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)

bautistaflex

It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: Jose Bautista.

Tonight:
8:00 PM ET – San Francisco @ Pittsburgh – Madison Bumgarner (4.0 rWAR) vs. Edinson Volquez (2.5 rWAR)

Jose Bautista seems like the appropriate guy to start off our Playoff Post(-Mortem) series with, and not just because he was in the news today, or because he’s awesome and this will be a real easy one to crank out. But he is all those things. What he’s maybe not is what you’ve heard a lot of the local media talk about lately: coming off the best season of his career.

That stuff comes down to intangibles, it seems, and there’s no doubt that he’s impressed in that regard this year.

The infamous agitation with umpires was kept to a minimum, fully manifesting itself only in a late-August ejection (which, as I wrote at the time, put him among the ranks of “fellow non-leaders Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gomez, Matt Holliday, Jason Kipnis, David Wright, and Russell Martin in getting tossed from a game this year”). And Bautista showed a much greater willingness to try to beat the shift, with 22.8% of his hits going to the opposite field, as opposed to 12.8% and 12.5% in the previous two seasons, according to the batted ball data at FanGraphs.

I’ve heard it suggested that this means Bautista was putting the team first and not playing for his own statistics, which is funny, because that’s exactly what Colby Lewis thought Colby Rasmus was doing by laying down a bunt to beat the shift in a July game against the Texas Rangers. Whatever narrative works for you, I guess, but it’s not like you can see anything in Bautista’s numbers that any of his own statistics were sacrificed: his statistics are still awesome!

His 6.3 fWAR is nearly identical to the 6.5 mark he put up in his breakout, 54 home run 2010 season, and the differences between the two seasons are probably about what you’d expect: he’s lost quite a bit of power (from 54 HR to 35, and .357 ISO to .239), but made up for it by walking more (15.5% to 14.6%), striking out less (a career best 14.3% to 17%), and hitting far more singles (96 to 56).

He was helped by UZR, which liked him more in 2014 than in 2010, but hurt by DRS, which is used by Baseball Reference’s version of WAR. In fact, according to BR, he was about a win worse than in his breakout campaign — a “mere” 6.0 WAR, compared to 6.9.

No, it wasn’t quite his monstrous 2011 year — a .427 on-base with a .610 SLG, 43 homers, a .302 average, 7.7 WAR by FanGraphs and 8.1 by BR, and the highest Win Probability Added (7.86) of any player over the last five seasons — which is, of course, the correct answer to the question about his best season, but it was really, really, really good.

Jose is just about absolutely as good as it gets, and a major key that needs to be mentioned is that for the first time since 2011 he was healthy. Impressively for all three of the seasons he’s had since his breakout in which he’s played at least 120 games, he’s been a six win player by both versions of WAR.

He earns just $14-million per year from the Jays. He is the 59th highest paid player in baseball.

That there are fans and commentators out there who dream up reasons for this organization to get rid of him based on completely invented garbage about what they want to believe he does or doesn’t do behind closed doors, and who believe that there exists a universe in which this Blue Jays team is better without him than with him, is absolutely fucking ludicrous.

jaysgroup

This doesn’t mean anything. Let’s get that out of the way up front.

Today we’re going to take a look at the sixteen Blue Jays position players who had at least 100 plate appearances in 2014 and the winning percentage for the club in games that they started. It’s an interesting exercise, I think, even if we obviously can’t reduce what we’re seeing to silly “this is a ‘winning’ player” and “this is a ‘losing’ player” labels. Much of the variance is a function of when a player happened to be in the lineup. For example, many of us probably remember that last year Munenori Kawasaki was present for much of the club’s hot run that brought them back to the .500 mark by the All-Star break, but that wouldn’t make any of us think that he’s really a better option than Jose Reyes. Or, at least, it wouldn’t make any of us who wasn’t completely insane think that.

Still though, it’s a little bit interesting to take a look at this, even if, save for a few exceptions, the list looks quite a bit like you’d probably expect it to. It’s mostly just novel, but maybe it reinforces some things we might want to think about as the club heads into the off-season. Aaaaand I’ve already gone to the trouble of checking each guy’s game log page at Baseball Reference and pulling out the numbers, so… fuck it, we’re doing it regardless.

