Tag Archives: Melky Cabrera

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.

2013 Blue Jays’ Lineup Optimization: Old School vs. New School

Now that Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays have infused their lineup with premiere talent that has not been seen in such concentration since the glory days of the early 90s. With the additions of speedsters Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio, high-average/on-base Melky Cabrera, and former 20-HR-hitting catcher John Buck, the team’s new/old manager, John Gibbons, will have to decide how to best position these weapons in the lineup to maximize run production. Though an optimized lineup will only result in a modest number of additional runs over the course of a season, the few additional wins could mean the difference between a 1-and-Done Wild Card appearance and a 3-game minimum Division Series in 2013.

(As a backgrounder, it would be helpful to read Sky Kalkman’s “Optimizing your lineup by The Book” which explores the relationship between old school and new school thinking on the construction of a batting order.)

With the selection of John Gibbons, Alex Anthopoulos has put in place a manager who has shown in the past that he is not afraid to mix in some new-school tactics by taking advantage of platoons (Frank Catalanotto/Reed Johnson), batting a high-OBP player leadoff despite them lacking speed on the basepaths, and effective splits-centric bullpen management. In his introductory press conference this morning, Gibbons hinted at his lineup construction when asked about where he saw Melky Cabrera fitting into the order. He felt that because of his ability to put the ball in play and get on base consistently, Cabrera would be best suited to hit at the top of the order, presumably 2nd. He alluded to Cabrera’s ability to get on-base as a reason to have him hit more often (be higher in the order) which is a tenet of the new school.

Gibbons gained the reputation as a bit of a station-to-station Manager during his time at the helm of the Jays, though this may have been more of a product of the lack of speed on his rosters. However, he said that because of the powerful bats hitting in the middle of the order, there was no reason for the players ahead of them to run into ‘stupid outs’. Presumably, Jose Reyes would be given the green light to move up, but the rest of the hitters would be held according to the situation.

Position Old School Thinking Blue Jays’ Old School Order New School Thinking New School Order Vs. LHP New School Order Vs. RHP
1 Speed is of the utmost importance. OBP is an added bonus. Power is not important. Think Devon White. Jose Reyes OBP is all that matters since they come up most without runners in scoring position and are followed by the power heavy hitters of the lineup. Jose Reyes Jose Reyes
2 This spot requires a bat-control guy who doesn’t necessarily have great power or even hit for a good average but is able to move the leadoff man over. Brett Lawrie Has nearly as important appearances as the #3 hitter, but has them more often. Bats with the bases empty more often that players behind him and should therefore possess strong on-base skills. Should be a better hitter than the #3 and the one of the 3 best overall. Melky Cabrera Melky Cabrera
3 The old-school book says to put the hitter with the best average. Power is not a necessity for the 3-hole. Melky Cabrera Appears with fewer runners on base than the #4-5 hitters that follow him. Should therefore have less power than both. Brett Lawrie Brett Lawrie
4 The old-school book says to put your big power bat here, probably a guy with a low batting average, who will hit the big multi-run homeruns. Jose Bautista Comes to bat most often in the high-leverage situations but is equal to the #2 hitter in importance. Best hitter on the team with power. Jose Bautista Jose Bautista
5 The old-school book says the number five guy is a wannabe cleanup hitter. Edwin Encarnacion Provides more value than #3 hitter with non-HRs (1B, 2B, 3B, BB, HBP). Should be the team’s 4th-best hitter, though they should not be a strict HR hitter like Mark Reynolds. Edwin Encarnacion Edwin Encarnacion
6 The old-school book says the rest of the lineup should be written in based on decreasing talent. Hitting ninth is an insult. Adam Lind The Book agrees that the #6-9 hitters should descend in talent, though the manager should consider that base stealers are best optimized in front of high-contact singles hitters. Rajai Davis Emilio Bonifacio
7 Colby Rasmus Emilio Bonifacio Adam Lind
8 JP Arencibia / John Buck JP Arencibia / John Buck / Travis d’Arnaud Colby Rasmus
9 Emilio Bonifacio Colby Rasmus JP Arencibia/John Buck/Travis d’Arnaud

