Franken-Roster: Creating a Playoff Team from the Bargain Bin

With the vast majority of MLB free agents having found new homes, there is the temptation to dream about what life would be like if your team had somehow acquired all of the best free agents, costs be damned. Typically, teams don’t have that kind of money to spend though it seems like the Dodgers tried their hardest to do just that. However, what would a team like the Houston Astros look like if they were willing to spend in free agency in 2012 but only had a budget of $40M? Could they field a team that could reasonably compete for the playoffs with nothing but bargain bin free agents? Tampa Bay seems to be quite successful in turning cheap free agents into one-year Superstars, so it might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

For the sake of this post, the new team will play in the AL and have exactly 0 players under contract for 2013 and nobody in the minors that would be above replacement-level. You can use nameless minor league depth (replacement-level players) in your lineup that cost the league minimum ($500k for simplicity). Players that are still unsigned can be signed for $5M X their average WAR from the last two years though the league minimum still applies (subtract .5 WAR per year if they’re over 33) or the average of those two seasons’ salary (whichever feels fairer – this is not rocket appliances). Players that have signed as minor league free agents but have accrued more than 6 years MLB service time have a salary of $1M, while those with less than 6 years get the league minimum. Don’t worry about performance bonuses. If they produce, the revenue from the gate will be put back in the team and will cover those costs. How would you spend your $50M?

Rotation:

It’s often hard for teams to acquire one quality pitcher through free agency to complement an already decent core of starters. Finding 5 of them seems an even more daunting task.

  • RHP Javier Vazquez - $4.5M (1.9 rWAR – 1.0 (aging penalty) X $5M)
    • 2011: 3.69/3.57/3.87 – ERA/FIP/xFIP – 3.2 fWAR
    • 2013: N/A
  • RHP Shaun Marcum - $4M
    • 2012: 3.7/4.1/4.21 – 1.4 fWAR
    • 2013 (Bill James): 3.63/4.01 ERA/FIP
  • RHP Bartolo Colon - $3M
    • 2012: 3.43/3.82/4.17 – 2.4 fWAR
  • RHP Rich Harden - $1M
    • 2012: 5.12/4.69/3.68 – 0.5 fWAR (82.2IP)
  • RHP Carlos Zambrano - $1M
    • 4.49/4.47/4.84 – 0.8 fWAR

Total: $13.5M

This is a rather rag-tag collection of starting pitchers, but they’re cheap and effective when healthy. Couldn’t find a left-hander, but perhaps I’ll use the gate revenue generated by mid-season to add one via trade.

Relievers:

  • RHP Brian Wilson - $2M
    • 2011: 3.11/3.33/3.91 – 0.5 fWAR
    • 2013: 3.48/3.12
  • RHP Jason Frasor - $1.5M
    • 2012: 4.12/4.10/3.76 – 0.2 fWAR
  • RHP Matt Capps - $1M
    • 2012: 3.68/4.49/4.18 – 0 fWAR
    • 2013: 3.46/3.74
  • RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo – $1M
    • 2011: 4.06/3.96/4.16 – 0.2 fWAR
  • LHP Hisanori Takahashi – $0.5M
    • 2012: 5.54/3.93/3.79 – 0.2 fWAR
    • 2013: 3.38/3.8
  • RHP Takashi Saito - $0.5M
    • 2012: 6.75/7.09/4.96
    • Career: 2.34/2.81/3.26
  • LHP – Minor League Guy (not Jean Segura) – $0.5M

Total: $7M

It’s going to be tough to fill the position players with all this money dedicated to my pitching, but I’m modelling myself after the 2012 Rays/A’s that competed on a shoestring because of their quality pitching.

Starting Position Players:

  • Kelly Shoppach - $1.5M
    • 2012: .233/.309/.425 .316 wOBA 96 wRC+ 1.2 fWAR
  • 1B Lyle Overbay - $1M
    • 2012: .259/.331/.397 .314 wOBA 91 wRC+ 0.1 fWAR
      • 2012 vs. RHP: .323 wOBA 97 wRC+
      • Career vs. RHP: .356 wOBA 116 wRC+
  • 2B Jeff Keppinger - $4M
    • 2012: .325/.367/.439 .352 wOBA 128 wRC+ 2.8 fWAR
  • 3B Placido Polanco - $2.75M
    • 2012: .257/.302/.327 .279 wOBA 71 wRC+ 4.1 FLD 0.6 fWAR
    • 2013: .279/.331/.368 .303 wOBA
  • SS Hiroyuki Nakajima - $3.25M
    • NPB: .302/.367/.475 – .834 OPS
  • LF Melky Cabrera - $8M
    • 2012: .346/.390/.516 .387 wOBA 149 wRC+ 4.6 fWAR in 501 PAs
    • 2013: .295/.348/.432 .338 wOBA (though I think that’s a little light)
  • CF Andres Torres - $2M
    • 2010: 6.9 fWAR .358 wOBA 125 wRC+
    • 2012: .230/.327/.337 .297 wOBA 87 wRC+ 1.7 fWAR
    • 2013: .240/.328/.370 .307 wOBA
  • RF Reed Johnson - $1.75M
    • 2012 vs. LHP: .311/.354/.444 .348 wOBA 117 wRC+
    • 2012 vs. RHP: .263/.315/.339 .289 wOBA 77 wRC+ (0.5 fWAR)
    • 2013: .272/.325/.382 .299 wOBA
  • DH Travis Hafner - $2M
    • 2012: .228/.346/.438 .342 wOBA 119 wRC+ 0.6 fWAR in 263 PAs
    • Career: .258/.363/.446 .347 wOBA 135 wRC+ 22.2 fWAR in 4483 PAs

Bench Players:

  • 1B/OF Juan Rivera – $1M
    • 2012: .244/.286/.375 .287 wOBA 81 wRC+ -0.8 fWAR
    • 2012 vs. LHP: .323 wOBA 106 wRC+
    • Career vs. LHP: .351 wOBA 115 wRC+
  • Henry Blanco - $0.75M
    • Career: .227/.276/.331 .286 wOBA 65 wRC+
    • 2013: .218/.276/.331 .270 wOBA
  • INF Cesar Izturis - $0.5M (Cheated here, but I don’t think he’s worth $1M. Sub in minor league depth)
    • 2012: .241/.254/.343 .259 wOBA 58 wRC+ 0 fWAR
    • Career: .255/.294/.323 .273 wOBA 62 wRC+ 54.2 FLD
  • OF Bobby Abreu - $1M
    • 2012 vs. RHP: .312 wOBA 96 wRC+
    • Career vs. RHP: .385 wOBA 136 wRC+

Total: $29.5M

Grand Total: $50M

Who says you need to have superstars making the league minimum to compete in this modern world? I’d actually prefer to change a couple guys for their opposite handed equivalents but have spent far too much time on this as it is… Do you dare assemble a team of free agents that could rival me for $50M or less?

Potential Platoon Partners for Adam Lind – Pick Your Poison

Although the Jays’ roster pretty much set for the 2013 season, there remains the need for a right-handed bat to partner with Adam Lind to prevent him from flailing helplessly against left-handed pitchers. Rajai Davis may wind up as Lind’s platoon partner since he’s hit lefties well during his career, but ideally the Jays would like to keep him on the bench to be used as a pinch runner/4th outfielder.

However, considering the Jays’ massive increase in payroll for 2013 after years of running on a constrained budget and ‘if you come, we will build it’ talk from Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos might not have a lot of extra money with which to work. In the wake of the R.A. Dickey trade, AA revealed that the Jays needed to jettison John Buck‘s $6M salary in order to take on more salary. This likely means that as it stands, he will need to find the Jays’ 25th man for close to the league minimum.

Internal Options:

SPLIT PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BABIP
vs LHP as RHB 31 30 12 2 0 2 4 0 0 1 8 .400 .419 .667 1.086 .500

Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Original Table

Internally, the Jays also have a few options in some of their recent minor league free agent signings but the best of those is probably Russ Canzler, the 2011 International League (AAA) MVP. Canzler has hit well against LHP in limited MLB plate appearances over two years. Over the last two seasons in the minors, the 26-year old 1B/OF has hit .299/.370/.496 in AAA in 303 PAs. However, there have already been 3 teams that have given up on Canzler including the Cubs, Rays and Indians. Based on this, the odds that Canzler is a AAAA player that will never quite put it together at the highest level are fairly high.

Free Agents:

Though the Jays might not have the payroll space to sign even a modestly-priced free agent at the moment, it could open up if Darren Oliver decides to retire and the Jays decide that they’re satisfied going into the season with Aaron Loup on the MLB roster and Evan Crawford as the next lefty in line. Loup was dominant for the Jays in 2012, but only in a very limited sample size. Considering the lofty expectations of the team, Anthopoulos may be hesitant to go into the season with such little left-handed pitching depth. However, if he believes in Loup going forward, it could free up some cash to go after a quality platoon partner for Adam Lind in free agency.