Here’s the list, in order:

Pillar 19-12 (.613)
Gose 44-30 (.595)
Lawrie 39-31 (.557)
Goins 30-24 (.556)
Lind 43-35 (.551)
Navarro 64-57 (.529)
Encarnacion 66-61 (.520)
Bautista 80-74 (.519)
Cabrera 71-67 (.514)
Reyes 73-69 (.514)
Valencia 20-19 (.513)
— Blue Jays — 83-79 (.512)
Francisco 40-42 (.488)
Tolleson 18-19 (.486)
Rasmus 40-48 (.455)
Kawasaki 30-39 (.435)
Thole 17-24 (.415)

So… what do we think? Here are some stray thoughts:

- The guys who played the most games have winning percentages pretty close to where the team was at overall, though they’re all a shade higher, presumably because those guys are good, and the team loses something when they’re not in the lineup.

- The wide variation between Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole is kind of interesting, almost making one think that there could be value in not pissing away a spot in the lineup for your knuckleballer’s personal catcher.

- Adam Lind is an outstanding left-handed bat and a big part of the reason the Jays were so much stronger against right-handed pitching than they were lefties. That, and the fact that he started almost exclusively against right-handers, shows up here pretty clearly. If only they’d filled the obvious need for a right-handed Adam Lind type before late August, eh? Not that they could have rostered one all year with all those spots being taken up by guys in other platoons, but still!

- It’s curious to see Pillar and Gose so high up the list, but they were both playing regularly during the two best stretches of the year — May and early September. Almost all the other games, until Pompey blew up (see what I did there?), were started in centre by Rasmus, who had an abysmal season. So… that kinda hurt the club in those ones. But we must also remember that Colby also didn’t have the privilege of playing as often with pre-pumpkin Juan Francisco, and was there through the worst of the worst — a huge stretch of the second half with Encarnacion, Lind, and Lawrie out.

- Speaking of Lawrie, when he was healthy he played great defence, hit same-sided pitching well (113 wRC+ against RHP), and really allowed John Gibbons to best utilize the other players at his disposal. How much of that went into the club’s winning percentage with Lawrie as a starter being so high, it’s impossible to say. There are clearly other factors at play. But he’s kinda important. Though I wouldn’t draw the same conclusion about Ryan Goins, even though the club’s record in their games is similar — which is pretty much exactly why this is a pointless exercise.

- That said, maaaaaybe Goins’ great defence and inability to hit really is better than Munenori Kawasaki’s so-so defence and slight ability to hit. Great at-bats, though. Great at-bats.

- This isn’t maybe spoken to so much in the numbers we see above, but just in general, having one Danny Valencia, or one Steve Tolleson, or one Juan Francisco, or one Munenori Kawasaki probably isn’t the worst thing in the world. Having four of them? Yeesh.

- Further to the above point, this team needs more guys who can hit same-sided pitching. The wRC+ of the Jays’ left-handed hitters against left-handed pitching was atrocious. Here are their leaders (minimum 30 PA in the split): Rasmus (92), Kawasaki (84), Thole (70), Gose (28), Francisco (10), Goins (-3), Lind (-36). League average for lefties on lefties is 83.

- In general, the team seemed to do better when good players were playing and worse when less good players were playing. Weird that.

bautistaeh

Bluebird Banter has already got this one covered, and there’s a very good chance you’ve seen it already by this point, I’m sure, so I don’t want to bother saying too much about it all, but holy awesome, this Twitter exchange between Jose Bautista and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun entirely made my night last night.

Hilarious.

Especially since Simmons’ point is, of course, moronic, reductive, douchey, attention-seeking, and genuinely bizarre — I mean, I don’t think the intent of Bautista’s mild griping after the trade deadline was that every team must always make trades before July 31st. His point was kind of specifically about his own team, and Simmons pretending otherwise is pretty much an example of the worst kind of internet troll straw man garbage.

Which… do we expect better? I certainly don’t. (A piece from back in May at Pension Plan Puppets, in which we’re given the wholly apt line, “Steve Simmons isn’t a proponent of context because context ruins narrative,” lays out pretty well why one might not).

I dunno… I just thought sort of thought this was pretty much the best thing ever. Let’s maybe stop giving this buffoon awards, eh?

Update!

Well this just keeps getting better…

Amazing.

The lack of capitalization should have maybe been a tip-off, Steve.

Update The Second!

