Andrew Stoeten

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Note: John Gibbons says that if Mark Buehrle doesn’t get in six innings tonight — and therefore 200 on the season for the 14th straight year — he might have him pitch an inning or two on Sunday, just to make sure he hits the milestone. So… there’s that.


Cathal Kelly has an interesting, uncomfortable piece in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail that looks back on what was supposed to be the Jays’ transformative trade with the Miami Marlins two years ago. It’s certainly worth a read, provided you’re ready for the uninspired shine he puts on comments from Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle about the future and being here in Baseball Siberia to begin with, and if you can get through without raising too high an eyebrow over the assuredness of comments like “Nobody’s talking in the clubhouse any more. There is no particular mood at all, good or bad. Everyone’s just trying to get to the end.”

There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff in there — valuable stuff — though at times it feels as if the whole of the piece isn’t maybe as great as the sum of its parts. Particularly, that’s because of one of the central tenets Kelly lays out as the wistfulness really kicks in and he approaches the end. “Who knows what they’ll be next year,” he writes, “but there are two options: very similar, and therefore doomed; or very different, and therefore having moved on.”

The absolutes sure do inject some delicious pathos into the club’s situation, and maybe I’m getting too hung up on the meaning of “similar” — a semantic question — but it really busts my balls that so many people make the assumption that 2015 will fail because 2014 failed and 2013 failed, as though they’re the same thing.

They’re not.

Why not? Well, most glaringly, all those starts made in early 2014 by Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and Liam Hendriks, and all the ones in 2013 from Morrow, Josh Johnson, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Chien-Ming Wang, and Ramon Ortiz ought to go to far more capable pitchers in 2015, inexperienced as they may be.

Yes, the team has major challenges ahead and in 2015 will need to replace the production that Melky Cabrera provided in 2014, and Colby Rasmus provided in 2013, just to get back to the level on the offensive side of the ball that has yet to be good enough, but to say that if the Jays are similar they’re doomed? Especially when considering the question through the prism of their core and The Trade? As tough pill as it is to ask a lot of fans to swallow, it’s genuinely not necessarily the case (though the usual that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be doomed either caveats apply).

Kelly continues:

It was a great idea, and well worth the risk.

It failed abysmally, as risks often do.

The only mistake would be using this transactional face-plant as an excuse not to try the same thing again.

A slight addendum: Perhaps the next time, we might first ask everyone involved if they’re keen on the idea.

He’s certainly not wrong that the Jays shouldn’t be afraid to make big, bold moves again, but did the trade fail abysmally? Did it matter whether anyone was keen on the idea?

Obviously the Jays have missed the playoffs in each of the two years since the deal happened, so ultimately it’s going to be judged as a failure by most. But the reality is more complicated than that. While Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio obviously did not, Buehrle and Reyes, whether they seem keen on being here or not, have more or less held up their end of the deal. In his two years here, Reyes has been worth five total wins by both FanGraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, while Buehrle has been worth closer to six. That’s not great, but it’s not far removed from any reasonable, conservative estimation of what those two would have provided. And it’s certainly not a reflection of some negative disposition, either.

No, it’s not what you expect of guys who next year will, together, take up $42-million of payroll. But what the sourpuss fans bitterly mumbling “not a $20-million player” sometimes forget is that in 2012 and ’13, Reyes wasn’t a $10-million player either. Nor was Buehrle a $7-million and $12-million player in those years (note: I’m including the $1-million per year of his deferred signing bonus in the total salary).

The deals were backloaded, and taking them on after letting Miami reap the benefits of their ultra-cheap first years was a necessary part of the transaction for the Jays. Neither player was going to come here as a free agent after 2012 — not Reyes, because of the turf, and not Buehrle, because of the pitching environment — so the Jays did what they had to in order to add their talent. Tying our evaluation of those players so directly to their current salary isn’t terribly fair. The Marlins, in fact, paid $8.5-million as part of the Buehrle portion of the deal (per Cot’s), meaning that, in terms of average annual value, the Jays are really paying him $14.1-million. (Reyes, in terms of AAV, doesn’t look nearly as rosy — factoring in a $4-million buyout of his $22-million option for 2018, which there’s no way in hell the Jays will pick up, and his average annual value as a member of the Jays is $19.2-million).

