Toronto never had a chance with Fielder; Blue Jays mailbag
So Prince Fielder finally found a home. Thank God. While Tiger fans rejoice, Detroit-area all-you-can-eat buffets are re-considering their rules of engagement. We were concerned that Prince would end up penniless and on the street, because his agent Scott Boras had overestimated the market . . . and maybe the great one, at least among agents, did. But in the meantime the Tigers' important piece, DH Victor Martinez hurt his leg and is out for the season, so the team's owner Mike Illitch decided, going over the head of his very intelligent GM Dave Dombrowski, that he would be willing to commit to Fielder for nine years and $214 million. Earlier in the week Dombrowski had mentioned about maybe one year for Fielder, since Martinez will be back in 2013, but when Miguel Cabrera agreed to move over to third base -- which gives Detroit about 550 lbs. of corner infielder – the Fielder deal was struck. The Princely sum is not for as many years or as much money as Albert Pujols received from the Angels which means that for Boras it must count as a failure. But try wiping the smile off Fielder's face.
As for fans that felt the Jays should have pursued Fielder, it was never going to happen. The problem comes in perception when you get up to numbers that high. It is that years and dollars are undervalued. Some fans said that Fielder might accept a Jays offer of five years at $20 million per year. Well, the contract he settled on was for $114 million more in guaranteed salary and for four more seasons. Unless the Jays were going to approach those numbers, Boras would never even have considered it.
Right now, as of Thursday afternoon, the Jays have committed to their own payroll $79.27 million for 20 players in 2012. This formula includes straight salary, plus a pro-rated amount of any original signing bonus. There are various ways of determining MLB payroll and that is one. The 20 players include Mark Teahen's $5.5 million, plus $2.75 million guaranteed to Adeiny Hechavarria even if he starts the year at Triple-A. The only Jays player remaining that is arbitration eligible is Casey Janssen, who has asked for $2.2 million and been offered $1.8 million. The remainder of the roster is under club control and will likely each earn less than a million dollars. An estimate of the '12 Jays payroll at this point in time is around $85 million. That would rank as the second highest Jays payroll in history to the $98 million misspent in 2008. Maybe they're not that cheap. On to the Mailbag.
Q-Hi Mr. Griffin,
I really love your work and look forward to your columns. I really like the rebuilt Toronto bullpen and think it will help the Jays win this year. But I also think this may be another avenue AA is using to 'beat the system' and improve the team long term. In Francisco Cordero, Jason Frasor and Darren Oliver the Jays will have three sought after and highly tradeable (one year contracts) veteran relievers that can be flipped for prospects. If the Jays are out of the race, they keep the prospects. If they are in it they can keep the relievers and or flip the prospects for other holes on the major league team. On this note a total salary for the three guys of $12,000,000 it is not a cheap way to build the organization and I think Rogers shoul be commended. What are your thoughts? Is this strictly building the team, or is it more building the organization? Keep up the great work!
Jason MacDonald, Amherst, NS
A-The value of a solid, veteran bullpen is often underestimated. Baseball executives like to compare themselves to the success story of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 when they came out of nowhere to advance to the World Series after having never finished above .500 in club history. People explain it by pointing out that all of those Rays bottom-feeder finishes allowed them to draft high and when those players finally developed, then they were ready to win. But there was far more to it than that and a key factor, often overlooked was how the Rays rebuilt the bullpen between opening day '07 and '08.
In 2008, the Rays had a young, inexperienced rotation that had five pitchers between 24-26 years of age and each with 11-14 wins. Sound familiar? The Rays fivesome started 153 of 162 games, so they were healthy, young and unspectacular. But the bullpen was different from the start of the year before. In late July of '07 they had acquired Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour. In '08 they added Troy Percival and Trever Miller, moving former closer Alberto Reyes to middle relief. All five of those pitchers were in their 30s. J.P. Howell was a nice left-handed complement and late in the year David Price came up as a hard-throwing relief option. The rotation was okay, but the bullpen was the difference.
Baseball GMs are nothing if not copycat. The Jays look at their five young starters heading into spring training and know there will be ups and downs and there will be games where the ball is handed to the bullpen early. They have done a nice job of adding veteran depth and manager John Farrell promises he will be better at assigning recognizable roles so his relievers are better prepared.
