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The 2015 season was supposed to be the gravy of the five years remaining on the Jose Reyes contract that the Jays traded for before 2013.

We always knew that the back end of the deal was going to be tough to swallow, with $44-million owed for his age-33 and 34 seasons (2016 and ’17), plus a $4-million buyout of his final year club option. But that all was going to be made palatable by the first two years of glory — *COUGH* — of a peak form All-Star shortstop at the top of a stacked lineup on a team boasting a Cy Young winner heading a deep and experienced rotation.

Reyes made just $26-million in total for those second and third years of the six-year pact he originally signed with the Marlins. By the time 2015 rolled around — his first season with a $22-million salary — playoff trips were supposed to have begotten revenue increases that kept the deal from strangling the club’s payroll. Other stars were supposed to be kept or added. Reyes was supposed to be entrenched as the club’s dazzling, fan favourite shortstop. Perhaps seeing the first significant signs of age-related decline, and likely being paid more than he was worth, his warts were supposed to be masked by the wild and successful baseball adventure he had led this club on over the previous two years.

Or that was the theory, at least. It was the dream. But obviously in practice things haven’t exactly worked out that way, and that’s making the Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes situation especially problematic.

It’s not that he’s bad, though his defence in 2014 certainly was.

There’s maybe a chance his shoulder problems and hamstring problems and the wear and tear of playing every day on turf made it look worse than it really is. But it’s not like those things are merely 2014 issues. The shoulder issue may clear up, and the club says it wants to limit his starts in order to keep him healthier, but the turf isn’t going anywhere, and it’s impossible from this vantage to see his legs suddenly getting better either.

That said, I generally believe wins above replacement has it right, even if our confidence in the small-sample defensive metrics used isn’t tremendously high. By both versions of WAR he was a three win player this season. Additionally, according to the team rankings of shortstops by wins above average at Baseball Reference, the Jays were 13th of the 30 MLB teams this season, and just one tenth of a win out of 11th. And by FanGraphs’ version of WAR, he ranked 9th among the 29 shortstops with at least 350 plate appearances, and was seventh among that group (fifth among those who qualified for the batting title) by wRC+.

In other words, Reyes isn’t at all unplayable at his preferred position, because his bat makes up for a whole lot of his deficiencies with the glove. It’s not a position you normally get a lot of offence from, and being able to keep a decent bat in your lineup by playing a guy like Reyes there truly is a valuable thing… um… unless, in order to make up for your shortstop’s defensive issues you stick an amazing defender who couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag, like Ryan Goins, at second base. Then the good bat of your almost-passable shortstop isn’t sweet, delicious, valuable gravy, it’s necessary to help carry the second baseman. And then the value of your second baseman’s otherworldly defence is mitigated significantly because his great glove is at the less valuable position.

It’s a bit of a mess. Especially when one of them is the unmovable, $22-million payroll anchor who didn’t foster nearly as much goodwill over his first two seasons as expected.

So what do you do?

Some fans have very strong ideas, and have rushed to point me in the direction of something like Brandon Kuty’s slideshow piece on the Yankees’ off-season priorities at NJ.com, in which (on the second slide) he says of that club’s shortstop issue, that “ex-Mets star Jose Reyes could be a trade candidate.” A site called Yankees 101 speculates on why Reyes may be a fit, and suggests that “if Toronto is looking to unload Reyes’ contract at $22 million, the Yankees may want Toronto to help pay for some of Reyes’ deal in return.”

That sort of talk from the New York blogosphere certainly will get folks here salivating to ditch Reyes as quickly as possible. It’s not the craziest idea, either. He’s clearly a liability defensively, and as much as I’m quick to point out his 2014 WAR totals, he accumulated those in a season in which he missed just 19 games. Even if you make the assumption that he doesn’t decline much performance-wise (which isn’t too outlandish, depending on how much better you think he could be with his shoulder issue resolved and his hamstring problems less pronounced), he still needs to stay on the field to provide that kind of value, which is questionable, to put it politely. In fact, the Jays say they are going to deliberately sit him, or DH him, which will make accumulating wins above replacement all the more difficult. And the additional, horrifically expensive years of the deal don’t exactly make the situation any better.

There is, however, another way to look at it — a necessary way, given the fact that the Jays want to be competitive in 2015 and beyond.

The Jays need to get better, and jettisoning a three-win player in what is essentially a salary dump simply isn’t a great way to go about doing so — especially if they’re required to pick up some of his salary. Getting three wins on the free agent market, by most calculations, will likely cost somewhere in the $15- to $20-million range. With Reyes making $22-million, that’s basically a wash.

