ST 2016 – Week 5

The Blue Jays signed Franklin Morales to a $2M/1 yr Minors deal and it signals two important things about Shapiro-Atkins regime: they aren’t completely content with the current roster and they’ll continue to improve it, and; if they can improve an ML position and push talent with options to teiple-A Buffalo they’ll do it.

Back in November when the Jays’ off-season began their management needed to  build a stronger pen as the 2015 version was weak in experienced mid-inning arms until the trade deadline when Lowe and Hawkins were acquired. With an average rotation April to July 2015, the Jays pen was increasingly made more important to team success.

Enter the playoffs and the lack of lefty talent was obvious once Loup was unavailable, and it became a disaster the instant Cecil got injured. The Jays desperately needed a quality LHP for the pen to tag team with Cecil moving forward. Loup had been good, but the club needed better insurance.

I had hoped Tony Sipp would be signed to a two or three year deal this off-season (a former 46th round pick of Cleveland in 2004). I posted Sipp would be a smart signing, however the FA market was crazy for pitching. Sipp eventually signed a $18M/3 yr deal to stay in Houston and other good LHP targets (i.e. Bastardo) continued the high cost trend. The next tier of lefty relievers available included Franklin Morales, who ended up inking a Minors deal with the Brewers.

Morales signed with the rebuilding Brewers as he must have thought going to a young, struggling staff would afford him more ML time. In the end, it seems the Brewers like Capuano better and Morales had an ML opportunity with the Jays.

This signing doesn’t seem all that important, rather it seems fairly obvious in terms of the club addressing needs, but taken in context of previous years this signing does mark a shift. Shapiro-Atkins are replenishing missing pitching from the Anthopolous era and they’re ensuring sufficient depth is in triple-A for when the ML club needs it.

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ST 2016 – Montreal Game 1

Happ said his mechanics were off because of the hyped crowd in Montreal. This isn’t a good omen for him as he’s sure to pitch many games before energized home crowds. I think, possibly, it was more of being thrown into the 50K crowd so early in the season and thrust into a frenzied Montreal fanbase seemingly desperate for their own ML club. Moreover, I assume hometown hero Russell Martin along with Donaldson, Bautista, et al provided Happ with lots of hype themselves. But, it still is slightly unsettling that a 9 year veteran starter would be impacted by stadium energy, and in April no less.

Happ’s signing raised some criticism in terms of his money, but also his ability. Much criticism originated from pro-Price corners who demanded the team stay in contention by mortgaging their next 6 or 7 years. When the off-season rotation market finally ended Happ’s deal looked better, partly because Price got his monster contract while the Jays filled out their ML roster and added much needed ML level depth. Fans need to keep Happ in perspective: he’s been a slightly  inconsistent #4/5 starter who can provide #3 starts once in a while, and at times for multiple games, but he’ll never be dominant. Yes, he’s got some sneaky quick fastballs, but he doesn’t blow batters away.

When the 2016 season ends we’ll be able to cast light on whether Happ’s new found production was fleeting or if he transformed himself into a better starter, with better low-ball command, able to induce more weak contact while missing more bats.

Happ’s 2016 regular season has yet to begin, however he should learn something from this first pseudo-meaningful game (meaningful from the fan’s perspective, and possibly more specifically from a Montreal fan’s perspective). Perhaps Happ will find meaning enough to incorporate his experiences into his future home starts. This is one of the common traits all good pitchers have.

ST 2016 -Week 4

Aaron Sanchez has been a top starter this ST for the Jays, but that doesn’t mean he’ll make the rotation. If it was me I’d give him the opportunity to start in Toronto in April as he’s earned it. His command has been drastically improved this Spring, and his determination and attitude bode well for the Jays young pitching core. The argument goes, let’s see what he can do against ML hitters until we know he needs more work as a starter. In the worst case he’s shifted to the pen for 2016. A pen of Chavez, Sanchez, Cecil, Osuna, and Storen looks very good and there lies the complexity: Why not use Sanchez in the pen this season because he’s proven there?

