So Far So Good For Alex Anthopoulos

January 10, 2010

by Jeremy Gibson…  When 32-year old Alex Anthopoulos became the fifth general manager in Toronto Blue Jays history, it came with little fanfare. Most of the media attention focused not on who was hired, but on who was fired – the much maligned JP Ricciardi. Ricciardi was hired in 2001 to restore the Blue Jays to their winning ways. Despite his efforts, his failure to produce a playoff spot lead to his dismissal, and at the same time brought out the vultures to second guess his every move. The team that he leaves behind is probably the weakest Blue Jays club since he took over eight years ago.

The squad that Anthopoulos inherited on October 3rd was not good enough at the major league level, thin at the minor league level, and faced two major concerns: a dwindling fan base, and the impending exit of their franchise player. Roy Halladay is likely the greatest player the Blue Jays have ever produced – an outstanding athlete, a hard worker, a positive influence on teammates, and a model citizen. But above all he is a winner, and with Toronto unable to offer him a realistic opportunity at the post-season he was not going to return after his contract expired. In the summer, Ricciardi alienated and angered his star player by hanging him out to dry during trade talks. Anthopoulos had to be careful to not do the same. Not exactly the greatest welcoming gift.

It is impossible to judge how well a general manager has fared until the games on the field are played. For Anthopoulos it will take a few years to see the true picture of his accomplishments this winter, as all depends on the successful development on acquired prospects. But on paper, the first three months of his tenure have been a success, equally in terms of the moves he has made, and those he has avoided.

The Moves He Made

The Halladay Deal

Roy Halladay to Philadelphia for Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis D’Arnaud. Michael Taylor to Oakland for Brett Wallace

It’s difficult to picture a more daunting task than what confronted Alex Anthopoulos upon his coronation as Jays GM: trade Roy Halladay. Accomplishing a trade is difficult enough in modern sport, but the Halladay deal added three further complexities:

  1. The need to appease Halladay, who had a full no-trade clause, was upset with the way Ricciardi treated him in the summer, preferred a contender, and deserved to be treated with utmost respect.
  2. The need to appease the fans already jaded after last year’s debacle of a season.
  3. Trying to get full value for Halladay when every team in baseball knew full well that a trade had to happen.

With that in mind, it is amazing that Anthopoulos was able to pick up the prospects that he did. Think back to the summer when Ricciardi was negotiating with the Phillies. He would not trade Halladay unless 22-year old pitching phenom Kyle Drabek was part of the return package. Philadelphia balked and the trade died. Yet when Anthopoulos released the names of the players acquired from the Phillies, who topped the list? 22-year old pitching phenom Kyle Drabek.

By expanding the deal to include Seattle, Anthopoulos ensured that the Phillies received solid prospects, thus restocking their system to help offset the loss of Drabek. Ricciardi was not able to accomplish that in the summer, through lack of time or effort. In addition to Drabek, Toronto acquired Michael Taylor and Travis D’Arnaud, Philadelphia’s 3rd and 4th highest rated prospects according to Baseball America. D’Arnaud joins JP Arencibia as Toronto’s catchers of the future, giving them a very solid outlook behind the plate. Taylor was subsequently flipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace, a power hitting corner infielder and one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Wallace was traded virtually straight up for slugger Matt Holliday last summer, giving an indication of his value.

In a perfect world Halladay would have remained a Jay. But a perfect world it is not, and with his hands tied, Anthopoulos made out like a bandit. While the true value of the acquired prospects won’t be known for several years, ending up with three of the top prospects in the game sets Toronto up well for the future.

Brandon for Brandon

Brandon League and minor leaguer Johemyn Chavez to Seattle for Brandon Morrow

Brandon League was Toronto’s closer of the future, complete with electric stuff and a menacing, tattooed appearance. The problem for League and the Jays was that he was also Toronto’s closer of the future back in 2004, 2005, 2006, etc. He was never able to harness his vast potential in a Blue Jays uniform. Last year was his most complete season, with 76 strikeouts in 74.2 innings pitched. But he also sported a 3-6 record, blew three saves in three attempts, surrendered eight home runs, had an unsightly 4.58 ERA, and ranked 6th in the American League with nine wild pitches. He was as maddeningly inconsistent as ever, and it was clear he was never going to be anointed Toronto’s closer.