The Jays' seven-man bullpen will combine to earn just over $20 million in 2012. That total is led by Cordero at $4.5M, Oliver at $4.0M and Frasor at $3.75M. The closer, Santos is in at $1 million this season and is under contract through 2017. If the Jays do succeed, much credit will go to the bullpen. As for your trade deadline analysis, I don't see much value in a mid-season trade for any of the three Jays' veterans. The Jays had Frasor and Scott Downs available at the July deadline a couple of years ago and weren't able to get value from a contender. I think the moves this winter were all about building the bullpen which at times, with the 25 blown saves in 2011, not all accumulated in the eighth and ninth innings, was embarrassing.
Q-With hearing A.J. Burnett along with Phil Hughes, would the Jays be interested in either one or maybe both? For AA to bring back A.J. it would only make sense if the Yanks would eat all of the contract left. The Yanks are looking for a DH type bat, wouldn't Lind or Thames fit that role for them? Would either pitcher be an upgrade over the current rotation?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A-I'm sure A.J. Burnett is very available, but there are rules against paying an entire contract and any deal has to be passed through the commissioner's office for approval. The Yankees do have an apparent surplus of starters and something will likely happen with Burnett before opening day. The Yankees right now seem to be leaning towards rotating their everyday players through the DH spot as a day off type reward. Besides, if they want a DH, there are still plenty of veteran bats out there that would not involve giving up a starting pitcher. The Yankees are not the same Yankees as in years past. They are trying to get their total payroll down to $189 million by 2014 because they're tired of paying the luxury tax, an attitude of perpetually propping up their opponents that has irked the Bronx Bombers going back to the most bombastic days of the late George Steinbrenner. The Yankees still owe $33 million for the next two years to Burnett and he has a 10-team limited no-trade clause in his contract. If the Jays are on that list, it would involve even more money to get him to waive it. Is A.J. worth all that?
Love the mailbag, and in that vein, let me quote you from the last mailbag of 2011 : "Happy New Year and my resolution is to make sure I do a mailbag every week." I need my Blue Jays news down here in Cincinnati! Now to my question: The big splash we were all hoping for this winter has turned into a little ripple and it doesn't look like A.A. is going to change that. His needs remain unmet. But we have guys in the pipeline who can meet those needs. Does it make sense to wait that one more year for these guys to arrive from the farm, rather than overspending either with money or with these very same talented guys? I want to see some of that money we have supposedly saved spent as much as the next guy, but I also want a dynasty, so why give away too much now? Is Alex wrong on his cost assessment, or is the available talent really just too overpriced? Will we be glad in five years that he didn't trade guys now? What do you think? All the best to you, and to Gary Carter. Hate to hear that bad news. Allan Lane, Cincinnati, Ohio
A-I guess there will have to be a couple of weeks soon where I do two mailbags just to get my average back up. It's funny how building a baseball winner is so opposite from, say, Olympic diving when it comes to making a big splash. Baseball likes to celebrate the big splash. Diving doesn't. As for baseball dynasties, the thing about political dynasties is a dynasty ends when there are no heirs. While the Jays have made sure there are plenty of heirs-apparent in the minor leagues at key positions, they have yet to establish anything good on the field in terms of championships for them to inherit.
As for Anthopoulos' reasoning, I never think it's a good idea to overspend, but what about just spending. There have been opportunities this winter that have been fair market value that the Jays have passed on. I think other GMs have adjusted to the unorthodox presence of Anthopoulos in the free agent and trade marketplace. Now it's up to the Jays' GM to adjust to them. Right now it looks like another great year for Jays fans in Lansing, Vancouver, Dunedin, Manchester and Las Vegas, while Jays fans at the Rogers Centre must wait until next year.
The future looks very bright for the Blue Jays especially when they have pitching prospects like Daniel Norris, Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Aaron Sanchez, Chad Jenkins sitting in the wings to get into the Major League Rotation. This would seem to be a good problem to have if you were AA, what do you think will happen when those are ready for the bigs? It would seem that when they are ready, a typical AA move would be to trade Romero and Morrow, if he were to trade Major league proven talent vs. prospects it would seem the bounty for both Morrow/Romero would be huge to once again bring in high end prospects. What do you think AA will do when the time comes when those pitching prospects are knocking on the Major League door?
