kevinlong2

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.

Denbo

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.

moraplayoffs

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…

jayspuzzle

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.

scrubs

As of the weekend before last, the 2014 season is now finally, mercifully, officially over. At least it is for the Toronto Blue Jays. And while there certainly was a whole lot of positive to be taken from it — the emergence of Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison, the minor league development of Dan Norris and Dalton Pompey, the ability to actually throw strikes being consistently exhibited by Aaron Sanchez — and while the club ultimately did better than a whole lot of people expected (no mass firings or mid-season fire sales!), to this frustrating tease of a wet fart of a campaign I say good riddance.

So now we look to the future.

For many that means aching for change among a group of players — even though it hasn’t really been the same group — that hasn’t been good enough each of the last two years. As we learned late in the season, Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t appear to be one of those people. He reportedly has said that there are no plans to move any of the club’s core players this winter.

It seems a little premature to say so — and, as I noted when originally writing about Bruce Arthur’s report, the word “planning” gives the GM something of an escape hatch in case an offer he can’t refuse comes along — but I can be OK with taking Buehrle, Reyes, Dickey, Bautista, and Encarnacion off the table, just as long as Anthopoulos is able to find other ways pull the various tricks he needs to in order to put a better team on the field in 2015.

To do that there are going to have to be some changes — a fact Anthopoulos admits himself. “There’s a good chance there’s going to be some turnover,” he’s quoted as telling Arthur in his Toronto Star piece, “and it could make for a really interesting off-season.”

So… OK. What kind of turnover should we expect? Who did we see in a Blue Jays uniform for the last time two weekends ago?

Let’s think about it, starting with the easy ones…

Locks To Be Gone

These ones are the easiest because they’re entirely about contract status and performance. We all know that Colby Rasmus has played himself out of town and out of a whole lot of money after the season he’s had. Casey Janssen won’t be back, which is a shame — and the end was a particular indignity given what he’s been for the club over the years — but he seems certain to get more money somewhere else than what they Jays will be willing to pay — and sadly, that’s probably a savvy move on their part. Brandon Morrow won’t be back either — his club option is for $10-million and the Jays won’t be picking that up, nor will they be giving him the opportunity to start that he desires, so it seems all but certain he’ll be gone.

Lastly, let’s be honest, as much as it was an interesting piece of asset management — to put it politely — to hang on to post-pumpkin Juan Francisco, and as terrific he was for this club out of the gate, there’s simply no way he can be in the club’s big league plans next season, and at $1.35-million this year, with his being out of options and a raise likely in his second year of arbitration, he’s a non-tender candidate if Anthopoulos can’t find anything to flip him for before that. Ugh.

Locks To Stay?

Obviously there is no such thing as a “lock” when we’re talking about this stuff, or anything ever, really — death and taxes and whatnot — but the thing about an exercise like this is that you’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes. Just maybe not that much of a limb.

There are some easy ones that fall into this category. I’m very comfortable saying that Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be on the Opening Day roster for the Blue Jays in 2015. Same goes for Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman based on the same principle: losing either one of them would seem to create as big a hole as they’d possibly be filling. Despite Zaun-ish rumblings about clubhouse nonsense, Brett Lawrie won’t likely go because they’d be selling much too low on him. That’s maybe not the reason why Jose Reyes will be here in April, too, but he almost certainly will — his deal is immovable and replacing the value he brings will be a whole lot more costly than a lot of people would like to believe. Adam Lind might be one-dimensional, but it’s a hell of a fucking dimension and picking up his option is a no-brainer, even if for some reason they were doing it just to trade him (though I’d guess they won’t — and they certainly shouldn’t). Dioner Navarro had a decent year, despite his inability to frame pitches, and Brett Cecil will surely be a solid play at what he’ll make on his second trip through arbitration.

Aaron Sanchez and Dalton Pompey may or may not be on the Opening Day roster, but I can’t envision any of them going anywhere either.

Free Agents With Some Chance Of Returning (Mostly)

We all know the story with Melky Cabrera. It would be terrific for the Jays to do something about that, and it’s not untrue that the club wowed us with big spending two winters ago. But they also wowed us last off-season with the tightness of the vice grip Rogers was using to keep shut the vault door. I don’t know what-the-fuck to think this time around, but with the Canadian dollar where it’s going, attendance slightly down, and the company pissing away money left and right on hockey (even though they already own the rights and could be as cheap and cynical as they wanted — kinda like how they typically run the Jays), I’m gonna err on the side of not expecting anything here. Ugh.