Maddeningly inconsistent also describes Seattle’s handling of Brandon Morrow. Drafted 5th overall by Seattle in 2006, Morrow had the tools to become a dominant starting pitcher. However, in 2007 Seattle promoted him to the major leagues as a reliever. In 2008 he filled in for injured closer JJ Putz, and finished a solid 10/12 in save opportunities, seemingly finding a place in the bullpen. But upon Putz’s return, Morrow’s career stuttered. The Mariners shifted him to the rotation to finish ’08, then moved him back to the bullpen to begin 2009, before once again converting him to a starter at the end of last season. His numbers dipped as a result of all the changes, but he finished strong, with eight shutout innings of one-hit ball in his final start.

Most telling about Morrow was the fact Seattle fought hard to hang on to him in the Halladay trade talks, preferring to part with top pitching prospect Philiipe Aumont instead. The fact that Anthopoulos was able to pry him from the Mariners is impressive, as is Toronto’s potential top three starters in 2010: Shaun Marcum. Ricky Romero, and Morrow. A great trade by the new GM.

The Shortstop Situation

Signed Alex Gonzalez (1 year, $2.75M), re-signed John McDonald (2 years, $3M), did not re-sign Marco Scutaro (received two compensatory draft picks from Boston)

The initial reaction on hearing about the signing of Alex Gonzalez was disappointment. Though he slugged 23 home runs for Florida in 2004, he is traditionally a weak hitter who can’t get on base and strikes out too much (career .247 avg, .294 OBP, nearly 4 strikeouts per walk). Paired with Johnny Mac, Toronto now had two all-glove/no-bat shortstops. The signing also signaled the end of the Marco Scutaro era.

But hearing Anthopoulos explain the rationale behind the signing, as reported by Will Hill of tsn.ca, brightens the picture substantially. Toronto quite possibly has the best 1-2 defensive punch at short – if not in baseball, then definitely in the AL East. Toronto also has one of the youngest pitching rotations in the league now that Halladay is gone. Take your pick from the following: Morrow (25 years old), Marcum (28), Romero (25), Litsch (24), Cecil (23), (24), McGowan (27), or Purcey (27). Not only are those pitchers young in terms of age, they are also babies in terms of major league experience. With immaturity and inexperience comes fragility, especially in confidence. Nothing shatters confidence more than weak ground balls skipping to the outfield, botched double plays, or inaccurate throws to first allowing base runners. When things go awry defensively, young pitchers have a tendency to try and strike every batter out, leading to further trouble both mentally and on the scoreboard. By keeping the infield defense airtight, Toronto is only going to help build the confidence of these young pitchers, not destroy it. Re-signing a 34-year old shortstop coming off a career year with average to below-average defense to a multi-year/multi-million dollar contract would have been ill-advised. Kudos to Anthopoulos for recognizing this and accepting the two compensatory draft picks to help build for the future.

The Moves He Avoided

Overbay for Snyder

Catcher has been a revolving door for the Blue Jays since the days of Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders. Many different players have crouched behind Toronto’s plate in the last several years, including Darrin Fletcher, Benito Santiago, Bengie Molina, Kevin Cash, Guillermo Quiroz, Rod Barajas and Raul Chavez. Though Barajas hit 19 HR last season, his .226 batting average and horrific .258 on-base-percentage were among the worst in all of baseball. The decision to let him leave as a free agent was not surprising. What was surprising was the rampant rumour that Toronto was on the verge of acquiring Chris Snyder from the Arizona Diamondbacks for first baseman Lyle Overbay.