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 201 185 43 10 0 3 27 1 1 9 23 .232 .269 .335 .604 .244
vs LHP as RHB 138 127 33 4 0 6 20 0 2 9 12 .260 .312 .433 .745 .245
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2012.

The Jays’ much-maligned former left-fielder that arrived in the Vernon Wells trade and purchased in July, 2011 by the Dodgers could actually fit the Jays’ needs if he’s willing to accept a reduced role on a contender for less money. Rivera would likely be cheaper than any of the other free agent options outlined here because he’s coming off his second straight down season. Despite his struggles overall, he’s actually been rather decent the last two years against left-handed pitchers especially when you consider his BABIP was well below his career average and he played his home games in a pitcher’s park. His OPS was 80 points higher away from the Dodgers’ pitchers’ park and a return to hitter-friendly Rogers Centre would likely treat him a little better than in his first tour of duty there.

With the the return of Carl Crawford from injury, the Dodgers have little use for Rivera and there has been little interest in him from other teams. If he were given a minor league contract with incentives based on MLB plate appearances, the Jays could gain a productive player at a bargain basement price if he bounces back anywhere near his career production.

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 419 392 97 15 0 11 48 0 2 16 79 .247 .279 .370 .649 .278
vs LHP as RHB 189 182 56 12 1 7 26 0 0 4 33 .308 .333 .500 .833 .345
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2012.

Everybody’s favourite anti-Semitic former 1st overall draft pick, Delmon Young, should also be available on the cheap this offseason. Though fuelled in part by a .345 BABIP against left-handed pitchers, Young managed yet another .800+ OPS in 2012 against LHPs. Considering his off-field issues, horrible outfield defence and an inability to hit right-handed pitchers with any kind of authority, Young is another candidate to fill the Jays’ need for a right-handed bat.

Some people believe that his off-field issues could disrupt a good thing in the clubhouse, the Detroit Tigers seemed to do just fine with him on the team. If Young fails to secure a full-time contract from a good team, he may consider trying to re-establish his value on a one-year deal with a team like the Jays who would use him primarily in favourable situations.

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
vs RHP as LHB 191 158 38 5 1 8 24 0 0 24 30 .241 .361 .437 .798 .246
vs LHP as LHB 72 61 12 1 1 4 10 0 0 8 17 .197 .306 .443 .748 .195
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2012.
Though he’s left-handed and not an ideal partner for Adam Lind, Travis Hafner, if healthy (and that’s a huge if), could potentially replace Adam Lind when who’s last guaranteed year is 2013. In his career, Hafner has absolutely destroyed right-handed pitching for an OPS of .925. Against left-handers, Hafner has still been quite effective with an OPS of .805. However, he hasn’t played anything close to a full season since 2007 at age 30 and has played more 94 games just once since then.
When he’s in the lineup, Hafner has proven he can be a big-time contributor. If the Jays could sign him to an incentive-laden contract and he managed to remain relatively healthy, he has the potential to be the free agent signing that provides the greatest surplus value. Considering he’s only been to the playoffs once with Cleveland in the last decade, Hafner may be itching to sign on with a team like the Jays for a discount in order to make a run at an elusive World Series ring.

Trade Candidates:

Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 466 430 113 27 2 24 83 5 2 29 113 .263 .315 .502 .818 .302
vs LHP as RHB 149 131 34 6 0 8 25 1 0 15 40 .260 .342 .489 .831 .310
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2012.
It’s been rumoured for a while now that the Chicago Cubs were looking to move former All-Star turned overpriced left-fielder Anfonso Soriano and that they would be willing to eat most of his remaining $36M in order to bring back a legitimate prospect in any trade. Soriano does not have the pronounced splits that Delmon Young or Juan Rivera possess but the Cubs are still willing to part with him in order to build their future.
It would likely take a prospect like Aaron Sanchez or Roberto Osuna to make a deal happen with so much salary being eaten by the Cubs. A larger package of prospects that are either further away like DJ Davis, Matthew Smoral or Chase DeJong or have a lower ceiling/are closer like John Stilson, Sean Nolin, or injured starters Kyle Drabek/Drew Hutchison might appeal to the Cubs as well, but they would probably prefer one of the Jays’ blue-chip pitching prospects.
In the end, the Jays may choose to roll with one of the cheap internal options to partner Adam Lind. If Oliver doesn’t retire and there are no other moves to shed salary, it’s unlikely that the Jays would add a MLB veteran. However, if they do possess a little extra cash, AA may take a long, hard look at the aforementioned names in an effort to push this team over the top. After all, it could mean the difference between being an also-ran in the style of the 2012 Los Angeles Angels and a division winner.
Is there anyone else you’d like to see in the DH slot for the Blue Jays in 2013?

