The Daily Duce: Thursday, November 13th

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Well, I didn’t go to computer academy!

Keith Law has elaborated in a on why he’s soft on Devon Travis in a post at ESPN.com analyzing several recent transactions, suggesting that the Jays’ acquisition is a “below-average defender,” and citing concerns about the second baseman’s “unorthodox” swing. “He has leaky hips and starts his swing from a dead stop with his hands loaded low, making up for it a bit with strength, something that won’t work as well against major league pitching,” he explains. It’s certainly not an unfair concern, though I’m glad that several other evaluators don’t appear to agree.

Bob Elliott’s piece on the Gose-Travis trade for the Toronto Sun includes some interesting information on the differences between the Jays and Melky Cabrera as they continue to try to come to an agreement that would see him return. Cabrera has told friends that the Jays offered three-years and $39-million, apparently, but “the outfielder’s agent is believed to be looking for a $50 million package.” Honestly, I think that’s a fair price for Melky to be pushing for, and a fair offer from the Jays. It’s not looking good.

So… you know that thing about how the Jays are supposedly after Russell Martin? I actually quite like the idea — he’s a marked upgrade on Dioner Navarro, especially defensively, and especially with respect to receiving and framing, and moving Navarro to a backup/DH/PH role would be rather ideal — but there’s a problem. As Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and others, tell us, the Dodgers are interested. I’d suggest that maybe some Canadian sentimentality could work in the Jays’ favour here, but if a thing like that’s going to be a factor at all, all else would have to be equal. When Dodgers money is involved, I’m not sure I’m seeing the Jays being equal.

Shi Davidi wraps up the GM meetings in a piece for Sportsnet, explaining that the Jays’ deal with Detroit came about suddenly, that the club doesn’t have anything else imminent, noting that they checked in on Andrew Miller as part of their pursuit of a revamped bullpen, and suggesting that Brook Jacoby isn’t the only person being considered for the club’s vacant hitting coach position. “Asked about Jacoby’s chances of landing the job, one source said ‘probably,’ while another noted other candidates are in the mix,” we’re told.

As noted earlier, Ken Rosenthal tweeted this morning that the Jays were the team that the Tigers “feared most” in the bidding for Victor Martinez. That’s certainly a nice thought for a fan base that, despite all the early off-season rumours, still isn’t convinced that their team actually has any money that it’s willing to spend. But does it change anything? As much as Martinez would have been a better fit than Adam Lind — he’s a switch hitter who can even spend a little time behind the plate — he’s still not exactly ideal for a club losing two thirds of its outfield and still searching for infield and bullpen help. He’d have been a great addition, don’t get me wrong, and lately I’ve been of the mind that if any of the top free agents is willing to take the Jays’ money, they should go ahead and give it to him and sort the rest out later — they just so rarely get the opportunity to add top talent to this organization. But the piece from Davidi linked above, he characterizes Martinez as a player who the Jays “expected would remain with the Tigers all along.” Hmmm.

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Second Base Problem? Jays Whip It Good In Nabbing Devo From The Tigers

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So long, one third of Roy Halladay, we hardly knew ye.

The Jays, of course, traded their homegrown member of the Cybernetic Operational Optimized Knights of Science back in December of 2009 for Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, and Michael Taylor. Taylor was immediately flipped to the Oakland A’s for Brett Wallace. A little over half a season later Wallace begat Anthony Gose from Houston (by way of Philadelphia). And now, as we learned last night, Gose has been dealt to the Detroit Tigers for second base prospect Devon Travis.

Not exactly the kind of diminishing returns you’d like to see from a trade of a Hall Of Fame pitcher in the prime of his career at the time. But it’s actually a nifty trick that Alex Anthopoulos has turned, now for the second time – first by moving Wallace – having backed away from a player whose value seems likely to have already peaked.

That’s not exactly a fair assessment of Gose — he’s still young, toolsy, and as GROF tweeted last night, “As much as I rag on Gose, if Billy Hamilton can play everyday, a centerfield that good — in a ballpark that needs one — probably can too” — but his value to the Jays was certainly diminished by the emergence of Dalton Pompey (and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Pillar). More crucially his value in the overall would, in all likelihood, have taken a massive hit at some point in 2015, as he is currently one demotion away from being out of options.

At that point the Jays almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to get someone that some are calling a potential future everyday player at second base — or any other position, frankly — in return for him.

Of course, not everybody is that high on Devon Travis — Keith Law tweeted last night, tongue firmly in cheek, “Failed prospect traded for non-prospect. GM Meetings Fever – catch it!” Fortunately, most opinions on Travis seem to diverge from that.

So who is Devon Travis, anyway?

We’ll start with the basics: He’s a second baseman heading into his age-24 season who spent the entirety of 2014 in Double-A after tearing up the Midwest League and the Florida State League the year prior (though it should be noted that he was old at the time for the first, and not terrible young for the second). Baseball America just yesterday damned him with faint praise, naming him the top prospect in the Tigers system, though they did rank him the 84th best prospect in baseball back in February. MLB.com, on the other hand, has updated their top Jays prospect list since the deal, ranking Travis ninth. He was a 12th round pick back in 2012 out of Florida State University, and apart from some struggles in last year’s Arizona Fall League, he’s hit everywhere that he’s played in his brief pro career.