It is no secret that Overbay is not the player he was in 2006, his first season in Toronto, likely the result of a hand injury suffered a few seasons ago. But over the past three seasons his slugging percentage, on-base-percentage, doubles, and home runs have actually increased each year, and he still plays a serviceable first base. Chris Snyder gets on base much more frequently than Barajas did, but hits for a lower batting average and only slightly more power. He is often injured, including a gruesome testicle injury that made him the punch line of many pop culture jokes, and an ongoing back problem that saw him miss over 100 games last season.

With JP Arencibia and now Travis D’Arnaud on the way, Toronto needs a stopgap catcher for one or two seasons, not a long term addition. With Brett Wallace and possibly David Cooper still a few seasons away from providing first and/or third base help, the Jays still need a competent first baseman. Trading Overbay would force either Adam Lind to play first or the premature major league promotion of Wallace – two options that would do more harm than good. By signing John Buck to a one-year contract and hanging on to Overbay, Anthopoulos made the right move.

Jason Bay

When rumours surfaced in the Toronto Star in late November that the Blue Jays were a potential landing spot for Jason Bay, one name instantly came to mind: Corey Koskie. JP Ricciardi was three years into his reign as GM when he signed Koskie. What better way to appeal yourself to your fan base than by making a big money free-agent splash, signing a Canadian to give fans a new native son to support. Of course, Koskie flamed out spectacularly as a Jay, and was gone one year later.

It is safe to assume that Bay’s career will not flame out, but Toronto signing him was a move that did not make sense. Having a 31-year old power hitting outfielder (and a Canadian at that) in the middle of the lineup is always good, but having 20-25% of your payroll tied up with one player is not. For a rebuilding team, a huge free agent splash is very risky, and for a team that is three or four years away from contention (as Toronto likely is) it is ill-advised. By the time Toronto’s prospects would have been ready to make an impact at the big league level, Bay’s contract would have been expiring. In addition the $16-million-plus a season would have severely crippled Toronto’s payroll flexibility. It was a move that reeked of desperation to sell tickets, a move designed to give young fans a new Canadian hero. It would not have helped the team in the long term. Let’s be thankful that Anthopoulos listened to his baseball smarts and not his marketing department.

No AIDS, but also no Hall of Fame for Robbie (not yet, at least)

January 8, 2010

by Jeremy Visser… Being enshrined in the hallowed Blue Jays Level of Excellence will have to suffice for Roberto Alomar for at least one more year — the greatest second baseman of this generation fell eight votes short of reaching the Hall of Fame yesterday in his first year of eligibility, finishing with 73.7 percent of the votes (with 75.0 the magic mark). Former Expo and Cub Andre Dawson was the only player to make the cut, finishing at 77.9 percent in his ninth year on the ballot.

Sure, Alomar’s omission this year is a bit of a disappointment, but considering players generally receive more and more support in the vote each year, he’s basically a shoe-in for 2011. I’ve never quite understood why it makes a difference from year-to-year — if a player is Hall of Fame caliber, then shouldn’t he be in in his first year of eligibility? If he’s not right away, then why so deserving the next (or in Dawson’s case, the ninth) time? Oh well, that’s the way it goes. Alomar will get his, that’s for sure.

Also of note, 287-game winner Bert Blyleven fell just shy in his 13th year on the ballot, finishing with a 74.2 percent favour and likely ensuring he’ll be enshrined with Alomar in 2011, assuming he doesn’t go and drop F-bombs while broacasting anytime between now and then.

Other former Jays receiving votes included Jack Morris (282 votes, 52.3 percent), Fred McGriff (116, 21.5 in his first year of eligibility), Dave Parker (82, 15.2), Pat Hentgen (one, 0.2) and David Segui (seriously?) (one, 0.2).

Hill, Lind, and Snider: Toronto Blue Jays’ Young Guns at the Rogers Centre

January 5, 2010

by Ian Hunter… If the Blue Jays are going to have a fighting chance in 2010 and beyond, they are going need their young guns to deliver. Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, and Travis Snider are undoubtedly the pillars of the offensive charge moving forward for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Combined, these young guns accounted for 38 percent of all home runs hit by the Blue Jays in 2009. If their success is going to continue, all three must continue to perform well - and that includes the ability to take any pitcher out of the yard.