The Quest for the Jays’ 25th Man

With the major acquisitions of the offseason seemingly complete, the Blue Jays must now figure out where everything fits for the upcoming 2013 season. With the rotation locked in and the bullpen’s pieces likely already in place, the Jays must decide upon another player to round out its bench which currently consists of Rajai Davis, Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Thole.

Starting Pitchers
RA Dickey
Josh Johnson
Brandon Morrow
Mark Buehrle
Ricky Romero

Bullpen
J.A. Happ
Brad Lincoln
Brett Cecil
Darren Oliver
Steve Delabar
Sergio Santos
Casey Janssen

Position Players
J.P. Arencibia
Edwin Encarnacion
Maicer Izturis
Brett Lawrie
Jose Reyes
Melky Cabrera
Colby Rasmus
Jose Bautista
Adam Lind
Bench
Rajai Davis
Emilio Bonifacio
Josh Thole
?

40-Man Depth (Starters)
Chad Jenkins

40-Man Depth (Relievers)
Aaron Loup
Jeremy Jeffress
Esmil Rogers
Evan Crawford
Sam Dyson

Injured Pitchers

Dustin McGowan
Drew Hutchison
Luis Perez
Kyle Drabek

40-Man Depth
Anthony Gose
Moises Sierra
A.J. Jimenez
David Cooper
Ryan Goins

Here is an updated 25/40-Man Roster for the Toronto Blue Jays: Google Drive

At times, the 2012 Blue Jays resorted to the use of the 8-man pen, but presumably those days are over with the improvements made to the rotation. Still, there are a number of interesting options in Esmil Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress who are both out of options and would need to clear waivers in order to be assigned to AAA Buffalo. If AA truly believes that one of the two will be an effective MLB reliever, then he may decide with the flexibility that the Jays have in their lineup to carry them as the 8th man in the pen. Though one of them may already be line for a job in the bullpen if Darren Oliver retires, the team might be more inclined to replace him with another LHP, specifically Aaron Loup.

The Candidates:

Position Players:

Considering his removal from the 40-man roster and the vast improvements made to the team, Mike McCoy no longer seems like a remotely reasonable option and fellow AAAA super-sub Yan Gomes is no longer with the organization. Considering the flexibility in the team having Maicer Izturis who is capable of playing 2B, 3B and SS and Emilio Bonifacio capable of playing all the outfield positions plus 2B, there is a lot of flexibility in the lineup that should allow John Gibbons to adjust easily to injuries.Having Bonifacio/Izturis available allows Gibbons to give anyone on the infield the day off including Izturis who could give way to Bonifacio.

Similarly, Rajai Davis and Bonifacio could give anyone in the outfield the day off, though they’d likely be more hesitant to use either in CF. The next options in line for the OF are Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra who would likely benefit more from full-time at bats in Buffalo than sitting on the Jays’ bench. However, if an opportunity opened up because of injury or under performance, then Gose would certainly be given strong consideration to take over in CF for the Jays full time.

Adam Lind could definitely use a platoon partner to remove him from the lineup vs. LHP, but the team has already that it could use Rajai Davis in that role who hit them for a .285/.345/.437 line in 2012. When you consider his speed on the basepaths, Davis is more than adequate in a platoon role. If he falters in 2013, it would not be too difficult for AA to find another right-handed platoon partner.

Pitchers:

With the rotation now solidified barring injury, only the bullpen remains in flux based mostly on the indecision of Darren “Black Magic” Oliver. This article presupposes that he will choose to return for one more season and he’s just being dramatic. Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver and Steve Delabar seem like locks for mid-to-late inning relief work, though the latter may not have put together a sufficient track record to warrant ‘lock status’ yet. Sergio Santos must also return from his shoulder issues the same pitcher that possessed the best out pitch in baseball in 2011.

Beyond the core, there is a number of intriguing options. Brett Cecil is out-of-options and seems an almost certainty to be with the team as a reliever. He had an uptick in velocity and performance after returning to the Jays as a reliever and he may find himself filling the role that Aaron Loup did in 2012 as a lefty specialist who got more work against right-handed batters as he proved himself capable. Brad Lincoln has an option remaining but seems well-positioned for a role as a middle reliever with the possibility of moving later in the game as roster changes dictate.

With the acquisition of R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays also drastically improved their bullpen by pushing J.A. Happ into the swingman role. Considering he was a more than serviceable starter as recently as last year, Happ may win the title of Best Swingman in the Biz in 2013. It seems very unlikely that the Jays would choose to keep Happ stretched out in AAA rather than utilize him in the swingman position but perhaps with the quality of the rotation, they don’t believe he’d get enough work to keep him fresh and efficient.

