Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Holy Shnikies

Lying in bed in Berlin around 11:30pm or midnight, I noticed that activity on Twitter had picked up (@jaysfromaway).  Instead of the usual 1 new tweet per 5 minutes, there were 6 new tweets in 1 minute.  That was my first inclination that something big was going down.

The first reports (and they were reports from very solid Major League reporters like Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal) said that starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were coming to Toronto.  Then SS Jose Reyes's name got thrown around.  Who was going back?  At first it was just SS Yunel Escobar and SS Adeiny Hechavarria, but clearly there would have to be more . . . that's not enough for 2 starting pitchers and an all-star shortstop!  The deal got bigger:  Henderson Alvarez, Jake Marisnick, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, Anthony DeSclafani, Jeff Mathis, and Justin Nicolino were all mentioned.

And so, after much digital ink was spilled the fog cleared, the final trade appeared to be:

Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jake Marisnick, Anthony DeSclafani, Jeff Mathis, and Justin Nicolino


Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, and $4 million.

A 12-player deal that rocked the baseball world.  While this trade still isn't official (any trade involving cash must be approved by the commissioner's office and is contingent on players passing physicals), it's getting a lot of press and scrutiny.  I'm not going to look too closely at the baseball side of this trade just yet, it's still early, but several revelations come out of this about the Blue Jays and the Marlins that I'll add my perspective to the digital reams that are being devoted to last night's events.

Revelation #1: Starting Pitching is expensive.

Ok. This isn't a revelation, but it's a fact of doing business in the major leagues.  While the Blue Jays instantly strengthen their pitching staff, the cost was significant.  The young talent going to Miami is already good, with the potential to be great.  I'm pretty convinced that Henderson Alvarez will find a way to strike batters out enough at the major league level to be a solid #4 starter or better.  I'm pretty convinced that Hechavarria will be able to hit enough to provide some value as a starting shortstop.  As far as the minor league talent goes, Marisnick has tons of upside on his tools and is still young and Nicolino is already very well developed despite his ceiling being the lowest of the Lansing 3.  I have a feeling that the Marlins won't be as cautious as the Jays have been with either him or DeSclafani.  Look for them to start 2013 in AA.

Additionally, the Blue Jays will be paying for this trade for many years with 5 years left on Reyes's contract and 3 on Buehrle's, each rising into the $20 million range by the end (Johnson's expires this year).  On the other side, if the Jays had signed any of the top- or second-tier free agent starters this off-season (like Anibal Sanchez) , they would most likely be locked into 5 or 6 year contracts, paying $15 million per year (rumour has it that Sanchez is asking for 6 years and $90 million).  Giving a pitcher in his late 20's or early 30's a contract that long is something that the Jays (or any team) don't want to do.  As we've seen this year, pitchers are fragile.

This trade is a risk, particularly in the sense that Johnson, Reyes, and Bonifacio have had injury issues and should something happen to any of the real high price players, the Jays are on the hook with injured or ageing players who are eating up salary.  Buehrle has been durable, but is getting older, and probably won't be providing excellent value on the $18 and $19 million he's owed in 2014 and 2015.   

Revelation #2: Jeffrey Loria is an ass.

Writers from all over the baseball world are noticing how this is a gigantic salary dump from an underperforming team.  As is Loria's M.O., the team makes a splash, appears to be being aggressive, and then tears everything apart quickly.  Look at the Marlins' World Series year.  They won it all, then dismantled the team to get young and cheap (and bad).  Loria is alienating his fans, and, his players.  Several Marlins, including the face of the franchise, Giancarlo Stanton, tweeted their shock and anger yesterday.  Stanton's (@giancarlo818) tweet was memorable: Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.

I'm sure Stanton will be out of Miami as soon as he becomes a free agent (or sooner).  If the firesale continues, he won't be signing any team-friendly contract extensions before he is eligible for arbitration after this coming season.

Oh yeah. Loria's the pied piper who led the Expos out of Montreal, left the league holding the reins, and then bought another team in Florida.  To quote the great Joe Flaherty: "Jackass!"

Revelation #3: Alex Anthopoulos probably isn't finished yet.