Just out of curiosity, I wanted to see what the home run distribution was like for Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider inside the Rogers Centre and on the road. There really isn’t a lot of analyzing to do here, but it’s interesting to see where the majority of their home runs landed.

If it seemed like a lot of Aaron Hill’s home runs barely cleared the left field wall, it’s because they did. Hill only ever once hit one over the fence anywhere than left field, and most of them were relatively shallow.

Travis Snider, on the other hand, showed some pop and went opposite field numerous times at home in 2009. Distribution is about even from left to right field, which is very promising for Snider.

When it comes to the Adam Lind data, it’s easy to see why he’s such a versatile hitter. He has power to all parts of the field, even dead centre field on multiple occasions. Lind could easily take almost any pitch and deposit it over the fence in any part of the ballpark.

Home Run Data courtesy of Hit Tracker, hat tip to Camden Crazies and Capital Avenue Club for the heads up, and big thanks to Clem’s Baseball for the ballpark dimensions.

Roy Halladay will love us forever

December 23, 2009

by Jeremy Visser… Doc may be gone, but he’ll never forget us, at least according to the full-page ad he took out in today’s Toronto Sun to express his gratitude to the city and its “incredible fans” (that includes you!) (well, if you’re from Toronto, that is). Hey, it’s only fitting for Halladay to go out on a classy note.

It’s O-Phil-cial: Roy Halladay Now a Philadelphia Philly

December 17, 2009

by !an Hunter… At one press conference, the Philadelphia Phillies were celebrating the dawn of a new era with the best pitcher in baseball. At another, the Blue Jays were lamenting the loss of their franchise player.

It was a sad day for Toronto Blue Jays fans—for the past five months, we had been expecting this day to come, but I don’t think any of us could have prepared ourselves for the heartache that came along with letting go of Roy Halladay.

After watching today’s press conference, there is reason to believe there is a lot of hope for this franchise moving forward. AA kept a very positive tone this afternoon and did a good job of providing the answers that everyone was looking for.

One phrase that Anthopoulos used quite frequently was “young, controllable players.”

Obviously, this is what the Blue Jays were seeking, and is the reason why they didn’t go for a deal with the Los Angeles Angels involving players like Eric Aybar and Mike Napoli. While being good players, they could either potentially walk in just a few seasons or command quite hefty contracts.

Also, by trading for players with major league experience, you already have a relatively good idea of what their ceiling is and what to expect from them in the future. Whereas with highly-touted prospects, their potential is nearly unlimited.

It’s refreshing to see a general manager who understands the value in having a player under team control for six seasons, rather than a free agent who can command colossal amounts of money and just walk away at the end of their contract.

Expectations will be undoubtedly high on the players the Blue Jays received in return: Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace, and Travis D’Arnaud. I don’t think we should bank on any of these guys being the next Roy Halladay, however there is a great deal of potential and promise in each of them.

Even if just one of them turns out of be a success, the Roy Halladay trade would have been all worth it.

Let the Roy Halladay Heartache Begin for Blue Jays Fans

December 16, 2009

by Ian Hunter… Dec. 14, 2009 will be forever remembered as the day that theToronto Blue Jays parted ways with one of their greatest players in franchise history.

As I dry off my keyboard from the river of tears, rest assured that it’s not easy to see Roy Halladay traded to thePhiladelphia Phillies in a reported three-team trade involving the Jays, Phils, and Mariners.

The writing was on the wall for this deal since July, yet all the time in the world couldn’t prepare us for what was to happen yesteday.

Just as Kevin Kaduk from Big League Stew said… Roy Halladay leaving the Blue Jays was inevitable, but sure doesn’t make things any easier.

