Am I Falling Out of Love with AA?
First and foremost, I do not want to come across as a disaffected Blue Jays fan who is using the benefit of hindsight to direct my frustrations up the food chain to the very top of the Jays ladder. I admit, the timing of this post could be better, as last week saw two insipid performances against the Orioles briefly pushing the former East Division bottom feeders into the a tie for first place, thereby upgrading my baseball depression from mild to standing on the edge of a rooftop. This could lead one to believe I am being rather vindictive by firing off a post ripping AA the day after one of the lowest points of the season. However, the idea has been percolating for some time, unfortunately real life has intruded somewhat and putting actual pen to paper has taken longer than expected.
Before looking at some of the negatives, let’s explore why I was in love with AA in the first place. I’m not going to give an itemized list, but in broad strokes:
There have been some excellent deals done that have made the roster younger, cheaper, and potentially more talented. The reason
August 23, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) receives congratulations from center fielder Colby Rasmus (28) after hitting a two run home run during the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
I underline potential is simply because I don’t think we have seen the best from Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, and, to a lesser extent, Yunel Escobar yet. Still, given what was exchanged for the three players above, I think nobody would argue that they would not do the exact same trades again if given the chance. I also have to believe that the Jays will come out winners on the Sergio Santos deal, despite the fact that, well, he didn’t really pitch this year. And when he did, it wasn’t all that pretty. Finally, the Vernon Wells deal has to rank as one of the greatest salary dumps of all time. Even if it led to one of Anthopolous’ worst trades when he flipped Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco you still have to consider the combined deals on the positive side of the ledger.
Alex has also done an excellent job replenishing a pretty barren farm system. The other writers for Jays Journal are all big prospect guys and without AA I’m willing to bet they would have a lot less interesting stuff to write about. Anthopolous has been able to do accomplish this by sparing no expense on scouting (with reports that the Jays employ the largest scouting team in the major leagues), spending large amounts on the draft and international signees, and when the system was changed to effectively limit the Jays and others from gratuitously paying over-slot come draft time, finding creative ways to ensure high end talent was signed.
He also has been very good at locking up players, that have performed well, to deals that make sense for both the player and the club, while letting others, that may have over-performed, test free agency and take the draft pick, rather than over-pay. Examples include Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and on the other side of the ledger, John Buck.
So, all in all, pretty positive. And when I’m finished writing this piece, I’ll probably still have a lot of love for AA. However, there have been some head-scratchers this season which have only served to muddy the waters of my affection.
I am not going to get involved in a long diatribe about cost parameters, how wealthy Rogers is, should AA have gone after some high end FA talent in 2012, etc. When discussing sunk costs, I mean exactly that. Money spent already, unwisely. It could and should have been spent on something else, although this post will be far too long and rambling if I try and look at all other options for those particular funds. The counter argument to everything I say, of course, will be that Rogers is a financial behemoth and dropping a million and half bucks here and there won’t make a dent in the bottom line. Although true, this doesn’t make transactions discussed any better than they were. Throwing the proverbial manure against the wall and seeing what sticks works for some, but it is not a realistic option for the Jays. Money spent badly could always be used for something better.
The Houston Trade: I wasn’t a big fan of this trade from the beginning. Giving up four prospects for a guy who would be, at best, and innings eater wasn’t all that exciting. True, the Jays have a serious gap in starting pitching talent between the lower minor league levels and the majors, but with the direction the season was heading, something more long term was needed and J.A. Happ is arbitration eligible. So may not even be with the Jays next year. Still, I could live with the deal as it saved me from watching Francisco Cordero for rest of the season. But then the ‘player to be named later’ was announced as Kevin Comer and the deal went from uninspiring to a serious question mark.
I’m not going to sit here and say giving up Kevin Comer makes the trade a sure fire loss. He’s a rookie ball pitcher. So, in effect, a lottery ticket. What frustrates me is the sunk costs involved. If you read this bit from Fangraphs, Comer was a bit of a stretch as a supplemental pick based on an inconsistent senior year in high school. Signability concerns also had him sliding down draft boards. So, for the Jays, he was a high risk, high upside pick, and they spent serious money to get him to sign a pro contract. At 1.65 million bucks, the Jays stumped up a million more than the picks right before and after got and even more than the teams three picks in front of him. As the negotiations went down to the wire, Comer only made his pro debut in 2012, getting into ten games for the Bluefield Blue Jays before the trade. According to my infantile mathematical mind, the Jays paid 165k for each appearance before deciding Comer wasn’t the prospect they initially thought. That is not good business. Somewhere, someone misjudged the talent. If the player still had, in the team’s eyes, serious upside, you would give it more time to develop. Not trade that upside for a fourth starter. In my mind, the Jays brass realized they had made an error with Comer and cut their losses as best they could. A pretty expensive mistake.
