Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't Know Yu

As April comes to an end, my university friends depart for higher-paying warm-weather jobs, my fantasy team has taken its customary place in 7th, and the Blue Jays are talented underachievers a couple games over .500 in fourth place in the AL East. In other words, summer's here.

Yesterday, in the true summer spirit, a guy I used to play pool with on the regular came through the drive-thru at my restaurant and placed an order while doing his damnedest to pretend he'd never met me before. At first, it rankled a bit - was he ashamed to know me? Couldn't he at least acknowledge me, even if he had no intent of returning the bar where we'd once wasted so many Tuesday nights?

After he drove away, I gave it another second or two of thought. How many times have I avoided someone on public transit? Walked right past someone else on the street while pretending to be avidly window-shopping? Felt that a casual acquaintance's customer-service friendliness was over-the-line? Sometimes it's personal, but sometimes you just have absolutely no interest in pointless small-talk. (And it's funny - now that I'm on the other side of the counter, where incessant small-talk becomes a necessity of the job description - how quickly you forget these things.)

Well, tonight some lucky fans (i.e. not me) will get to take in Yu Darvish in person. And I'm thinking it might be much the same sort of relationship, that maybe Jays fans should treat Darvish much as this nameless dude treated me. Let's just say that if he had been on the radio, he wouldn't exactly be denying he'd ever played eight-ball against my roommate and I. He's just wouldn't be addressing it. After all, it's not like we really knew him that well. And when Darvish pitches on a Monday night at Rogers Centre, will there really be any kind of special turnout? It's not quite like AJ Burnett or Alex Rios, guys who flamed out spectacularly before our eyes, and willingly or unwillingly punched their own tickets out of town. I have a deep sense of Alex Rios' talents and shortcomings as baseball player. Yu Darvish's Blue Jays career, on the other hand, never left the theoretical chasm of the internet, no more real - less real, even - than the three-point lead my fantasy team blew on Sunday afternoon. To extend the metaphor further: we sorta, kinda chilled at the bar a few times, maybe invited him to a party or two, but since we've each moved on and gotten real lives it's a non-thing.

Better to boo one of the Mikes, guys who gave the Jays pretty much zero return-on-investment for what they were worth at the time. Okay, so there was no $100 million dollar free agent investment this offseason, but as of right now Grienke and Hamels are still available next winter, and even without Votto there will be plenty of future opportunities for the Jays to sink their theoretical bank. There's something to be said for Humbering him - anytime a terrific pitcher comes into town and gets dropped a notch it's an endorsement for the local offense - but it'll be a one-time vindication. Twelve months from now, when Darvish has inevitably lost Game Seven of the World Series in a Rangers uniform (because everyone knows that's what the Rangers do) how many non-diehard-Jays fans will actually remember what Jim Bowden said?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Since I Been Gone

Sorry, but there's no chance in hell I'm linking the song the title alludes to.
The Blue Jays, you say? What Blue Jays? I hear there were a couple of decent games against the Royals. I wouldn't know, though. Really, a triple play? Do you know how many years I've been watching baseball waiting for a bloody triple play? You kill me, Blue Jays.

Well, at least I saw the last three outs of the 9 perfect innings Phil Humber threw up for my fantasy team. And I finally got my no-hitter last year. But I'm still waiting for that damn triple play.

Anyway, there were other highlights, or so I hear. If hyperbole is your spice of life, the Blue Jays are running out a rotation of Johan Santana, Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay, and AJ Burnett (with Cole Hamels toiling in AA). And apparently Drew Hutchinson made a slightly less-than-stellar major league debut, but less-than-stellar is usually enough when you're facing a team who have been losing for longer than it's been since I've had a chance to watch a damn ballgame. We'll see what people are calling Henderson Alvarez after he faces a real offence for the second time. And as for Drew? Hold the phones. I'm not ready to get my panties in a knot either way for a 21-year-old control guy who's barely tasted the high minors. But long story short - after Kansas City, the Jays are tied for first in the AL East!