Well, the Shapiro-Atkins clan must weigh both immediate benefit and long-term advantages of having Sanchez start. In the immediate, it shows management is behind their players, committed to fielding the best possible team, and they trust their young players. Sanchez seems is a core piece of the organization so the vote of confidence will go far in management-player relationships. More importantly, Sanchez’s crazy upside is the reason why Anthopolous kept him over Syndergaard and it may never be realized in the pen. Jays need to also consider next season’s rotation with the departure of Dickey, however this is likely of lesser concern for management since the club is the reigning AL East champs with eyes on the WS prize for 2016.

I suspect either way, Sanchez won’t be in Buffalo as he’s too valuable in both scenarios. The decision may ultimately be decided for the Jays brass if Estrada needs more time recovering from back stiffness. Look for Sanchez and Floyd to make the rotation until Estrada is available; the less potent of the two arms would be moved to the pen. This would provide the Jays real-world test of Sanchez and make him happy.

Aardsma, Jenkins, and Girodo were all sent to Minors’ camp this week. Aardsma looked good this Spring, however signed a Minors deal so he can be demoted until May when his option triggers. Look for him to be released to FA as he’s shown enough ability to provide an ML team some value this season. For Jenkins and Girodo, their chances of making the team were less likely. Jenkins slid through waivers so he can be shelved as depth in Buffalo. He’s a decent RHP insurance policy, good for a couple weeks in Toronto. While Girodo looked very good as a future LHP for the pen, yet his ML inexperience (he’s never pitched beyond double-A) necessitated the Choate signing. I bet we see Girodo in Toronto later this season though.

Jays Journal has a piece about Mets’ waived Ruben Tejada (3B/SS) being target of the Jays until ultimately picked up by the Cards. This is a curious nugget indeed. Perhaps it should be filed under “adding organizational depth,” however it also smells of reclamation project. Shapiro-Atkins mantra this off-season is to replenish farm talent at the higher levels and this fits. Should a waived ML level talent regain value above what the Jays paid in acquiring them it seems logical the Jays could trade them to fill other holes, or move redundant and less upside or more expensive talent. Look for the Jays to further capitalize on DFA ML level players over the next month and into May, especially at catcher, pitching, and outfield positions.

Finally, Andy Burns has had an excellent ST and could break North if Encarnacion’s health isn’t 100%. It would allow EE time to fully heal and provide a truer test of Burns as he could well be a super-utility type for 2017 and beyond, perhaps even part-time 1B/DH/OF for the club.

ST 2016 – EE Negotiations

News of a 2 year offer from the Jays to Encarnacion surfaced this week.  EE’s camp is said to be looking for a 4 or 5 year deal without giving dollar values, but one can assume less years means more AAV, possibly in the $15-20M range.

This max 2 year window would effectively eat up the remaining “good” years of EE and also keeps half of their Bash Brothers combo smashing long balls in Toronto. Theory goes, once EE’s year 34 and 35 are done as full-time DH the position opens up for Tulo and Martin. Plus, Jays wring out whatever is left of EE’s bat, they help minimize bad PR from not re-signing Bautista, and the Jays aren’t in a Ryan Howard situation for years 3, 4, and 5.

I completely understand this logic, in fact I’ve written the last couple off-seasons about the upside of trading EE to improve the club long-term. But what also needs to be said is how not extending EE nor Bautista opens up opportunities for the Jays.

The Jays lack pitching prospect depth, but the only way to acquire a pile of prospects a la the Braves, is to trade quality veterans in at least a “reload” organizational philosophy. The Jays won’t be in this position unless 2016 goes way wrong and ownership executes plans to slash payroll. However, don’t underestimate the possibility of this scenario, what with the Canadian dollar and needed reno of Rogers’ Centre. If the Jays struggle early, likely due to key injuries to SP or big bats,  the deadline could see active selling in an effort to dump commitments.