None of that changes the massive percentage of payroll that these two players have taken up, and are slated to take up in 2015 (and in Reyes’s case, beyond), and clearly it is a problem. But that’s kinda the rub. There’s a very well understood reason why that’s a problem, and to me it speaks to a far bigger failing of the 2014 Blue Jays and the moves the preceded this year, and a far more likely reason than keeping much of the same cast that the 2015 version of club may be doomed.

It is, of course, the failure of corporate support.

And now here’s where we can go through the same exercise we always do, listing the reasons why Rogers might have been justified in closing the purse strings, or trying to point fingers about how the situation was allowed to become what it was in 2014, etc. etc. But whatever explanations we come up with, it is an incontrovertible fact that giving Alex Anthopoulos the funds to add more talent, either last winter or at the trade deadline, could have a long, long way towards un-dooming the club. Just as additional funds this winter could well do the same.

In order to obtain the sort of financial flexibility Rogers seems unlikely to grant them, it’s more likely that the club will look to move one or both (though, realistically, probably just Buehrle) this winter. But they may not — they may not have to, or they may not find any takers, even if offering to eat a big chunk what’s owed Buehrle in his final year — and if they end up not having to, finding cheap solutions to their roster issues on the trade market, or actually being given access to the resources that can extract them from their back-of-the-roster mess, that’s the way in which we could absolutely see in 2015 a roster in many ways similar to the one fielded this season, yet not see a team that’s doomed to fail.

In a post Tuesday at Ghostrunner On First (which is obviously excellent), Drew hits on simple mantra for the not-so-simple task Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays will face in the coming winter months: be better. But the crux of what he’s saying surely isn’t that the Jays need to be better in the areas where their roster is already strong, it’s that they need to be better in the areas where glaring holes of a year ago weren’t addressed, and where foreseeable problems then (Brett Lawrie getting hurt, Colby Rasmus laying an egg and his backups being unsuitable for regular big league duty) and now (Melky Cabrera potentially leaving via free agency) still don’t have proper contingencies.

In other words, the root of the demise of the 2014 Jays isn’t so much a bold trade that fell in on itself, but:

Too many at bats given to players who simply cannot — or could not — hit. Look at this list. It is one of infamy. The names on this list represent more than 1000 plate appearances from guys unable to muster offensive production even [85]%* of league average. That’s a bad list to be on. There are seven names on it.

That’s not all that Drew says, of course, but to me this is key. Those seven players — Gose, Kawasaki, Valencia, Pillar, Kratz, Thole, and Goins — represent 20% of the total plate appearances the Jays have taken this season. That is indeed bad.

But he isn’t merely pointing the finger at those players. The simple fact of the matter is, he says, “the other teams were better. Better balanced or better in one dominant facet of the game.”

That is entirely true. And it’s also entirely true that Kelly’s statement that the 2015 Jays could be “very similar, and therefore doomed” if we’re talking about keeping the detritus of the kind singled out in Drew’s piece. But if we’re talking about the core of the roster? If we’re talking about guys involved in a trade being casually labelled an abysmal failure and a transactional face-plant? It’s not nearly so simple, and not nearly so definite.

Maybe Cathal is right in that Anthopoulos and Beeston bet too much of a too-easily-restricted payroll on the wrong guys, but there is still a lot of good here, and a lot that can be worked with — and a lot of questions that wouldn’t exist with better support from ownership. Let’s not overthink what the problem is.


* In the original GROF piece he used 80% of league average, but Kawasaki and Pillar crept up over the threshold over the last two days. Also, if you don’t limit the list to just guys over 50 PA there are even more, FYI.


John Gibbons will be the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015, “unless something crazy and unforeseen happens,” reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports this evening. And while those of you who oddly, desperately want him gone might be inclined to cling to the slight hint of a door left open that he’s not entirely in the clear — though… actually you all just seem to enjoy venting like children without worrying if there’s the slightest logic behind what you’re saying, as long as there’s a finger to dumbly point, so you probably secretly want him to stay — the big takeaway from Heyman’s latest is that ol’ Gibbers is pretty damn safe. As he should be.

