Blue Jays mailbag
Following the Jays’ last-minute rush this week to sign all their arbitration-eligible guys, and given that they were unable to reach agreement with only two men—Jose Bautista and Jason Frasor—the club now has 18 major-league players under contract for 2011. That number does not include the two unresolved arbitration cases.
The total cost of 18 guys is $66.485 million (using the formula of the number on their ’11 contracts plus pro-rated signing bonus over the length of the contract). Add to that 18-man salary another $1.25 million as buyouts for Miguel Olivo and Kevin Gregg and the new number becomes $67.78 million. Then, using a worst case arbitration scenario, if the Jays lost both remaining cases, with slugger and reliever, you can add another $14.225 million. The new figures for players and payroll are 20 Jays for $81.005 million.
Assume, then, that Adeiny Hechavarria and Dustin McGowan will not be on the 25-man Opening Day roster and the Jays will need to add seven more salaries. The rest of the 40-man roster is under team control, all with less than three years service or on minor-league deals. No matter what the combination or mix, that group will average around $500,000 each. That’s $3.5 million more to add a group that includes Kyle Drabek, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil, David Purcey, Travis Snider and the rest. Unless the Jays are going to add more players from outside between now and camp, the 2011 Jays’ team payroll will be $84.5 million. The average player salary in 2010 was $3.3 million, meaning that the average 25-man roster was $82.5 million. Given what President Paul Beeston and GM Alex Anthopoulos have said all along, it would seem likely the Jays have room to add a significant player. On to the mailbag.
Q. Richard, With Jose Bautista heading to arbitration, would it make sense for the Jays to trade him for assets? With Brett Lawrie, Adeiny Hechavarria, Mike McDade and Moises Sierra potentially ready for the bigs later in 2011 or 2012, would signing Bautista to a long- term deal make sense? He would just be blocking a potential superstar in the waiting in the minors? What are your thoughts on Bautista going forward, and how does he fit into the long term plans A.A. has laid out?
Niagara on the Lake
A. It would not make sense to trade Bautista for assets prior to the 2011 season except as a last resort — at the very least until the July trade deadline. If the Jays were to hang onto J-Bau all the way through the 2011 season, he would surely be a Type A free agent and will surely sign somewhere else and the Jays will surely receive a No. 1 and a sandwich draft pick in June 2012. If they make that trade now, they would be obliged to at least get the equivalent to the two high draft picks in minor-league talent because nobody in a trade for Bautista is going to give up a ready-for-prime-time position player (say third base or starting pitcher) and prospects for just one year of the 54-homer man. Advice to the Jays: stick to the game-plan. The 2011 season is all about the final step towards contending. For GM Alex Anthopoulos, he had a plan. The 2010 season was about rebuilding, 2011 is about building and 2012 will be about contending. To their credit, the Jays have not, thus far, wavered from that Oct. 2009 plan.
I believe the Jays are still currently negotiating with Bautista’s agent Bean Stringfellow (I just like to write his name) on a long-term deal. I would be surprised if this case ever reached the arbitration hearing in February, but if it does get to that point of no return, the Jays will not put up much of a fight in terms of a nasty battle in defence of their offer. They would not mind losing in exchange for goodwill. Considering the $15.5 million that Prince Fielder got from the Brewers and considering that both the Prince of pop and the HR King are each 5-plus in terms of years of service, Bautista’s $10.5 million request seems just about right. If the Jays could get Bautista for around five years, $60 million — Dan Uggla territory, I would do it. Uggla signed for 5 years and $62 million with the Braves and is the same age and service as Bautista, although he has been more consistent over his career. But Uggla is also a medium-average, high-power guy. The only problem would then become the percentage of team payroll, over 40 per cent, that would be tied up in two guys, Vernon Wells and Bautista.
Via Twitter: @RGriffinStar: Are these ubiquitous comparisons of Brett Lawrie to Jeff Kent a bit overly-optimistic or is this kid the real deal?
A. When mlb.com recently ranked their second-base prospects for 2011, Lawrie was second on their 2B list. They made the random Kent comparison. Face it, baseball people are always looking to compare one player to another from the past that people can relate to. In fact in one of the old Expos’ media guides of the late ’70s I remember causing a stir by stealing a line from a real scouting report that I had read in doing research on a young outfielder named Tony Scott. “...reminds of a young Joe DiMaggio.” Okay, sometimes scouts stretch the truth. In the case of Lawrie vs. Kent, I think the MLB comparison was made because of Lawrie’s pre-game focus, workout regime and prickly game-day personality. Plus the fact that both will arrive in the majors from the Jays’ system. However, there’s a hitch. At the recent mini-camp at the Rogers Centre, the Lawrie conversion has started to shift to third base. Lawrie was never a can’t-miss second baseman. It’s a secondary position that the Brewers chose for him. Lawrie played second base for just the two years in the Brewers system after coming up as a catcher in the Baseball Canada hopper. In fact, on the 2008 list of first-round picks, the Brewers listed Lawrie as 3B/C.
