Andrew Stoeten

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Playoff Open Threat: 10/15/14

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The Royals are off to the World Series. Good on them and good for their fans. Weird how the genius manager wasn’t able to beat the inept one when his players happened to not be playing as well as the other guy’s, eh?

Anywho… the Giants and Cardinals are also playing this evening, so discuss it amongst yourselves. Or don’t. Whatever.

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Daily?

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet is quick to make clear exactly what I figured about the rumours of the Jays talking to ex-Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, saying that Kevin Seitzer is expected to return as the club’s hitting coach. “The Blue Jays as a matter of process speak with many available coaches to see if there’s a fit anywhere in the organization,” he explains.

Whoa. WTF?? According to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal, Rays GM Andrew Friedman is leaving the AL East and will take over for Ned Colletti as GM of the Dodgers. That’s big. (Colletti will stay on as an advisor or some such thing).

Over the weekend, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Seattle Mariners front office — as well as their new, expensive signing, Robinson Cano — wanted to sign Nelson Cruz last winter, but their plans were scuppered by ownership, who refused to touch anyone with P.E.D. issues. Does this remove what could have been a very strong suitor for Melky Cabrera this winter? Let’s hope! (Since we’re still pipe-dreamin’ that the Jays get him back, right?)

Speaking of pending free agents, MLBTR’s latest is a continuation of their Free Agent Profile series, which today looks at Melky Cabrera. “A number of teams will be looking for offense in a thin market for bats, and Cabrera’s will be one of the best out there. The Orioles, Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Twins, Mariners, Rangers, Giants, Padres, Reds, Phillies and Mets could all be in the market for an outfield upgrade, so Cabrera’s representatives at the Legacy Agency will have no shortage of teams with which to converse,” writes Steve Adam, noting also that the White Sox, Twins, Rangers, and Phillies  Among those clubs, the White Sox, Twins, Rangers and Phillies would have a protected first-round pick. “I feel the $36-45MM figure floated past the Toronto Star’s Brendan Kennedy in a survey of rival agents was low. Cabrera can rightly claim that he’s one of the best bats on the market at a relatively young age, and that’s enough for me to predict a perhaps unnecessarily specific five-year, $66.25MM contract (Peralta’s contract with an extra year at the same AAV).” Yeesh.

At MLBTR last week they did a Free Agent Profile on Colby Rasmus, which… was less glowing. “I believe Rasmus will prioritize finding the right fit over maxing his earnings, whether on a one-year or multi-year deal,” writes Jeff Todd. “I do find a make-good contract to be the likelier outcome, and think that Rasmus will be able to reach $12MM on a one-year deal. But I would not be surprised if he ultimately scores a three-year pact.” I’d say that if it wouldn’t take away from whatever else the Jays might want to do — which it wouldn’t, so it’s a moot point — making Colby the qualifying offer might not be entirely crazy. Except that with the draft pick tied around his neck his market changes significantly and he totally accepts it. I’d really like to see what Dalton Pompey can do, myself.

Rasmus won’t be offered a qualifying offer, nor will Casey Janssen, of course, as Mike Wilner reported at Sportsnet last week. No shocks there.

Moving along, Steve Simmons vomits into our mouths at the Toronto Sun, dumbing down the discourse by using the examples of this year’s playoff teams to tell us that the Jays don’t have to spend to make the playoffs. We all know that’s true, of course, but the implication of this sort of nonsense, and the goofy attempt to implore his readers to see what’s supposedly in front of their noses — “It isn’t about payroll with the Blue Jays. It’s about spending the money wisely. It’s about player development. It’s about team. It’s about trust. It’s about performance. The money is there. The results are not.” — reduces a complex matter to a bunch of platitudes. Oh… I’m sorry… is it obvious that I can’t stand this sort of empowerment of mouth-breather mantras that overlook things like the division the Jays play in, the unbalanced schedule, and the specific reality of their current predicament? Sure, all that stuff in the abstract is totally true. But if the Jays want to be better in 2015, they need to spend more. If the Jays want to be good and maintain a player development pipeline and spend future money wisely (by keeping as many quality homegrown players possible and not destroying their pipeline through trades), they need to spend more now in order to fill in their current gaps. Hey, but let’s pretend this is all uncomplicated and WAHHHHHHH!

