Relentless, Alex Anthopoulos Trades Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco and Cash

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image courtesy of www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

We’ve barely had a chance to digest the Vernon Wells  trade to the Angels and one of the major returns from that deal, 1B/C/DH Mike Napoli, has been dealtas he will join his old AL West rivals in the Texas Rangers. He’ll try to make sure that they beat his old squad, one that he made no qualms about having issues with due to playing time, and will surely do well in their already potent lineup. The Jays, in return for Napoli, will get 31 year old RHP reliever Frank Francisco and an undisclosed amount of cash (reportedly less than $1 million).

I have to admit that I was surprised by this deal when I first heard of it. However, after digesting it a little, I see some of the positives that this creates for the Jays. I was still a huge fan of Napoli’s versus LHP and thought he would complement Adam Lind very well at 1B as a result. Still, his trade value was most likely the highest it will be this off season as most people seem to believe his numbers of 2010 may level off and/or go down in 2011 and beyond. He wasn’t a viable option behind the plate for the Jays who want to see what J. P. Arencibiacan do there along with Jose Molina, and Edwin Encarnacion should provide enough power in sharing time with Lind at 1B and DH.One thought that came to mind was whether or not this part of the equation was already in place prior to the Vernon Wellsdeal, or whether the Rangers came calling after the deal was made. If the latter was right, the deal happened pretty quickly. If the former was right, it’s just another indication of how many moves ahead Alex Anthopoulos operates. He has cleared more salary off the books for the 2011 season, will still have to come to terms with Frank Franciscoas he is in his last year of arbitration eligibility before becoming a FA in 2012, and can now focus on who will make the cut in the Jays pen for 2011. Jays fans have to be wondering what else is to come before spring training. Anthopoulos has been relentless in positioning the Jays the way he wants them to be and in building and improving the team’s position, both financially and on the field.

Trying to Make Sense of Things: Bullpen Portion

This trade changes everything in the pen. Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch were both hoping to have a decent shot at closing. Well, now they’ll REALLY have to earn that shot as Frank Franciscoshould have the best shot of all to get that role. He’s younger and more dominant overall than Dotel and Rauch. Most importantly, however, he is very dominant against LHB, something that both Dotel and Rauch lack. Still, if you own any Jays reliever in fantasy leagues, you can’t feel too comfortable that they’ll get chances to close all season long.

I think it’s safe to say that neither the newly signed Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch will be traded. So, if we assume that they, and Francisco, remain in the Jays pen for the 2011 season, it leaves 4 openings in the pen.

Jason Frasor, who I just posted about earlier today, still has to come to terms with the Jays, whether it is on a 1 year deal agreed to in arbitration or a long term deal. Either way, he will either be a Jays reliever in 2011, be extended, let go after the arbitration decision (unlikely), or be traded after signing. For now, let’s assume he remains a part of the Jays pen for all of 2011.

That would leave the Jays with 3 spots to fill in the back of the pen.

David Purceyproved to be a very valuable arm in the pen in 2011, and with Scott Downs as well as Brian Tallet gone in 2011, he should become the lone lefty in the pen. There’s little chance I can see any other lefty beating him out and therefore I hold a nice firm spot for him in the 2011 pen.

There are therefore 2 spots left for the taking in 2011 by my calculations at this point (again, baring trades or injuries, which can both happen at any time).

Want to see how complicate things get? Look at this list of candidates, with basic 2010 stats and age included, for the 2 spots remaining:

  • Shawn Camp: RHP – 35 yrs old, 70 GP / 2.99 ERA / 70.2 IP / 18 BB / 46 Ks / 1.230 whip
  • Casey Janssen: RHP – 29 yrs old, 56 GP / 3.67 ERA / 68.2 IP / 21 BB / 63 Ks / 1.383 whip
  • Carlos Villanueva: RHP – 27 yrs old, 50 GP / 4.61 ERA / 52.2 IP / 22 BB / 67 Ks / 1.329 whip
  • Josh Roenicke: RHP – 28 yrs old, spent majority of 2010 in AAA
  • Jesse Carlson: LHP – 20 yrs old, 20 GP / 4.61 ERA / 13.2 IP / 5 BB / 8 Ks / 1.317 whip
  • Chad Cordero: RHP – 28 yrs old, only pitched 9.2 inning for Seattle in 2010, but dominated in AAA
  • Alan Farina: RHP – 24 yrs old, most dominant and top relief pitcher in the Jays system (spent ’10 in AA)

