated the sixth-least amount of negative WAR in the majors (the Rays, unsurprisingly, are first). The Jays are middle of the pack, but among AL teams, the only ones to have played more negative WAR players over that span are the lowly Astros, Twins, Clevelands, Mariners, and White Sox. Looking at it through the prism of Andrew Friedman’s current and former teams, Sullivan explains that “while the Dodgers, over the last three years, have combined for seven more positive WAR than the Rays, the Rays have been better by about 4 WAR overall, because they’ve been able to have better depth. Friedman has always accumulated talent beyond just the active roster, while Colletti had weaknesses on the active roster.” It’s a lesson Alex Anthopoulos would do well to learn — though, granted, one that was tougher to learn in his early years with the club, as J.P. Ricciardi’s weak drafts were still impacting him. Getting harder and harder to blame J.P. with each passing year, though.

Speaking of Ricciardi, Andy Martino of the Daily News reported this week that Ricciardi is about to extend his arrangement with the Mets, where he oversees pro scouting and acts as a senior advisor to GM Sandy Alderson. So much for him never working again, eh dipshits? In the same piece Martino looks at Yasmani Tomas, the 23-year-old Cuban outfielder who could be the subject of a bidding war this winter. We’d love to see the Jays involved, but given the market for the latest big talents out of Cuba, it’s hard to picture.

The same goes, unfortunately, for second baseman Jose Fernandez, who defected this month, even though he’d fit an obvious need for the club. MLBTR provides some background on him, with links to scouting reports from the always-excellent Ben Badler of Baseball America, and tells us another unfortunate fact: the process to get him declared a free agent by MLB won’t likely be complete until around the end of January. The Jays simply cannot wait until then to address their infield issue on the hope that they’ll be able to land Fernandez.

Speaking of the second base issue, back at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris provided a hopeful answer to a question yesterday in a chat that asked about Aaron Sanchez’s future. “ I think they put Sanchez and Norris in a battle, hope that one of them can be a number two to Stroman’s number one… and then I kinda like that team. I don’t know why people are so down on them. A targeted infield acquisition and a little bit of luck between their three young outfielders could make that team hum.” He’s not wrong. Except… well… gotta find some relievers and a better replacement for Melky than the youngsters. But still!

So what do the Jays do this off-season? Shi Davidi takes a detailed look in his latest at Sportsnet, priming us for the start of the off-season in earnest, which could come “as soon as Monday and no later than next Thursday depending on what happens this weekend in the World Series.”

Elsewhere at Sportsnet, the Tao Of Stieb tells us about the danger of looking to the World Series for lessons, while Ben Nicholson-Smith outlines what should be an off-season of change for teams in the AL East, which has obviously already started in a big way in Tampa.

More Sportsnet: yesterday was the 21st anniversary of Joe Carter’s home run, so they re-posted last year’s excellent oral history of the moment.

Back to the Toronto Star, Brendan Kennedy has a bunch of great stuff, most recently telling us about fan Scott Ingram’s proposal to commemorate Ralph Platner at the Rogers Centre. I think the idea is great, but even if you don’t, it’s not like it could possibly be worse than the one statue they do have down there. *COUGH*

Also from Brendan: an outstanding look at life in the minor leagues, a look at what the Jays can learn from the Kansas City Royals’ success, and a look from the Arizona Fall League at Dalton Pompey.

Speaking of the AFL, Your Van C’s looks at Roberto Osuna’s second appearance there, which took place on Tuesday and was… still not great, but better.

And speaking of prospects, Jessica Quiroli of Minor League Ball writes about Matt Boyd, who tells her about dealing with his demotion back to Dunedin this season, after struggling to adapt at Double-A New Hampshire.

A bunch from MLBTR, as they feature the Jays in their Offseason Outlook series, and tell us about the hiring of former Nationals scout Paul Tinell by the Jays, as well as their re-signing of Jonathan Diaz to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

Some retrospectives on the season, as Blue Jays Plus grades the Jays’ bullpen, Bluebird Banter looks at whether the bullpen was really the problem, while Gregor Chisholm of BlueJays.com looks at the expectations that were unmet this year by the bullpen.

More from Gregor, as he looks at how history repeated itself with respect to the Jays’ infield troubles in 2014, and also tells us that Mark Buehrle is among the finalists for a Gold Glove this year.

Back to Bluebird Banter, where the always-excellent Nick Ashbourne looks into some splits, and determines that Drew Hutchison needs a new plan against left-handed hitters.

And lastly, not Jays-related, but two outstanding pieces that are definitely worth a read, as the Guardian talks about Billy Beane, his influence in baseball, and his obsession with soccer. Meanwhile, Jack Moore writes at Vice Sports about how Wall Street strangled the life out of Sabermetrics.

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For years I’ve had a “ballpark pass,” the ultra-cheap vestige of Paul Godfrey’s house-papering era that allows me entry to every Jays game, save the home opener, for about $100. Or… technically it’s not just “entry,” but a seat in the 500s in the shadowy part that’s actually behind one of the stadium lights — which, for the price I pay, is extraordinarily more than fair.