It’s possible, but certainly unlikely, that the Jays would choose to option Happ and keep one of their acquisitions in Esmil Rogers (who cost the Jays Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes in trade) or Jeremy Jeffress (who was acquired for cash considerations). They could also re-sign one of Jason Frasor or Brandon Lyon if they prefer to have more experienced arms relieving the vastly improved rotation. This is after all a frontrunning team and not a Wild Card pretender anymore.

Another candidate for the bullpen is sidewinder Aaron Loup who pitched quite effectively in 2012 for the Blue Jays after his surprise call-up. Because of his available options, Loup is most likely to find himself in the minors at least to start 2013. If Oliver were to retire, the Jays would likely give more consideration to bringing Loup back in order to retain a late-inning left-handed reliever.

Personally, I think the Jays will find that a strong bullpen will not be such a glaring need as it has been in years past because of the upgrades made to the rotation. I can’t foresee the need for an 8-man pen anytime soon barring some short-term exceptional need. As for position players, Anthony Gose is the closest to making a contribution at the MLB-level but could have his development hurt by irregular playing time. If the Jays were to carry a position player already in the system as their 25th man, then I would lean towards Moises Sierra who lacks the ceiling to make irregular playing time too much of a concern. He possesses a strong arm from the outfield, is quick (but, at times,stupid) on the bases, and has some of the best raw power in the system. Perhaps MLB-coaching could unlock that potential which has not been fully converted to game play.

Who do you have penciled in as your 25th Blue Jay?

Jays, Dickey reportedly agree to an extension

The Toronto Blue Jays have come to an agreement on an extension with the reigning NL Cy Young-winner for a reported 2 years and $25M ($1M less than his reported demands from the New York Mets) after the Jays were given a 72-hour window in which to negotiate with Dickey after agreeing to a trade that would send top prospects catcher Travis d’Arnaud, RHP Noah Syndergaard, John Buck and Mystery Prospect A for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and Mystery Prospect B.

If the terms as reported are correct, then the deal represents a nice “F— You” to the Mets (and the New York media) after he was dragged through the mud following Dickey’s comments at a Mets’ team party. Good on him. He was probably asking for less than what’s fair and put his money where his mouth was when it came down to it.

 

The Plan Comes to Fruition – AA Adds the Finishing Touch

The Plan:

Phase 1: Blow It Up

Well this is the moment Jays fans have all been waiting for… The Plan has come to fruition.

Ever since taking over the reins of the Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos has been building his team towards a period of sustainable contention that would see the team contend year after year in the AL East. At first, he needed to dismantle the team in order to replenish the team’s prospects and build a core of young, controllable and talented players around which to build the team. Anthopoulos traded resident Ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor (who magically became Anthony Gose in a series of prospect deals). A year later, Shaun Marcum was traded to the Brewers for young infielder Brett Lawrie. Vernon Wells was moved in a miraculous turn of fate because of the foolishness of AA’s counterpart but the deal was an incredible boost to the team’s rebuild.

Phase 2: Build a Strong Foundation

At the same time that he was trading the team’s marketable MLB pieces, Anthopoulos was stockpiling talent in the minors by taking advantage of draft pick compensation for free agents. However, there would never be enough room on the Major League roster for all of the high-ceiling talent in the system if they reached their potential and the assumption was always that the team could/would move their wealth of prospects when the time was right to supplement the core that AA was building.

Sped along by the unexpected emergence of both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays possessed a core that also included Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow and, until recent failures called their future role with the team into question, Ricky Romero and Colby Rasmus. AA was in a difficult position. Bautista and Encarnacion were both old enough that they would likely be well into their decline when the team’s best pitching prospects, the Lansing 3, reached the Majors. They were still at least 2 years from debuting for the Jays.

Phase 3: Build the Palace

With a solid core in place signed to extensions or otherwise under team control for the next 3+ years, the team was positioned to make a splash with more expensive players through free agency/trade. However, the team had been hard-pressed to attract impact players in the past via free agency to a team viewed as an outside shot at contention in the stacked AL East. Though the division had gotten weaker with Boston’s dismantling, the Jays were come off a disappointing season which had raised a lot of question marks. AA needed to make a bold trade that would alter the image of the team and signal to the baseball world that the team had arrived.