Old School 2013 Blue Jays Batting Order:

The old school mentality would likely result in a Blue Jays’ batting order that started with speedster Jose Reyes at the top of the order with Brett Lawrie slotted into the 2-hole where he could be expected to sacrifice an out to move up Reyes. Melky would likely find himself in the 3-hole because of his pedigree as a high-average hitter that lacks the power necessary to bat 4th or 5th. Don’t be fooled though. If the lineup were a little thinner, Melky could be batting cleanup as a proven ‘RBI-guy’. Naturally, Jose Bautista would be slotted into the cleanup spot with Edwin Encarnacion following him in the ‘wannabe cleanup’ spot.

The 6th through 9th spots are not so clear cut but Old School mentality dictates that veterans are better than younger players, and peak production trumps what they’ve done for you lately. Therefore, Adam Lind would find himself batting 6th behind the top power hitters where he’d be expected to hit the 3rd straight grand slam every time he came to the plate. Colby Rasmus, the 20 HR-hitting center fielder, would probably follow Lind. Fellow 20-HR hitters JP Arencibia/John Buck (who are basically the same player), lack a bit of the batting average/on-base production of Rasmus, and would likely follow him in the order. The last spot in the order would then fall to Emilio Bonifacio who lacks the power numbers to hit higher in the order. He would likely have to split time at 2nd with Maicer Izturis who has less upside but has more experience/wisdom. Though the old school managers have gotten a little better at adjusting based on whether they faced a left or right-handed starter, they still manage to mess it up by doing it inconsistently. So there’s only one lineup listed.

If an old school manager were particularly wary of using young players at the top of the lineup, then Brett Lawrie could be dropped down in the order and a more experienced hitter used in his place. He plays the game the right way though, so it’s unlikely the other options that don’t fit the traditional profile as well would move up. He could also be dropped down to the bottom of the order where there’s supposedly less pressure. In that case, Edwin may be flipped with Bautista with former Silver Slugger Adam Lind moving back to his way too familiar spot 5th in the order.

New School 2013 Blue Jays Batting Order:

The lineup for a follower of The Book’s lineup optimization philosophy would likely look a lot different with Brett Lawrie swapped for Melky Cabrera who’s superior hitting/on-base skills would be better utilized in the 2-hole which is the 2nd-most important spot in the lineup because of the additional plate appearances they receive. Though Melky and Reyes have similar contact/on-base skills, the latter’s edge in speed would see him bat leadoff in a new school lineup. Brett Lawrie’s power was much less evident in his first full season after a blistering debut in 2011 and unless he slows down and it returns, he will likely find himself in the 3-hole of a new school lineup with the current core.

Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion would remain slotted #4-#5 in a new school lineup. However, the 6th through 9th slots would change under a new school manager based upon the starter. Versus lefties, the Jays might try to bat Rajai Davis behind the middle of the order since he brings elite speed and above-average offensive production. Fellow speedster and singles-hitter Bonifacio would likely follow him with JP Arencibia coming ahead of Colby Rasmus who can often struggle against lefties. If Rasmus struggles mightily in CF, he may start losing his at-bats especially versus lefties to the likes of Maicer Izturis or even Moises Sierra/Anthony Gose. However, the Jays will likely afford Rasmus plenty of rope with the quality additions made to the offence.

Versus righties, Emilio Bonifacio might be best utilized immediately after the heart of the order where his speed could be utilized ahead of a hitter like Adam Lind who hits plenty of singles versus righties. Lind does have the power numbers to warrant the 6th spot, but if that were the case Bonifacio might be better used in the 9th spot where he would interact with the top of the order since the Rasmus/catchers aren’t known for hitting lots of singles. These players’ slots could change rapidly though based on their performance since they’ve shown different talent levels/potential during their careers.

