Tag: Brandon Morrow

How the Toronto Blue Jays Can Fix 2014

Jays RHP R.A. Dickey
Jays RHP R.A. Dickey

After acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Melky Cabrera through trades and free agency prior to the 2013 season, it would have been easy to assume that the Toronto Blue Jays would become contenders in the American League East – immediately. With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion already on board offensively, the Jays possessed a dynamic offense, and the added pieces to the rotation and the top of the order seemed like enough to help Toronto find their way back to the early-1990’s glory days.

Instead, the Jays went 74-88, 23 games back of the Boston Red Sox, battling Justin Bieber for the title of Biggest Canadian Train-wreck of 2013.

Johnson is now in San Diego and the Jays look to be struggling to develop a solid rotation around Dickey and Buehrle, as Brandon Morrow, who has battled numerous injuries and ailments over the last couple of seasons, Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, and Todd Redmond will battle to fill out the remainder of the Jays rotation in 2014. For that reason, the Jays will likely need to win games by outscoring the opposition.

How can the Jays fix their already present issues?

Jays 2B (?) Brett Lawrie
Jays 2B (?) Brett Lawrie

First, the club needs to move Brett Lawrie back to second base. Ryan Goins, Brent Morel, and Maicer Izturis are currently listed on the club’s depth chart for second, and Lawrie would obviously be a huge offensive upgrade. Lawrie played 249 games at second in the minors and did a nice job fielding the position. If he were to stay healthy and live up to his lofty expectations, he would produce at an All-Star level offensively, likely becoming a fantasy darling and very valuable within the sabermetric community due to his ability to run – and his athletic ability should allow him to thrive as an up-the-middle player, once again.

Obviously, third base would then be open if the Jays moved Lawrie back to second. Edwin Encarnacion played the position horrendously in Cincinnati, but Toronto could move Jose Bautista back to third. Bautista has played all of 21.1 innings at third since 2011 and he posted negative value at the position in his career, but with such low expectations from the current options at second base, Bautista’s negative influence at third could still be smaller than what the Jays will likely receive from Goins, Morel, and/or Izturis.

Jays OF Moises Sierra
Jays OF Moises Sierra

To be honest, one of the major reasons that this move makes sense is because of the outfield options that the Blue Jays have. Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra could provide value to the club if either player was given a full-time opportunity, and both warrant a longer look than what they will likely be given due to the current lineup alignment.

Jays OF Anthony Gose
Jays OF Anthony Gose

Gose is just 23 and has two years of experience at the major league level, as he has 342 plate appearances in Toronto. Gose has over 900 plate appearances at Triple-A, though, and while he has a lot of swing and miss in his game, he seems to have a lot of similarities to Michael Bourn with a lesser hit tool. Tremendous speed and defensive skills will be his calling card, but he does have some power, as well. Giving him a bigger role in 2014 will allow the Jays to have a better idea of options on-hand for the 2015 offseason, as center field will be very weak and the club could lose Colby Rasmus on the open-market.

Sierra, 25, has shown some power at the major league level, posting an .827 OPS (126 OPS+) in 35 games in 2013, including 14 walks in 122 plate appearances after walking all of 17 times in 422 minor league plate appearances last season. The power seems legit, though, as Sierra ripped 46 home runs in 1,395 minor league plate appearances since the start of 2011. He profiles nicely as a corner outfielder, and, while he doesn’t have elite speed, he seems to understand how to utilize the skills that he does possess (77 stolen bases in his minor league career). Maybe he was just bored in the minors and it led to his horrific approach?

Of course, maybe the offense wouldn’t have to be manipulated in any way to improve the team’s chances if the Blue Jays signed another starting pitcher or two. Considering that the Jays’ 9th overall and 11th overall picks in the 2014 MLB Draft are both protected, why weren’t they more aggressive in the top-flight pitcher market? They would, essentially, be giving up a second round pick for a player who is tied to compensation, and their win-now approach, evident from their trades last offseason, warrants that type of investment.

Free Agent RHP Ervin Santana
Free Agent RHP Ervin Santana

It wouldn’t be too surprising for the Jays to settle on a one-year deal with Ervin Santana, just to show some kind of effort this offseason. A better option, however, would likely be Cuban right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, whose unfamiliarity with the league would at least allow for early success – if he were dropped immediately into the rotation. Other options at this point are not good – Joe Saunders, Barry Zito, Clayton Richard, Jeff Niemann, Jason Marquis, Jeff Karstens, Jair Jurrjens, Johan Santana, and Jon Garland are all that remain of major league free agent starters, while Brett Myers “could” be tried in that role once again after failing horrifically due to injuries with the Cleveland Indians in 2013.

