Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Corey for Colby...

...with a half-dozen pitchers mixed in too, I guess.

Think Anthopoulos has a pattern yet? For the third time in less than two calendar years, Double-A has sent Jays fans everywhere into paroxysms of joy by picking up a highly touted misfit uberprospect with major league experience for a package of lesser pieces, First it was Brandon Morrow, then it was Yunel Escobar (stretching the definition of "prospect" a bit) and now it's Colby Rasmus. Colby Rasmus for relievers - who woulda thunk it?

It certainly goes to show that the mantra of targeting upper-tier major league talent was no idle hyperbole. If there's one thing that Anthopoulos has shown, it's a penchant for former first-rounders and high-upside talent without much concern for personality issues.

But let me throw a cold shower over the celebratory moment. People have been targeting Colby Rasmus for months. This almost feels like a trade that was born in the blogosphere and gradually came to fruition through the fan base's incessant urging. I'm not saying that that's how it went down at all - I'm sure Anthopoulos picked up the phone to John Mozeliak long before he read a post about the Jays' interest in Rasmus on some website - but I do wonder if the price tag is really as discount as it first appears.

It seems to me that there are two viable approaches to building a baseball team: by going for quality and by going for quantity. We often hear scouts say that the team who won a deal was "the one who got the best player," which is completely ridiculous, as it doesn't take into account any of the finer points of making a trade. Billy Beane, for one, seems to be a GM who focuses on diversifying his assets over focusing in on singular targets. By acquiring a boatload of assets who were far away from the majors for a 26-year-old Dan Haren, he managed to get Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson (along with several fringy major leaguers), which works out to 12 star-potential seasons for two years of high-end starting pitching. The fact that he let Gonzalez get away makes that deal seem like less of a steal in retrospect, but it's still a trade that has great upside should Brett Anderson and/or Michael Taylor get back to the players they were once projected as.  Essentially Beane has made a career out of giving up the best player in just about every deal he makes.

The other option, obviously, is to try and steal top talent at its most under-appreciated, and that seems to be exactly Anthopoulos' approach to the three deals mentioned above. Rasmus and Escobar had problems with their teammates/clubhouse environments, and at age 24 Morrow had been miscast as a relief specialist. That approach is great when it works out and nets you a perennial all-star or Hall-of-Famer for pennies on the dollar, but if that talent turns out to be overblown, and you find you've given up a whole lot of useful pieces for a lemon, it doesn't look so hot. Rasmus' comp lists on baseball reference reads like a nightmare of overrated "five-tool" prospects from years past. Ben Francisco, Adam Jones - and yes, there he is, former #3 overall pick Corey Patterson.

That's not to piss all over the deal. Rasmus has a whole lot of upside, and at the price of the players in question, it would have been a deal difficult to turn down. Middling middle relievers are exactly the "pieces" that a non-contending team should be moving for high-end young talent. I'm just saying that it's a little like placing a decent-sized bet on a straight flush draw - admittedly, Zach Stewart and Marc Rzepcynski is hardly an all-in push, but Rasmus only becomes yet another enigma on a team that's full of them. (And don't forget, there are three more pieces still TBD.)

Of course, as much as the flashback meme has been overblown, and comparisons to Devo and Robbie miss the mark as far as the type of player that Colby is, there is a little something to be said for the way that this team is approaching roster building. Tony Fernandez was a great defensive 28-year-old shortstop who was turned into a 21-year-old two-way second baseman in 1991, much like Yunel Escobar was six years younger than Alex Gonzalez was when that trade went down. Like Gillick did (and Ricciardi tried to do), Anthopoulos is slotting high-end players onto a big league roster with an eye toward an impending push, minimizing holes on the team with young players so that once they do dip into the free agent waters for slightly older players there won't be likes of Corey Patterson or John McDonald taking significant major league at-bats.

That said, is there now any reason not to pursue Jose Reyes if he does indeed hit the market this offseason? I'd slot him in at second base, but whether you transition him or Escobar is somewhat irrelevant - the duo would make for a dynamic one-two at the top of the lineup and in the middle of the diamond. With Reyes, and an ever-improving core of Snider, Rasmus and Lawrie, the Jays lineup could suddenly take on a dimension of depth that has been so sorely lacking with the at-bats given to sub-replacement level players. If Edwin Encarnacion is your number 8 hitter and DH, you're probably in decent shape.

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