The hotstove isn’t exactly set to shut down over the next few days, it’s just… most of the juicy rumours we’ve been used to since the season ended are going to be brought to a low simmer while the space gets used for turkeys, pies, turkey-pies, and all the other traditions of American late-Thanksgiving. Still, there are few items out there worth taking note of, so let’s put a Jays-related spin on all that’s being whispered out there, thanks to the great work of the utterly invaluable MLB Trade Rumors…
First, a non-MLBTR item, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at the options currently in front of Jon Lester at the moment. Rob Bradford tweets that a “source familiar with negotiations doesn’t foresee Lester signing soon,” which matches with what Cafardo is saying, noting the stages of negotiations between the free agent lefty and several clubs. The Jays are mentioned in the piece, but only to seemingly place them on the fringes of the race, and to note that no visits to Toronto have been planned by Lester, unlike other cities. However, as many pointed out when I tweeted about this on Wednesday, Russell Martin didn’t visit either — the Jays went to him. Same with R.A. Dickey when they were negotiating two years ago. The Fan 590’s Bob McCown was saying last week that the Jays hadn’t yet ruled a run at Lester out, despite knowing that they’d have to go beyond their silly five year policy to do so… for whatever his words on such matters are worth.
One more non-MLBTR item, as Jeff Blair tweets that before the Diamondbacks signed Yasmani Tomas — the power-hitting Cuban outfielder they won the race for last night — they did some due diligence on Melky Cabrera. He wonders if this ends their interest in him, which wouldn’t entirely be surprising — and wouldn’t entirely be bad for the Jays. One more suitor out of the outfield market, perhaps.
In an MLBTR piece providing some “NL Notes” we’re told that the Marlins are in the market for a left-handed bat, with an intriguing suggestion being put forward: the A’s Brandon Moss. An outfielder and first baseman who has actually been decent in left in a small sample of data, despite faring poorly overall by the defensive metrics, Moss is a very solid left-handed bat. Good power, averaging 25 home runs over the last three seasons. Good walk rate, which seems to be increasing, and a .340 on-base over his three years in Oakland, versus a .326 mark for his career. His wRC+ has declined in each of the last three seasons, though part of the reason for that in 2014 was due to a second half swoon due to a hip injury that required surgery (though not microfracture surgery, as was originally recommended). That’s not exactly a good thing, especially given the Jays’ playing surface, but Moss would certainly tick off a lot of boxes. And he’s still go two arbitration years to go before free agency, too. I mean, if the A’s — especially after additions of Ike Davis and Billy Butler — are looking to move him…
A separate piece that mentions Moss, who says that he understands changes may be afoot in Oakland that could send him elsewhere, also notes that the Mariners are in the market for an outfielder, and aren’t exactly short of options: “Seattle is determined to come away with one of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Nelson Cruz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Gattis,” we’re told. Melky and Cruz may now sit atop a weak free agent crop, but teams aren’t exactly short on other options, either. Advantage Jays? Perhaps.
An interesting piece on the weak shortstop market notes that the Yankees “are showing a real reluctance to take on another significant contract.” We’ll see how many more Red Sox moves that lasts for. Of course, that was with respect to Troy Tulowitzki, which indeed is a monster deal. They asked about the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins (one year, $11-million left on his deal), though, but apparently that didn’t get anywhere on account of the Phillies’ high price tag, among other things. More importantly in this one: Jed Lowrie, we’re told, is viewed by most teams as a second baseman, not a shortstop. If the Jays are looking to land him — and they probably should be — that would seem to be a good thing. I mean, if there was a market for him at short, he seems less likely to take an offer to play second, right?
A follow-up on Cole Hamels rumours from earlier in the week suggests that the price may not actually be as high as originally reported, which… why am I writing about Cole Hamels?
A bunch of roster fodder-ish guys have been outrighted by their clubs, and… wait — what’s that? I think — do I hear? — is it … the sound of morons saying “dumpster diving”? Yep, that’s definitely it.
An interesting look at Torii Hunter tells us all we need to know about the free agent who the Jays reportedly have shown some measure of interest in. Namely: his defence is diminishing — particularly with respect to range — as is his bat, though not necessarily to the point where he doesn’t have some short-term value, despite only producing 0.3 WAR in 2014 according to FanGraphs, because UZR basically killed him. I’d be very wary of him and where he’s headed. Maybe it could be OK at the right price? But I don’t know. It’d probably end up terrible. The fact that he walked at a 9.5% clip from 2009 to 2011 and at a 4.0% clip in 2013 and 2014 is a little alarming, too.