This thing just keeps on going, as Steve Simmons showed up on the Brian Hayes Show this afternoon on TSN 1050 in Toronto to talk about the incident, coming off as oblivious to what trolling is as he is to the fact that the Royals added Erik Kratz (113 wRC+ in 31 plate appearances as Salvador Perez’s understudy) and Liam Hendriks (19.1 innings over three starts and three relief appearances, pitching to a 2.20 FIP) less than the week before the deadline in a trade for Danny Valencia with the team he covers for a living. Though he did say that he was contacted by some people from the Blue Jays this morning and told that Bautista doesn’t tweet for himself, which is where the clarification came from. Listen at your own risk.

It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: a post-mortem of post-mortem day! The mother of all post-mortems!

Tonight:
8:00 PM ET – Oakland @ Kansas City – Jon Lester (4.6 rWAR) vs. James Shields (3.3 rWAR)

Part One: Anthopoulos Speaks!

Alex Anthopoulos had himself a wide-ranging press conference on Sunday, which you can see in its entirety above by way of Sportsnet.

As you’d expect, he mostly said things that you’d… uh… expect. He dodged questions about payroll with his usual tactic at this time of year — they’ve looked into spending big money on prime free agents, but the G.M. himself doesn’t know what his budget will be yet, supposedly — and declined opportunities to throw anyone under the bus who may still be useful to him.

We’ve all seen the dance before.

But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some interesting, eyebrow-raising comments, either. Here are my highlights…

- Asked about his needing to massage agents and players because of what the perception around the league of the Blue Jays might be, we got this mildly agitated pearl: “The perception out there is that we’ve got a roster full of really talented players, that Toronto is an unbelievable place to play, that we’re close, and that we have a healthy payroll and great commitment from ownership. So it’s a great perception. And I can’t say that was there ten years ago.” Uh-huh.

- “Very,” is what he said in response to a question about his confidence in his ability to have the funds to sign a “Type-A” free agent, like a Max Scherzer, if he wanted to. Uh-huh. However, he “can adamantly say” that his club’s marquee P.R. scheme — “the policy,” i.e. their refusal to sign players to deals longer than five years — is still very much in place. It’s still very much a load, too. In an uncapped league like MLB you can offer just as much total money in a five year deal as you can in a longer one, which means the only reason the Jays don’t make competitive offers to the most expensive of free agents is money, not term. Hey, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that even though they claim they won’t sign guys to those sorts of deals they will trade away assets for them! And pay the full freight of the deal. Aaaand miss out on the equation-altering windfall of a first year of the deal to boot! Smrt.

- On the Melky Cabrera front, Anthopoulos said the right things, naturally. The player “has clearly expressed” that the Jays are his first choice, and the Jays want him back. Anthopoulos also said that he figures he’d know by now if the club’s five-year policy was going to an impediment to a deal. Personally, I want to believe the situation is this: Anthopoulos has a price he wants to bring him back at, and thinks that the qualifying offer and P.E.D. and health history will suppress his market enough to make it viable. Cabrera and his agent are asking for an amount more in line with an optimistic view of how the market will play out. That assumes the team is actually serious about trying to retain him, and who knows. I mean, it doesn’t exactly move a lot of season tickets for 2015 if they come out and plead poor already, right?

- Anthopoulos dodged the question about moving Jose Reyes off of shortstop by pointing out how banged up he was this season, and how difficult it is to get him to relent to being taken out of the lineup. He admits that they need to to better as an organization with respect to keeping him healthy, and are hoping to do so more in the future. Frankly, I worry that it looked too much at times like Reyes was playing timid — too afraid to get hurt — than it was simply that he was sore, but that’s unfair speculation to lay from here. What’s not unfair is to point out how Anthopoulos, mere minutes before, had been speaking about how he thinks that in the aggregate a team is better to have a lesser player with durability than a better player who may only see the field 70 or 80 per cent of the time. Durability is going to be taken into consideration more than it has in the past, he says, with respect to position players in particular. Alright! Only took five years!

- Also on the Reyes front, Alex conceded that he doesn’t think they had a backup shortstop this year. That would be more true if Ryan Goins hadn’t spent so much time in the majors, since he ought to have at least been starting those games in which he appeared. But we all know how that goes. The way the first question was dodged, and the fact that they claim to have so much trouble getting Reyes out of the lineup suggests that getting him to move positions is something of a non-starter. He made 89% of the plate appearances taken by a Jays shortstop in 2014.