The worst part of it all is that the man behind the curtain, Alex Anthopoulos, is not available to comment on these trade talks for the next few days. I realize that AA wants to get his facts straight and cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s before going public, but wouldn’t it be better to give the fans either a yes or no answer before heading into your Fortress of Solitude?

Come on, Alex—it’s the least you could do after the biggest trade in the franchise’s history.

In the meantime, I will mourn the loss of the best pitcher in baseball and wish Doc the very best in his future endeavours. Suddenly, that June 25 Interleague weekend series against the Phillies at the Rogers Centre just became much more interesting. Even though it will be in a different uniform, I’ll look forward to seeing Halladay back in Toronto.

I wish no ill will towards Roy Halladay and am certain he will see continued success with the Phillies carving up those hapless National League hitters.

At the end of all of this, when Doc has won another three Cy Young awards and is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I hope he looks back on his time in Toronto with fond memories…because I always will.

Regardless of which cap and jersey Halladay will be wearing from here on out, as far as I’m concerned, he will always be a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Start working on that “Level of Excellence” induction ceremony, boys.

D-Day for Jose Bautista

December 12, 2009

by Ian Hunter… Members of the Bautista Appreciation Society , buckle yourselves in, because the next 24 hours could be a bumpy ride.

We will learn by 11:59 pm on Saturday evening whether or not the Blue Jays will offer Bautista a contract and thus avoid arbitration.

Reading around the Blue Jays blogosphere and glancing through the papers, the consensus is that the Jays will in fact non-tender Bautista, as he would become way too expensive as a utility infielder/outfielder.

If Bautista were to be assigned as a full-time third baseman or left fielder, the Blue Jays could easily justify spending $3 million per year.

Judging by the 30 percent raise Jose received last year, one could guesstimate that he might make upwards of $3.12 million in 2010.

However, contract offers might possibly excel far beyond $3 million per year according to Bautista’s FanGraphs page . While his value is ranked a little astronomical at $8.4 million, Jose could viably fetch a decent amount on the free agent market as he upped his WAR to 1.9 in 2009.

That’s the thing about Jose Bautista—he could literally fit in on any team, in almost any position. Bautista is the proverbial Swiss Army Knife in the lineup.

Unfortunately as with any mighty titan, he has an Achilles heel…and that is right-handed pitching. His .202 batting average against righties is his kryptonite and a huge stumbling block for an everyday player.

Some promising news from the Winter Meetings—Cito Gaston said he might try using Bautista as a leadoff hitter against left-handed pitchers next season.

This is a very rare occasion where I actually agree that Cito is on to something; Bautista’s .382 on base percentage speaks volumes, but ONLY against right handers.

Of course, I don’t want to think that September 2009 was just an anomaly, but damn … Jose raked during the last month of the season. I start salivating when I look back at his September statistics and see those 10 home runs and .944 OPS.

We’ve seen Bautista at his worst and his best, but if September was any indication of what he’s capable of, he’s damn scary at his best.

I know $3 million seems like a lot of money, and it is (especially when you only have an $80 million dollar payroll to work with), but considering how many uncertainties there will be with this team on the field next season, it would be nice to have the stability and flexibility of Jose Bautista on the roster.

With a starting rotation with a core that is fairly young, the Blue Jays will need all the defense they can get to support their young starters.

And Jose Bautista is a solid defensive player who is always a threat to gun down runners from the outfield or merely keep the ball in the infield.

So should the Jays let Bautista go? No way, Jose.

The defense rests its case.

Day One rumblings at Winter Meetings, With Focus on Roy Halladay!

December 8, 2009

by Ian Hunter… Most of this information is based off of , but it sounds like Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays crew are basically sitting back and letting other clubs come to them when it comes to trade offers for Roy Halladay.

“Jays GM is limiting the number of people in his suite for any talks. one-on-one or two-on-two discussions only. One way to limit leaks to the media.”

Note that this is almost the exact opposite strategy used by J.P. Ricciardi when he was shopping Roy Halladay at the trade deadline. AA wants to keep any potential deals close to his chest and not reveal them to the media unless they are absolutely certain a trade will be made.