Next off-season the Jays will have major holes to fill with Dickey, Saunders, Smoak, Chavez, Cecil, and Storen set to hit free agency. Should Hutchison or Sanchez not become viable rotation candidates the Jays will have to acquire more rotation depth. Seeing how the Jays tried to trade Saunders twice this off-season don’t expect him back, but there should be internal replacements. I think Smoak might be a guy who the Jays want to extend given his defence and power SH bat. I think there’s still more in his bat in terms of pitch recognition and hitting opposite field. His reclamation should continue as his defence is worth his upside risk.

The simple fix would be to pass on extending both Bautista and Encarnacion, saving, lets guess at $25M and $17.5M (avg $15-20M) AAV, respectfully. That’s a savings total of $42.5M for 2017. This savings will offset raises to Martin ($5M) and Donaldson ($4M), leaving a $33.5M surplus to extend Cecil and Smoak, replace Storen, and sign rotation depth.

Letting Bautista and EE walk would also allow the Jays to rebalance their lineup with LHB and give their younger hitters higher profile opportunities. Pillar, Travis, Goins, and Collabelo would be given more responsibility to produce at the plate alongside remaining veterans Tulo, Donaldson, and Martin.

ST 2016 – Week 3

This is a curious time of the baseball season. As teams find fits for their rosters others DFA players or player options are exercised.

Here are a few players without Minors options who might be available to the Jays should they get cut and clear waivers to the Jays:

Pedro Strop & Hector Rondon (RHP – Cubs) – Strop has high K% and high BB%, but on the off chance the Cubs have better options for their pen (i.e. Cahill) then Strop will be a very good pick up. Don’t expect Rondon to be DFA’d as he saved 30 games last season.

Hunter Strickland (RHP – Giants) – flamethrower with capital “F”, but wild. He had a very good 2015 so not likely he’ll be DFA’d, however those teams with lots of pitching are the ones to watch as ST ends.

Zach McAllister & Jeff Manship (RHP – Indians) – one of these guys being DFA is a big stretch and if they were they’d get picked up quick.

Zach Britton (LHP) & Brad Brach (RHP – Orioles) – no way either of these guys get cut and if one of them ever did there’s no way they’d fall to the Jays – teams like the Twins, Phillies or Marlins would snap them up.

Austin Romine (C – Yankees) – a career minors’ catcher now 27 yo; former Yanks 2nd rounder from 2007. He would be a depth piece for an organization short on backstops. Perhaps his lack of ML experience has more to do with bad timing or perhaps he’ll never hit well enough to be even a back up catcher at the ML level.

ST 2016 – Week 2

With Minor league camps now open the Jays demoted a handful of youngsters, but it’s those that remain with the big club we should focus on.

Chad Girodo (LHP) is a double-A level prospect, but with Loup having forearm issues looks to maybe break camp heading North. If there’s any veteran option comparable to how Girodo has performed one has to think the Jays’ brass will keep Girodo developing in the Minors – this seems like a logical end to the recent Choate signing.

Super-utility type Andy Burns has earned an extended ML camp, but I’d be very surprised if he makes the club. Assigning Burns at the tail end of camp gives him much needed ML experience as weaker opposing pitching is demoted, allowing Jays time to see Burns vs ML pitching on a daily basis. It also increases Burns’ stock should he continue to perform well. However, the eventual demotion delays Burns’ ML clock and with Lake and Carrera in the mix for 4th OF duties there’s little need for Burns on the 25-man roster.

Pat Vendetti (RHP) is another strong option for the Jays’ pen. The switch pitcher had been quite good and maybe Shapiro-Atkins just want more lefty competition by signing Choate, but perhaps they aren’t sold on Vendetti over an entire season or they plan on having 2 additional LHP alongside Cecil to begin 2016??

The most interesting decisions to come might just be who rounds out the triple-A rotation. Unless Floyd has a terrible couple weeks and Aaron Sanchez is outstanding I think the Jays (and Sanchez) are best served having Sanchez start games for the Bisons. I think Jesse Chavez is ised to being a long-man and fits nicely in the pen because there will most definitely be games when Dickey, Estrada, and Happ only go 4 innings.