Report: Jays to sign Melky Cabrera at a PED-influenced discount

There have been many persistent areas of need for the Blue Jays under the direction of Alex Anthopoulos which the young GM has addressed through trades and free agency. Centerfield was plugged in 2011 with the acquisition of former top prospect Colby Rasmus who will be with the team at least until Gose or another prospect is ready to take over full time. The bullpen was an obvious area of need which AA filled with power arms in Santos, Delabar, Oliver, and Lincoln. The starting rotation was exposed in 2012 undone by injuries but AA has done more than expected in acquiring veterans Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Marlins. The hole in left field which had been plugged with forgettable performances from the likes of Juan Rivera, Eric Thames, Travis Snider and Rajai Davis in recent years, but with the exception of Snider, there was never hope that they would become the long-term solution.

With the signing of Melky Cabrera for 2 years at $8 M per season, the Jays have filled their greatest positional need with a player who is motivated to perform (he’s got to re-establish his value to cash in in 2014) and who could perform at an elite level providing oodles of surplus value. Even if Cabrera fails to perform at the level he did for the Giants, it seems implausible that he would collapse to the point that he did not provide at least ~3.3 WAR (and therefore roughly fair value) in 2013-14.

Cabrera gives the Jays another legitimate threat at the top of the order that should set the table for one of the better power-hitting duos in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Cabrera is a legitimate switch-hitting on-base threat whose average on-base percentage over the last 4 seasons split between the Yankees, Braves, Royals and Giants is .345. Though he lacks some of the power traditionally expected from a corner outfielder, Cabrera should still see a slight boost playing in the Rogers Centre and has the potential to hit 15+ HRs for Toronto. However, the vast majority of his value is derived from his ability to get on-base and by legging out doubles and triples which should result in a lot more runs scored in 2013 with the infinitely superior weapons that will presumably follow him in the order.

In addition to his bat, Cabrera is a decent baserunner having stolen 50 bases in the last 4 years at nearly a 75% success rate, though his defence has provided negative dWAR in every year since 2008, averaging -0.5 dWAR over that span. Considering the players that have been charged with defending the position over the last three years, Melky Cabrera should seem like Mike Trout-lite to Jays fans.

With this signing, there is no longer a consensus upon the Jays’ biggest area of need. Second base will likely be filled by a combination of veteran Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio (who is one year removed from a 3 WAR season). Adam Lind could do with a platoon partner unless his long-lost ability to hit left-handed pitchers miraculously returns, but that could be found in Rajai Davis without any great cost. Though the team would obviously prefer to have an everyday DH/1B like David Ortiz, they are considerably more expensive than the status quo and would likely require the team to dump one of Lind/Davis and possibly eat some of their remaining salary. Those resources could arguably be better dedicated to the acquisition of greater rotation depth, but the fact that there is even such a debate is a reason for great optimism for the future of the Blue Jays. Dustin Parkes of Getting Blanked suggested that the Jays should sign Johnny Gomes to serve as platoon partner and keep Rajai Davis in the role his skills are best suited to: pinch runner/4th OFer.

With rumours persisting that the Jays are not yet done making moves, Parkes also mentioned Greinke as someone who would be expensive but could make the difference between a 90-win team and 95-97 win team and therefore the difference between a Wild Card candidate and a division winner. As crazy as it sounds to those conditioned to be frugal, the extra ~$22 per year is actually a wise investment if you believe it will ensure you multiple years of competitive baseball complete with all the revenue increases that entails in jersey sales, advertising revenue, and attendance. The fact the team is owned by the same entity that owns its broadcaster and outdated, but adequate stadium bodes well for the future finances of the team as well.

Anthopoulos and Beeston have picked a perfect time to strike as the AL East’s usual powerhouses are rebuilding, aging/losing key free agents or suffering through never-ending revenue shortfalls. The rotation currently ranks up as the second-best in the AL East that could very well challenge for the title with a bounce back from Romero and healthy, productive seasons from the others. The offence now compares favourably with the best in baseball as well. With potential All-Star hitters from 1-5 in the lineup and and a bottom half of the lineup featuring players who have shown in the past to be capable of star-level 3-4+ WAR seasons in the bottom half, the Jays could possess one of the most potent in baseball in 2013.

Note to John Farrell: You mad, bro?