The point of mentioning all that is that I must admit up front that I’m flying a bit blind when it comes to stuff about ticket prices this time of year. I do end up purchasing a bunch of single game tickets anyway, but those aren’t on sale just yet, and more importantly enough about me, the effing Jays are actually raising ticket prices!!!!

At least, that’s what the internet is telling me. To wit:

And here’s a claim from the comments here yesterday, thanks to Jayfan34:

Not related directly, but note the Jays finally posted their 2015 season ticket info. My tickets went up by over 12%! Like to hear their justification for that one, it better be used to improve the on-field product.

Remember tweeting a couple weeks ago the Jays were probably raising prices and waiting for a day they could bury it, looks like game 1 of the world series was where they buried it.

You can also see a Twitter conversation about it here.

This is pretty much the extent of what I know. I don’t know which tickets have gone up by what, or what anything cost last year, and while I’m sure I could do a research project and look it all up… why? It seems pretty clear that prices are on their way up, and I’m sure more of you can fill us in from here on those sorts of specifics. I’d expect that single game ticket prices will be raised as well, but that’s purely speculation.

Speaking of speculation, I could offer up a few reasons why this is happening, not that any of those are going to be particularly satisfying to the most-loyal-of-the-loyal folks who actually fork out big dollars to go see this team every year — and who understandably aren’t exactly optimistic that the money they’re being asked to pour into the club’s coffers will actually be used to make the kinds of on-field improvements that could have put them into serious playoff contention this season, if only ownership hadn’t decided that watching their product die on the vine was more palatable than ponying up an extra 10% or so on payroll that could have made a truly significant difference.

To be fair-ish, prices aren’t outrageous and haven’t gone up for at least a couple of years now (a fact that I could be more specific about if, like I say, I actually knew anything about this). To also be fair, the Canadian dollar is sagging, and as much as they ought to be hedged for those kinds of fluctuations, a company that pays out in US dollars and takes in Canadian ones is always going to be impacted by a thing like that — or so they can claim?

Thirdly, Rogers as a whole saw their third-quarter profit drop 28% according to a report this morning from Christine Dobby of the Globe and Mail. That doesn’t exactly mean that they’re “struggling” — “profit fell 28 per cent to $332-million or 64 cents per share, compared to net income of $464-million or 90 cents per share in the same quarter last year,” we’re told — and the company “reported positive signs on revenue,” but this is at the very least something resembling a reasonable pretext for a price raise. Especially given that “the company’s media division – which includes its stable of magazines and broadcast assets as well as the Toronto Blue Jays – reported flat revenue of $440-million.”

It’s hard to unpack what any of that really means for the Jays, but tangibly for fans it means that the prevailing thought is not only that the time is finally right for prices to go up, but that they can get away with it. Yikes.

Whether they’re right about that will be a very, very interesting question to watch over the course of the upcoming winter, but I’m willing to bet that an act of good faith from ownership on the payroll front* would go a long way towards answering it in the way that we all want it to be answered.

 

*I know, I know, tenth highest payroll in baseball and all that. But I’m sorry, it’s just not that simple. In fact, below is how I responded to a comment on the subject a few weeks ago, after reader TorontoMPH wrote, “The ‘terrible’ owner let the payroll go from $80m to $120m during the ’12-13 offseason, and got rewarded with a last place finish. I was as frustrated as anyone at the inactivity, but who knows what Alex promised to get the greenlight on the Marlins deal. Perhaps he got told “go ahead, but you sink or swim with what you got – there’s no more cookies in the cookie jar..””

And it makes them a good owner that they followed through on strangling the front office’s ability to do anything by not raising payroll a cent after the first year didn’t work out? That they would rather let their product die on the vine than spend a little more and give it a legitimate chance to win and actually make the kind of money they hoped for in the first place? That they didn’t believe the pre-2013 moves took them close enough to warrant more investment?

The “tenth highest payroll” thing gets tossed around a lot, and you’re right that it’s very possible that AA was hoisted on his own petard this year, but you’re not really a big spending team if you just do it once and then claw it back immediately.

The Marlins’ last four years of payroll are $57M, $101M, $50M, $45M — I don’t think we’d call them big spenders. They’re opportunistic spenders, and content to feed off other revenue sources the rest of the time and not much care how the team does. I know the Jays are going to stay well above where they were in 2012 for a few years, because of the long-term commitments, but to me they’re a lot closer to that than they are to being an actual big payroll team commensurate to the size of the market and the value of the TV rights, regardless of what the payroll number happens to be at the moment.

So… y’know.

Hey, and while we’re here, sorry for the lack of frothing outrage on this subject. Not sure if it’s because I’m just so used to Rogers or if it’s the fact that I’m not a season ticket holder proper, or even that I can’t not acknowledge that Jays tickets really are still a pretty damn good deal, but I didn’t have it in me to go apoplectic here. Maybe it’s that I still somehow have too much faith in the pipe dream that they might not actually fuck this whole off-season up.

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