Elsewhere in the Sun, Mike Rutsey reports that Marcus Stroman contacted Caleb Joseph of the Orioles about the incident that got him suspended in September. “He got my number and we spoke and as far as things are concerned with me it’s a fresh, clean slate, start over. We’ll move on. I don’t have any desire to drag it out, hold grudges. This game is much bigger than a grudge that Caleb Joseph may want to have or not, it doesn’t matter. We spoke and I think things are good between us and hopefully we’ll have good competition the rest of the way out,” Joseph explained. “Honestly, right now I’m just so excited to be here in the post-season. I kind of forgot about it to be honest with you. It’s not my place to judge intent and honestly I could care less.”

More from the Sun, as Bob Elliott looks at the Kansas City Royals’ Canadian connection, the rave reviews given Buck Showalter by too-valued Jays advisor Mel Didier, and the resignation (cue garbage clowns) of the Jays southeastern cross checker, scout Rob St. Julien.

Roberto Osuna debuted last week in the Arizona Fall League, and… uh… if you haven’t heard, it didn’t go so well. Charlie Caskey writes about the outing for the Vancouver Sun, and offers some hope: “Grasping at straws, but as Clutchlings reminded me, Aaron Sanchez had a pretty rocky AFL debut. He only got better from there.”

Speaking of Osuna, last week Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs looked at the top ten 2015 prospects by projected WAR, and while no Jays made the list, no pitchers made the list either. If there was a list for pitchers, though, Osuna would find himself third, behind Lucas Giolito of the Nationals and the Marlins’ Andrew Heaney.

Interesting stuff, as always, from Nick Ashbourne of Bluebird Banter, as he takes a look at Edwin Encarnacion’s trouble with breaking pitches.

And from Blue Jays Plus, Greg Wisniewski follows up on the question of what to do with Aaron Sanchez, while Austin Gooder examines what went wrong with Colby Rasmus during his tenure with the Jays.

Great stuff from Harry Pavlidis of Baseball Prospectus on Fox’s alternative, stats-oriented broadcast of game two of the NLCS over the weekend.

Marcus Stroman made Baseball America’s All-Rookie team, because… of course he did.

The Jays added pitcher Bo Schultz last week. Unless his nickname is “Dutch,” meh.

At BlueJays.com, Gregor Chisholm has an excellent mail bag up, which should totally help those of you who, like myself, are feeling Griff Bag withdrawal.

Lastly, I was on a very special baseball-themed edition of local movie podcast The Dew Over, as lent my inner ghoul to a talk about the top baseball movies of all time. Have a listen!

And speaking of podcast, up shortly at Your Van C’s will be the latest edition of theirs, which features Anthony Alford and Tom Robson. Check it out!

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Sad news to precede today’s Daily Duce, as yesterday we learned that a recognizable character from the Rogers Centre, and all manner of Toronto sports venues has passed away: Ralphael Platner, aka “Ralph the Program Guy.”

According to Random Jays Stuff, the bespectacled program seller who would also walk the stadium aisles in his familiar shorts, selling flags, foam fingers, and pennants, “missed most of the 2014 Blue Jays season due to a prolonged illness. I found out today that he recently succumbed to the illness at the age of 67.”

Mark Hebscher has some terrific remembrances of the man he knew as “Ralph the Party Crasher” — a moniker that date back to Hebscher’s bar mitzvah, one of many, apparently, that Ralph crashed “for the food” — and who he calls “Toronto’s witness to sports history,” for the fact that Ralph attended thousands upon thousands of games in the city, in addition to many, many concerts, dating back to the Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1964. “I used to see him at Mosport,” he remarks, illustrating the breadth of what Ralph had seen. “He probably attended/worked 10 thousand events over the years, and made money at every one of them.”