“Team higher-ups are said to be planning for next season without even a thought they might consider changing manager,” Heyman says. “ Team higher-ups are said to like Gibbons and are especially pleased with his in-game managing, which they view as excellent.”

I tend to agree. Yes, September has, at times, been a bit unsettling, but it’s likely at least some of the weird moves we’ve seen have come at the behest of Gibbons’ boss. I think it’s just as likely that some of the moves haven’t been quite as bad as they’ve sometimes felt. In fact, I wrote about that just today in the comments section of a post here, expounding on the somewhat curious decision to bench Colby Rasmus when the club was still in clearly in the hunt for a playoff spot. “Given the season he’s had, and what Gose had done in the big leagues, and Pillar in the minors, until that point, there’s at least an argument for having played those two over Colby, even when the season was on the line,” I wrote. “I’m not sure it’s an argument I buy, but it’s not a slam dunk one way or the other — especially when you consider that all of Rasmus’s offensive value is all tied up in his once-in-a-while power (40 extra base hits in 376 PA), while Gose was actually doing a much better job at avoiding outs, which as the ninth guy in a top-heavy lineup isn’t maybe as bad as the wRC+ makes it look.”

Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter what I think or anybody but those “team higher-ups” think. Which… um… actually would be slightly more comforting if not for some of the additional stuff in Heyman’s piece.

Team management believes the culprits for a so-so last few months that basically ended Toronto’s playoff hopes to be the bullpen woes and a spate if injuries to middle-of-the order bats Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie, and more recently, Melky Cabrera.

Now, those are obviously the easiest excuses to make. They’re the ones that won’t cause a ripple like the more honest, “We insanely went with a second baseman who couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag, had no depth to cover for the inevitable happening, and then when the third baseman went down we were even further up shit creek except for those few weeks when Juan Francisco wasn’t hot garbage — oh, and our bullpen completely went to shit, and our five-win centrefielder turned back into replacement level dreck.” And, of course, as Heyman notes, “Toronto people don’t talk about the team’s finances,” so they certainly couldn’t have said that much of the reason for their inability to add better players to their roster was money related, or what others did, which is that the club “had no extra money to add players at the deadline.”

So… maybe we shouldn’t worry about the nature of the club’s anonymous excuses to a national U.S. reporter?

Yeah, let’s not worry about it! Gibbers is back! Most likely!

chart (4)

Missed you, Jays not sucking!

Dalton Pompey hit a second deck home run off of Felix damn Hernandez — he was all over that ball like a pyroclastic flow, I said, stealing a tweet of my own that nobody liked in the first place — and the Jays put up a ten-spot on a team clawing desperately to get back in the playoff race (not that you would have noticed tonight), despite having Munenori Kawasaki hit fifth, followed by Pompey, Anthony Gose, Josh Thole, and Ryan Goins.

Isn’t baseball crazy sometimes?

Isn’t baseball great?

And then you have a thing like this: With the Royals win tonight, by the way, the Jays are now officially, mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Funnily enough, tonight’s Royals win puts them three games up on the Mariners, and that much closer to ending their MLB-longest playoff drought. If they make the playoffs it will be for the first time since 1985 — the first year the Blue Jays made the playoffs, and the first year that the ALCS moved to a best-of-seven rather than a best-of-five, meaning, of course, that the Jays would have moved on to the World Series under the previous year’s format when they went up 3-1. But the Royals roared back — Jim Sundberg and all that — and with some help (though not as much as is mythologized) from Don Denkinger, won the World Series. And if Kansas City makes this year’s playoffs they’ll pass the playoff futility baton to none other than your Toronto Blue Jays. A sad achievement for a once-great franchise. Especially one in one of the biggest markets in the game, with a stadium built by public money and bought for essentially nothing, and an ownership group as rich as any in the game.