The team has 4 catchers on the 40 man roster.  While Bobby Wilson is certainly a backup, I can't see both Buck and Arencibia playing every day or even having a 50/50 split of the starting duties.  Is John Buck going to be a $6 million backup catcher who didn't hit much in the last 2 years?  Since his career year in Toronto in 2010, Buck hasn't exceeded a .700 OPS and has hit under .230 both years.  People complain about Arencibia's low batting average and OBP, but at least he can hit for power, has improved his defense, and is providing better value over the past 2 seasons at a better price.  Because the Jays are now no longer in "wait for the youngsters develop" mode, they're going to be less inclined to allow d'Arnaud to grow into the role at the major league level; therefore, I see one of 4 scenarios.

1: Buck is the backup this year and the Jays eat the $6 million they owe him while JPA plays every day.* D'arnaud cools his heels in Buffalo for another year of development (and keeping his ML service time clock from starting), and Bobby Wilson is lost on waivers at the end of Spring Training.  If JPA is traded at any point after the start of the season, scenario 2 comes into effect.

2: JPA is traded at some point this off-season and d'Arnaud is called up and is given the opportunity to start. In this scenario, Wilson will probably be kept on the 25 man roster in case d'Arnaud can't produce in the majors.  D'Arnaud probably gets some playing time at 1B/DH until the Jays are confident that he's their big league starting catcher.

3: Buck is traded or given his outright release.   There's a battle for the starting catcher's position between JPA and d'Arnaud, with d'Arnaud also getting some time at 1B/DH.

4: Buck regains his batting stroke of 2010, JPA is traded, Wilson backs up, and d'Arnaud spends the year in  AAA and takes over the starting role in 2014.

This team still has holes.  There are a few questions that arise from this enormous trade.

The starting rotation, instead of being 2 quality starters deep last year (with question marks for the #3,#4,#5 roles), is now 3 quality starters deep.  We still don't know how Ricky Romero is going to rebound in 2013, and J.A. Happ, while ok as a 5th starter, might need to be improved upon should the Jays want to really make a playoff push in 2013.  Do the Jays delve into the free agent pool for someone like Shawn Marcum?  Are the Jays willing to add another $10 million in payroll for a quality starter?  With the injuries last year, the only real viable candidate to compete with Happ in spring training is Chad Jenkins, who (in my humble opinion) will probably start 2013 in Buffalo.  Drabek is not due back until mid-summer and Hutchison probably won't see any action before September (if at all this season).

Do the Jays see Izturis as the every day 2nd baseman?  Or will they try to use Bonifacio in that role?  What about left field?  If the Jays want to contend this year, Gose is not the answer there, and neither is Moises Sierra.

There are still holes on this roster and there's lots of off-season left to address them.

Revalation #4: Blue Jays fans (and players) have something to be excited about again.

The blogosphere is going crazy with praise for Alex Anthopoulos and Rogers for opening the chequebook.  Anthopoulos is also lauded for his ability to operate under the radar and then explode with big news about acquiring the pitching help that everyone knew the team needed.  People were doubting his ninja-ness.  No longer.

Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19) tweeted "It's a good day to be a bluejay!"  Ricky Romero and Casey Janssen both expressed more cautious optimism without either official confirmation or league approval.


The fact is that the Jays made a really exciting move to address a huge area of weakness (starting pitching), and upgraded a position that was solid defensively, if under-producing in 2012 (shortstop).  They also get another versatile bench player and another catcher.  They gave up a potentially good starting pitcher (or great reliever) in Alvarez, a promising young shortstop with genuine concerns about his bat in Hechavarria, a head case of another shortstop in Escobar, a backup catcher, and three prospects who are at least 2 years away from contributing.

This was a "win now" move and really stabilizes the starting rotation until the prospects start to bubble up to the major league surface and the injured arms return to compete for jobs.**  It also allows the Jays to be more patient and not rush their pitching prospects along.

This is easily the single biggest trade in Blue Jays history and possibly in baseball history and could either usher in a new era in the Blue Jays being a playoff contender, or it could blow up in Alex Anthopoulos's face.  It's risky, it's exciting, it's why we're all baseball fans.


*I'll go out on a limb and predict a .245/.295/.465 slash line with 25 home runs for Arencibia, showing marginal improvements in his eye and contact abilities in his 3rd major league season.

**I argue that neither Drabek nor Hutchison have proven or earned anything yet.  Both will need to return from injury, head to the minors (first rehab, then probably a regular assignment to Buffalo) and earn their way back to the bigs.

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