Random Jays Stuff points us to a small 2011 Globe and Mail profile of him that paints him as one of the city’s legendary characters. “His encyclopedic recall of facts and ability to remember certain fans from decades ago have gained him notoriety among those who attend sports events in the city,” they explain. And they give examples:

“Did you know a plane crashed a week after Kennedy was killed? Nobody remembers that,” he says.

On Nov. 29, 1963, Trans-Canada Air Lines flight 831 crashed, flying from Montreal to Toronto, killing all 118 people on board.

“Three days before Kennedy was killed, Donald Summerville, the mayor of Toronto, died of a heart attack. He was playing in a charity hockey game, I think.”

On Nov. 19, 1963, the newly elected mayor did, indeed, die during such a game at George Bell arena.

Mr. Platner also has the great party trick of being able to tell you the day of the week on which your birth fell. He pronounces that May 2, 1969, was a Friday. How did he do that?

“Well, because of Kent State,” he begins modestly. “That was May 4, 1970, so I just worked it out from there.”

Amazing stuff. Must have been a real unique guy to talk to, for those who took the trouble to get to know him.

I must admit that I was not one of those people — not that it would have necessarily been easy, since, as Hebscher puts it, “Ralph was always in a hurry. … I never saw him in a seated position. He was always standing, or walking, or running.” — but he was certainly a familiar part of the ballpark experience. It’s going to be strange to think of him not being there when the Jays return to Rogers Centre next April, and I hope we all take a moment to do just that.

R.I.P. Ralph.

 

Image via Random Jays Stuff.

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Dwayne Murphy. Chad Mottola. Kevin Seitzer. Kevin Long?

Could the Jays be looking to hire a fourth hitting coach in four years, replacing John Gibbons’ hand-picked ol’ pal Kevin Seitzer?

Well, of course they could. But the strange thing is, according to a report from Mark Feinsand of the Daily News, they actually might be actively looking to do so. Specifically, they’ve spoken to recently fired Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.

To wit: “Long has already had phone conversations with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson as well as the general managers and/or managers from the Braves and Blue Jays.”

Long had been the Yankees hitting coach since 2007, which means that not only Seitzer, Mottola, and Murphy have been employed in that position by the Jays during his tenure, but also Gene Tenance and Mickey Brantley.

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Oh… and the last former Yankees hitting to have been lured north of the border: the one and only Gary Denbo.

That went swimmingly, right?

Of course, just because Denbo was scapegoated failed spectacularly doesn’t mean that any ex-Yankee will.

But the bigger question about the Jays talking to a potential replacement for Seitzer is, what exactly does all mean?

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, Chad Mottola.

But Mottola’s departure and Seitzer’s arrival is what would make serious overtures from the Jays towards long especially odd. They already used a hitting coach as scapegoat last year — and the year before — and Seitzer is very obviously Gibbers’ guy.

Less serious overtures, though? As in… doing their due diligence? As in taking the opportunity to pick the brain of the guy who was central to implementing the Yankees’ hitting philosophies for the last eight seasons?

That makes more sense to me. Unless Long is some sort of otherworldly master of the trade and the race is on to get him, regardless of whose expense his signature comes at. But then the Yankees wouldn’t very likely have let him go, would they?

There’s also the fact that Seitzer, like most (if not all) of the Jays coaches, simply goes year-to-year with his contract, and is likely a free agent himself. But should we really think Seitzer might be dissatisfied with the Jays, and willing to give up one of the 30 MLB hitting coach jobs in existence, and that the Jays are dissatisfied enough with him to be looking elsewhere?

No. But it certainly can’t hurt to know more about who’s out there, especially since the report also suggests that the Red Sox have interest in Long, having themselves had hitting coach Greg Colbrunn step down at the end of the season, in part due to his hospitalization for two weeks in June after suffering a brain hemorrhage. And, at least until we hear anything more on this front, I’m going to continue just assuming that Seitzer will be back. Which seems pretty alright to me.

So… there’s that.