The roof open on a late September evening. The about-to-be American League Cy Young winner (for the second time) pitching for his team’s playoff life as the Mariners look to erase a two game deficit in the Wild Card race with just six days to go in the season.

It may not be meaningful September baseball in the way that we want it to be, but you can’t say it’s not meaningful. And you can’t say it’s not kinda awesome, either.

Well, except…


Kawasaki hitting fifth? Seriously??? And how do we think the Royals and A’s feel about that?

What jersey will Strombo wear to throw out the first pitch? Are you in as breathless anticipation of finding out what the fuck the Beastie Boys have to do with anything about this as I am?

Hey! Here’s something that should be a bigger item — and might well will be before the night (or at least tomorrow morning) is through: Jon Heyman reports at CBS Sports that, despite the weird comments from Alex Anthopoulos the other week, the Jays are planning for 2015 “without even a thought they might consider changing managers.” So… that’s something. Something good!

Seriously, though, that bottom of the lineup. Woof.

Next game(s): Tomorrow, 7:07 PM ET vs. Seattle

For those of you who’ll be out and about, be sure to follow all the action on your phone with theScore app.

And now, the lineups… 

Toronto Blue Jays

SS Jose Reyes (S)
RF Jose Bautista (R)
DH Edwin Encarnacion (R)
1B Adam Lind (L)
3B Munenori Kawasaki (L)
LF Dalton Pompey (S)
CF Anthony Gose (L)
C Josh Thole (L)
2B Ryan Goins (L)

RHP R.A. Dickey

Seattle Mariners

CF Austin Jackson (R)
LF Dustin Ackley (L)
2B Robinson Cano (L)
DH Kendrys Morales (S)
3B Kyle Seager (L)
1B Logan Morrison (L)
RF Michael Saunders (L)
C Mike Zunino (R)
SS Brad Miller (L)

RHP King Felix


Pitching: a totally natural human motion, eh?

Well, if you’re going to play the kids, you might as well play the kids, eh?

Despite talk of Todd Redmond getting the ball on Thursday, as the Jays turn to Charley Wholestaff in order to cover for the suspended Marcus Stroman, according to a tweet from Barry Davis, the club has decided instead to give us a little taste of the future: Dan Norris will get the start (which you knew already, because you read the title of this post).



Well… not necessarily.

To be sure, there are things to like about this. Norris is going to be a big part of this club in the coming years, and the Jays’ attempt to get his feet wet at the big league level this month hasn’t exactly gone swimmingly —  save for his debut strikeout of David Ortiz, but even that at-bat was right on the very edge of going wrong — and maybe he’ll fare better getting into his starters routine, rather than being sprung from the bullpen at a moment’s notice.

Having him end the year on a high note seems like a reasonable hope, though I’m not sure we can entirely chalk up his struggles against big league hitters — especially right-handers, the ten of whom he’s faced so far have produced three hits and two walks — to coming out of the bullpen. If anything, working short stints should have given him an advantage over what we’ll see Thursday night, though the fact that his fastball’s average velocity so far in the majors has been just 91.3 suggests that he wasn’t necessarily “ramping up” the way you might expect. But it will be good to see him get an extended look at big league hitters, as to this point he hasn’t pitched more than one inning at a time.

That, though, is the other thing. Norris certainly isn’t stretched out for this.

The Jays are obviously aware of such a fact and will have him on a pitch count — Megan Robinson tweets that John Gibbons says he hopes to get just two or three innings out of his youngster — but even that is a lot for a guy who hasn’t exceeded two innings of work since his final start for Buffalo, almost exactly a month to the day that he’ll be asked to make his debut start in the big leagues. His last outing of even two innings was back on August 31st.

There’s concern there, I suppose, and perhaps with the fact that he’s already logged 128 innings across four levels in 2014, after reaching just 90.2 innings last season, buuuuuuuut at least he’s been getting regular-ish work over the previous month, and at least the club isn’t expecting him to go remotely deep into tomorrow’s game. By the sound of it, the main idea really is to get him into his routine, and having him prepare to pitch at a certain time, rather than throwing him into the fire.