A look at the Royals’ off-season plans reminds us that Jason Frasor is a free agent. I might rather watch paint dry than him on the mound, but he gets results, he has a history here, his wife is from Toronto, and the Jays need relief help. Could work.
Lastly, MLBTR is polling readers on the best free agent signing so far. Russell Martin so far has the lead. So… there’s that.
Guess I’ll call Jan and tell her we’re not going to Orlando.
Bob Elliott looks at the Jay Bruce thing in a piece for the Toronto Sun, telling us that he’s heard the Reds would be looking for “inexpensive major league-ready players.” After asking his source if a Sean Nolin might be a fit, he was told, “”More than that. And the way I heard it … there was an ‘s’ on the word players.” You know where I stand on this one.
Juan Francisco’s time in Boston was short, as he was D’d FA to make room for Hanley Ramirez yesterday, as first tweeted by MLB.com reporter Ian Browne. Cue “it’s the Edwin story all over again” stuff from hopeful Jays fans, except… no. No, no, no. Though… OK, he wasn’t even as bad as we like to remember. And especially decent — 124 wRC+ — against right-handers, which is something the Jays currently need. It’s just… didn’t he get to that number by being at like a 170-odd wRC+ for six weeks then slowly watching it all evaporate? Not entirely, actually. His April (140 wRC+ overall), May (180), and July (134) were all pretty good. It was June (59) and August (5 — yes, five) that killed him. Didn’t really play in September, unsurprisingly.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the Athletics are taking calls on lefty-hitting catcher John Jaso, including ones from the Jays. Sean Nolin is the reported ask at this point, which seems steep for a team with three catchers already and myriad other holes to fill, but if Navarro and Dickey/Thole are the ones getting traded to those ends, as is certainly possible, a veteran backup catcher with some lefty pop, and who can sure take a walk (career rate: 12.6%), off the bench could be a nifty idea indeed. Even if it would just encourage Wilner to do that thing more frequently.
Dirk Hayhurst has been looking for some of that Canadian bacon lately, which sounds like a great idea for all of us, as he weighs in on the Jaso talk, and also talks about the Navarro-Thole-Martin drama, and relates an encounter with Avril Lavigne.
Ken Rosenthal tweets, tongue somewhat in cheek (maybe?), that a “mystery team” can’t yet be ruled out in the bidding for Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas. I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one, but the Jays certainly haven’t been linked much to Tomas at all. Go do it, I say.
Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter makes Tomas his suggestion in his contribution to their staff free agent picks. He linked to the rest of the series, too! For Noah Sherman, on the other hand, it’s Luke Gregerson.
Speaking of the relief market, MLBTR has the details on the Rays’ signing today of reliever Ernesto Frieri, a buy-low candidate on an incentive-laden deal (something the Jays don’t do — or are very reluctant to do) who, we’re told, misses back and should see some natural bounceback, you’d figure, because of crazy bad HR/FB and strand rates last year. Sean Rodriguez was D’d FA to make room, a right-hitting utility man whose power spiked last year, who could intrigue. He was a below replacement level in 2014 thanks mostly to UZR hating him at 2B, 3B, and in the outfield, though DRS had him as even at the two infield positions. He stopped walking altogether, but the power pushed his wRC+ to about league average, which… is maybe enough to make him a reasonable utility candidate, even if he might be kinda terrible. He produced 5.9 WAR over the previous four seasons, to boot (though weighted mostly towards 2010 and 2011).
Speaking still of relief, at Sportsnet, Ben Nicholson-Smith excellently surveys the market, making cases for and against the Jays going after a really big name, expensive free agent reliever.
See what I just did there?
Annnnnywho… according to a Wednesday morning piece from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Chase Headley is scouring the market, thinking he can do better than a three year deal — which, for the moment, is as far as the Yankees are willing to go on him.
“By all accounts the Headley-Yankees second-half marriage was a major hit last year, but he likely believes he can beat three years elsewhere,” Heyman tells us. And high up among his list of potential suitors — though likely not as high as the Giants or Padres, who both pushed hard for Pablo Sandoval — are the Jays, who “need a third baseman (or second baseman) and showed interest in Headley at the July trade deadline.”
We do know that to be the case, even if the idea of bringing Headley on at the time was particularly problematic. At the time he moved from San Diego to the Bronx, Headley sported just a .229/.296/.355 line, albeit while providing his always-terrific defence. He’d had a very strong end to the previous season, salvaging a campaign that had begun with a less-than-ideal .229/.330/.359 first half.
His natural talent and a move to the much-friendlier Rogers Centre would have been a safe bet to help fix some of these troubles at the plate, but they were not small concerns. Nor was the Rogers Centre turf itself, and asking Headley to stay healthy while playing on it, especially considering the way his early season went: he suffered a right calf strain early in spring training that caused him to miss nearly a month of camp and sent him to the DL at the end of April, and he suffered a back injury on June 20th that cost him four days and required a cortisone shot.