So how long have I been barren, you ask? Well, let's just say I'm sick of JJ Hardy's douchey Mac expressions and ringing doubles off the wall. (Did anyone else catch him snickering at a particular Bautista snap job during the last series at Rogers Centre? All I could think was, you play in fucking Baltimore. Maybe being a little more competitive would help your cause.)
So yeah, I missed a rough series against the Rays and then heard about more than saw the Royals crumbling in the face of Chris Perez's challenge. (I can't decide whether it's more pathetic that the Indians felt the need to start a rivalry with KC in the first place or that the Royals immediately rolled over as if to say, "we know our place." I mean, when the Jays sweep you in four games on the road, you know you're still pretty terrible. That Luke Hochevar, he's no Brian Bullington...)

But it's not all bad. I climbed a mountain, bought a new HDTV and computer and started my own baseball season. And unlike Rany Jazayerli, my vacation didn't necessitate me ceding my responsibilities as a fan. I'll miss the games tonight and tomorrow, but I should be able to catch the Mariners' vaunted offense this weekend. And then the calendar turns to May, and things get serious...

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Used to be an MVP, You Know

A couple of days ago I came across a facetious comment about what a great fit Justin Morneau's $28 million dollar Canadian concussion would be for the Toronto Blue Jays. I chuckled, then stopped to think about it for a minute. Well, why the fuck not?

And as the permeating possibility wormed its way through my alcohol-riddled brain, visions of left-handed-hitters of all shapes and colours began to dance. They ran the gamut: Votto. Koskie. Hafner. Fielder. Lind. Morrison. Snider. Delgado. Morneau's potential value has a lot of determining factors, only a few of which can be summed up in the following:

1) Is Morneau healthy?
1a) (Depending whether he is or not) Is he worth $14 million dollars a year?

2) Is Morneau available?
2a) If he is, is his price tag reasonably bargain basement? 

3) Is mid-late career Morneau a better option than Adam Lind at first base?
3a) If he is, is Lind's contract tradeable?

That said, there are some reasons to like the idea. Lind had a good year once; Morneau had a bad year once (not including last year's injury-shortened nightmare); the Twins just lost Scott Baker for the year and Francisco Liriano continues to be a mystifying mess, much like the rest of the roster, Morneau included; and since Terry Ryan has just recently taken the GM reins back, one would presume that he appreciates the amount of elbow grease required to hark back to his scrappy glory days. Oh yeah, and there's that citizenship thing. And if you care that much about protection (and let's say for the sake of argument that I point to Kelly Johnson's six-game-sample in front of Jose and agree with you), a productive Morneau could provide an offensive weapon behind Bautista that far outstrips anything that Lind, Encarnacion, or anyone on the current roster could possibly provide, and even as a high-risk investment $28 million over two years is nowhere near as crippling as the $200 million more over nine years that a similar threat recently received.

Of course, if Morneau's proven himself fully healthy by the time the Jays make an offer for him, the price tag will still be astronomical. By the same token, the Twins won't give him up for nothing unless Morneau really and truly is ready to pull a Koskie (Canadian, left-handed hitter, Twin, concussion recipient) and hang up the cleats for good. 

If any one person definitely knew the answer to the three questions posed above, then there would be no deal to be made. The Jays aren't really in a position to trade premium talent for a rental. If there's value, though, it's in that middle ground. The Twins don't know if Morneau is any good anymore, and they probably don't have the roster to do anything with him over the next year and a half even if he is. They also need to get Joe Mauer and Chris Parmalee reps at first base and DH. The Jays, by all indications, have money to burn on short-term and/or high-value investments - it's hard to argue that Morneau wouldn't be a better allocation of resources than Mark Teahen was - and a roster that's poised to hopefully break through over the next year or two. Gose for Morneau? Given questions about potential contact rates, I would have no problem giving up on the next Rajai Davis. Realistically, there'd probably be a pitching prospect involved too, and I'd be a bit more leery of that. But it's a thought, anyway.

Of course, it's hard to forget Koskie. (Or far too easy to forget him, if you catch my drift.) Though he was never at Morneau's level, he was a very good hitter throughout his twenties and was 32 when he signed his free agent contract in 2005. Morneau is 31. But that's simply a risk you take when trading for damaged goods.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

State of the pen

Topical? Hardly. But after RickyRo's gem this afternoon topped off by Sergio Santos actually converting a save, here's to raining over the Jays' vaunted, revamped bullpen. The offense - averaging 5 runs a game through the first six games - is not the problem everyone thinks it is. Bautista and Rasmus should begin to hit, and even if Arencibia's loopy uppercut never comes around and he finds himself following the same middling career arc as his predecessor, there's enough power, speed and plate discipline on this roster to grind out some runs. (And no, I'm not trying to parrot Buck Martinez.)