The picture is murky because I can’t see the Jays using anyone but Shawn Camp and Casey Janssen in the last 2 spots. What does that mean for the newly acquired and signed to a $1,415,000 contractVillanueva? To me, he’s the odd man out at this point unless another move is made by the Jays or he flat out beats others for the last spot. There’s always a possibility of injury, but that can’t be foreseen. It is possible that he’ll be sent down to AAA along with the other candidates to sharpen his stuff until a promotion is warranted. There is also Rommie Lewis who has an outside shot, but judging from his 2010 performance, he’s unlikely to get a look unless the Jays are desperate for a lefty. Finally, the depth has been improved with the additions of Wil Ledezma, Steven Register, Brian Stokes, and Winston Abreu. Talk about an overhaul of the pen depth chart!

However, we also need to consider the starting pitching candidates who don’t make the cut in the rotation for the Jays. Guys like Jesse Litsch, Brad Mills, Robert Ray, Jo Jo Reyes, Zach Stewart, Luis Perez, and possibly Marc Rzepczynskiare all candidates to push for both spots in the rotation and in the pen. Some, like Stewart, even have closer potential on top of starting ability. With the rotation fairly set with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, and Kyle Drabekincluded, only one of Litsch or Rzepczynski will make the cut for the 5th spot in the rotation. The other will be relegated to AAA. Stewart, who the Jays still want to use as a starter, will presumable occupy another spot in AAA since he is due a promotion, while the remainder on the list – Reyes, Mills, Ray, and Perez – will be working for the last 3 spots in AAA. This means that at least 1 of those 4 listed will be relegated to the pen or pushed down to AA.

That makes the current 2011 Jays bullpen likely to be as follows:

That looks like a pretty great made over pen to me!I can’t stress how great it feels to know that the Jays pen may actually be significantly better in 2011 due to the latest addition of Francisco. I was truly second-guessing the pen when the Jays lost out on Brian Fuentes, but now that Francisco is on board, the Jays should be more than able to get LHB out with him and Purcey at the back of the pen to lean on. It may not be the absolute best pen in the AL, but it surely is one of the more experienced and proven pens that should sit within the top 5-7 at this point. With such young starting pitching in place, it’s vital that the back end of the pen do its job effectively and be ready to take on bigger workloads. With Francisco now a part of the pen, I have little doubt that the Jays pen will support the Jays staff effectively, and hopefully efficiently, in 2011.

As a final note on Francisco, the Jays will have to come to terms with him before the season starts. If they sign him for 1 season only and allow him to close and then let him sign with another team in 2012, they could very well be in store for more draft picks, something that always seems to be a consideration of the moves made under the watch of Alex Anthopoulos.

Trying to Make Sense of Things: Bench Portion

image courtesy of www.terezowens.com

Although the pen situation is murky – but stronger – at this point, there are now bigger questions left to answer in terms of the Jays bench. We are now back down to 2 spots taken with Jose Molina and John McDonaldassured spots on the bench. Alex Anthopoulos just made the assertion that the Jays are in fact “open” to adding strength to the bench.

This is where dealing Mike Napolito the Texas Rangers becomes a genius move by Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays.

Which team was the most likely to sign Vladimir Guerrerobased on reports being made over the last couple of months, and most particularly this week? The Texas Rangers. Well, with Mike Napolinow on board, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll try to sign him, or that he’ll want to go there knowing full well that Napoli will get a ton of ABs as a DH. So, by trading Napoli to the Rangers, Alex has effectively weakened the choices Vladdy has in his search for a place to play in 2011 and may very be able to entice him to Toronto as a result. Genius.