2012: The year I wasn’t supposed to check the reverse standings

2012 was a year with such great promise. With Ricky Romero coming off a fine season and looking like one of the best young pitchers in the AL, Brandon Morrow seeming poised to have a much anticipated breakout season, Henderson Alvarez ready to build on his impressive debut, and a bevy of young and/or talented starters ready to compete for the final two spots including former 15 game-winner (I know) Brett Cecil, the now ‘healthy’ former top pitching prospect Dustin McGowan, and pitching prospects of a varying readiness and quality including Joel Carreno, Kyle Drabek Drew Hutchison, Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire.

The offence led by the best hitter in baseball and home run champion of the past two years, Jose Bautista, was no reason for concern considering it had scored the 6th most runs in 2011. Brett Lawrie was expected to produce at the same pace that he had during his torrid debut over a full season and never stop to think about how he was going to be just 22 years old for all of 2012. Colby Rasmus had had time to resolve whatever ills had befallen him at the end of his time in St. Louis and was ready to get back to his success from 2010 when he hit 24 HRs. Kelly Johnson had time to adjust to the AL and would get back to being one of the top second basemen in all of baseball, especially considering he would be even hungrier for a multi-year deal this time around. Edwin Encarnacion was ready to finally put together a full season of success after absolutely demolishing the ball in the latter half of the 2011 season. Yunel Escobar was coming off one of his best offensive seasons and was an elite on-base threat with above-average defence. Even much-maligned DH-turned-LF-turned-1B Adam Lind had spent the offseason working on strengthening his core to ease the strain of playing first base everyday and would finally bounce back to his production of 2009 when he won the Silver Slugger.

Okay, maybe I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid on that last point, but there was reason to be optimistic that  there’d be meaningful baseball in August and September for the 2012 Blue Jays. Now with two games left, just about the only thing that worked out from the above was that Edwin Encarnacion put together his much-anticipated breakout campaign. Rather than checking on the wild card standings, I am forced to click on MLBTradeRumors.com’s reverse standings and loathe myself for hoping that the Jays lose their last two games against the lowly Minnesota Twins in order to insure they finish the season in the bottom 9 and secure a protected 1st-round pick.

While the Jays will not necessarily make a play for a free agent who’s been given a qualifying offer by their former team, Alex Anthopoulos would certainly appreciate having the opportunity to do so without risking the loss of his 1st-round pick and the bonus allotment that accompanies it. Of the upcoming free agent class, the following are among the likeliest candidates to be given qualifying offers: Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, BJ Upton, Nick Swisher, Mike Napoli, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson and Jake Peavy. Perhaps only the CFers Upton and Bourn would not represent an area of need for the 2013 Blue Jays. If the big fish have their fill, perhaps AA will find one of the lesser names available for a fair price/term and then having a protected 1st-round pick would prove to be an invaluable asset to him.

Regardless of the draft benefits of losing two otherwise meaningless games, it never seems right to hope for a loss for your team. Therefore, I shall cheer as I always do Tuesday and Wednesday for the Blue Jays to blow out their opponents. If the opposite occurs, forgive me for not shedding any tears.

UPDATE – 10/03:

The fans were hungry for meaningful baseball on the last night of the regular season and for the first time in a while, Jays fans will be on the edge of their seats. With their magic number at 1, any loss by the Jays or win by the Mets will ensure the Jays at best 10th worst record in baseball and the coveted protected 1st-round pick. If it were possible under MLB rules, the following pitchers would be scheduled to pitch for the Jays tonight: Jo-Jo Reyes (starter), Kevin Gregg to work the 6th, Jon Rauch to work the 7th, and Francisco Cordero to work both the 8th and 9th to seal the loss.

Link

CSN – Melky Ruled Ineligible for Batting Title

Melky Cabrera has reportedly contacted the league requesting his name be withdrawn from contention for the NL batting title which he would most likely have won despite his suspension for and his failure to meet the minimum PAs. If correct, it’s a good way for Melky to show teams that he’s remorseful and reformed as he enters free agency in the offseason. It will be interesting to see what teams will be willing to risk signing him and how much his suspension will shave off of his contract in terms of years/dollars,