Following that pessimism means that one believes even a small deal, like the $4-million club option the team has on Dustin McGowan (with a $500K buyout, meaning it’s only a net $3.5-million add to payroll), is probably in play, too. He was quite a bit better as a reliever this year (3.35 ERA, 4.13 xFIP, 4.99 FIP, 1.16 WHIP) than he was as a starter (5.08 ERA, 5.42 xFIP, 5.06 FIP, 1.62 WHIP), but still… is that money better spent elsewhere? Aren’t there better, cheaper bullpen pieces you can find? Maybe not. But I don’t think it’s a slam dunk they pick that option up, either. And Alex Anthopoulos has rarely paid as much for a bullpen guy.

Dan Johnson has already been granted free agency, as has Munenori Kawasaki, but the same reasons the Jays brought them in last year — a lack of quality depth from within the organization at those positions — still apply, so I wouldn’t necessarily rule out that these guys end up back in Buffalo. Scoff if you must about Johnson coming back, given how he barely saw the light of day during his September call-up, but don’t think that he didn’t probably appreciate drawing a big league paycheque for as long as he did, either.

I wrote about how those two were granted free agency late last week, and at the same time I spoke of the backup catcher situation, which could theoretically produce some turnover. If R.A. Dickey does get dealt, for example, Josh Thole will likely go with him. But as I said at the time, it would be nice if George Kottaras, who once was Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher, could get a shot to be Dickey’s catcher regardless, given that he’d provide a little more offence from the position than Thole will. Kottaras, unfortunately, was granted free agency anyway, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance he could come back on a minor league deal — for a backup or Triple-A guy who can catch a knuckleball, the Jays’ thin pool of catching depth isn’t the worst spot in the world to land.

More Likely To Return Than Not

There are varying degrees of likelihood that any player will be moved, of course, but I’m having an increasingly hard time believing that Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are going to go anywhere. If the talk about turnover and the clubhouse atmosphere is true, one wonders — probably unfairly — if it’s the “different” Dickey who could find himself elsewhere, rather than the expensive Buehrle, but Dickey’s contract is just so favourable that they’re probably not going to be too desperate to part with it.

Dan Norris is practically a lock to be back (especially now that he’s had minor elbow surgery), and I would have put him alongside Sanchez and Pompey above, but we’ve got to have some fun with this exercise, and as much as Alex Anthopoulos needs to horde his young, cheap pitching, he also needs to improve this club in the immediate. With Norris currently the seventh arm on the rotation depth chart, as much as it might hurt to part with him, you’ve got to give up something to get something. I wonder if Anthopoulos will actually see the value in that kind of bold move, though. I somehow doubt it.

Forgotten though he may be, Maicer Izturis is a switch-hitting utility infielder who is owed $3-million for next season and spent all but a couple weeks of this year hurt, so he probably isn’t going anywhere. John Mayberry Jr. is heading into his second arbitration year, making about $1.6-million, and a decent enough candidate to spell Adam Lind at DH against left-handers as the best of the club’s lefty-mashers. He’s a guy Alex Anthopoulos has said he had tried to acquire in the past, and that makes me think he’s really in the plans — at least, as long as Lind is.

Relievers Aaron Loup and Todd Redmond have been decent pieces the last two seasons, so unless they’re lubrication for a bigger deal, I’d expect them to be back. Chad Jenkins has options and finished the year hurt, so chances are he’s in Dunedin next spring too, even if another year spent mostly on the QEW is likely in the cards for him. And Steve Delabar will hit arbitration for the first time after having a rough season, but I suspect will still be cheap enough to bring back, and probably worth hoping on.

I sort of don’t love saying it, but part of me thinks that there’s a decent chance that Kevin Pillar is back, too — either as the uninspiring internal replacement for Melky Cabrera, as a straight-up fourth outfielder (with John Mayberry moving more to a 1B/DH spot), or in an ill-advised platoon in centre with Anthony Gose, waiting for Pompey to force the issue. And as much as I might want to list Ryan Goins among the guys more likely to be moved, too, he still has options, and sadly, where is their infield depth without him?

Who’s Left To Move?

It’s entirely possible that the Jays have much, much bigger plans up their sleeve than I’m accounting for here, but the names I’ve yet to highlight from September’s active roster represent — to me, at least — the ones most likely to be a part of the “turnover” Alex Anthopoulos has been talking about since the season began to wind down.

