Saturday, September 24, 2011

The LoMo Question

I find it very intriguing that, given Alex Anthopoulos' well-known proclivity for "athletic" players, Prince Fielder has become the Jays' perceived target for this offseason. True, there have to be exceptions - the inability to deviate from organizational philosophy at all is narrow-minded and short-sighted - but between Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie and Yunel Escobar, it's extremely difficult to write "Hustle and Heart" off as a company line. AA has a type, and Prince ain't it.
The other potential target that has been brought to light by a number of fans (and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Keith Law) is Logan Morrison. Given his young age, power bat, and grievance against his current employer, he seems like the logical Anthopoulos object of desire. The question I have is: why?

Logan Morrison plays three positions, potentially - first base, designated hitter and left field. Moreover, he plays those positions with a left-handed bat. In the Jays' system, there are currently six players vying for those positions next season. Five of them (Lind, Snider, Thames, Cooper, Loewen) are left-handed. One of them (Encarnacion) is right-handed.

Morrison is younger than all of those players except for Snider. He also has the highest major league OPS of the lot (of those with any significant playing time). So in a vacuum, I'll submit his late draft position out of high school and his potentially contentious personality and call him the best player of the seven. If you didn't have three or four of those guys - or, and this is important, if you had them but didn't think their upsides were worth their rookie contracts - then Logan Morrison would make a lot of sense for this team. Because if you had slotted LoMo into the cleanup slot instead of Lind for 500 ABs, you probably would have been better off. How much better off? 15 runs? That's the wRC+ spread between the two on Fangraphs. It's also the spread between fifth and fourth place in the majors in runs scored. (And it's going to take a lot more than Logan Morrison to jump into Tex/Bos/NYY territory.)

Anyway, the more pertinent question is probably whether Morrison makes sense in left - where, remember, he blocks one of two players who are also in the age-24 range, are also left-handed, and are also highly-touted. Is Eric Thames' upside so low that you're really willing to sacrifice a strong package of prospects to send him to AAA? Has the Snider ship sailed? I don't think the answer to those two questions is yes, but if Anthopoulos does, then maybe he feels adding another young left-handed power bat with limited positional flexibility makes sense.

That said, there are a couple of scenarios where adding Morrison makes sense:

1) If he's dirt cheap - in which case a lot of other GMs will be after him, but we've seen Alex work magic like this before.

2) Challenge trade. If AA believes that Morrison's upside has passed Snider's and the Marlins are willing to take that gamble just to get Morrison's Twitter account out of their clubhouse, then that trade is a possibility. You could also do something similar with Thames, with the Jays presumably kicking in a marginal prospect.

3) If there was a mythical GM ringing Alex's phone off the hook over Thames, Lind or Snider - especially if said GM was dangling a second baseman and Kelly Johnson had declined arbitration - then acquiring LoMo in a companion deal would make sense.

4) If all the other cards come up face (let's say, if Darvish, Harden + Brandon Phillips sign), then maybe he's the last piece added to a contender. This is especially true if you're forecasting a sophomore slump for Thames.

But really, I look at a team that got a .904 second-half OPS from Encarnacion, a terrific rookie year from Eric Thames, a team that has two (three, if you count Loewen) first-round busts knocking down the door in AAA, and still finished 5th in the majors in runs...I look at all these things, and I don't see corner outfield as a priority. While some may see the lack of a definite starter in left as a need, I see it as an opportunity. With five talented guys in the system, I'll take the odds that any one of them might have as good a year as Logan Morrison in 2012. In the long run, Morrison probably projects to be much the lumbering, unathletic, bottom-of-the-spectrum defender that Prince Fielder is. It's not Anthopoulos' type, and it's not the most important part of a team to build young.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

That Warm Fuzzy Feeling

Living in this hippie hinterland of British Columbia, I have a very good friend who makes his living off of his idealism. For him, relentless optimism isn't merely a character trait but a business asset. Needless to say, a baseball fan's endemic pessimism often gets in the way as we debate the merits of donating an hour's wages to a hypothetical starving child in Kenya - me skeptical of his charity's intentions, he arguing that it's just one less six-pack a week (while helping himself to all the beers in my fridge, it should be added).