I can live with that. And I can certainly live with getting a look at the player about whom, when he was called up in early September, Craig Goldstein and Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospectus wrote this:

Norris can come at hitters with a four-pitch mix that is fronted by a quality fastball and slider combination. Norris can run the fastball toward 95 mph when he needs a little extra and sits comfortably in the low 90s. His fastball has very good movement and he can work it east-west with ease. The slider comes in around the mid-80s with plus potential, giving Norris two pitches that can be high-end major-league offerings.

Behind the fastball, Norris is still developing his arsenal. Both the curveball and changeup are a little rough around the edges, though they each flash potential to be average pitches at peak. In my viewings the curveball showed more potential to become an average pitch, with the changeup resting in the fringy range.

The command profile still has to come along to match the primary two pitches, but he shows an ability to move the fastball around the zone and can take the hitter out of the strike zone with the slider. Norris’ ability to move the fastball around the zone at a young age hints at the potential for an advanced control-and-command profile that should serve him well against the best hitters in the world.

Yep. I can definitely live with that.

Meanwhile, Megan Robinson tweets that Marcus Stroman will only be available as a reliever from here out, with Jays’ rotation for the club’s final six games looking like this: Dickey – Buehrle – Norris – Hutchison – Happ – Dickey. Brendan Kenedy adds that John Gibbons says the decision to move Stroman to the bullpen, and not have him face Baltimore had nothing to do with trying to alleviate any tension given what happened the last time Stroman faced the O’s. Good on Gibbers if it really was, though.


Another week, another Griff Bag! Aka Richard Griffin’s latest mail bag from over at the Toronto Star! On time and everything!

Uh… almost.

As always, I have not read any of Griffin’s answers.

If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, unless it’s about fucking Ricky Romero and J.P. Arencibia, submit it to Griffin here, and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!

Q-Richard Stoeten,

I was just wondering why Kendall Graveman did not show up on any top 25 prospect lists for the Blue Jays. I did not even see him on the revised list that came out later in the season.



Graveman didn’t show up on any of those lists, quite simply, because he wasn’t really a prospect. Frankly, he may still not really be a prospect, though that depends on your definition, and whether he’s able to sustain his success going forward.

There are thousands of minor league ballplayers, and the vast majority of them aren’t really considered prospects — as in, they’re org. guys — players not considered capable of actually making any sort of impact at the big league level, but there to fill roles at the various levels of the organization as they doggedly work to try to upend the projections, catch a break, or find a way to make it “click” and get themselves noticed.

That’s essentially what happened this season for Graveman, as he discovered — accidentally, as John Lott of the National Post explained back in August — a grip for a cutter that he was able to use to tremendous success as he blazed through the Jays’ minor league system. But his story isn’t quite so simple as that. Graveman was old for the levels he began at, so his meteoric rise needs to be taken with a grain of salt. And his status coming out of the draft is somewhat misleading as well: he was an eighth round pick, but 2013, after MLB had imposed limits on draft spending, including a set pool for their picks in the top ten rounds, which caused some teams — like the Jays — to circumvent the new rules by taking college seniors, who, in their last year of draft eligibility, have limited negotiating leverage. Graveman, in other words, was selected because he’d accept a bonus much smaller than the slot value of the pick used to select him — he accepted a $5,000 bonus, despite the pick having a slot value of $150,000.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they would pick just anybody. As a senior at Mississippi State, Graveman pitched for a team that were runners-up in the 2013 College World Series, and was the highest drafted pitcher from that club. But in terms of being a prospect? He was fringy. His velocity wasn’t seen as great — his fastball has averaged 93 so far in his brief big league career, though a large part of that number being higher than expected is surely the fact that he’s pitching out of the bullpen — and without the cutter that seems to have turned him into a groundball machine, there wasn’t a whole lot to dream on. Certainly not as much as some of the serious big-armed young prospects the Jays boast at the minor league levels, and so that’s why the evaluators compiling those lists — and the scouts and various members of organizations they trade notes with — didn’t pay him much mind.

One can only hope that the changes he’s made are for real, and he’s one of the guys who can inspire all those others to keep pushing.

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