A-The Jays are probably better stocked in terms of young minor-league starters than any organization in baseball. I don't think your analysis of a “typical AA move” is accurate. When AA signs a player to a multi-year deal it is usuallly a signal that this player is a core player moving forward. Morrow and Romero are already in that category, as are Yunel Escobar, Jose Bautista and Adam Lind, although Lind was signed by the previous regime and look what happened to Aaron Hill last year. There is no scenario that includes Romero or Morrow as likely bargining chips in just two years. What is more likely to happen with all those good young starters is that the Jays will try and keep the conga-line of young pitching moving through the system while pinpointing and utilizing internal scouting reports to look past the bare statistics. Knowing more about their own players, they will try and keep the best eight major-league-ready starters on hand with the Jays and at Triple and Double-A, while using the rest as trade inventory to fill other needs. The only legit excuse they have this winter is that maybe they feel they don't have enough of these starters that are quite ready for reliable major-league innings. But the tidal wave of talent is on the horizon, including a strong list of guys you didn't even mention.
I just reviewed the top 100 MLB prospects list that was recently released and once again I am amazed at how the Yankees always seem to have several in the top 25 (three in the top 10 before their recent trade with the Mariners). In most professional sports the draft is suppose to be the equalizer in that poor performing teams get a shot at the top prospects first in the draft. However, in baseball we see young players through their agents telling teams not to sign them unless they are willing to pay some crazy amount of money, essentially overpaying. The Jays learned this game over the last few years (now that will be coming to an end) but it seems that the Yankees have not only used their money for top free agents, they essentially took their money to the Latin markets and bought up most of the best talent. So you have this situation of them buying most of the best free agent talent while at the same time have some of the best talent on the farm. Will the new MLB agreement limit that money advantage for the Yankees?
Dean Germano, Redding, CA
A-There are reasons other than great scouting why the Yankees always seem to have multiple prospects in any Top 100 list. The bigger reason is that while the best prospects from other organizations progress through the minors in normal, orderly fashion and then are absorbed onto the major-league roster at some talent-appropriate point, the Yankees best prospects are often stymied and roadblocked by the collection of high-priced talent on the major-league roster that is signed to expensive, long-term contracts. For instance, a guy like Jesus Montero in most other organizations would have spent the 2011 season in the majors and would not be on the prospects list anymore. That is not to take credit away from the Yankees amateur scouting, which under Brian Cashman has taken on new importance.
As for international free-agent scouting, all things being equal, the Yankee name and logo carries a lot of weight worldwide as one of the iconic brands in sports and as such, a prospect that is free to sign anywhere would always consider the Yankees among the finalists. Now, throw in that the Bombers also have had more money than anyone to spend, the results are obvious and predictable.
It will be interesting to see what the new rules bring to the table in terms of levelling the playing field of amateur-player procurement. The Jays had tried to become the Yankees-lite in terms of using extra money and the existing rules to their best advantage in the draft and international scouting. The Yankee brand remains the Yankee brand. It might now be even harder to compete with them until there is a world-wide draft, which seems inevitable.
Looking at who is still out on the market, I ran across an interesting name...Rich Harden. Why hasn't AA signed Harden, would have to think he would come cheap and he could potentially fill multiple holes, if he stays healthy he is that type of top of the rotation talent AA has been looking at, if they don't want him to be a starter, he could fit right into the bullpen, with his stuff would have to think of him as a potential top end set up man? Lots of "ifs" with Harden but the Jays are already filled with "ifs'....see Lind, Travis Snider, Dustin McGowan, Brett Cecil, Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson, so what damage could another “if” really make? Your thoughts on Harden?