Aardsma has an opt-out for May so don’t expect him to be around beyond then. From what I’ve seen of him this Spring he looks good, but the option is his and I don’t see the Jays being too liberal with his innings.

It will be interesting to see what the Jays do with Rule 5 pick up Biagini (RHP). He’s got serious 95-97 heat and overhand curve,  and Jays’ farm is desperate to restock mid to high Minors with quality arms, but I don’t think the Jays will sacrifice a 25-man spot for him. Look for a trade with the Giants before camp breaks otherwise he has to be sent back.

ST 2016 & Prospects

I posted about the Blue Jays lack of ML-ready prospects in  Cupboards Low. Now that we’ve seen some of the known prospects, and possibly more importantly lesser known prospects, perform in ML camp we see the sky isn’t falling on the reigning AL East Champions.

Connor Greene (RHP) is the real deal, but a few years away.  He’s young (21 yo in April), a little wild in his delivery, but has good, consistent command with mid-90’s heat. MLB.com projects him as #3/4 starter and that seems accurate. What I liked most of his ML camp performance was his ability to not get rattled and find a way out of jams.

Chad Girodo (LHP) is still in the ML camp as he remains a fit for the pen breaking North with forearm stiffness Aaron Loup has experienced. Like Greene, Girodo seems to pitch beyond his years. Consistently good Girodo could make the club and eventually be sent back to Buffalo, however I suspect Shapiro/Atkins would rather let him progress in double-A to triple-A and have a veteran in the Jays pen.

Richard Urena (SS) has not disappointed. The once second top SS prospect behind Franklin Barreto (traded to A’s for Donaldson), Urena has soft, quick hands and efficiently smoothe feet. His offense seems behind his defensive prowess, but at 20 years young the Jays have at least 3 years to wait on Urena. The immediate future looks clogged for Urena at SS what with Tulo inked for the next 5 seasons and Goins just now showing his abilities play at the ML level.

Another 20 year old who shows continual improvement and who is equally blocked positionally in Toronto is Rowdy Tellez (1B). Ironically, the Big Bat philosophy of the Jays doesn’t translate to their farm as Tellez is one of a couple big hitters. His approach at the plate and eye have improved; he doesn’t look out of place in ML camp.

Anthony Alford (OF) is the lowest floor, highest ceiling prospect in the Jays farm system, excluding Vlad Jr because of his age (17). Alford’s focus on baseball last season and subsequent performance earned him an Arizonal Fall League invitation (along with Tellez). Despite being 21 years old and reaching only high-A ball expect Alford to fast-track through to double-A and end 2016 in triple-A. His athleticism and raw ability are outstanding, but Alford shows the drive and adaptation to continually progress.

Andy Burns (IF/OF) has shown he can hit and field well enough in ML camp, but unfortunately for him there isn’t an opening in the 25-man roster to get ML level experience in the near future and if everything goes right for the Jays there won’t be an opportunity. Burns has some power on his side, but his greatest weapon is flexibility. Burns can play most fielding positions aside from catcher. It’s not a stretch to see him be a super-utility type of guy for the Jays, a la Ben Zobrist. If Burns continues to hit in triple-A the Jays will have no choice, but call him up to see what he can do against ML pitchers.

Matt Dominguez (3B) and Jiovanni Mier (2B) are two former Astros prospects, who are no longer real prospects, but both who’ve been very good this Spring. Each has good hands, quick feet, athletic, know their positions, and at the plate offer hard contact with a good eye and approach. These two are a major upgrade for the Jays in terms of ML level insurance at triple-A Buffalo. I commend Shapiro and Atkins on acquiring these two.

Honourable mention goes to Roemon Fields (OF) who reached double-A last season and another very athletic, speedy outfielder – a lighter hitting Anthony Gose. He needs improve his OPS to reach the next level. At best, the undrafted Fields is an OF utility and PR type in two years time.