The Marlins trade was the master stroke needed that moved expendable pieces from the MLB roster and prospects from positions of plenty to acquire premium/elite talent capable of performing at a high level immediately and for the foreseeable future. Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle gave the Jays a top 4 that was easily one of the best in the AL certainly with the potential to be the best if Romero bounced back, Morrow stayed healthy and the incoming ex-Marlins adjusted well to life in the AL East. Acquiring elite SS Jose Reyes for Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria signaled the team’s shift away from the team’s focus on stockpiling young, controllable talent towards the acquisition of the elite performers getting paid market value.

The Marlins trade put baseball on notice that the Blue Jays were ready to compete seriously for their division and the World Series. It allowed the team to pick up All-Star MVP and PED-influenced Melky Cabrera for what a consensus believes to be a very team friendly 2 year deal worth $16M.

At this point, the team had expanded its payroll by $~30M since the end of the season far exceeding a level expected by people around baseball including Josh Johnson‘s agent who believed some of the salary could be flipped in separate deals. However, the people most surprised by these moves were people who had not been watching the Jays closely for the last 3+ years and hanging off of every hidden hint of future spending by Beeston/AA.

Dedicated observers were typically not surprised by the fact that the Jays had completed a monstrous franchise-altering trade, but more by the players they’d be acquiring and the team that was moving them. Nobody expected the Jays to be able to acquire a legitimate #2 starter, a durable inning-eating mid-rotation starter and an All-Star SS in one fell swoop. Acquiring one of the best free agent outfielders for peanuts was a product of the Miami deal and almost certainly would never have happened had the Jays stood pat.

With the Miami trade and the Cabrera signing, AA had positioned the Jays to compete for the AL East if enough of the team’s question marks (bounce back from Romero, injury concerns for Morrow/Johnson/Bautista/everyone on the team come to think of it) were answered positively. Barring a historic season of injuries/underperformance, the Jays were also positioned to compete for one of the Wild Card spots with the Angels/Rangers/Yankees/Rays/A’s of the world.

However, as the Angels/Dodgers made splashes with the biggest names, the Jays’ rivals seemed to be treading water. Boston signing expensive, aging players in Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. They cannot be projected as anything but a last place team as the roster stands. The Yankees re-signed old veterans Andy Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda and picked up Boston re-tread Kevin Youkilis, but lost their starting catcher in Russell Martin and learned they would be without Alex Rodriguez until after the All-Star break. The Rays traded their second-best pitcher and a perennial 200+ innings and Wade Davis, a valuable bullpen piece, to the Royals in exchange for blue chip prospect Wil Myers and a haul of pitching prizes including Jake Odorizzi. They managed to acquire Yunel Escobar to play SS for them which could be a huge coup if he bounces back to his production of 2011. The Orioles, playoff team of the negative run differential, were rumoured to be active but had come up empty handed.

Though Baltimore certainly has talent on its team, there is nobody projecting them to repeat their success from the 2012 season. While the Rays might have gotten better in the long-term, they certainly took a step back by losing a main cog from their rotation. They have plenty of depth in their pitching staff, but their youth cannot be expected to immediately replace the production provided by James Shields. The Yankees got a year older but not in a good way as they’re team is mostly on the wrong side of 30. Though the Red Sox had cleared a tonne of salary, they were unable to replace the players departed for the Dodgers with exciting, elite players on the free agent market (they wound up in LA as well).

Phase 5: The Finishing Touches

Like no other time in the last 20 years, the Blue Jays were in a position where one or two more pieces could make them the undisputed front runners for the AL East. Incremental improvements made to the team at this point drastically improved the team’s chances to win its first division title since the glory days of the late 80s/early 90s.

What was the point of building a 90-win team and squeaking into a one game Wild Card appearance when the AL East division title was seemingly ripe for the taking? Spending another $10 M per season seems like a lot coming from years of lean budgets, but that was the point of all that wasn’t it? To be in a position where the team would be able to spend in order to make a run at the playoffs and the World Series. Flags Fly Forever.

Replacing the serviceable, but at time hapless J.A. Happ in the rotation with R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young-winner coming off a 5.6 rWAR season is a slam dunk. Not only does it give the Jays one of the best rotations in baseball, it also significantly improves the bullpen where J.A. Happ instantly becomes one of the best swingmen in the business and Brett Cecil into one of the best lefty specialists. Chad Jenkins is no longer a looming threat to make an overly large number of appearances.

However, an improvement to the team like this does not come without great cost. Firesales like the ones held recently by Miami and Boston are far from the norm. The Jays cannot expect to continuously acquire elite talents like Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera for below market value. Eventually, they would have to pay the same price that everyone else was paying to acquire a frontline starter.