A-For a while now, I have been a supporter of signing Harden to a one-year deal if he is still available as winter turns to spring. That moment has arrived and it would seem there is no downside to signing the B.C. native to a minor-league deal with an invitation to major-league spring training, like they did with Omar Vizquel. Sure Harden has been injury prone with no one area of his body left unaffected. Sure he has averaged just 15 starts per season and has missed an average of 55 games per season on the DL. But he has great stuff, a live fastball, an excellent changeup, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. The 30-year-old has had just one losing season in his MLB career and with no long-term commitment and with young Jays starters only ready to pitch in the second half of the season, it's worth it. Harden has never earned more than $7 million and pitched last season for $1.5 million in Oakland.
I am just wondering how it is that in the last few months AA has been transformed from genius (the guy who unloaded Vernon Wells, got more than expected for Doc Halliday, etc.) to disappointment? Even Star hockey columnists are piling on now. Seems to me that his plan was to 'compete' in 2012, and that the current team should be competitive. Will they win in the AL East, unlikely, but they can field a competitive team. Looking back at what was written about AA when he was still brilliant, he was always thinking a few steps ahead of the fans, writers and even other GM's. This off-season is far from over and AA has shown that he is not the type to make a move without careful consideration. Maybe other GM's are less inclined to deal with AA now that he has a reputation for extracting more than expected in trades? What if someone told you back in October 2009 that the Jays would have a rebuilt farm system loaded with prospects and the current core of young talent with the big club in just 2 years? Wouldn't you think the new GM was a success? Thanks,
Dave Sorokowsky, Lockeford, CA
A-”When he was still brilliant...” I'll have to show Alex that line. But I do think that there is an easy comparison for what AA is going through to what a major-league rookie-of-the-year hitter goes through. A kid will make the majors and pitchers haven't seen him before. He has success at the plate for a year then in the off-season, heading in to his second campaign, other pitchers watch video, recall what they threw him in his rookie year and make adjustments in their approach designed to get him out. The cocky kid goes blithely into his sophomore season and all of a sudden his rookie year approach is not having the same success. Why? Because pitchers made adjustments. Now it's the smart hitter's turn to adjust to their adjustments and if he's a good player he regains his edge. Got that Alex?
Maybe that's the same thing that has happened to AA and his relationship with other GMs. The first year he brought his agressive phone-centric, information-gathering approach to the job and he had a leg up on other GMs that had never dealt with him before and patted him on the head and said “What a nice young man.” After all the accolades directed his way and realizing that they had maybe been too straight-forward with him, they changed their approach and then all of a sudden, Anthopoulos is not getting the same information, or else it's not quite as accurate in terms of anticipating what other GMs are thinking. That might explain this lull of an off-season and the fact that he quite possibly misread the market on Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez and quite possibly Michael Pineda.
Yes, I would say that AA's 28-month tenure as a major-league general manager has been an overall success, but the previous eight seasons under J.P. Ricciardi also resulted in a series of third and fourth place finishes. Being mediocre in baseball is not the same as being competitive. Sure you can take 2-of-3 at Yankee Stadium in any series, but so what. Baseball is a 162-game marathon. I could fly down to Boston on Patriots Day and put a number on my back with bad-looking shorts and a loose tank top. I could blast out of the starting gate past all the Kenyans and sprint to the front of the pack and lead for a couple of hundred yards, then blow a tire walk the rest of the way. I could then say I led the Boston Marathon for a while. Does that make me competitive? I think not. Until the Jays go into the final weekend of a season with a chance at a post-season berth, they are not competitive.
While I was expecting more from AA and the Jays this winter, I do see more all around depth with the exception of the starting rotation, where yes they have kids coming, but too many question marks. Why are they not interested in Roy Oswalt? He will come relatively cheap, probably on a one year deal (AA preference) and if healthy be an innings eater, a number 2 starter and also veteran presence for the kids. Why not take this chance if it wont significantly affect their 'payroll parameters'?
Isaac O., Thornhill, ON
A-Roy Oswalt would be as attractive a one-year option as a starter for the Jays as would Harden, just more expensive – which is not an issue. Oswalt, if he would accept the deal, would bring veteran experience and a clubhouse presence without threatening the leadershiop of Ricky Romero and the chemistry that is going on with the young Jays. Again, there is no downside.
Anthopoulos at the end of the season talked about looking for a front of the rotation starter, a bullpen closer, another bat and a backup catcher. He said he preferred trading rather than free agency. He got the closer and the backup catcher, both through trade. He failed at the starter and the extra power bat. Getting the bat at this late date will be tough, but there are short-term options for the starter.