Outside of changing the team’s offensive alignment or signing a free agent starter, the Blue Jays appear to be heading towards another last place finish in the AL East. The Yankees and Orioles made some interesting additions, the Rays re-upped with James Loney and have their core intact, and the Red Sox are only the defending champions. After mortgaging the clubs future (Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Jake Marisnick) to make a run in 2013, the quiet offseason should be disappointing to fans. After altering the competitive window, the club is now just out there in the land of mediocrity – not strong enough to truly contend and not bad enough to win the Carlos Rodon sweepstakes in 2014, and whoever the top player in 2015 will be sweepstakes, as well.

Marcus Stroman is nearly ready for the rotation, but the Aaron Sanchez‘s and Roberto Osuna‘s are too far away for the Jays to count on in 2014. After dealing so many of their near-ready prospects last year, the only way to salvage the season is to give Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose a larger role, while increasing the team’s ability to outscore their opposition.

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Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

The Cold Stove: Waiting for the 2015 Free Agent Class

 

Seattle Mariners' 2B: Robinson Cano
Seattle Mariners’ 2B: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran all signed big deals within a matter of weeks, and then…baseball fans were left wondering what happened to the stove, and while a watched pot never boils, the wait for the next big signing seems to be longer than the Cubs World Series drought…ZING!

The 2014 free agent class certainly had some impressive names on the list, and after Clayton Kershaw signed his seven-year, $215 million extension on Thursday, the list of 2015 upcoming free agents took a major hit. Teams have a lot of money due to the incoming television mega-deals that Major League Baseball has signed, and that revenue is allowing clubs to lock up many of their homegrown players prior to reaching free agency. With so few superstars actually reaching free agency, it appears that those who do are going to cash in with some lucrative deals, even if they aren’t necessarily worthy such an investment.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka

Teams seem quite hesitant to lock up the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana, and while Garza doesn’t require draft-pick compensation like Jimenez and Santana, can you blame teams for not wanting to give out a five-year, $80 to $100 million deal to those types of pitchers? The pitching market will likely be set and begin to move after Masahiro Tanaka signs, which will require a team to give $20 million in a posting fee on top of a $100 million deal for a player who has never thrown a pitch at the Major League level. It seems terrifying from these poor, baseball blogger’s eyes to see teams shelling out this kind of money to:

  • Masahiro Tanaka: Tanaka has gone 53-9 with a 1.44 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 611.1 innings over the last three seasons in Japan – while tossing 30 complete games and averaging eight innings per start over 76 starts. The wear and tear on his arm rivals that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, yet he’ll be the top free agent and teams are clamoring to invest heavily in him. It’s as if teams forgot that Matsuzaka’s shoulder and elbow looked like road kill after 61 starts in Boston – and his career was a train wreck. Is Tanaka worth nine figures?
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: Jimenez was 20-25 in his first 61 starts in Cleveland, posting a 5.10 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 340.2 innings…and then the second half of 2013 happened, and Jimenez was 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 13 starts and 84 innings and he is suddenly an ace! Sure, Indians’ pitching coach Mickey Callaway helped Jimenez with his balance and delivery, but did he make him into the same pitcher who went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the first half of 2010, or will Jimenez return to the mess that he was in his first 61 starts in Cleveland? Is Jimenez worth $75 to $90 million?
  • Ervin Santana: Santana was a salary dump last winter, as the Los Angeles Angels sent him to the Kansas City Royals with $1 million (the Royals paid the remaining $12 million of his contract) after Santana posted a horrific 5.16 ERA, 74 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP and 9-13 record over 30 starts and 178 innings in 2012. Then, Santana went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 127 ERA+, and 1.14 WHIP over 211 innings and 32 starts, and he is the second coming of Christ…or is he? If Santana was the top state-side arm on the market, wouldn’t he be worthy of an offer? Maybe clubs are being cautious of Santana, who has had three full seasons with ERAs over 5.00 and ERA+ under 90, while tossing in five seasons with an ERA under 4.30 and an ERA+ of 106 or more, and they aren’t too keen on the idea of giving $100 million (which Santana was said to be seeking) for such dramatic, roller coaster production. Salary relief or not, Santana was acquired for Brandon Sisk, who missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, a 28-year-old relief prospect. Is he worth this type of commitment?
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Perhaps the slow movement of the pitching market is because of how ugly it actually is once you look at the numbers, while teams could be looking ahead to the 2015 free agency class. Even without Kershaw, there appears to be much better options available, and with so many pitchers with options, could teams be hoping to cash in on acquiring strong pitchers coming off of down seasons who won’t necessarily cost their respective clubs draft-pick compensation?