The Bullpen: This has been a source of a few costly mistakes over the last two seasons. I don’t think anyone can argue that Jon Rauch was not worth his 3.5 million dollar deal. But, if you look at his stat line from his 2010 in Minnesota, it is not all that bad. And with the potential for Type B status, if the Jays decided not to take up his option they would get a supplemental draft pick. So, you can (almost) say the 3.5 mill was not a sunk cost. Francisco Cordero, however, is another story. Like Rauch, Cordero was an ex-closer who had had success in the past, pitching in weaker divisions (compared to the AL East). Where they diverged is twofold. First, Cordero’s stats from 2011 look downright awful with an xFIP of 4.14, and unhealthy 5.43 K/9 rate, and a very lucky .214 BABIP. If you are not striking guys out in the NL Central, it stands to reason you are going to struggle against the Yankees and Red Sox of this world. Secondly, under the new CBA, Cordero is worth nothing at the end of the year. Yet, AA still gave him four and a half million bucks and Blue Jays fans everywhere held there collective breaths whenever he trotted in from the ‘pen.
AA took one step forward in revamping the bullpen away from aging ex-closers in the off-season by trading for Santos. I’m surprised it took him until the trade deadline to realize fully the new market dynamic for relievers was young, controllable, and, especially in the AL East, the ability to miss bats. Cordero’s contract has to be considered a waste of some pretty significant dollars.
Bad Contracts: Every team in baseball hands out bad contracts. They don’t necessarily need to be twenty million per, mega deals, just deals where the dollar amount or tenor does not reflect the players value. These are by-products of sports and I don’t want to spend any time nitpicking every contract handed out.
The two deals that made little sense at the time (and still don’t, especially with benefit of hindsight) satisfy the dollar value and tenor points mentioned above, but the main reason they rub the wrong way was the timing of the deals and how they will affect the club going forward.
Dustin McGowan cuts a sympathetic figure as a perpetually rehabbing pitcher with potential. Unfortunately potential does not win you games, nor should it be paid for. Having not thrown consistently since ’08 and with a year left on his current deal, the Jays inexplicably extended Dustin during spring training to the tune of two years at one point five per, with an option for a third at four million. Despite the fact that McGowan seemed to be on the road to recovery when the contract was signed, having taken part in spring training, the timing still boggles the mind. Taking into account his injury history and uneven performances when he did return to the team at the back end of 2011, all reasonable minds would surely have thought that Dustin needed to prove himself during the last year of his deal before meriting a new contract. Sure, if he had a big season, it might cost you a bit more, but that would be a win. The percentages were always going to be in favour of another breakdown and, unfortunately, that’s what the Blue Jays got. Another lost season, and very likely, two years at one and half per that will yield few to zero innings pitched.
If Jeff Mathis has proven anything this season, it is that he is still a below average major league hitter, and a slightly above average defensive catcher. Maybe that’s what you want as a back up catcher, and my colleague Kyle Matte breaks down some of his positives here. While I’m a bit ambivalent about his actual value as a second catcher, I do feel quite strongly that there was absolutely no need to guarantee him that position for the next two seasons. Why the Jays would remove the possibility that J.P. Arencibia and Travis D’arnaud are the two rostered catchers next year is beyond me. They are your two best (and cheapest) options. This backs them into a corner if those two have great spring trainings in 2013. One would need to be dealt, more than likely Arencibia as his bat doesn’t play anywhere else, but with Mathis locked in, the Jays are not negotiating from a position of strength. Of course, you could just decide to dfa Mathis and eat his salary. This contract makes zero sense. If you felt so strongly that stability and a veteran presence in the back up role was necessary, there are numerous options out there for less money. Like a Yorvit Torrealba……
Omar Vizquel – right, so let me get this straight, you’re going to play the bulk of the year with a three man bench and one of those bench players is useless? Your theory being that he provides a veteran presence. An extra bench coach so to speak. Horse manure, if you want an extra bench coach, hire one. If you want to have value on the field, get a player that can win you a game. Or at the very least, cover a position for more than one game in a row.
AA has build up a lot of cachet over the last few years. I don’t believe the moves I pointed out above has him spending any where near the credit he has accumulated. Still, after a disappointing season, this off-season could be very important for Anthopolous as he looks to build the Jays into a perpetual contender in the AL East. I don’t expect any big moves which will have fans automatically thinking playoff spots for 2013, but nor do I wish to see any more sunk costs. We still have to live through another season of Dustin McGowan not pitching and Jeff Mathis not hitting any pitching. That’s enough for me.