Assessing the Juan Rivera Market

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As most of us could have guessed from the moment he was acquired by the Blue Jays in the Vernon Wells deal, Juan Rivera does not fit into the long-term plans of the club and the Jays are apparently, according to Ken Rosenthal, trying to deal him elsewhere as a result. With $5.25 million remaining on his contract for the 2011 season, and being a free agent thereafter, it is possible that the Jays may have to take on some of his contract in order to move him. Rosenthal names Scott Podsednik as a better alternative as a 4th outfielder or platoon player to go along with Rajai Davis, something that I, and others, pointed out about a month ago.

The interesting part of this rumor is that Alex Anthopoulos has always played his cards close to his chest and we usually don’t know about pending Jays moves until they are finalized. If the Jays are in fact actively shopping Rivera, and he allows the information to get out, it has to be a deliberate act. So, if Rosenthal is right, what is Anthopoulos trying to accomplish by putting his name out there?

I could go out on a limb and say that with the Texas Rangers being hampered by news from Michael Youngthat he wants out, by the news from the Rockies that they’re no longer in play because of the asking price from the Texas side (an unwillingness to take on more of his salary), by the fact that the Angels are the only other logical alternative that also have the cash to take on a better portion of his salary but are within the same division, and by being limited in terms of trading partners Young will agree to go to, that Alex Anthopoulos is telling those “8 chosen teams” to look at the Blue Jays as a 3rd team in a possible trade.

Because the Toronto Blue Jays are not on Michael Young‘s list of possible destinations, although he did say he’d assess other teams on a case-by-case basis, I will not look at them as a possible landing spot for Young. He would do well on the club and I’m sure they’d be glad to have him on board, so anything is possible, but it doesn’t seem to be the right fit at this time, particularly with Young wanting to win now. Joining a team in the AL East facing the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, may be a little more than what Young wants to take on at this stage of his career. Therefore, all of the different scenarios listed below that include Michael Young will include the Toronto Blue Jays, the Texas Rangers, and a third team.

I came up with 4 credible options:

Houston Astros: Direct Deal, or 3-Way Deal

The Astros, one of those teams on Young’s list, and Jays recently completed a deal that saw Anthony Gose come to Toronto in return for Brett Wallace. The Astros recently signed Bill Hall to a $3 million contract for 2011 with a mutual option rated at $4 million ($0.25 million buyout). He has a lot of experience playing 3B, last played there regularly in 2009 for the Brewers when he made only 4 errors in over 457 innings at the position, and can also play elsewhere if Brett Lawrie is deemed ready as he has the super-utility ability to play all over the diamond and in the OF. Hall has some pop, is well known by John Farrell after having seen him play in Boston, and provide a nice stop-gap for the Jays between E5 and Lawrie at 3B.

The Jays could either complete a deal directly with the Astros, somehow adding enough to go along with Rivera to acquire Hall, or could get involved with the Rangers at the same time and see if a 3-team deal can be worked out that satisfies all 3 sides. That would be ideal if the Jays did target Hall, because he’s currently slated to man 2B for the Astros, the same position that Young would likely man for them in 2011 if acquired from Texas. This could be a very complicated deal, but there are interesting pieces to consider, such as Carlos Lee who is owed $37 million ($18.5 million per season) by the Astros. Dealing him to either Toronto or Texas would help alleviate the pressure of taking on a big portion of Michael Young‘s contract, but what would the Astros see as a good enough return to deal their core lineup player? That’s where things get dicey here, but this remains an intriguing option.  The Astros may decide to complete a deal with Texas on their own, but keeping Hall on board with Young around seems like a waste of salary space. (all salaries listed here are courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts)

The San Diego Padres

The Jays could target an infielder from San Diego such as Everth Cabrera since he has fallen out of favor there. The Padres signed Orlando Hudson as their everyday 2B, have Jason Bartlett manning SS, and Chase Headley manning 3B. I could dream about the Jays acquiring Headley, but it would be just that, a dream. Adding someone like Rivera in San Diego would help them get a little more pop after losing Adrian Gonzalez, and he would become their 4th outfielder. With Drew Cumberland and others close to being ready for The Show, Cabrera doesn’t fit into their long-term plans and would be given a shot to show the Jays what he has as a 2B. Aaron Hill could shift to 3B, Jose Bautista returns to RF, and Travis Snider returns to LF.

Cabrera had his best season in the minors in 2008 (LoA), when he hit .284/.361/.399 in 479 ABs, and had 25 doubles, 6 triples, 6 HRs, and a whopping 73 stolen bases. He proceeded to make it all the way to the majors the following season (rushed?) and still managed a decent .255/.342/.361 line with 18 doubles and 28 extra base hits in only 377 ABs. His biggest struggles, however, were on the field, where he committed 23 errors as a SS for the Padres in 2009, good for a .951 fielding percentage. If shifted to 2B, it’s possible that those numbers would go down quite a bit and he has the kind of upside that Alex Anthopoulos is always looking for in a deal. Once again, the Jays would have to eat a lot of Rivera’s salary in this deal. Cabrera is arbitration eligible through 2014 and would be very controllable as a result. Although I would love the Jays to target Chase Headley or Kyle Blanks instead, it’s unlikely that the Padres would deal either of these players after dealing Gonzo.

