Archive for the ‘Minor Moves’ Category

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?

kawasakiblows

On Wednesday, Munenori Kawasaki officially cleared waivers, was outrighted off of the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, and became a minor league free agent.

I get that.

The same scenario played out for Dan Johnson, as well.

I get that, too.

And according to a tweet from Mike Wilner, George Kottaras is likely to join them as free agents as soon as today.

This I do not get at all.

The answer to the questions on Kawasaki and Johnson are easy.

During his lengthy end-of-season press conference, which I recapped in detail earlier this week, Alex Anthopoulos clarified the utility infielder’s contract status, explaining that “Kawasaki, the way his contract is, even though he’s got — I haven’t looked at this, but — two years of service probably, or three years of service, he’s eligible for free agency. It’s just a clause in his contract. Most every Japanese player that comes over now, they’re not part of the reserve, you don’t get them for six or seven years and go through arbitration (unless they’re an amateur, and so on). So Kawa’s going to be a free agent at the end of the year — someone that I think we’re always going to look to bring back, one way or the other.”

Cue warm fuzzies and trips to Buffalo.

Johnson, on the other hand, despite being a prolific Triple-A hitter, is 35 years old and clearly not in the club’s plans, as evidenced by the way he was used in September. He is out of options and not a viable option as a replacement for Adam Lind on a team serious about winning. So that’s good! With the difference between his cost and Lind’s cost there could have been some kind of ridiculous plan to use him as a replacement, but obviously — thankfully — the Jays aren’t that hurtin’ for money and ideas.

Kottaras, though?

I know he’s not Dickey’s “personal catcher” or whatever, but there is actually quite a bit to like about the idea of Kottaras getting the chance to unseat Josh Thole as the club’s backup behind the plate.

First and foremost, he was Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher in 2009, spending 18 games behind the plate for the knuckleballer. If he could do the same ably for Dickey the Jays would clearly have themselves a more capable backup because of the difference on offence. To wit: Thole’s career wRC+ is 78 in 1311 plate appearances, whereas Kottaras has posted a 100 mark through 858 PA. Thole has struggled since moving to a part-time role, and especially over the last three seasons, where he’s posted just a 58 wRC+ in 658 PA — a putrid slash line of .225/.292/.277 over that span. Meanwhile, Kottaras’s last four MLB seasons have produced 109, 113, 103, and 150 marks by wRC+, albeit all in small samples.

Kottaras holds a .246/.338/.431 slash line as a Triple-A player, as well. And his walk rates have only improved as he’s matured: 13.2% with the Brewers in 2010, 13.6% in Triple-A and 8.1% in the big leagues in 2011, 17.7% in part time big league duty in 2012, 19.0% as a backup for the Royals last year, and in 2014, 14.3% for Buffalo, 8.5% in a small sample for Columbus, and 15.8% in the big leagues with three different teams.

It gets better: Kottaras has been stronger against right-handed pitching than against left (105 wRC+ compared to 82 against lefties), which is the exact opposite of Dioner Navarro, who produced just a 96 wRC+ against right-handers in 2014, compared to 103 against lefties, and whose career platoon splits have been even more pronounced (107 vs. LHP, 78 vs. RHP). Thole’s career mark against right-handers is just 85, and that’s lifted by his non-abysmal seasons in 2011 and before.

The Jays, in other words, could legitimately use Kottaras to spell Navarro against right-handed pitchers, even when Dickey isn’t pitching, and get a benefit. He isn’t great defensively, and he isn’t great with respect to pitch framing, but if he could catch the knuckleball the way he’s shown before that he’s capable, it’s a clear win.

So what gives?

Kottaras made $950,000 in 2014 and is arbitration eligible for one more season. Thole, meanwhile, has a club option for 2015, but he’s also arbitration eligible. The Jays could decline the option while keeping control of him, and then — as far as I understand, at least — release him if he loses the position battle next spring while being on the hook for just one sixth of the salary if they’re unable to trade him (a la Reed Johnson). The same would be true of Kottaras were he to lose the battle.

While one sixth of whatever Thole makes (likely a raise on his $1.5-million 2014 salary — i.e. something over $250K) isn’t nothing, it seems like a pretty small cost compared to a pretty big opportunity to make exactly the kind incremental improvement they need on this front.

Am I missing something? Perhaps. CBA stuff is always a bit tricky — ask the Edmonton Oilers! HEYO! — but I’m pretty sure that’s how it works. And if so, I just can’t understand why the Jays would be about to make Kottaras a free agent.