This exercise hasn’t left us with a lot to hypothetically work with on the trade market, so it’s very possible that someone listed in one of the above sections will have to get moved for the greater good. Nobody is going to confuse the remaining names for sexy ones — for the most part they’re guys that are far down the depth chart, redundant, stagnating, or too one-dimensional — but they still have some kind of value. And if Anthopoulos is looking to bolster his club with smaller deals — deals of the Brad Lincoln for Erik Kratz, or Kratz and Liam Hendriks for Danny Valencia variety — they are the guys he’s going to look to move first.

J.A. Happ could be the most interesting of the smaller chips Anthopoulos has got. He’s coming off a very strong season — in particular, a strong second half — with his velocity rising, and his ability to throw for strikes looking better and better. At $6.7-million for 2015 he’s cheap — which is why the Jays may look to keep him and deal one of their more expensive hurlers, or one of their younger ones — but that will make him attractive to other clubs who might have a redundancy where the Jays are looking to add.

Anthony Gose was optioned in 2012, but it was for less than 20 days, meaning that he still has one more option year left. If the Jays see Dalton Pompey as the future — and they should — this winter is probably the time for them to go and get something for Gose. How much they can get for him that will actually help, I have no idea, but he’s coming off a season with a decent on-base (especially against right-handers), his tools are still loud, and it maybe doesn’t hurt that offence is down league wide and teams may be more willing to try to hide a bat like his. Someone out there probably thinks they could fix a guy like Gose. At the very least he could provide depth for some club that doesn’t already have Pompey, Pillar, Mayberry, Bautista, and either Melky or whoever will replace him.

If you have to swallow hard and move Kevin Pillar instead of Gose, I’m entirely fine with that. In fact, Pillar may have been nearly moved this summer, as part of the package San Diego asked for in exchange for Chase Headley — a deal that made no sense for the Jays in the first place and was naturally declined. Juan Francisco was also asked for by the Padres, as well as Sean Nolin, who might just be another interesting piece for the Jays to dangle. That is, if they’re inclined to shop pitching depth in order to fill other needs — which they almost have to be, no matter how badly Anthopoulos wants to think otherwise. Problem is, Nolin didn’t have a great season. He made just 20 starts, about three weeks from mid-May through early-June, and another month between mid-June and mid-July. His ERA (3.50) and FIP (3.86) were alright, and his walks were down from his previous stint in Buffalo, but only to 3.61 per nine innings. And his strikeout rate was again down from the 10 per nine or better that he produced in Double-A.

Maybe the way the Jays were using Nolin in September suggests they’ve soured on him — or maybe that’s just what they’d like you to think! He did sit nearly four ticks higher in his one inning of relief work this September than in his lone big league start back in 2013 (though bullpen and days-of-rest caveats apply). Maybe the club likes what it sees still, and so is doing its best to talk up Kendall Graveman — another possibility to be moved this winter, provided anyone actual thinks he’s a real candidate for a big league rotation, which… actually probably not, eh?

That leaves the club’s two right-hitting infielders, Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia. Neither of these guys has a tonne of value — though we’d do well to remember that the Jays themselves gave up a depth starter and a backup catcher for one of them, so I don’t think a bullpen piece of some order is entirely outlandish here. Valencia made about the league minimum in 2014 and will be going through arbitration for the first time, while Tolleson doesn’t even have that much service time. Both are out of options, meaning you’re probably going to get back someone of the same status, and with the Jays inexplicably running Valencia out against right-handed pitching down the stretch, and needing some sort of cover for Brett Lawrie, maybe I’m selling short his value to the club. But boy… even though neither of these two were particularly bad or didn’t do everything that was asked of them — their main failing being not being very good and getting exposed when pressed into duty too much — this is certainly an area where you’d like to think the Jays could see some turnover, and where you might see someone moved.

Yes, I’ve been very, very conservative when it comes to identifying the players I think the Jays are going to shop. Perhaps I’m making the mistake of remembering too much of the 2014 version of Alex Anthopoulos (the one in practice, at least, not the one that had a deal for Ervin Santana agreed to and a trade for Ian Kinsler nixed by the player’s no-trade clause), and not the one from two winters ago. But whether he’s willing to be much more bold than this or not, he’s got his work cut out for him when it comes to trying to make all the pieces fit.

Tomorrow, we’ll bring you Part II of this two-part series, taking a look at the money, the roster spots, and trying to answer the question of whether Anthopoulos can get away without doing something dramatic to change the nature of his ballclub…

jayslockers

Shi Davidi has an interesting, informative piece up today at Sportsnet which has been titled, presumably by an editor, “Lack of trust impacted 2014 Blue Jays all season.” It’s certainly something that’s going to get people talking, even if Shi himself is careful not to overstate the impact of the human element on a not-great team playing not-great baseball.