Not exactly a great gamble for the Blue Jays, and yet they looked into it anyway.
Jose Bautista was on the MLB Network’s Hot Stove this morning, talking about his history with Russell Martin, the Jays injury issues, the talent in the club’s rotation being better than it showed in 2014, and his off-season regimen.
Nothing earth-shittering, which… is probably a good thing. Content’s gotta content, though. Have a watch…
Why am I writing about Cole Hamels?
It’s not so you get your hopes up here. In fact, my advice is that you be better off not bothering wanting him at all. But according to Jayson Stark’s lengthy analysis at ESPN.com of what the Phillies might choose to do with pitcher Cole Hamels this winter, the Jays and the Red Sox are “two clubs with strong interest.”
So… I guess that’s why? Maybe?
Thing is, we’ve been down this road before. It’s usually blocked by a player’s no-trade clause — and, lo and behold, there’s one here, too. “USA Today reported this month that the eight teams Hamels can’t block are the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves, Nationals, Padres, Yankees and Rangers,” Stark explains. “But sources say that was a previous incarnation of his list, and that at least one of those teams has changed since the end of the season.”
The Jays and the Red Sox, though, remain “among the teams he can veto.” So… why am I writing about Cole Hamels?
I really have no goddamned idea, to be honest. Except that despite the existence of the no-trade — something we’ve know at least since Bob Elliot pointed out Hamels’ 2014 list in the Toronto Sun two weeks ago, but surely for much longer — Stark twice in his piece lists the Jays among suitors. Up there with Boston and the Cubs and the Dodgers, though I have absolutely no idea why they would be.
On Monday night Jon Morosi did some good, old fashioned, Jon Morosi things in the direction of the Blue Jays, tweeting that the Jays “never made an offer” to Hanley Ramirez before he signed with Boston — a meaningless bit of information that looks meaningful (damning, perhaps ) until you remember that “no offer” doesn’t mean “no dialogue” — and then adding that the club is still looking to add a left-handed bat to their lineup, and that one possibility could be a trade for the Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce.
Cue excited Jays fans. (UPDATE: Well, except for the fact that the Jays are on his no-trade list, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. So… that’s the name of that tune.)
It’s easy to understand that. Bruce has a great track record. For four straight years from 2010 to 2013 he produced a wRC+ between 117 and 124, averaging 30 home runs a season. He was exceptionally healthy during that span, playing in fewer than 155 games just once, when he played a “mere” 148 in 2010, and producing 14 WAR according to FanGraphs. And his defence, according to the metrics, vacillated between outstanding and a little below average, depending on the year.
Given all that, his contract — which pays him $12-million in 2015, $12.5-million the following year, with a $13-million club option ($1-million) buyout for 2017 — looks very team friendly.
But there’s a problem: a little thing called the 2014 season.
And not just the 2014 season itself — which, for Bruce, was awful — but some of the worrying trends in his game that it highlighted, and the questions it left unanswered until he steps out onto the field again in 2015.
With Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez headed to Boston, and two more big bats off the free agent market — and two guys the Jays were reportedly interested in, to some degree — the pressure for Alex Anthopoulos to get to work addressing some of the holes on his roster was ratcheted up a notch on Monday.
Some might say that the pressure to get a deal done specifically with Melky Cabrera has gone up, but that remains crazy talk.
A certain subset of Jays fans have somehow convinced themselves that Melky is a whole lot more valuable than reality would indicate. Sure, the fact that he’s a high-contact switch hitter, his defence is passable in left, and that he appears to be well-liked and wants to be here are all terrific points in his favour. And he hit a tonne in 2014 — something the Jays could certainly use, especially without Adam Lind, without a viable second base option (apart from a guy who hasn’t seen a pitch above Double-A), and with Dalton Pompey seemingly set to take over in centre.
He’s projected by Steamer to post a 116 wRC+, but because of his deficiencies with the glove they have that working out to just a 1.7 WAR.