I'd like to think my selfishness doesn't make me a bad person, just a realist, but there are moments when this skepticism-as-life-philosophy gets in the way of a good story. Sometimes that's a meaningful piece of literature, sometimes it's a story that same buddy tells you about fucking off to do blow and get laid this weekend, and sometimes it's a feel-good baseball narrative.

Let's face it: comebacks are pretty played out. There was Tommy John, back when the surgery was unheard of. There was Joaquin Andujar. Then, Dave Dravecky. Josh Hamilton. Eric Davis beat cancer - and hell, so did the guy on the mound opposite McGowan much of Tuesday night. Doug Davis - the man behind my online SN - did it too.

The fact that there's been an award handed out for the past 45 years should indicate that a comeback, in and of itself, is not a unique and meaningful occurrence. If a guy was good enough to make it to the big leagues at an early age, he's generally going to have exceptionally above-average physical tools even after going through health-related purgatory. There's a reason Adam Loewen was the highest-drafted Canadian in history. These guys have been trained to believe they're invincible, and to some extent they are.

But it seems like making a comeback(TM) is a lot like making the big leagues for the first time as a rookie - the difficulty being not so much in getting there as staying. Eric Davis had a couple of great years, but basically retired having missed out on the prime of his career. Dravecky immediately broke his arm and watched the cancer return. And our very own Comeback Player of the Year, golden boy Aaron Hill, is now plying his trade in the desert as a probable non-tender. Lester and Hamilton have been great, but often the wear and tear of the physical trials leave their mark later, as baseball careers - short, fitful things in general - stall at replacement-level or end prematurely.

Anyway, that's not to say that it wasn't awesome to see McGowan and Loewen appear in back-to-back games for the Jays this week. If you scroll down, you'll see that in my most recent post I argued that Loewen should be given a chance to battle for a starting job on this team down the road. But am I teary-eyed about the fact that they appeared in a single major league game?

Show me the money.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Turn the Page

It's the day after Labour Day, and for the past twenty years of my life that's meant that school is either here or a couple of days away. Now that I'm officially a member of the real world(TM), it means something else: strange and familiar names, crooked numbers and glimpses of a future that might never be. I just finished William Gibson's Neuromancer, and beyond the hellaciously confusing nature of the world-building itself, what struck me most about that novel was the steampunk's a novel from the past, about a future that will never be. That's kind of what the September callup season is about: alternate realities that transform into historical fictions. We sniff the future and contemplate Roy Halladay's future no-hitters, JP Arencibia's eventual rookie season, whether Carlos Almanzar or Shannon Stewart will be any good five years down the road. Sometimes the flashes in the pan are just that, but occasionally you'll look over and scratch your beard at the fact that Casey Blake has over 5000 big league plate appearances since his inauspicious Blue Jays career came to its end.
In other news, Adam Loewen is here. Adam Loewen is here! Some scoff and say he's a feel-good Canadiana story, but there's no place for him on the roster so let's all hold hands, do the circle-jerk and let him move onto bigger and better things. Fuck that, I say. Give the man his reps. His numbers in Vegas were right in line with Travis Snider's - or about league-average for the environment, eyeballing it - but there will be ways to work in the extra plate appearances over the next month or so.

Because, eventually the Blue Jays will realize - if they haven't already - that should they hold onto both Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion going into 2012 and beyond, the pair of them will cover a single lineup slot with aplomb - passable first base defense and a history of DHing (plus the marginal ability to run out to left field in the odd pinch where the other options are worse). EE has OPSed .867 against lefties this year while The Indiana Boy has OPSed .774 against righties. The career numbers are .844/.851, with Edwin being the guy who can occasionally take the baton full-time when Lind has the kind of disaster month he had in August.

That leaves (PCL batting champion) David Cooper and Loewen playing time at a single position - say, DH. Add in possible ramifications of Rasmus and Lind injuries, however - as well as a rotation with the somewhat earthbound Eric Thames - and I think there's great potential to see our share of both lefty sluggers over the last 21 games of 2011. (Shit, they do pass quick, those baseball seasons.)
In five years, I don't know who - if any - of Eric Thames, Adam Lind, David Cooper, Adam Loewen or Travis Snider will be a full-time 1B/LF/DH for the Blue Jays. Maybe it's the wrong question, and I suppose I'd be too much part-time philosopher to run a major league baseball team with the ruthless efficiency it requires. But let us not go writing out our Sniderman-filled futures until the best man has won the battle.