The rotation, question mark that it may be, is another cup of tea altogether. The Jays will live or die on the backs of Drabek, Morrow and Alvarez. If those guys self-destruct, the season is over before it begins. Everyone knows this. By passing over on the John Lannans, Roy Oswalts and Livan Hernandezs of this world, Alex Anthopoulos has made a commitment to his aces. If they boom, we're in. If they bust, we're out. That's ballsy. And, you know, good on them.

The bullpen, on the other hand - oh, the bullpen. What is a bullpen, anyway? Philosophically, I mean. Generally speaking, it's a motley assortment of borderline players...guys who lack control, guys who lack stuff, guys who lack endurance, guys who never got a fair shake, guys who got too old. It's a collection of single-inning wildcards, allocated to "roles" by some alchemic mix of gut feelings, matchups and luck. Not even a stat invented to measure pure pitcher performance like FIP can really govern the random deviations that can occur within any given inning. If we can cherry-pick any Ricky Romero inning from today's game, and we pick out his third inning, we'd hardly have a fair barometer of his performance.

So, I mean, even the best bullpens are gambles. The general consensus on bullpen construction, if there is one, would have to be along these lines: find a consistently dominant arm or two, surround him by some guys who tend to outpitch their stuff, mix in some raw talent and a couple of failed starters (for blowouts), then hold your breath and hope for the best. That's pretty much what the Jays did last year: they added Frank Francisco to replace Keven Gregg (proven closer), replaced Scott Downs with Jon Rauch and Carlos Villanueva to team with Casey Janssen  (overperformers) and mixed in some Frasor, Zep, Camp, and Luis Perez (pure skills/long relief). What happened? They led the league in blown saves. Shitty buzz.

So this offseason, what do they do? They replace one alliterative closer with another; replace a 33-year-old former closer in a setup role with a 36-year-old former closer in a setup role; add a left-handed specialist ex-starter after trading a younger version to the St Louis Cardinals; and reacquire a middle reliever. There's nothing wrong with any of that, and 11 innnings of four-hit ball on Opening Day last Thursday certainly gave us hope for this relief corps. But the formula hasn't changed in any meaningful way. If Santos' two blown saves aren't simply an anomaly - say, if his already-dicey fastball control deserts him for any extended period of time - there's no reason he can't have the same early rut that Francisco had last year. Cordero, through a meaningfully miniscule sample size, is already bringing back shades of Rauch. Obviously variance is a necessary and understood caveat at any position in any professional sport, but with a major league bullpen this is magnified tenfold. Two blown saves in two early outings means less than eleven innings on Opening Day, which means less than any given week in the starting rotation. In a larger sense, even if Santos is good - as in better than Francisco - the random allocation of the results of that goodness (i.e. when in the game situation he gives up the 12 or 15 runs he might surrender this year as opposed to when Francisco gave up his 21 runs last year) won't necessarily manifest in any meaningful way.
In short, put your faith in sandy haired kids and Venezuelans. The rest, my friends, is chance.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Extra Innings are Fun

  • ·        Pitcher Change: Tony Sipp replaces Chris Perez.
    ·        1.Edwin Encarnacion doubles (2) on a line drive to left fielder Shelley Duncan.
    ·        2.Brett Lawrie singles on a line drive to right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Edwin Encarnacion to 3rd.
    ·        3.Rajai Davis doubles (1) on a line drive to center fielder Michael Brantley. Edwin Encarnacion scores. Brett Lawrie scores.
    ·        4.J. P. Arencibia strikes out swinging.
    ·        With Colby Rasmus batting, Rajai Davis steals (1) 3rd base.
    ·        5.Colby Rasmus singles on a line drive to right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Rajai Davis scores.
Ninth inning comeback - check. Bautista Bomb - check. Blown saves - check. No-hit bid - check. Sixteenth-inning-victory - check. Rajai Davis' speed - check.

That first series was nothing. How bout a walkoff tonight?

Happy baseball season.