In fact, if one were so inclined, as much as anything it can be read as an indictment of Rogers and the way the budget for this club has been so badly mismanaged either by a front office who left themselves absolutely no room to breathe after the big additions prior to 2013, or an ownership group failing to recognize how suffocating it is to have made such a quick about face with respect to payroll.

The Ervin Santana mess is a put forth as a catalyst for the trust issues that plagued the club in this doomed season, but it’s framed, essentially, as a failure of ownership. “Had the Blue Jays not needed to muddle through the various layers needed to pull off the [deferral] scheme –negotiating a contract with the right-hander, earning union approval on compensation for the players, gaining the green light from ownership – Santana would have been theirs long before Kris Medlen suffered the elbow injury that prompted the Atlanta Braves to act,” he explains.

We’re also told about the now-infamous remarks from higher ups — reported elsewhere as being uttered by Edward Rogers III himself — at a team function, when “the players received what they interpreted as a promise of money for a contender at the deadline if needed.” When the time came, of course, the money was nowhere to be found. And as much as we can all agree that it’s probably a good thing that the Jays didn’t trade any of the young pitching depth that materialized for them this year, maybe if they hadn’t so ineptly handled the Santana situation — if they had been given the resources to do it right and he actually wound up in their rotation — they could have been comfortable enough with their depth to do so, putting themselves that much farther ahead and eliminating this layer of distrust.

Later in that same section of the piece Shi brings up the example of Martin Prado, who “would have cost the Blue Jays nothing but a token prospect and money, and while at $27 million for the rest of 2014 plus the next two years he’s expensive for what he is, the versatile infielder would have provided a needed upgrade at second base or third base plus strong roster depth in the seasons to come. The New York Yankees picked him up instead.”

We had a lot of discussion about Prado around here at the time, and though I was not entirely sold on him as a player — and, believe it or not, a little vocal about that — ultimately the issue was what it always seems to be with this organization. On August 1st, I wrote a piece titled Let’s Think About What Happened At The Deadline and addressed it:

The Yankees getting Martin Prado (and the $3.67-million he’s owed this year, plus $22-million for the next two, plus a $1-million trade bonus) certainly is a move where the mythical financial resources Alex Anthopoulos always insists that he has — as he did again Thursday, speaking with reporters in a post-deadline conference call — may have come into play. But let’s maybe sit back and think about all this for a moment.

Let’s think about Prado and the money he’d add to what’s strongly presumed to be an already tight 2015 budget, which to this point hasn’t yet found room to accommodate a Melky Cabrera extension. Let’s think about potentially blowing the ability to resign Melky in order to take on the age-31 and 32 seasons of a right-handed 3B/LF whose last four seasons by wRC+ have looked like this: 89, 117, 104, 81. Let’s think about a guy whose best defensive position is already manned by Brett Lawrie, and a guy whose value is strongest against left-handed pitching, where the Jays are already quite strong with the much cheaper Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia.

Prado was a guy who made perfect sense for a team like the Yankees — a team that consistently has the resources to go out and fix the sorts of mistakes that are utterly inevitable in this business — and little sense for the Blue Jays, who need to be far more mindful of their resources and of cost-benefit analyses.

That predicament is what also necessitates all the scrap heap moves that Alex Anthopoulos frequently makes. It’s not that “he has no plan” or whatever bunk fans want to invent to justify how crazy it makes them when the club takes a simple flyer on a guy, it’s that he doesn’t have the resources to go get a Prado, so he has to constantly try to spin straw into gold.

This, according to another section of Davidi’s piece, has implications in the clubhouse, as well.

“Anthopoulos was understandably grinding to find every incremental gain he could, but by so frequently shuffling out player A for player B – like going from Kevin Pillar to Brad Glenn to Cole Gillespie to Nolan Reimold only to eventually end up back at Pillar; or bringing in Brad Mills to get pounded – all he did was leave guys looking over their shoulders, unsure of their status,” he explains. “True, they were being given opportunities, but they were often of the swim-or-sink variety.”

I don’t doubt this is true, but let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. Is the problem Shi is talking about really the shaky trust of ballplayers impacting their performance because they’re constantly having to look over their shoulders, or is it that the Blue Jays had little other option but to field the likes of Pillar, Glenn, Gillespie, Reimold, and Mills?

Is it that the players felt betrayed by the lack of trade deadline activity, or was it that the front office didn’t have the resources to make anything but small, cash-neutral moves?

