Juan Rivera Must Be Traded or Cut Loose By Jays

Alex Anthopoulos needs to be credited for doing something that many people across MLB thought was absolutely impossible: he moved Vernon Wells and his albatross contract. However, what he inherited in the process was a catcher and first baseman named Mike Napoli, later flipped for Frank Francisco, as well as one giant Angels headache in left fielder Juan Rivera.

Since the season began, Rivera has played in more games (34) than any Jays player aside from Yunel Escbar. He has 125 ABs to his repertoire. What has he done with those ABs?

26 hits / 2 measly doubles / no triples / 2 measly HRs / 10 RBI / 16 BB / 21 SO / 2 SB-2CS / and a .208 AVG / .303 OBP / .272 SLG / and horrific .575 OPS

What could be worse, you may ask? Well, over his last 10 games, this actually have gotten worse to the tune of 41 ABs, 8 hits / 3 RBI / 2 BB / 8 SO / 1 SB and a .195 AVG. Ouch!

Just imagine where the Jays would be if they could actually count on production from their LF? Just to put things in perspective, Travis Snider, who was sent down to AAA after 87 ABs has twice the number of doubles than Rivera has with 4, and also has more RBIs than Rivera with 12. All of this with almost 40 fewer ABs. Add in his 5 SBs (3 more than Rivera), better defensive capabilities, and the fact that Snider usually has a very big month of May, and you begin to ask yourself just why he’s still in AAA while Rivera is spoiling a ton of run driving opportunities with the Jays!

Over his last 5 games played, Juan Rivera has left 15 batters on base for an average of 3 per game. When you’re blowing teams out, like the Jays did against the Twins, you can survive through having Rivera spoil such opportunities. But, when you’re involved in as many close games as the Jays had been previously, you need for players to step up. There’s a reason he only has 10 RBIs to his credit despite having the 2nd most ABs for the Jays, he’s just not getting the job done.

But, that’s not all. Here’s more ammunition that aims towards cutting the 32 year old veteran.

His stats from 2009 to 2011, the years where Rivera has been in his 30s, show us the following trends:

  • An Average that has lowered from .287 (’09), to .252 (’10), to .208 (’11);
  • An OBP that has gone from .332 (’09), to .313 (’10), to .303 (’11);
  • A SLG % that has lowered from .478 (’09), to .409 (’10), to .272 (’11);
  • A strikeout rate of 9.9% per PA in ’09 which has gone to 12.7% in ’10 and 14.8% so far in ’11;
  • A HR rate that has gone from 4.4% in ’09, to 3.3% in ’10, to 1.4% in ’11;
  • A double rate that has gone from 4.2% in ’09, to 4.4% in ’10, to 1.4% in ’11; and
  • An extra-base hit rate that has gone from 8.6% in ’09, to 7.7% in ’10, to 2.8% in ’11.

In fact, the lone positive I could find over the last 3 years was a walk rate that has gone from 6.3% in ’09, to 7.3% in ’10, to 11.3% so far in ’11. Does this indicate that Rivera has gotten much less aggressive at the plate over the last 3 years? That could be so. When you consider that he inhabited Mike Scioscia’s doghouse during the last few years of his tenure in Los Angeles, it’s possible that he became hesitant at the plate, particularly early in the count, in an attempt to see more pitches and get “the perfect pitch”. That could also help explain why he struck out at a higher rate as his bat could have stayed on his shoulder much of the time. When self-doubt sets in and is reinforced by your bosses, it can have a cumulative effect. But, that’s just an observation made based on what transpired publicly and the stats, so who knows what the issues really are pertaining to Rivera’s lowered performance at the plate.

To make matters worse for Rivera, his defensive abilities have also become sub-standard, as he owns a -0.4 dWar ratio and has seen his overall WAR ration go from 1.7 in 2009, to 0.6 in 2010 and -0.8 in 2011. Can we actually believe at this point that his WAR ratio will ever be above 0 again? As he ages and gets slower in the OF?

I think most fans, if not all of them, would agree that Juan Rivera does not fit into the long term plans of the Jays. The question is, does he fit in to the Jays plans for the remainder of 2011?

My answer to that question is a flat out giant NO!

The Jays are trying to build an exciting team that runs the bases aggressively and plays dirt-bag style ball. Juan Rivera is just about the opposite of that on all fronts. He doesn’t dive for balls, is very slow moving and methodical, and is getting to the decline point of his career.

Who does fit into the Jays plans for the next 2/3 of the season?

Eric Thames and/or Travis Snider, that’s who.

Personally, and at this point in the season, I would call up Eric Thames as soon as I believe he won’t become a Super 2 player and do the best thing possible with Juan Rivera (trade or release him). Why Thames over Snider? Simply put, Thames is playing much better at this point than Snider is, much better. His 2011 season line of .342/.419/.610 is dwarfed only by his .400/.467/.850  line over his last 10 games. He has 25 extra base hits over 146 ABs (17% rate), which has gotten better during his last 10 games (27.5%).

Meanwhile, although Travis Snider began his AAA demotion on a hot streak, he has cooled off a ton over his last 10 games. Over that stretch, Travis has only 8 hits in 42 ABs, 2 doubles, 5 RBI, and a lowly .190/.255/.238 line, a line that is eerily similar to the line he left behind in Toronto (.184/.276/.264). It seems that even AAA pitchers have wizened up to how Snider should be approached and have figured out how to exploit his weaknesses. At this point, how can the Jays actually put faith in Snider being called up and doing well in the majors if he’s slumping so badly in AAA? Both Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames are outplaying him, so I’m not really sure how they can substantiate not giving Thames a shot first.

Now, having said that, I’d much rather watch Snider learn on the job in Toronto than to watch Rivera waste AB after AB learning absolutely nothing. And that’s my main point here. The Jays need to allow their young studs – the futures of the franchise – the time and experience required to get better in the majors. Keeping Juan Rivera and his diminished stats is only accomplishing 3 things: more losses, less learning by those who need to learn, and a ton of pissed off fans who don’t understand what he’s doing in the lineup.

As far as trading him goes, it’s as tall an order as any for Alex to accomplish. Sure, if he eats a lot of the salary he may be able to squeeze a low end prospect out of one MLB team, but that’s pretty much all the Jays can expect to land at this point.

Still, Juan Rivera must be traded or cut loose by the Jays. If they can’t find a trade partner, cut him and move on the very day that they believe it’s safe to do so without Super 2 status getting in the way of retaining Thames or Lawrie. Doing so will excite the fan base, will send a signal that the Jays are ready to allow their young players to flourish, and will really give the Jays the best chance to win as they add dirt-bags to their lineup. Players who play hard every day, can do a little bit of everything, and can resolve the 2 biggest weaknesses on the Jays roster: LF and 3B. With those issues resolved, who knows what kind of winning streak the Jays can put together? Anything is possible, particularly when they’ve done so well with little to no output from those 2 positions all year long.

That’s my take on the Juan Rivera situation. Now, back to watching Jose Bautista hammer little white balls over fences!

-MG

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Tags: Eric Thames Juan Rivera Travis Snider

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