Speaking of Halladay trade talk, claims that the Angels are back in the hunt for Doc.

“Angels will play for Halladay. But only if he’ll agree to sign long term. Joe Saunders possible bait.”

Any sort of decent player package including major league talent would obviously have to include some sort of contract extension negotiations for Halladay. Personally, I am not crazy about Joe Saunders—would much rather prefer someone like Jered Weaver or Ervin Santana, but the asking price is likely too high.

Finally, other piece of news that affects the Blue Jays somewhat—Rod Barajas is expected to decline arbitration from the Blue Jays. No real surprise here…the bigger surprise is the lack of talk from other teams about signing Rod Barajas.

As far as the catcher’s position is concerned, he provides a decent amount of pop, however clubs could be avoiding that .258 OBP like the plague.

Unfortunately, not much flash or drama from day one of baseball’s winter meetings—the big announcement that Will Carroll alluded to on Twitter over the weekend was that Bloomberg is going to be involved with stat tracking in MLB . It’s not necessarily mind-blowing news to the average fan, but apparently it will have a huge impact for those within the industry.

Doc Halladay’s Demands

December 2, 2009

by Ian Hunter… When it comes to off-field distractions, Roy Halladay would prefer not to deal with the drama.

ESPN’s Buster Olney spoke with one of Halladay’s reps and said that if Roy Halladay is still with the Blue Jays next season, he will veto any trades after Spring Training and will therefore fly the coop as a free agent

Part of me wants to believe that it’s just Halladay’s agents who are trying to stir the pot and get the check-books of the Yankees and the Red Sox warmed up for the impending bidding war. Alex Anthopolous says he hasn’t heard this from the horse’s mouth or spoken to Halladay’s representatives directly, so one can only guess the validity of this claim.

If this statement is in fact true, is it really all that surprising?

From the All-Star game until the July 31 trade deadline, all eyes in baseball were on Roy Halladay. Up until that point, Halladay’s biggest audience was the handful of Toronto sports writers…then the Ken Rosenthal article dropped and all hell broke loose.

We learned one important thing during that storm of trade talk and rumours—Halladay does not want to experience that ever again.

Speaking to the media and fielding questions day after day was not part of his routine, and whether or not he wants to admit it, maybe all that attention threw him off his game a little bit.

Some might say that Halladay’s alleged declaration decreases his trade value, but I think it actually increases it. If teams were banking on picking up Doc at the trade deadline as a rental, they now have to re-think their strategies and determine whether they have the resources to trade for him prior to Spring Training 2010.

For Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays, it’s either now or never—trade Roy Halladay or watch him leave uncontested, just like Carlos Delgado did in 2004.

While it would be excruciatingly difficult to see Roy Halladay just walk away from this organization as a free agent, Halladay and his agents have all the power and the Blue Jays are simply at their mercy.

I just hope that Halladay take it easy on Jays.

Jays close to bringing J.Mac back, Sox pushing for Doc

November 26, 2009

by Jeremy Visser… Here’s some good news for Jays fans shocked and hurt by the imminent Roy Halladay trade: ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports the team is close to bringing back some standout shortstop named John McDonald on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.

With contending out of the question for the next 47 years, re-signing Johnny Mac makes sense. With a host of young pitchers, why not get the best defensive shortstop in the world to make their lives easier? Of course, a Mac signing also makes it less likely Marco Scutaro won’t be back in black in 2010, leaving another team to grossly overpay him. Fine by me — I’ll take the draft picks (just make sure you sign them, Alex Anthopolous Ricciardi Jr.).

Meanwhile, in Halladay news, ESPN also reports the Red Sox are aggressively pushing for his services, saying they’re “putting on a full-court press” and hope to get a deal done before the winter meetings get rolling Dec. 7. Not sure if it’s the best idea to deal Doc within the decision, but a package including Clay Buchholz and Josh Bard might be the best we see. Let’s see what happens!

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