A superstar-in-the-making he is not. But there’s definitely something there, too.

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Today In MLBTR: Wednesday, November 12th

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The GM Meetings are ongoing in Phoenix, and the rumour mill is churning fast. Let’s take a look at what’s out there, by way (mostly) of the invaluable MLB Trade Rumors

Before we get into the latest from MLBTR, there has been a whole bunch of local chatter about the Jays that we ought to have a look at first:

In Bob Elliott’s Dalton Pompey piece at the Toronto Sun, mentioned in this morning’s piece here, there were several items of note beyond the title story, as was also the case with one of Shi Davidi’s Melky Cabrera posts for Sportsnet. Among them:

- Elliott notes that, as he mentioned last night, former Cleveland All-Star Brook Jacoby has been talking with the Jays about their vacant hitting coach position. “Jacoby served as the assistant hitting coordinator with the Texas Rangers after serving as seven seasons as the hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds,” he explains. Shi has a specific post about the rumour, and also tweeted that Jacoby is “described as a solid instructor, similar in approach to departed Kevin Seitzer.” Sure, why not?

- Davidi notes that the Jays met with the representatives for Pablo Sandoval, but if you listened to Jeff Blair this morning on the Fan 590, you’d think that it probably doesn’t mean a whole lot. Not that I have any inside knowledge, but I’d tend to agree. An agent isn’t going to turn down the opportunity to have a team bid his client up, but I’m not sure I like the fit very much anyway. It’s going to take a lot of years and a lot of dollars for a guy with a bunch of concerns: notably, his awful platoon split in 2014, and his weight and how that might impact him on turf and long-term and as a guy paired on the left side of an infield with Jose Reyes (though Sandoval does at this point generally get high marks for defence by UZR, and has been pretty average per DRS).

- In point of fact (which is to say: in fact), Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Jays’ interest in the Panada “seems limited,” as is the case for the White Sox. San Francisco remains the favourite, though he adds that Boston could still make a big play, too. Meh.

- Sticking with Sandoval a second, an interesting note from @BVHJays: “Pablo Sandoval 2012-2014: .280/.335/.424. Jed Lowrie: .265/.333/.412. Just 50 more at bats for Panda. Lowrie lets you keep Lawrie at 3B.” Works for me… y’know… having not gone ahead and looked too closely at any sort of underlying stuff. And also without thinking of the confusion of a Lawrie-Lowrie infield — though that might actually be delightful..

- Speaking of a guy like Lowrie, Shi says that the Jays “may be going internal at centre field but they’re hoping not to do that at second base, unless they pick up a third baseman and shift Brett Lawrie over.” That said, he notes that Anthopoulos had some good things to say about Maicer Izturis and his ability to hold down the position, which… gulp.

- Davidi, in talking about the outfield market — which you get the sense he thinks the Jays will be turning to given their impasse with Melky — tells us that the club is not believed to be in on Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas (which is bad), or on Braves catcher-ish thing Evan Gattis (which is good). He points out that it’s expected that Nick Markakis is going to remain in Baltimore (which is bad). He also notes that the Dodgers, who’d be an interesting trade partner if willing, aren’t keen to deal from their outfield glut until the top free agents are off the market (which is also bad), and he suggests Nori Aoki as a possible Jays target to replace Cabrera (which is good).

- Staying with the outfield: the Jays and the Mariners had talks this summer about Michael Saunders, Elliott tells us. The somewhat Colby-like and oft-injured Canadian outfielder could be a thing, I suppose. But many things could be things.

- Elliott hears that former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was kinda bad last year and is owed $15-million over the next two years, is available. That item, while vaguely interesting, wouldn’t really be notable on its own, I suppose, so Elliott has framed it to relate back to the Jays, and their pursuit of catching help in the form of Russell Martin. “Could they turn to the Florida Marlins and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is available?” he asks. Well… they could look into anything they wanted, I suppose, but that still wouldn’t mean ol’ Salty would make a lick of sense here. Dioner Navarro would certainly make a very good part-time catcher, part-time DH, part-time pinch hitter, but you’d need a bigger upgrade than that, I’m pretty sure. If a Martin will take the Jays’ money, sure. If not, I doubt another catcher is a priority.

- Speaking of Martin, Davidi says that “he may very well be the Blue Jays’ true target” — something that Blair echoed on his show this morning, as well. If they can use his passport to help sway him… do it. I’m all for this… as long as they’re paying him like the 109 wRC+ catcher he’s projected to be, not the 140 wRC+ catcher he was in 2014 (BABIP: .336. Previous three BABIPs: .252, .222, .266). Or, shit, even if not. A catcher who can receive! Swoon!

- So while we pipe dream on that for a little bit, here’s some proper balance in the form of the end of a different kind of pipe dream: Shi tells us that the Jays are one of twenty teams on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list. Because… of course they are. The price would have been pretty staggering anyway, and I’m more than OK with the Jays’ rotation as is, but it was a nice little pipe dream regardless.