Maybe they tried him out with Dickey outside of public view and didn’t like the results, though that nobody heard any sort of whisper of such a thing is somewhat hard to believe. (Update: Or maybe I just don’t remember and they totally did have him try).

Maybe they think there’s enough opportunity for him here that they can get him to sign a deal that’s more favourable to the club than even what he’d be set to earn next year through the arbitration process.

Maybe they’ll defer to their nominal ace’s preference, though Thole’s half-season in Buffalo in 2013 while Henry Blanco caught Dickey suggests otherwise. Or maybe they don’t want to disrupt Dickey’s spring by having him throw to different catchers for most of it.

Maybe they don’t want to mess with what was a pretty successful combination in 2014 (after a shaky opening four starts, Dickey settled down and pitched to a 3.41 ERA over 30 starts from April 22nd onward), but they can’t really think that comes down so much to his catcher, can they?

Or maybe — hopefully — Wilner is wrong on this one and the Jays will have enough sense to keep Kottaras around for a good, long look in February and March.

 

(Note: Big crotch grab in the direction of @CWSherwin for the tweet from Brendan Kennedy showing Dickey throwing to Kottaras)

lawrieyelling

In a somewhat surprising development, this morning the Jays announced that Brett Lawrie has been placed on the 60-day DL, ending his season.

This procedural move comes among a metric shit-tonne of changes made to the roster now that teams are allowed to activate anyone on their 40-man. To wit:

Brandon Morrow (who will pitch out of the bullpen) and Dan Johnson have been activated from the DL. Anthony Gose, Ryan Goins, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, and Dan Norris have officially been called up to the big league club. Dalton Pompey and George Kottaras have been added to the 40-man and promoted to the Jays as well. And in order to clear room for these moves, in addition to Lawrie being placed on the 60-day DL, Darin Mastroianni and Matt Hague have been D’d FA, and Neil Wagner has been released. Sergio Santos, you’ll remember, was DFA late last week, when Chad Jenkins was recalled.

I’ll have more on the youngsters being promoted in yet another Assorted Weekend Thoughts piece later today (or… maybe tomorrow?), but for this one we’ll focus on Brett Lawrie, who somehow finishes 2014 with the fewest games played of any full year in his young MLB career.

Lawrie played 125 games in 2012, 107 last year, and finishes this season with just 70. His numbers don’t look particularly exciting, either, though the hopeful side of Jays fans will have reason to look beyond the slash line of .247/.301/.421. For one, he posted the best ISO of his big league career (.174), save for the explosive late-season cameo he made in 2011. His exactly-league-average wRC+ of 100 was incrementally better than the previous two seasons, the defensive metrics liked him (naturally), and the big one: though it’s an egregious use of arbitrary end points, Lawrie heated up immensely after beginning the season in a funk, posting a 125 wRC+ and a terrific .290/.344/.460 line from April 25th until his season ended on August 5th (three innings into his first game back after breaking his finger on June 22nd).

So, there’s bad — his overall numbers are not encouraging, and he’s done absolutely nothing to shake the “injury prone” label — but there’s also good. He’s still young, he still takes up very little payroll (he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter), after the cold start he showed there still can be a lot of potential in his bat, and his versatility and willingness to move to second base (not that he had any right to refuse, frankly) allowed John Gibbons to maximize the value he could get out of his roster. It’s a hopelessly misleading number — the bulk of Lawrie’s playing time this year was accrued before Juan Francisco turned into Pedro Cerrano — but the Jays were 39-31 in the games Lawrie played this season. His ability to move around the diamond and keep Francisco’s then-scorching bat in the lineup was a huge asset to the team — as was his defence at whichever position he was asked to play, not to mention his bat.

Despite the disappointing campaign, he certainly has earned another year as an unquestioned regular in the Blue Jays’ infield whenever he’s healthy. Let’s just hope it’s not another damn wasted one.

mayberry

This came down the wire last night, but it seems worth taking a look at a day later: the Jays made a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, picking up John Mayberry Jr. in exchange for minor league outfielder Gustavo Pierre.

Not really sure what the Phillies are thinking here, which seems par for the course, seeing as, y’know, they’re the Phillies.

