Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We're Rooting For You Vernon

There is no denying that Vernon Wells was given an absurd amount of money (7 years/$126 million) from former Blue Jays G.M. JP Ricciardi, but no one can blame him for accepting the deal. Hopefully he is not the type of player to take the money and relax like so many players have done before.

If Vernon is unable to show his old-form, the contract could become (and probably already is) an albatross which will stick with the club for years to come. When the deal was done the feeling was that it was a large investment, but one that showed the organizations committment to winning. There were suitors for his services in trade (Texas Rangers) because he was one year away from free agency and had proved to be a top centerfielder in the game. For a recap of reactions to the mega-deal you can check out this old post by MLB Trade Rumors.  

Here is a video that gives the thoughts of ESPN's Peter Gammons shortly after it was completed:

I only bring up the reaction to remind some forgetful fans of what this guy was and hopefully still could be. His offence has dropped off and his defence, according to UZR/150 (-18.7), has declined as well. 

The title of the post really does say it all. Last year the fans really got on Wells for his struggles and they were well founded a lot of the time. If the Jays have any hope at getting some bang for their buck, though, then they better hope he can bounceback this season. I want Vernon to succeed because he seems like a genuine guy that can really help the organization when he is playing to his capabilities.

His head seems to be in the right place this spring, for whatever that is worth and his body would presumably be at 100% after two straight years of nagging injuries. 

Cito Gaston, rightly or wrongly, has penciled Vernon into the clean-up spot where he will have every opportunity to hit 20 homers and drive in 85 runs.   

Will Vernon Leave the Jays After this Year?
I found this from an article and I got a little laugh from it:
Wells, 28, said the contract doesn't necessarily mean he'll retire a Blue Jay. The contract is expected to include an opt-out clause.
"It all depends on where my career is," Wells said.
I have a feeling that Vernon will be sticking arnd throught the rest of his deal.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Interesting Spring Training Questions

There are a number of questions which remain unanswered at the Jays spring camp:

  • Will Jason Frasor (or maybe Scott Downs?) be moved to another club?
Tough to even hazard a guess, but if the right offer comes along (maybe the Twins or Cubs) then a move will be made. With his new hybrid changeup, it may be smart to allow Frasor to close ball game and have a career year to further boost his value. Scott Downs, if he is available, could be harder to move because he has been rather injury-prone, but he is currently not at his peak value.

  • Who is going to close ball games?
It seems like Kevin Gregg still holds the upper hand despite his struggles in his short time in spring training. It would be nice to see Jason Frasor be given the opportunity because he was awesome last year and seems to have turned the corner as a relief pitcher.

  • Who is the fifth starter to begin the year?
I believe it will be Brian Tallet because Cito has hinted as much and knows what he is getting from him when he sends him out there. Gaston seems to love players who played for the team before (much like Shawn Camp) and he will likely be given the spot to start the year while the team awaits the arrival of another guy to take a spot in the rotation. Brett Cecil seems to be out of favour with the organization recently and the team does not want to rush prospects or injured players. It would be nice to see someone like Dana Eveland who is younger and has more potential to help the team long-term.  

  • Who is your top bench player (Mike McCoy, Jeremy Reed, or Joey Gathwright)?
I would think the Jays will use Mike McCoy as an extreme utility player and pinch runner. His ability to play both the infield and outfield while supplying decent on-base skills and plus speed he is a better option than the other players. Reed and Gathwright have proven what they are as major-league players: mediocre.

  • Is Travis Snider going to make the team to begin the season?

No, he won't. It sucks to say it because he is definitely fun to watch, but he will probably spend a chunk of time in the Pacific Coast League to begin the year. He does struggle against major-league lefties and is too young to platoon in the MLB. It is unknown how much the minors can help him at this point because he raked there last year, but his teammate Adam Lind went through a lot of the same struggles before and he has fluorished with an advanced hitting aproach. Randy Ruiz deserves a chance to prove himself as a major league hitter and Jose Bautista is in the managers good books. Bautista will more than likely lead-off and start in right field.

EDIT: I think Cito has seen the light (or possibly been told my someone above him) that Snider is the future and will start him in the outfield come opening day. His recent comments on his recent play and importance to the teams future success bode well for Snider and his chances of making the team. This would leave out Reed and Gathwright.