Here are the names of some pitchers who could reach free agency next winter if their options are not picked up:

While these pitcher WILL (at least currently scheduled) reach free agency after the 2014 season:

Homer BaileyJosh Beckett, Jorge De La Rosa, Ryan Dempster, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Kendrick, Jon Lester, Colby Lewis, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Peavy, Wandy Rodriguez, Max Scherzer, and James Shields.

HanRam
Los Angeles Dodgers SS: Hanley Ramirez

With San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Colorado Rockies outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer, and designated hitters like Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez, Boston Red Sox David Ortiz, and Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn, the hitting market is also relatively strong; although, not as enticing as the possible pitchers who could be available next winter.

There are still some useful names out there on the free agent market, but is it time to wonder whether it is the player names (Nelson Cruz), the draft-pick compensation (Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, Jimenez, Santana), or teams looking to the potential free agent market in 2015 that is causing the hot stove to have frozen? With teams reporting to Spring Training in about five weeks, there could be busy days ahead of us, or there could be a lot of agents being replaced by dissatisfied baseball players who were left behind.

How Good Are the Blue Jays?

Courtesy: businessinsider.com
Courtesy: businessinsider.com

You can’t buy championships…Well, maybe you can. The New York Yankees have tried to and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels seem to think that it is possible. The Blue Jays are taking a new approach. They seem to be trading for AND buying a championship, acquiring an All-Star team this offseason (and their contracts) to become immediate contenders in the American League East.

Toronto is absolutely loaded. Starting pitching…upgraded. Bullpen…upgraded. Offense…upgraded. Manager…well, they brought back a former manager, John Gibbons, so that is questionable.

Still, you have to like what GM Alex Anthopoulos has done, and if you’re a Blue Jays fan you have to love it.

Courtesy: northjersey.com
Courtesy: northjersey.com

The starting rotation is stacked. If the club rotates right-handed, left-handed, the rotation is: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Romero, and Brandon Morrow. Morrow could be the No. 2 starter for most teams, possibly the No. 1 starter for many other. Morrow’s BB/9 IP have fallen from 4.1 in 2010 to 3.0 in 2012, when he posted a 2.96 ERA, also the lowest of his career. If Johnson stays healthy, he is capable of winning 20-games, having won 15 games in 2009, the last time he pitched 200 innings. Romero was 42-29 with a 3.60 ERA in his first three seasons (2009-2011) before imploding to a 9-14 record and 5.77 ERA in 2012. Buehrle has only tossed 200 innings in the last 12 seasons, winning 170 games in that time, and Dickey…a Cy Young in 2012 and a 39-28 record with a 2.95 ERA since 2010, when he seemingly became a totally different pitcher from his 22-28 record and 5.43 ERA that he posted in his previous seven seasons.

The bullpen is solid, as well, providing an end game from the Jays dominant rotation. Casey Janssen was dominant as a closer in 2012, Darren Oliver (if he doesn’t retire) has been one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball over the last seven seasons, Brandon Lyon is a former closer turned set-up man, Sergio Santos is coming back from shoulder surgery, and Esmil Rogers, Aaron Loup, and Brad Lincoln still have potential to become great bullpen arms.

Cabrera, Reyes, and Bautista - the new core. Courtesy: nydailynews.com
Cabrera, Reyes, and Bautista – the new core. Courtesy: nydailynews.com

The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera provide, quite possibly, the best leadoff and No. 2 hitter in baseball, setting things up perfectly for the powerful Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Brett Lawrie will continue to establish himself as one of the top third basemen in baseball, starting in 2013, as his power, speed, and athleticism make him an elite talent. Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus have shown glimpses of talent in the past and they are both young enough to rebound and become great contributors, even All-Star talents. The club has a lot of power at catcher with J.P. Arencibia around, who now has a clear future with Travis d’Arnaud going to the Mets in the Dickey deal.

While you can look at all of the deals that sent talent like d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, and Noah Syndergaard away from the club, the Blue Jays still have a lot of young talent in the system. Lawrie, Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose, and David Cooper will contribute at the major league level in 2013, and great prospects like Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris (who will surely rebound from a disastrous 2012), Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna, Sean Nolin, and D.J. Davis still within the system.

While the Boston Red Sox try to rebuild without making a huge splash in free agency and the New York Yankees aim to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays have just made their move…or moves…to become a huge threat to the entire divison and the league. Could Toronto be battling Tampa and Baltimore as the Red Sox and Yankees try to determine how they are going to build in the future? The future is now in Toronto and the Blue Jays could approach 100-wins with their upgraded roster in 2013.