Pierre (pronounced, I’ve been led by a Dunedin Jays broadcast to believe, Pee-er-aye) is a third baseman who will turn 23 in December and was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire for the first time at the end of this season. He’s been in the organization so long that, as an 18-year-old in 2010, he played for Auburn, but he spent big chunks of three seasons at Lansing, and the last year-and-a-half at Dunedin. Part of that is because he struggles so much at the plate. In 2013 he walked just four times in 439 plate appearances — improving to 13 walks this season, in 437 PA! — and the highest OBP he’s produced in five stints at three levels since the beginning of 2012 is .302. This year at Dunedin he slashed a depressing .263/.285/.390.

That doesn’t mean that he’s entirely worthless, though. Phillies blog Crashburn Alley, in their write-up on the deal, notes that Zach Mortimer of Baseball Prospectus wrote last year that Pierre has “a plus-plus arm but was forced to move off of shortstop because of inadequate defensive actions,” and that he “offers good bat speed and average power potential, but he may never realize his talent because of a deficiency in plate discipline.”

He could get better, in other words, but it’s a long shot. And giving him up for a potentially useful piece in Mayberry? That works.

It does, apparently, for Philadelphia, too, as Crashburn Alley explains that “the Phillies likely would have non-tendered Mayberry in the off-season rather than go into a second year of arbitration with him, so getting something is better than getting nothing.”

Mayberry, who is currently injured, makes $1.5875-million this season, and will get a bit of a raise next year, but will still command less than the $5-million per year the Tigers are paying Rajai Davis, whose role Mayberry will essentially take over — minus the stolen bases. He’s certainly a useful piece, though, for a Jays club still (somehow) searching for a proper platoon partner for Adam Lind, posting a 155 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season, and sporting a 130 mark for his career in the split across 475 plate appearances. He can play all three outfield positions, though he’s not above average at any, but — at least according to the advanced metrics — he’s passable enough to make him potential competition for Kevin Pillar next spring, one supposes. That is, if Pillar is even around still — Mayberry’s presence on the roster certainly makes a sell-high move involving Pillar a possibility.

So… another platoon guy. But one that makes a little bit more sense, at least, than a Nolan Reimold — who was claimed by the Diamondbacks late last week — in that he actually has a pronounced platoon split. So… certainly more useful to the Jays than to

Hey, and Dan Norris is up!

gobbons

That. Is. Amazing.

Huge crotch grab in the direction of @bigmf99 for the screen grab from BlueJays.com, and I hope it’s intentional, but no, this is not a post in which I’m going to join the army of dopes who think they can divine a manager’s ability to imbue his team with “want.” Because that would be stupid. (I am, in the coming weeks, hopefully going to do a series of posts making the case to keep Anthopoulos, to fire him, to rebuild, and to keep going ahead with the current core — all of which are pretty defensible positions — but Gibbons? Nah, he’s good).

Also stupid, probably, is combining the little gag above with a post about Sergio Santo’s latest DFA, but the picture came across my screen as I was searching for something to write about all that, and… um… about that… uh… thing is…

Santos’s miserable season continued last night, as he managed to get just one out, followed by a monstrous Mike Napoli home run, a double, and then yet another dinger, turning the 6-4 deficit Casey Janssen (and some terrible defending) had left him with in the top of the 11th into an 11-4 disaster. And it was indignity piled on indignity this morning, as the club made it official that Santos has been designated for assignment, with Chad Jenkins being recalled.

Santos has a $6-million club option for next season, and even though declining it means costing the club $750K, plus another $1.5-million to buy out his 2016 and 2017 options as well, certainly they’re not going to pick that option up. And putting him through waivers at least gives the club a chance, unlikely as it is, that some team will claim him and they can be off the hook for those buyouts.

It’s pretty much the same story as the last time he was designated, only with Chad Jenkins, not Rob Rasmussen, being the player recalled in his place, and without the possibility that Sergio will go back down to the minors and find himself. He may yet clear waivers and find himself back on the 40-man and back on the roster before all is said and done, but I’d figure that in all likelihood Santos’s time with the Jays is over.

Welp. It was a good try…

Nolan Reimold DFA?

reimoldeatsit

I love this picture so fucking much. But, sadly, this post isn’t about that. It’s about a strange bit of news for a Tuesday morning. You see, last night Jenn Smith (aka @GTAChick78) tweeted that Nolan Reimold had been designated for assignment by the Jays, with Kevin Pillar coming up to take his place on the big league roster.

Jenn has been right on these sorts of roster moves before — including getting Danny Valencia’s name first after rumours started circulating that the Jays had made some sort of a deal with Kansas City back in late July — and this morning MASN’s Orioles beat reporter, Roch Kubatko, strengthened her case, tweeting that Reimold had indeed been designated for assignment last night.