That cost was two of the team’s Top 4 prospects in nearly MLB-ready catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Lo-A RHP Noah Syndergaard. Having heard that the Mets were asking for Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley from the Red Sox and having witnessed the deal for James Shields, the Jays were well aware of the current market for a frontline starter. Though they very well could wait to try to acquire someone mid-season, the team would only benefit from a partial season of their production and the AL East could drastically improve by 2014.

Though both d’Arnaud and Syndergaard could be future All-Stars, Dickey is an All-Star now that drastically improves the Blue Jays whole pitching staff and instantly makes it one of the very best in baseball and suddenly the best in the AL East. However, d’Arnaud and Syndergaard are not without major question marks. Travis d’Arnaud has played in ~80 games a season for the last 3 years and has just suffered a season-ending knee surgery. He also strikes out a lot. Noah Syndergaard strikes out a lot of batters he faces, but he’s also never thrown a pitch above Lo-A. His secondaries are getting mixed reviews though everyone agrees they are certainly improving. However, he still had the lower physical ceiling between him and fellow Lugnut Aaron Sanchez.

Alex Anthopoulos has been suspected of distorting his perceptions of his prospects prior to moving them. Nestor Molina had his tires pumped by Anthopoulos prior to his trade to the Chicago White Sox for closer-to-be Sergio Santos. Molina has since floundered in the White Sox’ system. Perhaps  Alex Anthopoulos used reported earlier rebuffs of inquiries on d’Arnaud in order to build the perception that he was an Anthopoulos Untouchable in the organization that would only be moved for elite talent. Perhaps the team didn’t believe in the long-term future of Syndergaard’s breaking stuff and decided to sell high. What’s more likely is that AA decided that this was a unique moment in the AL East that was his for the taking and decided to make the final pushes that he’d always planned to make when the time was right. Either way, the team could not expect immediate contributions from either prospect and were more likely going to wait years for above-average production in the MLB, if at all.

Phase 6: Maintenance

Though the prospect cost was high in trades with the Marlins and Mets, it doesn’t actually leave the team short of quality prospects at pitcher, catcher or in centre field.

The team still has Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Daniel Norris at similar stages to in their development to Syndergaard along with more quality arms poised for action in short-season levels including Matthew Smoral, Alberto Tirado, Chase DeJong and Adonys Cardona. There’s even hope for remaining for pitchers in the upper minors like Chad Jenkins, Deck McGuire, John Stilson and Sean Nolin to make a meaningful contribution in the coming years.

With JP Arencibia under team control for the next four years, the team is in no rush to graduate a catcher but the team does have a strong defensive catcher in AJ Jimenez who also performed well offensively in his last full season in the pitcher-friendly FSL. Now coming off Tommy John surgery in 2013, AJ Jimenez could begin the year with either New Hampshire in AA or Buffalo in AAA but could move quickly to the MLB if he returns strong. Behind him, the team has Sean Ochinko is a sleeper pick who was not overmatched when moved up to AA to replace Jimenez. Santiago Nessy who projects to have above average power but lacks the defensive game at this stage in his development is an interesting name to watch after a strong 2012 season.

Though one of the team’s best prospects, Jake Marisnick had a number of question marks including whether he’d be able to stick in centre field. Considering the two years of control remaining of Rasmus, the presence of Gose at AAA and the plethora of up-the-middle prospects in the lower minors, Marisnick was actually quite expendable. There were also concerns about whether he would be able to stick in centre field which would have allowed his bat to play up.

In the end, the Blue Jays still have a farm system stocked with talent at the lower levels that with time could place the team at the top of farm system rankings once more. For now, AA will have to continue gaming the draft system in order to acquire talent more efficiently than their rivals. AA won’t have the flexibility that he had with supplemental picks but neither will most other teams. The team has also shown itself to be proficient in signing some of the best talent available in the international market including under-the-radar guys like Alberto Tirado. There is no reason to believe that AA will not be able to continue adding high-ceiling talent in the years to come.

Conclusion:

Though the moves made this offseason are drastic and unforeseen, the rise of the Blue Jays should not be viewed as wholly unexpected. The flurry of trades and signings were widely expected to be the product of more incremental improvements and the eventual graduation of prospects. Presented with a unique opportunity to acquire a bevy of talent and with a division in flux, AA pounced on the chance to build a clear cut division favourite capable of winning 95+ games. The beauty of prospects lies in their flexibility. This flexibility allowed the Jays to accelerate their timeline by immediately turning them into proven performers.

