Should Jay Be A Jay? I Say Nay

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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.

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Today In Melky Cabrera – Tuesday, November 25th

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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.”

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Ramirez And Sandoval Go To Boston: The Fatbacks Get Fatter

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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?

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Anthopoulos Speaks!: Martin, Melky, Free Agents, Trades, Taxes, Prospects, And More!

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Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos hit the airwaves last night, speaking to Bob McCown and Ken Reid on the Fan 590’s Prime Time Sports (audio here) in the wake of the press conference to announce his biggest ever free agent acquisition, Russell Martin.

Naturally, then, much of the conversation was about Martin, and about the process the club went through to sign him, which is stuff that has already been covered exceptionally well in pieces from Shi Davidi at Sportsnet and John Lott of the National Post. I’ll skip that talk, for the most part, and focus instead on some of the other nuggets that came up in the conversation — of which there were several.

To wit:

On the importance of the Martin signing…

“I know when we met with Russ, it’s one of the things I talked to him about — would he be willing to sign early, or does he need to go to the winter meetings, or does he need to do all these things. Because I do think that with some of the other plans and things we’d like to do, getting him on the board and getting him signed helps you. And I’ve seen it now — I wasn’t sure to the extent, but I’ve had some agents tell me that, after signing him, [their client] would love to play with him. I think we’ve become a more desirable place to play. Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be able to spend less or get players for fewer years, but it opened the door to some players who were maybe undecided about Toronto, and I think it does maybe push the needle a little more towards us, adding a guy like that, because he’s so well thought of around the game, he’s so well liked as a teammate, and all the other things he brings. Whether it’s a reliever or starter, I’ve had a lot of the agents tell me ‘the Martin signing was a nice indicator, they’d love to throw to him,’ and it does kind of put us back on the map of being that serious about trying to win.”

On the club’s free agent pursuits…

“Before I got on this call I was on the phone with an agent, just talking about the fit with Toronto, how sincere would the player be, all those type of things,” Anthopoulos explained, illustrating the fact that he’s still interested in the market, despite admitting that nothing is imminent. “Normally when you get to the offer standpoint talks are advanced, and we’re nowhere close to that,” he added. “We’re not anywhere close to there at all.”

So much for whatever bullshit Nick Cafardo was spouting earlier in the week, eh?

On the trade market…

“There’s definitely some things we’ve tried to get done from a trade standpoint, we just haven’t been able to get those deals done. So, I’m not very confident right now. I’d say all trade talks are probably more exploratory at this point. I don’t think we’re close. We know who’s available, and there’s a few players we’d love to get, it’s just the ask… it’s — for example, one player we’re fine with parting with, and the second player we need to add, that’s the hangup. And now you’re looking for, ‘OK, I’ll do the one, can I replace that player with somebody else?’ Then you can’t agree there and the conversation goes, ‘well, can I get some other player off another team to facilitate that and do a two-for-one?’ Those are some of the stumbling blocks and some of the road blocks you have when trying to get a deal done. There’s plenty of players we’d love to have who’d be a great fit but we just seem to hit a road block in some of those areas, because we’re not prepared to do what it will take — to give up the players that teams have asked for right now.”

“We have a few players with specific teams that we’re trying to get — not big deals — it’s just, for the most part, rarely do you do one-for-one deals. They’re normally two-for-one or two-for-two, things like that. And sometimes you can agree on the first player, but clearly we’re trying to get someone who is better than the one, so you need to add a little bit more — some people call it a ‘sweetener,’ I guess — and we just… the sweetener’s really sweet for what the team wants and what we’re trying to give. So, we’ll just continue to try to work. I don’t think we’re close to anything, we’ll just continue to try to work at it and see if we can get some things done.”

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Hear This: Talkin’ Jays On The Radio – 11/21/14

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The Jays’ off-season work isn’t done yet, but with yesterday’s official unveiling of Russell Martin they took a huge step in the right direction, and the folks at Winnipeg’s TSN 1290 Radio were kind enough to ask me to join them to reflect on why the Jays made the deal, why we should be excited about it, and where they go from here.

They were also kind enough to wake me from a mid-morning nap with their phone call. I don’t even think I sounded groggy or anything!

Have a listen to the segment here.

Awesome image via @BlueJayHunter

Highlights From The Russell Martin Press Conference

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There really wasn’t a tonne from Thursday’s Russell Martin press conference that needs to be written about, frankly. That might seem strange given all the tweets embedded below, but much of that is information filtered out in the moments after, as the local media was actually able to get their hands on Alex Anthopoulos.

But the Martin stuff? He was beaming, he seemed genuine and affable, he said all the right things, and it was exactly the kind of sunny love-in you’d expect when a team makes its first major free agent signing sign J.P. Ricciardi inked Frank Thomas on November 18th, 2006.

But so what if it was maybe a little predictable? As a Jays fan, it’s impossible not to feel pretty damn good right now.

The off-season isn’t going to pause long for us to bask in this moment, though, and so while we’ll take a look here at a bunch of notable moments from the presser, we’ll also highlight at a bunch of scuttlebutt as well.

Um… mostly just by lazily copying a bunch of tweets…

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