Q. Re: The Blue Jays’ bullpen. I think AA has given the team some arms to make for an interesting spring training. I’d like to know what you think of Jesse Carlson? For the two years before last year, he seemed like our no-name, go-to guy, very similar to the way Shawn Camp pitched for the team last year. Jesse had a knee problem coming out of camp, but never seemed to recover his form. What do you think his problem was last year and do you see him bouncing back this year?
A. I like Jesse Carlson a lot — both as a personality and as a player. He had a great rookie season in 2008, then in 2009 his WHIP went alarmingly up in a similar number of games and innings. In the spring of 2010, he suffered a knee problem and by the time he was healthy and pitching on all cylinders, it was late in the season and he only got an August recall thanks to first baseman Adam Lind’s high feed to David Purcey that resulted in the big lefty’s sprained ankle.
In both 2008-09, Carlson held righty hitters to a lower batting average than lefthanders. In ’08 it was RHH .186 to LHH .205. In ‘09 RHH .247 to LHH .272. That is not the statistical log of the classic lefty specialist. To make the team as a second lefty to Purcey, the scrawny Carlson will have to fend off challenges from Jo-Jo Reyes, Wil Ledezma, Rommie Lewis and maybe even Marc Rzepczynski.
Q. With the list of FREE AGENT starting pitchers shrinking daily, who would be a good fit for the Jays. Maybe not a No. 1 starter but a solid No. 2 with experience who could possibly lead the young staff. There are still a few bigger named pitchers available, but time is running out. tick, tock, tick, tock…
A. Nobody could be a good fit for the Jays. At this particular point, in this particular year, I don’t see the Jays reaching out late to sign guys like Freddy Garcia, Kevin Millwood, John Maine, Jarrod Washburn, Jeff Weaver or Pedro. None of those guys would likely be counted on to help beyond 2011 and would only stand in the way of finding out who among the farmhands in the Jays’ system is most ready to start in 2012 and beyond. There are no solid No. 2s left on the free-agent market — otherwise they would be signed already. The difference for the Jays between 78 and 82 wins in 2012 is not worth it.
Q. Hey Griff. Is it just me, or does A.A do a great job at negotiating contracts? He seems to be able to get a lot of players to sign nice contracts with reasonable TEAM options for following years (some that come to mind right away are Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, etc.). This seems like a small, yet very significant aspect of his reign as GM (no more Burnett, V.W fiasco’s). Is there anything to this or are these just a few examples and I shouldn’t be read too much into it? Thanks.
A. Anthopoulos does do a very good job at negotiating contracts. The imagination of his original Hill contract was A.A.’s launching off point as the assistant GM in the previous regime. The Hill contract gave the Jays cost-certainty for the four years leading to free-agency, plus it gave the club two chances to pick up reasonable options, making the length of the contract from four to six to seven years. Here’s how it works. This is the final season of Hill’s four-year deal. He will earn $5 million in this, his sixth MLB season. The Jays have until the evening of Opening Day to declare that they are picking up the three years of his option (2012-13-14) for $8M, $8M and $10 million. Because of last year’s personal Hill debacle, they could also wait to see how he does in terms of bouncing back, but if they do that, once the 2011 season starts, they are only allowed to pick up the 2012-13 options and Hill becomes a free agent after 2013. Or, if he sucks again in 2011, they can even just let go of all the options and he’s a free agent after this year. In fact, that imaginative Anthopoulos invention was the first such deal in the majors and led to a Rays’ similar Evan Longoria deal with various option packages and buyout dates.
Anthopoulos believes in several basic facts of major-league negotiating. One is the belief that if most GMs are choosing between two or three equal talents, given a wide-open choice they will usually choose the wrong player. Second is that free-agent competition at the same position always leads to higher salaries, so why not wait until somebody in the skill-category you’re looking for signs a contract with a major-league GM given choice... then you sign the other guy at a bargain rate. (see Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch). One thing Anthopoulos learned from his former boss is that there is a lot of player/agent ego involved in dealing with free agents and if you add a hefty club option year with a healthy buyout, that is often enough to secure a deal even if your plan all along is to buy the player out (see Bengie Molina; see Kevin Gregg). To answer the question, yeah A.A. is good at contracts.
Q. Hey Richard. Can J.P. Arencibia, actually handle the starting catcher job? How many starts will he get? Can our other catching prospects play any other position?