The recent trade of Pineda to the Yanks must be frustrating to most Jays fans watching another young and controllable top end of the rotation pitcher going to another team other then the Jays. All we have heard this offseason is AA looking for a top end of the rotation talent, and up until the Pineda trade all other trades looked like they were well over paying for that top end rotation starter. Pineda was traded for a future DH in Montero and a 3 or 4 type rotation pitcher, this seems to have been a pitcher AA and the Jays could have outbid the Yanks, why didn't they? If February rolls around and this team is still the same without the addition of a top end of the rotation pitcher, I would have to think this offseason would be a let down? Go Jays Go .
Yours truly, a very frustrated Jays fan.
A-Just in summary about whether Anthopoulos underestimated the market for three starting pitchers that he coveted and could have used, if, in his own words, he had been willing to overpay, here is the total for those three deals in terms of players:
RHP Mat Latos, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Jose Campos and RHP Rob Gilliam for 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Edinson Volquez, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Brad Boxberger, C Jesus Montero, RHP Hector Noesi, RHP Brad Peacock, LHP Tom Milone, C Derek Norris and RHP A.J. Cole. Which side of that fence would you rather be on?
As for whether AA could have outbid the Yankees or anyone else, it always depends on what the dance partner team is looking for. Montero can be more than just a DH and had been the No. 1 ranked prospect in baseball two years ago. The M's needed to boost their offence. AA admitted that he had an opportunity to make a trade for a pitcher earlier in the winter but believed the cost was too much. Maybe he needs to adjust his sights and values towards the new reality in the future – or maybe he was right. At this point, if the Jays are to compete, they need star development from Morrow for a full season, a healthy repeat of his ace-dom from Romero, a 180-inning comeback from Brett Cecil, a steady development curve from Henderson Alvarez, a giant step in maturity from Kyle Drabek and/or a quantum leap in a return to full health with the ability to do more than just pitch every five days by Dustin McGowan. That's a lot to ask.
I wrote a scathing and emotional comment last time here, most of us fans are frustrated, but I think it must be 10 times more frustrating for AA, the trade market for top end starters was rediculous, Washington and Cincinnati may come to regret those trades, and 3 top prospects for two years of Garza is silly. The frustration must compound when free agents are asking a premium to play in the frozen wasteland of Canada. I'm sure AA put bids on numerous players that were higher but declined. I am hoping these are the reasons for the inactivity and not Rogers putting the brakes on the flow of cash. So what's the solution; wait for a top end starter to "fall in their laps" (whatever that means)? Maybe they are hoping for a fast start and some pleasant surprises.....Agaaaaaaaain.
Scott S., Sudbury, ON
A-I agree that the market for the top three traded starters this winter was higher than expected. As for Garza, the Cubs never said they wanted to trade him but they are willing to listen to offers, because if someone makes a stupidly high offer for two years of the talented righthander, they may change their mind. Remember, there's never any harm in entertaining offers for an asset that you control.
Q-I plan on going for a week of spring training. Can you tell me if the Blue Jays (other teams as well) sell a certain number of tickets on game day for the walk-up crowd? Also, can one see the players train on days when there are no games and is there a charge for this? Thanks heaps,
Marcus Heinrichs, Stouffville, ON
A-The Jays always have tickets available on game days unless it is the Yankees, Red Sox or another key matchup. It's easier to buy them all at once to avoid any game day lineups at the stadium box office. All the seats are good. Buying in advance is important for the Phillies and Yankees, because they are often in sold-out situations. If you go to the Jays' ballpark early on a game day, they come out to work out around 9:30 a.m. And you can just walk into the stadium and hang out down the right field line where the players come out of the clubhouse. Many of them will stop and sign an autograph when they're finished their early work, but others may appear deaf and not hear you no matter how loud you yell and how close you are. If you bring a young child or a good looking woman as a prop, you may have a better chance of getting an autograph. On days when the team is on the road, there are players working out from about 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Nevertheless, even sitting there waiting for the players to emerge, there's something magic about an empty ballpark. Spring is my favourite time of year.