- ”I don’t think we have depth to the point that it’s a goal to move that,” Anthopoulos says of his starting pitching. Bargaining posture or his actual position, it’s hard to say. Depends what he think of the likes of Sean Nolin or Kendall Graveman as legitimate rotation guys, I guess. But it’s hard to see how this club gets better enough without moving at least someone from the rotation depth chart, which right now looks like this: 1. Dickey, 2. Buehrle, 3. Stroman, 4. Hutchison, 5. Happ, 6. Sanchez, 7. Norris, 8. Nolin, 9. Graveman. Surely they could remove someone like Happ and bump everyone below him up, filling in at the bottom of the depth chart with a cheap free agent type like Liam Hendriks while losing not too much in the way of big league rotation value and gaining a lot more by upgrading in the field. Right? Or maybe it’s a young, controllable guy like Nolin who has the value — he was reportedly asked for, along with Pillar and Francisco, for two months of Chase Headley this summer. So… maybe?

- Speaking of Hutchison, Anthopoulos said that, while this year was obviously great and impressive, he thinks he can be much better than a 4.48 ERA guy, too. Which… yeah… sure, I agree. But I’d still really like Anthopoulos to stop talking in stats like that. At one point he was talking about where the club was at relative to the AL in terms of runs scored and OPS, which isn’t awful, but which also doesn’t take into account the difference between run environments of the parks where the Jays play the majority of their games. Maybe that’s why he chooses to quote stats that don’t provide enough context, but maybe that’s why his teams never seem to be as good as he believes, either. That can’t be right though… right?

-  The other thing Anthopoulos said — reiterating comments from interviews we saw last week — was that he expects to be turnover on his roster, and that he’s excited about it. I tweeted earlier this evening that the Jays left-handed batters had the worst OPS against left-handed pitching in the American League by 24 points. There were nine teams with an OPS over .650 in the split, while the Jays sat at a paltry .524. Now, some of that was probably down to the the fact that they used so many platoons, and if they had a lead they’d occasionally keep a lesser hitter in the game for defensive purposes rather than make a substitution to gain the platoon advantage, but the fact of the matter is, they relied on too many one-dimensional players this year. Guys with some value, but too many no-hit, all-bat defenders (Goins, Gose), and too many weak-defending platoon hitters (Francisco, Tolleson, Valencia). However, it might be turnover of a different kind that the Jays seek, which leads us into Part Two…

Part Two: Gibbers On Prime Time Sports

John Gibbons made an appearance on Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 on Monday, and he too got into the post-mortem game — but not before Gregg Zaun set the tone in a previous segment, dinosaurishly complaining about inmates running the asylum, young players not knowing their place in the locker room, and veteran players not reining in the younger players and showing them how to act like a professional.

Zaun singled out Brett Lawrie as a guy he’d look to move this winter — presumably not caring about the fact that the Jays would be selling low on a potentially very valuable asset — and suggested that J.P. Arencibia was another guy he looked at as a problem. And what’s weird is, when asked about the mood in the room, John Gibbons didn’t exactly jump to defend his club the way that Alex Anthopoulos did when asked the day before about the perception of his franchise around the league *COUGH*.

“I’ll put it this way,” Gibbons told Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt. “I wouldn’t say it’s a real tight-knit group, and we could probably use a little more of that. I think we need to bring in some fresh faces, that’s for sure. We tried this the last couple years — it hasn’t worked. So some new blood, I think, would definitely help. And I’ll leave it at that.”

Now, I don’t think for a second that the Jays could have tight-knitted their way into turning some losses into wins this season, but it’s interesting that this is what we’re hearing. Maybe it’s just in lieu of singling out a member of the coaching staff to be this year’s scapegoat — you know you’re going to have to rearrange some roster pieces, so you make finding harmony in the room the main plank of your off-season P.R. work — but it’s not like there aren’t things to be curious about when it comes to this club on such matters. We’ve heard about issues between Colby Rasmus and some of the club’s Latin American players after he took out free-agent-to-be Omar Infante with a hard slide to break up a double play. We know that the cerebral R.A. Dickey can maybe be aloof. We see Instagram pictures from someone like Marcus Stroman that always show some teammates spending time together off the field, and never others. We saw Kevin Pillar exiled to Buffalo after showing too much attitude in the dugout after being pinch hit for. We see Melky Cabrera sitting on the bench after being shut down in late September, but no sign of Brett Lawrie — who legitimately may be better off not sitting on a hard bench given the nature of his injury, to be fair — who, by the sounds of it, recuperates at home in Arizona rather than in Florida near the team’s facilities.

Does any of that mean anything? Probably not a whole lot — and certainly not according to Gibbons, who ultimately walked back the comment a little.