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Gobble gobble. See you Tuesday unless the Jays do anything noteworthy.

The DJF Podcast may be on temporary hiatus (there will be podcasts again, I assure you), but that doesn’t mean you there aren’t other ways to get an hour of me mumble-fucking around about the Jays shot straight into your ear holes. Like, for example, this week’s edition of the Your Van C’s Podcast!

Your Van C’s is, of course, ostensibly a site about the Vancouver Canadians, and all things to do with the Jays minor leagues, but naturally the big club is a major topic too, and that’s what I chatted about with Greg Balloch (aka @GregBallochST) and Charlie Caskey (aka @CharlieCaskey), … y’know, just as soon as we figured out that I had somehow given them my phone number as being in the 416 area code, when it’s actually a 647. Still not sure how exactly I managed that.

Anyway, give them a follow, give their latest piece, which previews the Jays contingent in the Arizona Fall League, a read, and then have a listen to some radio magic.

My segment starts at about the 17:30 mark, if you want to be a dick about it…

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Earlier in the week we took an awfully conservative look at which Jays seem likely to be back in 2015, and who is likely to be gone. In the piece I had the starting catching position set with Navarro and Josh Thole still likely the backup. The rotation, I figured, will surely boast Stroman, Hutchison, and likey Buehrle, Dickey, and one of Norris, Sanchez, or Happ. Jose Bautista is in the outfield, probably along with Kevin Pillar (in some capacity), maybe one of Gose or Pompey, and a big question mark. Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, and John Mayberry look set at infield spots and/or DH, and Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar, and Todd Redmond seem likely enough to break camp in the bullpen.

Breaking it down, that’s one of the two catching spots covered, a full rotation plus some minor league depth, at least two of four outfield spots, every infield spot except for second base, four of seven relievers, and John Mayberry and Maicer Izturis off the bench.

The club, then, will a starting second- or third- baseman, a backup shortstop (which may well be Ryan Goins), another infielder (preferably one who can cover long stretches for Lawrie, if need be), ideally another starting outfielder (though the Jays could hold their noses and give centre and left to Pillar, Gose, and Pompey — though, at that point, why bother?), and three relievers (some of whom may surely already be in the organization, one of which may be McGowan, and another potentially in Sanchez, though I read somewhere that I disagree with that course of action).

I know, I know. That team won’t look all that different from the one they’ve been trying and failing to make work for the past two years. However, with the right two starting position players, and with the bullpen righting itself, and with some better-suited backups, it could all come together very nicely. But very obviously doing it that way won’t be easy. They’re not far off, but as the saying goes, getting the ten extra wins to go from 85 to 95 is a lot harder than getting the ten needed to go from 75 to 85. And as much as we want to believe Anthopoulos can still pull a rabbit out of his hat with Melky Cabrera, according to a recap of a Friday morning radio hit from Ben Nicholson-Smith at Sportsnet, the GM says the two camps have exchanged numbers, but “right now can’t seem to get together for various reasons.”

Presumably, those reasons have to do with different hopes on what the qualifying offer will do to the market for the player, which means that there’s still a chance Melky will fall back into their laps, but as the Orioles and J.J. Hardy showed this week, it’s not like it’s impossible to have figured out what the market for a player in that situation ought to be by now. So… I don’t think anyone ought to be terribly optimistic on this front.

Getting back to our scenario, the way I’ve set it up, the Jays will have Happ, Gose, Nolin, Tolleson, and Valencia to deal, along with some minor league pieces not mentioned here. That’s not much to operate with! It also really doesn’t help their infield or outfield depth. However, if you switch Dickey for Happ, or Norris for Nolin, now maybe you’re getting somewhere.

I have them picking up options on Adam Lind and Happ, while declining them on Morrow, McGowan, and Thole. That puts their payroll at $110.2-million before factoring in arbitration raises and adding guys on the league minimum.