The Kansas City Royals

The Jays have been known to be after Alex Gordon since the beginning of November, as noted here in an earlier article of mine. Their interest in Gordon was first mentioned when the Jays interest in Zack Greinke became public (whether it was real or not is another story). He is arbitration eligible through 2013, is slated to make $1.4 million in 2011, and is currently slated as their starting LF, a position that will eventually be taken up by none other than Wil Myers, one of their top prospects. Alex just turned 27 earlier this month and may be primed to break out in 2011. His .315/.442/.577 line in AAA with 14 HRs in only 260 ABs can’t be ignored. The problem here would be that the Jays want someone to man 3B, and Alex found success after moving from 3B to LF. He’s as bad as Ryan Braun was at 3B, and needs to play LF from here on out as a result, not exactly what the Jays are after. But, if all else fails, the Jays could always acquire Alex and keep Bautista at 3B. The Jays may have to sweeten a deal with the Royals in order to acquire Gordon, but he may not be their only target in KC.

A late bloomer, reaching the majors at age 27, Mike Aviles has the ability to play 2B, SS, and 3B, and was on his way to becoming a star before elbow injuries stopped him in his tracks in 2009. He is arbitration eligible through 2014, can hit over .300 with 10+ HRs and an average or above-average OBP each year, but the question remains whether he can play a full season or not. Still, with his versatility and ability to become a utility player with offensive upside when Brett Lawrie is ready to join the Jays, he makes a while lot of sense for the Jays. As for the Royals, they’d be acquiring some much needed pop to help Billy Butler out in the lineup, and would provide a whole lot more assurance than they can currently expect from Alex Gordon in the OF or from Mitch Maier off-the-bench.  

The Chicago White Sox

Alejandro de Aza is currently listed as the 4th outfielder in the White Sox depth chart, so to say that they could use an upgrade is an under statement. For a team that’s “going for it” in 2011, it just doesn’t seem like a strong enough option. Meanwhile, Mark Teahen is facing competition from Brent Morel and Dayan Viciedo at 3B and has already been told that he’ll have to earn his playing time there. Ozzie Guillen initially stated that the 3B starting role would be his to lose, but has since said it would be an open competition. Teahen is owed $4.5 million in 2011, and $5.5 million in 2012, so I’m not exactly certain how the salaries would be dealt with going either way, but the 2011 portion does seem fairly even.

The problem here would be that Mark’s defensive abilities at 3B have dwindled to a really low level in recent years. His .919 fielding percentage in 2010 may be the result of some of his injuries as he did much better in 2009 with a .956 total. His WAR rating of -0.4 isn’t great, but most of it is due to a -0.7 dWAR rating, as opposed to a 0.3 oWAR rating. So, he is at least a slightly above average offensive option at 3B.

At only 29 years old, Mark still has the ability to improve some and to have a great season if he can remain healthy. He is capable of hitting 32-38 doubles to go along with 15-18 HRs, and a .270/.330/.382 line seems a reasonable expectation. Most importantly, however, is the fact that he also has RF and 1B experience, meaning that once Brett Lawrie arrives in Toronto, most likely in June at the soonest, Teahen could become an important piece of the bench. It also means that if he is absolutely horrible defensively at 3B, the Jays can swap him and Bautista until a better 3B option is found.

The Others

There are obviously countless options available out there, so I can’t really think of all of them, but these are some of the more prominent ones I saw as possibilities in a Juan Rivera deal. It’s possible that the Jays could simply be dumping salary here and target a prospect instead, but I’m not sure anyone would be willing to pay out that much right now. It’s early, rosters are not yet set, and many teams will be hoping for some prospect breakthroughs. The Mets (Bay, Beltran), the Athletics (Kouzmanoff, Jackson), and the Brewers (Gomez, Gamel) all make some sense in one way or another, but they are options that are a whole lot more complicated than those listed above and seem far-fetched overall.

We’ll see where Juan Rivera winds up and whether he is actually dealt before, during or after spring training. One thing I know for certain is that if Alex Anthopoulos did allow the fact that they’re shopping him leak out of his office, it’s for good reason and it will likely end up with Rivera wearing a different uniform in 2011. If that leak wasn’t a leak at all, then he could remain a Jay through the majority of 2011.

– MG

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Tags: Alejandro De Aza Alex Gordon Bill Hall Brent Morel Brett Lawrie Dayan Viciedo Jose Bautista Juan Rivera Mark Teahen Michael Young Mike Aviles Ryan Braun Zack Greinke

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