A. Handing the starting catching job to Arencibia is taking a chance, but it’s a chance you must take this season in 2011 to ensure that you know what you need to spend your money in 2012. If Arencibia falls on his face in 2011, the Jays know that to compete the next year they need a catcher. At that point they will go and get one. If the talented youngster, drafted in the 2007 first round, takes the catcher’s position and runs with it this year, they can spend their 2012 money elsewhere.
It’s not a slam-dunk. Let’s look at the worst case glass-half-empty scenario for a second and how their 85 wins in 2010 might be a tough task to repeat. C: Arencibia is a gamble both offensively and in providing the leadership and game-calling for a young rotation. Travis D’Arnaud and Carlos Perez are years away and Brian Jeroloman will be a career backup catcher at the major-league level. Nobody plays another position. 1B: Lind may not learn his footwork and balls down the line, through the holes and low throws could eat him up. Then you have Edwin. DH: See 1B and reverse. 2B: Hill might continue his swan dive on both sides of his game. 3B: Bautista could tail off from 54 to 30 homers. Historically, it’s a more likely scenario than is a repeat performance. SS: Maybe the Braves were right about Escobar and maybe the last month of the season is more like the real Yunel than his first month with the Jays. LF: What if Snider is just an injury-prone underachiever? He really hasn’t proven anything in a full season. CF: What is Vernon’s charity foundation builds more homes than runs his bat drives home? RF: What if Rajai Davis is just a right-handed hitting Fred Lewis? They always have Corey Patterson. Rotation: Let’s see. In the past two years, they’ve dumped two opening day starters in Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum. The top four current starters have combined for 67 career victories only one of the quartet has pitched more than 173 innings in any season. Bullpen: There is competition for closer but will there be games to close? Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs were the 8th and 9th focus.
Q. Hi Richard. This is more of a baseball question than a Blue Jay one. Is the blockbuster trade dead? I truly believe that ’cuz of huge salaries and no trade clauses that the classic blockbuster is no more. If THE TRADE that brought Alomar and Carter to Toronto was to happen in 2011 you would have 4 players with a combined $60 million in salaries with probably 3 no trade clauses to deal with. I don’t think it would happen. It seems like the only trades that happen anymore are “how many prospects can I get for my star.”
A. At the time the deal was made in 1990, Alomar was 22, Carter was 30, McGriff was 26 and Fernandez was 28. That deal could have been made in any era, but I think today’s reluctance for blockbusters stems from a younger generation of GMs that rely as much on computer readouts as on their scouting spidey-senses that is to blame. It’s safer when you’re dealing established major-league talent for minor-league prospects, because there is no immediate rush to judgment to declare a GM incompetent, however when you go with established talent for established talent, the fan and ownership evaluations are crystal clear within the year and young GMs seem to be more insecure than the cigar-smoking, tobacco-spitting icons of the past.
Corporate ownerships are a problem too. Also to blame for the paucity of blockbusters is the clear delineation between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the modern era. It’s easier for a team with large payroll to construct a deal with a team with low payroll because you can clearly see their graduating class heading your way as small-market home-grown young stars go deep into their arbitration years and approach free-agency. But for two teams that want to win right here, right now they may not want to trade with each other if they are in the same division or league (see Red Sox and Yankees) and the big boys definitely don’t want to give up major-league talent when they think they can pry the same talent level away from a small market team using just prospects.
Q. Hey Richard. This one comes all the way from Bermuda. As of right now it’s looking like 4 guaranteed starting pitchers; Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek. I’m rooting for Jesse Litsch fill the five-spot. Who do you think wins it out?
A. I wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the Jays’ four-spot to Drabek. He is the clear front-runner and still a top prospect, but he has a long way to go as per his September performance. In addition to Litsch, one must consider Marc Rzepczynski who came on near the end of last season and had a very nice Arizona Fall League season. Litsch was not having a banner year when he was hurt last year, with a 1-5, 5.79 ERA in nine starts. He needs to earn the fifth starter’s spot at spring training. Don’t forget the rehabbing contender Scott Richmond, plus minor-league studs Zach Stewart and Chad Jenkins.
Q. I heard the Jays are working out Eric Chavez. What percent of a chance do you give him to make the team and regain his former all star status? Or is he past his prime?
A. Signing Chavez, 33, to a major-league deal off of controlled workouts for Jays’ scouts would be like handing a PGA golfer his tour card after seeing him on the driving range. Chavez could at best be signed to a minor-league contract with no guarantees. It depends on if he gets a guaranteed offer somewhere else. That’s the only way to approach a third baseman that has had five total surgeries to a combination of back and throwing shoulder. In 2010, he played one game at first base and DH the rest of the time ending his year on May 20. When healthy and in his prime, he was a Gold Glove third baseman. But so was Brooks Robinson and nobody’s interested in signing him right now.