Is it that the players felt uneasy and disgruntled because ownership wasn’t committed to winning, or was it that ownership wasn’t committed to winning?

The tidbits from within the room are plenty interesting. The intangible, human element stuff will always create passionate discussion because it’s impossible for anyone to say just how much impact such things actually have on a team or a player’s performance. But as cute a device it might for a piece like this, painting the 2014 Jays’ problems as being anywhere near rooted in issues of trust and psychology would completely miss the mark.

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s really quite what Shi is doing here at all. I think that, apart from the piece’s title, he’s being appropriately cautious and evenhanded in how he addresses all the intangible stuff and how entirely peripheral it really is. But I also think there are a lot of people who aren’t going to see that way.

 

Image via Best Of Toronto. Consider this your Playoff Post.

NorrisArmDome

What??!? Can’t possibly imagine anything going wrong with that elbow.

Well here’s something. According to an official release from the Jays, young lefty Dan Norris had arthroscopic surgery this morning to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow.

“Recovery time from the surgery is normally six weeks and the Daniel is expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2015,” it adds.

Just yesterday, in the Daily Duce, I passed along a link to a scouting report from Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus, who had watched Norris’s less-than-impressive debut start on the final Thursday of the season. In a portion I didn’t quote, he wrote this:

The lefty struggled to maintain his velocity in the September 25th game, going from 92-94 mph in the first inning to 88-90 mph in the third. There are several caveats here, from the typical first-inning burst of a fired-up pitcher making his starting debut to end-season fatigue and his 30-day layoff from the rotation, so the downward velo trend is not a concern so much as it is something to keep an eye on with his future starts. The BP prospect crew put him at 92-95 mph and touching 97 prior to the season, with his fastball receiving a 6 grade overall, and the early returns suggest that the heat will be a weapon for the southpaw.

The big question, as it is with virtually any young pitcher, is fastball command. In the September 25th game, Norris had a prevailing tendency to miss up (especially to the arm-side) against opposing batters. He did this with all of the pitch-types at his disposal, indicating that a late trigger was preventing him from achieving full extension at release point. He actually had a series of 12 consecutive pitches in the third inning that were all elevated, most of which finished above the zone. Elevated pitches will eventually meet their doom in the majors, and the Blue Jays will surely address the issue if it’s pervasive rather than a single-game blip.

This passage certainly makes a lot more sense given what we now know, and perhaps the surgery is precisely how the Jays have addressed the issues that were on display that day. That doesn’t exactly make this good news, though, does it?

I don’t know that we need to start ringing any alarm bells about Norris’s future ability to stay healthy, but no elbow surgery for a pitcher is ever good — even when it’s one of the less concerning ones, as this is.

No two pitchers’ arms are the same, either, so I don’t think we can try to glean anything about Norris from the list of guys to have had bone spur surgeries in recent years. Sure, it’s a little frightening to recall that guys like C.C. Sabathia, Josh Johnson, and Sergio Santos had the procedure, given what we know about what has happened to their arms since, but clearly there were existing arm problems for all three of those guys that went deeper than this one issue.

That doesn’t mean that couldn’t be the case for Norris, but there are more heartwarming examples of guys who’ve had the same kind of procedure: C.J. Wilson underwent it following the 2012 season, and came back in 2013 to pitch 212.2 innings, posting a 3.39 ERA and 3.31 FIP the next year. And Mat Latos had it after last season and was as effective as ever this year when healthy… at least statistically. His velocity was down a couple of ticks, and he missed three weeks with elbow inflammation, but mostly his season was derailed by a knee injury. Matt Cain pitched extremely well through bone spurs for years, reportedly, before having surgery that ended his season for the Giants in the middle of this year.

When discussing it in 2012, Wilson, who had pitched to a 2.43 ERA in the first half of that season, and a 5.54 ERA in the second half, after the problems arose, explained, “I tried to make a million adjustments to get around it, to the point where now I’m standing on the first-base side, trying to get an angle because I can’t throw sinkers anymore because my arm doesn’t work right.” Ultimately, though, he said he understood that “bone’s not muscle, so there’s really one way to get it taken care of.”

Hopefully for the Jays and Norris that’s all this is, and that the surgery takes care of it and there are no lingering issues with the appendage. But until we see that he’s healthy and well beyond the procedure, we can at least take comfort in the fact that he truly wasn’t himself when he made his debut as a big league starter. It’s not like in that game he was terrible or doing anything that couldn’t be corrected or undid all the positive of the outstanding season he had, but that’s not a small amount of comfort.