  • Who will make up the rest of the bullpen?
Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, Jeremy Accardo, Shawn Camp, and Zech Zinicola are the group that I think they will start out with. This is obviously just a guess, but I think Casey Janssen and Josh Roenicke will be close. The club will want to watch Zinicola much like they did with Randy Wells years back. I believe Merkin Valdez needs to make the Jays out of sprimg to remain with the club so it really is a loaded bullpen picture.

  • Can Edwin Encarnacion fully recover from his wrist problems to take on a full load at third?
All signs are pointing towards EE getting into spring games soon which would put him on line to start at third on opening day. Everyone always says that hitters could be ready for the season with a two week spring training so maybe the club is being extra cautious. Better safe than sorry and the less wear and tear on that recovering wrist the better. He is a guy who has good power and on-base skills which could really help out a club. I am really high on him and I don't understand why he got so much hate after he struggled to start out with Toronto last season. His defence is not good, but we were spoiled with Scott Rolen and EE really just struggles with an inconsistent throwing arm.

  • Who is the backup catcher to begin the year?
I think it is safe to assume that Jose Molina is going to take that spot in behind John Buck. He is getting a lot of time behind the plate while he attempts to learn all of the new pitchers he will have to catch. If Raul Chavez had any chance he would be catching 'A' games and not the 'B' games he has been working in.

  • Will Brian Dopirak or Randy Ruiz get the backup first baseman/DH spot?
Ruiz is not making it easy for Dopirak to make his major-league debut, but Dopirak is hitting well also. Ruiz is the darling of all the people surrounding the team and it is deserved. This is a guy who has hit at every spot and done whatever the Jays have asked of him. With a new body and the same bat Ruiz is the favourite to make the team.

  • Is Shaun Marcum your opening day starter?
Yes, as pointed out by reporters, he is right on line to start the first game of the year in Texas and is the more experienced than Ricky Romero which is a prerequisite far Gaston. Marcum is only helping his case by blanking the Yankees and Rays in his only spring training starts.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Man with a Plan

Jays probable leadoff man Jose Bautista is killing the Grapefruit League right now and he is crediting it to the plan that he implemented late last season. According to this article from Morgan Campbell, Bautista, who was struggling for much of last year, changed his approach to hitting around September first. He also thrived when given a full time playing spot.

We have all heard about the transformation of slugger Adam Lind when he was convinced by manager Cito Gaston to attack "his pitch" when at the plate and it seems to have worked out fine for Bautista as well.

At the age of 29, Bautista looks to have a great chance to establish himself the same way Marco Scutaro did last year. As you can see from the chart below, Bautista was outstanding in Spetember when this "plan" was being used. Click to enlarge.
Spetember numbers can sometimes be deceiving due to the sub-par pitching, though. It may not be the best idea to expect those type of numbers because you are likely to be disappointed, but if he is able to get more comfortable in the box (especially against righties) then he could become a viable right fielder for the 2010 Jays.

If Bautista can become consistent while Randy Ruiz continues to rake at every place he hits, the Blue Jays may be forced to send Travis Snider to AAA to begin the year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Training Stats

With the Jays first Grapefruit League game of 2010 coming up tomorrow I thought I would have a look at last years stats from the spring. We always hear that the stats do not matter and they should be taken with a large grain of salt and that is the case more often than not. Dave Cameron, of Fangraphs, recently wrote an article all about last years top performers and their success, or lack thereof, in the regular season. As fans, we can watch boxscores, but must try our hardest to remember the relative importance of the games being played.

As you can see below, the Jays most valuable player could have been Jason Lane who went on to spend the entire season in AAA Las Vegas where he struggled to the tune of a .253/.347/.462 line with 13 homers and 47 RBI's.

David Purcey had a great spring and was seen as the Jays number two starter when the club broke camp, but his season quickly went down hill. With every Purcey, though, there is a Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Aaron Hill, or Adam Lind who carries it over to the season.

I, like many fans, will probably have trouble tempering by excitement if a couple young pitchers like Kyle Drabek or Zach Stewart or hitters like Travis Snider or Brett Wallace have great springs, but we all know that it really may not mean a whole lot.