“We have our issues just like every team,” he said, “but it’s a good bunch. I don’t think that’s a major issue. I think the issue we had was that we just weren’t good enough when it comes down to it after 162 games.”

Ultimately, I have to agree. And no, Dave Perkins, it’s not because of their laziness with the fundamentals, or some such nonsense, either.

“I don’t think that was our problem at all, to be honest with you,” Gibbons said when confronted with that silly old media saw. “In actuality, we probably do it more than probably some of the teams out there,” he said of practicing the fundamental aspects of the game. “So we’ve got no complaint about that, and nobody resists that — if we needed something done, and we asked somebody to do something, they wouldn’t hesitate.”

When it came down to it, “we weren’t throwing our strongest team out there in August,” Gibbons explains. And when the September call-ups came, and the lineup started to look different, Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar took over from Colby Rasmus because they “wanted to take a look at these guys to see if we could recapture some of that magic” from earlier in the season. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said of benching Rasmus. “Hopefully he moves on and he goes to a place where he really enjoys playing and he gets it going again. Because he’s a good guy.”

Speaking of September call-ups, and of the centrefield position, Gibbons liked what he saw out of Dalton Pompey — particularly because of the pitching that he faced, most of which wasn’t of the roster filler variety. “I tell you what, he played like a veteran out there that had been here a few years,” Gibbons gushed. “He gave us great at-bats all September, he’s got a good swing from either side of the plate, he plays good defence, and he’s a good baserunner. So he might be just what the doctor ordered at the right time.”

When was the last time you heard something like that about Gose or Pillar? Anthopoulos remarked about the quality of Pillar’s at-bats, too — something he said was the key to his success all the way up, even if they were sometimes belied by the results. Funny, it’s almost like the hit tool is by far the most important one, and that you can be toolsy as you want, you’re going to have a hard time making it without the ability to hit. His bat will decide, Anthopoulos said earlier of Gose, whether he’s an everyday guy, or a guy you hide at the bottom of the lineup because of defence, or if he’s a fourth outfield. Fortunately, it feels like with Pompey in the fold, those questions don’t really matter so much anymore.

Back to Gibbons, there is, of course, the question of whether he’s still in the fold. It certainly seems that way, and he appears to think so too: “I figure if I wasn’t coming back they might have said something to me yesterday,” he quipped.

So… there’s that.

Southern Miss v Central Florida

Well here’s a bit of good news for Jays fans on the day, with the Royals set to host the A’s in the Wild Card play-in game, that they officially assume the title of longest playoff drought in baseball: the team is getting Anthony Alford full time.

From Ole Miss 24-7:

Ole Miss safety Anthony Alford has left the Ole Miss football team to focus on his professional baseball career.

The departure was announced by Ole Miss on Tuesday.

Alford, a sophomore, had played in every game for Ole Miss this season as a reserve safety and punt returner. He was credited with six tackles and two punt returns for eight yards.

The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger adds that “Alford took snaps at quarterback during training camp and was a potential change-of-pace option, but did not see the field on offense.”

In a way it’s a shame for Alford, whose football adventure took him from being a two-sport star in high school, to quarterback as a freshman at Southern Miss, to a disastrous season there, the firing of the school’s head coach, a weapons charge (later dropped), then a transfer, and a redshirt year, which finally led him to being a member of Ole Miss’s defence and special teams unit. It says a lot about the belief that he has in his own abilities and his love for the gridiron, and I don’t know if it’s fair of us to say what’s the right or wrong decision for his life. But he certainly has done himself a favour, financially and in terms of his development in the sport where he has a genuine chance to develop into something really special at the highest level.

He “had first round ability,” tweeted Keith Law this afternoon, once the news had broken, and the only reason that he slid to the Jays in the third round in 2012 was that he had such a strong commitment to playing football that other teams were scared off. In order to get him into the organization, the Jays paid him $750,000 and structured their deal with him to allow him to put football first.

Baseball hasn’t even been a close second. Over the three seasons since he turned pro on the diamond he’s accumulated just 110 plate appearances — 60 this year between Bluefield and Lansing, and 50 over the previous two seasons for the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. That lost development time is going to be a tough hurdle for him to overcome, but obviously the Jays feel the talent is still there. In fact, back in early August, Alford told reporters that Alex Anthopoulos paid him a visit at the end of his baseball season this year, and “put some deals on the table and made it difficult for me.”