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Dalton Pompey Will Be The Blue Jays’ Starting CF In 2015

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That’s a bold statement, I know.

I may very well end up being wrong for saying so, and frankly, if anybody said something so unequivocal I’d probably admonish them for not couching their statement with enough uncertainty. But… come on! It’s totally going to happen.

I think.

Let me explain why, now more than ever, I believe this to be the case:

Shi Davidi wrote two pieces for Sportsnet on Tuesday that addressed the Jays’ outfield situation. In the first he focussed on the apparent impasse between the club and Melky Cabrera, but closed with a quote from Alex Anthopoulos about the GM’s contentedness with his internal options in centre. “Unless an opportunity presents itself, which I don’t see occurring as we sit here today, that will probably be internal competition between Gose, Pompey and Pillar.”

When his second piece hit, we got a little bit more. Looking at where the Jays might go if Melky doesn’t return, Davidi explained, pivoting off AA’s quote about the situation in centre, that “the emerging picture for the Blue Jays is that their to-do list includes one outfielder, not two, along with a second or third baseman plus help for the bullpen.”

In the Toronto Sun, Bob Elliott used an even more direct quote. “We think we have the solution for centre internally,” Anthopoulos told him. “Whether it is Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar or Pompey in centre.”

Back in Davidi’s second piece, we’re told that Pompey will “have an equal opportunity,” according to the GM. “With Dalton it’s going to be how well does he play defensively in centre field, and it’s not going to be so much the statistics in spring training with respect to the number of hits and so on, Dalton offensively is going to be evaluated on the quality of the at-bat. As long as he’s putting up competitive at-bats where he’s grinding and he works the count, we feel he’s going to have a chance to be a good offensive player right out of the chute.”

That right there is the money quote, as far as I’m concerned. Especially in conjunction with a thing like this:

“The one thing is he’ll consistently give you a quality at-bat, no matter what level we continued to move him,” said Anthopoulos back in September, according to Toronto Star profile of Pompey. “He’s one of the few guys who is extremely selective at the plate. He really does profile as a top of the order guy.”

According to Elliott’s piece, Anthopoulos noted that “he’s an above-average defender,” too.

So… according to the GM, whether Pompey wins the job will be about how he plays defensively, which the GM says he’s above average at, and whether he can have quality at-bats, which he tells us he consistently does.

Oh yeah, and as I noted in yesterday’s Daily Duce, by way of The Blue Jay Hunter, manager John Gibbons had this to say about him, too: ““If the season were to start tomorrow with what we have today, from what we saw last year, I’d love to see Pompey out there. It was a short audition, but I tell you what, he played very good and he’s got a chance to be a hell of a player.”

Aaaaaand with the talk about not looking at spring stats, isn’t Anthopoulos already sort of laying the groundwork for choosing Pompey regardless?

Hmmm.

Of course, it’s not that Pompey really needs a bunch of money quotes to make it clear he has the edge in a straight-up competition against Gose, Pillar, or even a Gose-Pillar platoon.

The latter option will, of course, provide the toughest challenge for the switch-hitting Pompey to surpass, though he has the advantage of taking up just one roster spot, rather than two.

Still, Pillar’s 116 wRC+ against left-handers — buoyed as it is by an MLB-portion-of-the-season-saving September, and powered by a .361 BABIP in the split — is pretty nice looking. He hit as well as ever at the minor league level in 2014, too. And Gose can be passable against right-handers with an average-ish OBP, like the .329 he put up in the Majors last year, coming as it does with his otherworldly defence and speed on the basepaths.

But maaaaan. Gose’s .238/.329/.312 line in his good split is somehow even less inspiring than Pillar’s 4.9% walk rate, 21.0% strikeout rate, and .351 BABIP in his good month of September.

And Pompey? Yeah, he’s ridiculously green, and yeah, he’s maybe not going to be a fully-formed big leaguer just yet — in fact, in Elliott’s piece, Anthopoulos himself noted that, defensively, “we’d like to see him tighten up his game — come over the top with his throws rather than to the side” — but there’s so much to like here. He’s just so much more of a complete player than the other two. Not as good defensively as Gose, but more selective than Pillar, and never a candidate to be replaced by a late-game pinch hitter. And there’s also the fact that Gose and Pillar both can be optioned to the minors, which makes it much easier to start out the season with Pompey and hope for the best, instead of the other way around — which itself doesn’t come without a bunch of hoping, let’s not forget.

If I was a GM with my ass on the line, I know who I’d be betting on. Based on the title of this post, I guess I am betting on it — and if you read between the lines, it sounds like Alex may well be ready to make that bet too.

And given the alternatives, why the hell not? I’m all for it. The club’s resources are finite, their roster space is finite, and even though an ideal world would probably see a quality veteran pushing back Pompey’s ETA by a year or two, he brings enough glove that you can take a chance on a bat that, all things (i.e. platoon issues) considered, is probably already more valuable than either of his two challengers. Just… uh… just don’t say Jackie Bradley Jr.

 

Image via @DaltonPompey.