Now, I know that there are reports out there that the Orioles and Vladdy came close to having an agreement last week. But when executives rushed to squash those rumors so adamantly, it tells you a little about their real interest in him. Aside from the Orioles, there really haven’t been many teams chasing him. I’m not sure how Jays management and Alex Anthopoulos feel about Vladdy at this point in his career, but, I do know that both he and Anthopoulos were part of the Montreal Expos organization at the same time, so Alex may be a bigger fan of his than he would ever say publicly.

What could Vladdy do for the Jays in 2011?

Well, he had an OK year by his standards in 2010 when he hit .300/.345/.496 with 29 HRs and 115 RBIs, how’s that for starters? Adding his bat to the Jays lineup would effectively replace the entire production lost by the trading of Vernon Wells at a fraction of the cost. He would be taking some playing time away from Edwin Encarnacion or Adam Lind each time he was put in as a DH, but he’d be more than worth it. His bat would provide additional power to support Jose Bautista, and his leadership in the clubhouse (proven by his popularity in the Texas locker room) would go a long way to helping Jays players get over the loss of Wells in the clubhouse.

A possible lineup with Vladimir Guerrero included for the Jays in 2011:

It’s a lineup that would not miss Vernon Wellsvery much while his trade helped provide a real option as a closer for the team while cutting costs a tremendous amount. It’s also a lineup that would have more speed included and possibly more power if Arencibia, Hill, and Lind turn it on in 2011. Having E5 back at 3B would hurt the Jays defensively, but it didn’t really kill them. However, the wild card is none other than the other latest Alex Anthopoulos acquisition in 2B/3B/LF Brett Lawrie.

image courtesy of www.vancouversun.com

Let’s assume for one moment that Brett Lawrie impresses the Jays so much that he either makes the team out of spring training, or more likely he gets the call some time in late June or early July. His bat and versatility on the field would provide the Jays with what could be the last required cog in the wheel to surprise a ton of teams in the American League. He can easily man LF, already has experience at 2B (albeit while having a tough time), and is supposed to get accustomed to 3B during spring training.

If Brett Lawriecan handle the job at 3B, look out for the Jays in 2011 and beyond. His manning 3B would result in Jose “The Cannon” Bautista returning to his beloved RF, Rajai Davis in CF, and Travis Snider in LF. To me, that’s an above-average outfield, both offensively and defensively if Snider blossoms as is expected. Edwin Encarnacion becomes a mercenary off the bench who can spell Adam Lindat 1B and Vladdy (or whoever the Jays add to the bench) as DH, and the pitching should benefit from a better defensive performance at the hot corner from Lawrie than they got in 2010 from E5.

Other options than Vladdy for the Jays include acquiring a bat through trade (with AA that’s always possible), or one of the following remaining FAs:

The Jays already looked into Chavez with a private workout and have had a few rumors linking them to Podsednik, so those 2 are candidates for one of the 2 open spots on the Jays bench.

The plan Alex Anthpolous has in mind for the Jays continues to develop at a fast and furious pace and it’s getting to be quite the job to track what direction he’s headed in. As long as the majority of the molding of the squad happens before spring training it does provide the players with some time to digest the moves before the season begins.

The Napoli for Francisco deal does make the Jays better because it addresses the need to be effective against LHB in the pen, and also provides the very best closing option for the Jays in 2011. His addition could improve the performance of the pen overall in 2011, and thus could make the life of starters and John Farrell much easier. If the pitching staff develops as expected, there’s no reason to believe that the Jays can’t compete as well in 2011 as they did in 2010 with their latest pen addition now in place. How the bench situation plays out will definitely have an impact on their chances to make a surprise run in 2011, and adding Vladimir Guerrero may very well be in the cards to make that happen.

We’re all surely soon to find out with spring training only 3 weeks away!

– MG

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Tags: Adam Lind Brandon Morrow Brett Cecil Brett Lawrie Carlos Villanueva Casey Janssen David Purcey Edwin Encarnacion Frank Francisco Jason Frasor John McDonald Jose Bautista Jose Molina Marc Rzepczynski Mike Napoli Octavio Dotel Travis Snider

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