There are certainly ways you can poke at that figure. This season Cabrera produced 2.6 WAR (3.1 by Baseball Reference), so the projection sees quite a bit of a drop, and that’s from a 2014 in which he spent most of the final month on the Disabled List. As noted, a lot of what’s dragging the number down is his defence — though his bat was actually only in the upper-middle of the pack among left fielders (120 wRC+, ranking 11th of 24 on the FanGraphs leaderboard among those with at least 450 plate appearances) — and while both UZR and DRS do tend to agree that he’s below average, you could argue that defensive metrics are a bit shaky to begin with, and Melky’s defence looks fine enough. His projections are based on data that includes his tumour-ridden 2013 season, which might help to deflate them a bit, though I suppose there arequestions about inflated numbers in the previous seasons, as well, so maybe that evens out.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to think you could argue that 1.7 wins looks a bit light. Devon Travis, for example — the guy who hasn’t seen a pitch above Double-A — is projected to 2.5 wins, so… while I’m sure there’s basis for that in the data, and while position certainly plays a part in the discrepancy, that number probably suggests that we definitely can’t just take these as gospel.
It’s just, even if we don’t particularly like what Steamer is telling us, how far off do we think it might realistically be? A win? Two wins? Obviously we can’t see the future, and Melky has produced as much as 4.5 WAR in the past, but banking on a pretty reliably predictive formula to be that far off isn’t a great idea. And even if it is and you think you’re getting a 3.7 WAR player, while undeniably very, very valuable, that’s not exactly a break-the-bank, get-him-or-we’re-fucked kind of player. In 2014, 57 position players produced that much or more value.
Melky, in other words, is replaceable. Nori Aoki was worth 2.5 WAR last season, projects to 1.5, and will be available at much less the cost. Nelson Cruz, though he’s better suited to DH, was worth 3.9 wins last year and projects to 1.5 as well. Nick Markakis produced 2.5 but projects to just 1.3. Michael Saunders, who is reportedly available, produced 1.9 and projects to 2.4, albeit assuming a level of health he’s yet to demonstrate he’s capable of.
Of course, a guy like Saunders would cost the Jays an asset in trade, as would whoever else is out there that we may not yet be thinking of. Melky would simply cost money, and would also allow them to explore deals involving Andy Dirks or John Mayberry or maybe even Kevin Pillar, or to hold those guys as nice depth pieces, rather than thinning out their on-field assets. So there are certainly some major advantages to bringing Cabrera back, it’s just not an at-all-costs kind of a thing, and the Jays have smartly played it this way.
Best yet, the market may actually be playing into their hands, especially with Hanley Ramirez suddenly becoming an outfielder, and Boston therefore adding at least one more name to the market. Cuban Yasmani Tomas, who the Jays haven’t been linked to at all, is a possibility for clubs as well.
The market playing in their favor certainly appears to be the suggestion being made by Richard Griffin in a piece from Sunday night at the Toronto Star, as he writes that “The Blue Jays should not yet be discounted in the chase for free-agent Melky Cabrera. He might be back in blue.”
So the Red Sox seem to be about to make themselves quite a splash, and I don’t mean that just because they’re about to go off the deep end with a couple of fat guys.
At the time of this writing it seems a given that the ol’ Massholes will add Hanley Ramirez, who will head to Boston to finalize a four-year, $88-million deal (with a $22-million vesting option for a fifth — all per Ken Rosenthal), with Pablo Sandoval apparently set to join him — though this would be news to the San Francisco Giants — on a similar, but even larger, deal. In fact, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe has confirmed it, for whatever his word is worth.
I can’t deny, a big part of me really, really wants to like these deals for all that might go wrong with them. Ramirez has averaged just 115 games per year if you play arbitrary endpoints and only look at the last four seasons, and I’ve already come out as lukewarm on Sandoval (though that’s more about the specific idea of the Jays going after him). But… well… I’m cheering for a team with Jose Reyes at shortstop. It’s hard to reconcile any giddiness I might have for potential big money failings in Boston with all I’m trying to ignore that might go wrong with my own club.
Worse, as much as we might be inclined to scratch our heads at the addition of players who on the surface might seem redundant, they really aren’t. Sandoval will play third — something the metrics say he does a whole lot better than you might think — and Ramirez, it seems, is amenable to moving to left field. That would give Boston a glut of outfielders — Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Allan Craig, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava — to go along with other potentially movable parts, like Will Middlebrooks, utility man Brock Holt, one of young catchers Christian Vasquez or Blake Swihart, and a bunch of young pitching.
Their rotation is a bit of a mess at the moment, but that can change in a hurry. Already the trade suggestions are coming: Buster Olney tweets that Cespedes, who is in the last year of his deal, could be a match with players of similar status, like Mike Leake, Mat Latos, or Alfredo Simon of the Reds, or Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners. In Cafardo’s piece he suggests Johnny “Quaid, start the reactor” Cueto or Tyson Ross, as well, and gets into the crazy, but not unbelievable, speculation regarding the Phillies — who have apparently been eyeing Boston youngsters like Betts and Xander Bogaerts (because… who wouldn’t?) — and Cole Hamels.
So… redundancies? What redundancies?