One of those deals was for five years, but surely would have required he put his focus to baseball full-time. Alford, who turned 20 in July, wasn’t ready for that then, but evidently has seen what an opportunity he has been passing up, and changed his tune from when he said at the time that “Football was my first love and even if I made $100 million dollars down the road in baseball, I’d still regret not giving football a shot.”

I wrote this then about the small sample we’d seen of his baseball talents this year:

In Bluefield this year, Alford made just 35 plate appearances, striking out in 37.1% of those, but posting a .343 on-base, despite just a .207 batting average, thanks to five walks he took during that span. Up a level at Lansing he was even better, in an even smaller sample of 25 plate appearances. For the Lugnuts he posted a 126 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in a league where the average hitter is 2.5 years older. He did so not by walking, but with eight hits in those 25 PA, including a double, a home run, and four stolen bases (with no caught stealings) to boot.

His biggest issue is, of course, reps — something Marc Hulet made clear when writing about him at FanGraphs this summer. Surely he’ll soon be bound for winter ball of some sort (I suspect the Arizona Fall League is too advanced to throw him into), with the object being to make up for as much lost development time as possible.

It’s still going to take a while before we know whether all that lost time can be made up for and Alford can capitalize on all the natural talent he possesses, but today, more than two years removed from when he was selected, the Jays are finally getting a real injection of talent into their system. It’s great news. He’ll be one to watch in 2015.

melky-jose

The season is over, and as sad as this is, for Jays fans that kind of means that the fun is really about to begin. Except… well… fun isn’t maybe always the word for it. To wit: the latest from Shi Davidi at Sportsnet, in which he speaks to Jose Bautista about what the future holds for the Blue Jays — and how, at least according to some of Jose’s casual phrasing, that future likely doesn’t include Melky Cabrera.

And by “likely doesn’t” I mean… well…

The talent is still here. Luckily for us the core of this team will be intact next year except for Melky and Colby and Casey.

. . .

With some salary being gone with Melky, Janssen and Colby, that frees up $20-something million in free agency that can translate into some good additions if he chooses to go that way. If not, there are always trades.

Those do not sound like the words of a man who believes that Melky Cabrera is going to be a part of this team next season. And that is… really dispiriting. Not that we shouldn’t have known, by virtue of the fact that the Jays weren’t able to come to a mid-season extension with Cabrera, that he’s probably not as likely to be back as we want to believe, it’s just… boy, does it ever make the off-season more difficult if the Jays have to go searching for a new left fielder. And does it ever make 2015 seem less exciting to think of them not even doing that, and Kevin Pillar getting the gig by virtue of 81 September plate appearances — even if they’re actually somewhat impressive, nearly replicating Melky’s 125 wRC+ on the season, by virtue of a BABIP-y .289/.333/.447 line that’s led to Pillar putting up a wRC+ of 119 since his recall.

The improved defence could help offset the difference, I suppose, it’s just… gambling on a guy like Pillar sustaining the level of his best ever month in MLB seems a little preposterous for a team that at least wants to pretend it’s serious about winning.

And if it’s not Pillar, then who?

For his part, Alex Anthpoulos isn’t saying anything particularly interesting about the matter. He spoke about the season on the Fan 590′s Brady and Walker this morning, and had this to say about the Melky situation:

I’ve never come out and been specific about contract offers. Janssen, I think, came out a few days ago and mentioned that we had brief discussions at the All-Star break — we made them a proposal, they rejected it and gave us back a counter and we were really far apart. So we just said, look, let’s go back to the off-season. I never would have divulged that, but that’s fine, he felt comfortable doing it. With respect to Melky, just based on past years and some deals that have gotten done — I wouldn’t say what we’ve done, but I it’s safe to say that anyone who’s a good player who we want to retain at some point we have the conversation, and some times both sides agree that they need to see what’s out there. We can’t come to a number, and sometimes you need to have that third party to tell you what someone’s worth. But I think the important part is he wants to be back, we’d like to have him back, and we expect to get started — to have talks some point in the month of October and certainly November.

Certainly November.

So… there’s that.

And now there’s more!

Update

John Lott of the National Post has a piece up on Bautista’s end-of-season comments, and what he’s quoted as saying about Melky in that one sounds even worse. To me, at least.

“I have to assume that,” he said when asked if he assumed Cabrera wouldn’t be coming back. “When you have the chance to re-sign one of the top free agents and you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, the chances of him coming back to you are pretty slim.”

He’s probably not wrong — in fact, most of the piece makes clear that Bautista is pretty on the ball when it comes to where this team is at — but that quote doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is pleased about it.

And why would he be?