If Boston had kept their foot on the gas and counted on a bounce back 2013 with some additions, New York had made the previously expected splash and Tampa Bay had decided to not be so frugal all of a sudden, then it’s almost certain that Alex Anthopoulos would have been content to wait patiently for another year to strike when his prospects were all the more valuable or waited even until the homegrown talent was winning championships themselves. But Anthopoulos decided that the best thing for this team was to take advantage of the core in place now and the lull in the division to great effect.

Make no bones about it. The Plan has come to fruition. The Blue Jays have arrived and they don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Josh Johnson’s Agent: JJ is open to an extension

Josh Johnson‘s agent, Matt Sosnick, told Brendan Kennedy that:

On the possibility of an extension:

“It hasn’t come up in any of our conversations,” said Matt Sosnick, who represents the six-foot-seven right-hander, one of the five players the Jays acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins last week.

On whether he had discussed an extension with Alex Anthopoulos:

“(GM Alex Anthopoulos) hasn’t volunteered it and I haven’t asked him about it. It’s probably something that if he wants to talk about it we’ll talk about it down the road… If there is anyone in the game I’d be receptive to talking to about it it’s (Anthopoulos).”

A pending free agent with 6+ WAR upside willing to forego the free market in order to sign an extension with the Blue Jays. Yes. Please. This is likely just Sosnick using the media as leverage in any potential negotiations. If the team does not re-sign Johnson, then it would appear that they were not willing to commit the money even if the demands were exorbitant because the team does not discuss contract negotiations in the media.

I have a feeling that Alex Anthopoulos does not dig Matt Sosnick’s style. But that should not get in the way of an extension if the price is right.

3 Trade Scenarios for the New Frontrunners in the AL East

Since there’s nothing that fans like more than baseless trade speculation, here are three trade proposals that would improve the Jays’ rotation depth without breaking the bank on one of the remaining free agents.

1). RA Dickey and Jordany Valdespin for JP Arencibia, Daniel Norris, Moises Sierra and Sean Nolin

The Mets are not ready to compete in 2013 and could use a young, controllable catcher like Arencibia. Norris struggled in 2012 but as a young, fireballing lefty he still retains a lot of value. Sierra is a serviceable stop gap with a cannon of an arm, plenty of raw power and the gall to run through stop signs. Nolin is the obligatory DeSclafani/Comer/Musgrove/Rollins/Wojo of this deal. He has had success in the minors, but lacks the scouts’ backing. The Mets might also be interested in one of the Jays’ recovering starters (Drabek/Hutchison).

2). Brett Anderson for JP Arencibia, Anthony Gose and Sean Nolin

Oakland was rumoured to be in the market for a catcher but it’s hard to believe they would value a power-heavy player like Arencibia with a home park like the Coliseum over what they have already in Derek Norris. This might seem like an overpay for a pitcher who has yet to pitch more than 175.1 IP in a year and is coming off Tommy John surgery, but Anderson is signed to a very reasonable contract that will pay him $5.75M in 2013 with team options for 2014 at $8 with a $1.5M buyout and 2015 at $12M with a $1.5M. He’s shown himself capable of elite production, but has yet to stay in the lineup for a full season.

Though Colby Rasmus has yet to return to the near-elite production he flashed in 2010, he is still under team control through 2014 and was still worth 1.4 WAR in 2012 despite a disappointing offensive season where he struggled for long periods of time. Though they are likely each 4-5 years away at least, the Jays have Dalton Pompey and DJ Davis in the pipeline and could afford to move Gose in the acquisition of another potential front-of-the-rotation starter knowing that the team’s anticipated success would draw a free agent stopgap should Rasmus depart when he hits free agency. Gose’s best tool is his speed which is already available to John Gibbons throughout his lineup and would not be sorely missed. The A’s have Coco Crisp for one more year but he is declining. Gose’s speed in the outfield would play well in Oakland’s massive park where his offensive toolset might be better suited as well.

3). James Shields for Noah Syndergaard, Anthony Gose, AJ Jimenez, and Moises Sierra

The Rays are reportedly seeking a package similar to what they received for Matt Garza prior to the 2011 season. A package like that might something like the above which is some serious assets for a pitcher with warning signs like Shields has. Still, the Rays are motivated to move him because of his escalated price and they likely covet a cheap, young replacement for BJ Upton who will not be returning after he hit free agency. Syndergaard would hurt to give up for the Jays, but his secondary stuff has yet to develop and may limit his long-term potential as a starter. Jimenez is rated as a plus defender that could provide at least adequate production with the bat. The Rays also lack catching depth in their system and could use his services in ~2014.

The cost of doing business with the Rays might be even greater since the Jays are within the division. Either way, the Jays will likely avoid the Shields’ sweepstakes which could get out of hand if teams are still in need after the big free agents sign.