Looking through the contract information at Cot’s, and entirely just guessing, I’ll say Cecil and Mayberry each go up to about $2.5-million. Thole likely stays on for about $1.5-million. And Lawrie, Delabar, and Hutchison (assuming he’s a Super Two — though he’s right on the line, ending the season with two years, 128 days of service) will each be looking at about $1-million. That roughly puts the team at $120-million, give or take, for fifteen guys.

Fill out the active roster with guys at the league minimum and you’re still over $125-million, which isn’t great when the budget doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the payroll for the current season was $137.2-million. Of course, Paul Beeston’s latest payroll claim is that “you know it’s going higher,” which… no. We totally don’t that know at all.

Things can be done, though. Moving Happ would clear his $6.7-million salary (though it would also add back some salary to the books, surely). Moving Mark Buehrle, getting a small but useful piece back, along with some salary relief, may be the completely obvious move here, even if the club really values his mere presence around their young pitchers.

Then again, it’s possible Anthopoulos always had a little wiggle room with the budget last year. I mean, surely the money to pay Ervin Santana wasn’t going to be accounted for entirely through deferrals, right? Meaning there may be more ceiling beyond the $137.2-million, assuming the budget for next year is even going to remain in the same place — a stupendously big assumption, I know.

Even if the assumption of a higher ceiling is false, deferrals may still be an option, too, and a reasonably palatable one, given that the club so far has only $27-million committed for 2016, $22-million on the books for the following year, and nothing beyond that. Thing is, ask the Madoffs about deferrals, re: Bobby Bonilla: it’s not smart business to punt those commitments down the road — and, naturally, kick in some extra for the players in order to get them to sign off. But for the short-term, and given how desperate those who run the Blue Jays will need to be this winter to make 2015 work, it seems like it might be a reasonable trade-off. The fact that they were willing to do it last year makes that all the more clear.

One deferral scheme, in particular, could be a very easy way to free a not-insignificant amount of payroll space: they could rework Ricky Romero’s contract to pay him a larger amount in total than the $7.5-million he’s owed for 2015, but to parcel it out over a longer time period. If he’d go for it, that is — and if the union, the league, and Rogers signed off as well. Pay him $2-million this year, free $5.5-million in payroll space, and then pay him, say, $1-million each of the next eight years? Sure, why not? And in that sort of world there are all kinds of creative things that the club should be able to do — reworking Mark Buehrle’s contract, come on down! — but I think we’re getting a bit fanciful here.

In Conclusion…

As if we didn’t already know, this entire exercise seems to be telling us that the Jays are in tough. Unless he can get the go-ahead to raise payroll and pay market prices for the sorts of pieces he so clearly needs, Alex Anthopoulos will have to walk a very fine line in order to improve his club over the winter. To meet the goals he needs to by way of the sort of conservative plan of attack I’ve mostly laid out here, he will need to pull a truly remarkable trick — turning nothing into something. It’s heartening to think how that trick has consistently been one of his best — moving Vernon Wells’ contract and getting Mike Napoli, trading peripheral pieces for Colby Rasmus and for J.A. Happ, even the Marlins deal could be cast in that light — and maybe that’s why he has been saying in his year-end comments that for the first time he’s truly excited about what’s is about to unfold. Maybe he gets off on the small sorts of “my doubles for your doubles” deals needed to complete his set.

But maybe it’s the other thing. Maybe he knows that this winter may be his one last kick at the can, and that he needs to be bold.

I’m sure he’s learned a lot of lessons from the successes and failures of his most recent forays into the bold, but I can’t help but feel uneasy about the possibility.

It’s exciting, and it will mean change — which sounds like a pretty good idea in the abstract — and there’s a part of me thinking, “Fuck it! Be dramatic! Do something!” and afraid of all these words of mine being much, much too cautious to possibly work, and that all the improvements one can wring out of the dreck at the bottom of this roster and enough payroll dollars to sign only the most lowly and desperate free agents simply and obviously won’t be enough. But there’s another part of me that remembers all too clearly the last time we all went down that road with this franchise, and… well… you know the story…

So… uh… what do you think? In, like, super, super general terms.

Image via.