So that’s… weird. If it’s true.

The Jays haven’t made any sort of official announcement for the move yet. Perhaps they’re trying to dream up some kind of a justification for it, because while Reimold has certainly not been good, at the very least he’s an outfield option under team control for next year. That’s slightly important for this club, given the potentialdepartures of both Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera via free agency, which would leave the club with only Pillar, Jose Bautista, and Anthony Gose as somewhat-viable everyday outfielders. (Or… well… Bautista’s obviously beyond viable, but Gose has some pretty severe platoon issues, and Pillar has yet to show anything at the big league level and is allergic to walks).

Obviously a Blue Jays team looking to be successful in 2015 isn’t going to have a tonne of use for a guy like Reimold, but he’s still some sort of an asset, and with the way the team has shown a borderline obsession with not simply giving players away — hellooooooooooo Juan Francisco — this would seem to be a really odd move. And especially oddly-timed.

Is it disciplinary? Related to the dropped ball that cost the team on Sunday? Is it a sign that they think they can keep Melky in the fold and won’t need Reimold going forward? Do they want Pillar eligible for their (very hypothetical) playoff roster? Do they want a 40-man spot for Dalton Pompey? Did they promise Reimold a chance to catch on with a playoff team when they… claimed him on waivers?

That last one’s not likely. Maybe none of those are. Maybe this isn’t even a real thing that has happened and I’m just wasting everybody’s time here. Maybe it’s simple desperation and entirely performance based — after all, in 46 plate appearances since he returned from the DL on July 30th he’s hit an abysmal .175/.239/.350 — but with five games to go before rosters expand?

Uh… if they were going to get desperate enough to shed some of their bottom-of-the-roster fodder, wasn’t the time for that maybe something like sixteen or twenty days ago? At least?

Update

Shi Davidi confirms it at Sportsnet, suggesting that Reimold was a DFA candidate because of his recent struggles, and that the club is going to need spots on the 40-man roster to add Daniel Norris and Brandon Morrow (who is getting closer to returning after throwing some live BP in Dunedin over the weekend). Not sure how getting rid of either Colt Hynes or Matt Hague (who both, apparently, exist) wouldn’t have been a better options to clear a 40-man spot. Or Juan Francisco. But… what the hell do I know, I guess. Still think it’s a little weird.

goseHR

So here’s the news that a lot of Jays fans weren’t hoping to here, but should probably have been expecting: according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet, Anthony Gose is headed to Buffalo for a couple of weeks, in order to make room for Edwin Encarnacion.

This won’t sit well with those who are ready to run Colby Rasmus out of town — or even those who still like the promise Colby holds, and think he can do better than we’ve seen so far, but have also noticed that Gose has been worth nearly a win more to this team in 2014 in over a hundred fewer plate appearances.

And it definitely won’t sit well with those who are ready to stop watching Juan fucking Francisco tumble deeper into the goddamn abyss.

Francisco has been awful basically since the start of June — a .184/.240/.380 and a 67 wRC+ in 171 plate appearances — and somehow even more fucking terrible than that over his last month. His defence isn’t good, which is why he’s mostly been at DH or first base of late. But, unlike Gose, he’s out of options, and hey, at least when the other team needs a key strikeout, Big Juan’s a guy they can totally count on.

Ugh.

Bitterness aside, the decision seems to be based on the fact that the club currently doesn’t have anyone other than Munenori Kawasaki who can hit right-handers at all. Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia can’t. Problem is, um… Francisco can?

As much as we love a good, old fashioned platoon, they become a bit unwieldy with respect to the finite number of spots on the roster, and the Jays are in a bit of a pickle with this one. But, as is usually the case with these matters, it’s not necessarily as completely fucking stupid as it seems — though that maybe depends on how big a risk to their seasons you think moving Bautista or Encarnacion to third against right-handers until Lawrie is back would be. Francisco has to have a short leash here. Ryan Goins can come back after the mini-series with Milwaukee, and while he gives absolutely nothing with the bat to this offence-starved club either, at least he does fucking something well. And it’s not like Francisco can’t heat up, either — plus, the power is a very nice asset, and given the career turnarounds of Encarnacion and Adam Lind in recent years, you can sort of understand not wanting to expose him to other clubs… sort of — it’s just… are they really so desperate that that’s what they feel they need to hold out hope for at this point?

Maybe they are. Yeesh.