Of course, it’s possible that the Jays can identify a player who they think can produce more for less money (Jed Lowrie is perhaps an intriguing name on the free agent market, if you’re into oft-injured shortstops — which you apparently are not), or who will do things that better help them specifically than Reyes does (i.e. a greater emphasis on playing defence, and staying healthy, on the pool table that is the Rogers Centre surface). On the other hand, there’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with playing the market, and it’s not like the Jays haven’t been burned before — or haven’t burned themselves by being far too conservative with their dollars. Meanwhile, Reyes is obviously already here.

No, offloading all the money left owing to Reyes isn’t entirely about 2015, but that’s actually the year in which it seems most dire to do so. That’s because, including what he’ll make, the Jays have just $27.6-million committed for the season after next. Add in the $32-million the club will need to pay in order to pick up the options of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and R.A. Dickey, and that’s still just $59.6-million, albeit with arbitration raises still not factored in for the other 21 guys on the roster. And the following year only Reyes’s final $22-million payment is on the books.

If they’re allowed to spend anywhere close to the $137-million they did last year, that’s more than enough to work with and to keep Reyes, and I think they will. They’ll just need to find a way to mitigate his liabilities defensively.

To do so last year the Blue Jays tried to bring in Ian Kinsler, who is a good defender at second base, and swings the bat about as well as Reyes does. Having those two up the middle defensively isn’t great, but because of the offence they certainly would have looked astronomically better than what we saw. In fact, unless the deal on the table for Kinsler included a Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion (or Marcus Stroman), if it had gone through, we’re very possibly having a very, very different conversation right now.

Next year they could certainly try something similar, and given how badly it’s presumed he wants to stay at short — think Troy Tulowitzki telling WEEI.com that shortstops view a move to third “as a punch in the gut,” and the Denver Post, “No, I won’t move. I’ll retire before I move.” — they might have no other choice. (Also: yes, please, get a great second baseman).

Beyond that, they’re certainly thinking about what to do with him — at least according to comments from the Toronto Sun’s Bob Elliott on a recent episode of Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590.

“They don’t have a replacement, and here’s the thing about the guy: I don’t think he’ll move,” he said. “They want to put him in the outfield — that’s what they want to do. Internally, they’ve discussed it. But I don’t think he’ll go there, and I think if you go to second base, he’s going to have the same problems with the lack of range.”

I think Elliott is right about the range issues, mitigated though they’d be, but there are other problems with having Reyes at second base. Not only did he look somewhat tentative at times this year on plays at the bag, as though he was overly conscious of keeping his hurt-riddled legs out of harms way — an issue that would likely only get worse were he being asked to turn double plays as a second baseman — but a move to the right side of the diamond would also take away what seems to be his best defensive asset: his arm.

I don’t know if he has the arm to be a great third baseman, but to me it should be more than passable, and playing there would limit the need for him to have the kind of range that shortstop requires, and would lessen the number of potential collisions he’d be involved in (assuming that’s even a real concern). And with Brett Lawrie’s ability to play second, an eventual move there seems obvious to me, even if it needs to be done with him kicking and screaming.

Moving him to the outfield is quite a bit more problematic, and frankly I’m not quite sure what the hell the Jays are thinking on this front. Not only does his bat not play remotely as well at a corner outfield spot (his wRC+ this year would have ranked him 40th among 55 qualified outfielders), I’m just not seeing how asking a guy with leg and hamstring problems to go running down long fly balls on concrete is going to be ideal for his health.

Maybe he could do it a little bit, though. With Adam Lind off the books in 2016, maybe Reyes is a guy that you look to DH in the future, or to be a Ben Zobrist who can split his time between DH, the infield, and the outfield.

I don’t know!

Whatever the case, it’s going to be interesting, to put it politely, to see where this all goes. At least there appear to be something resembling options for the club. And fortunately, much of it all is a problem for another day. Unfortunately, today’s problem is that, despite the howls from many of the denizens of the peanut gallery, Jose Reyes will almost certainly still be the Jays’ starting shortstop in 2015. I hope I’ve made clear that there are far worse problems to have. However, if the Jays again try to offset his poor defence by employing someone like Ryan Goins at second base, or end up forced to turn to any of the various types of replacement level fodder we saw out there to the right of Reyes this season, it’s a problem that could again undoubtedly be fatal to their chances.

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…