Jul
28

The Sleeping Giant

By

(Photo Credit: Flickr user compscigrad via Creative Commons license)

For the last decade or so, the AL East has been a two-horse race between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays have gotten involved in recent years by alternating good and great seasons, and the Orioles were definitely a factor back in the late-90’s.The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have always just kind of been there. Only three times did they fail to win at least 80 games from 1998-2010, but never once did they win more than 87. They actually finished second in the AL East in 2006, but they spent the bulk of those years in third place behind the Yanks and Sox. Given the events of the last two years, their days buried behind New York and Boston may be coming to an end.

You’ve probably heard by now, but Toronto pulled off a pair of trades yesterday that might as well be considered one three-team trade. First they shipped reliever Jason Frasor and prospect Zach Stewart to the White Sox for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen, then they flipped Jackson to the Cardinals along with Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson, and either cash or three players to be named for Colby Rasmus, minor leaguer P.J. Walters, and relievers Trever Miller and Brian Tallet. GM Alex Anthopoulos identified two clubs with different needs and connected the dots. The White Sox needed to unload some cash, the Cardinals needed pitching depth, and the Blue Jays earned something on the side as the middle man.

The Rasmus trade is very similar to last year’s Yunel Escobar trade. Toronto had the veteran player (Alex Gonzalez) the Braves sought, set their price, and expanded the deal to include some lesser pieces to make it work. These aren’t spare parts either. Escobar and Rasmus are two legitimate up-the-middle players that were acquired before their 28th birthday and with several years of contractual control left. Escobar has been a four-win player this year, and Rasmus is a lefty power bat moving from a park with an 82 LHB HR park factor to one with a 114 LHB HR park factor. There’s a common denominator here: Anthopoulos bought low on both players because of attitude problems. Yunel had tons of trouble with Bobby Cox and the coaching staff in Atlanta while Rasmus managed to get on Tony LaRussa’s bad side. Maybe jerks are the new market inefficiency.

Alex. Anthopoulos. (Getty)

Anthopoulos took over for J.P. Ricciardi the day before the final game of the 2009 season, but it’s JPR that gets credit for letting Alex Rios and his contract go to the ChiSox on a waiver claim. Rios has been below replacement level this year and still has another three years and $38M left on his deal. Anthopoulos managed to unload $100M worth of Vernon Wells on the Angels last winter, a win even though the return was negligible. That’s $140M+ worth of bad players taken completely off the books within 18 months of each other. Some of that money was redistributed and used to lock up young cornerstones like Ricky Romero (five years, $30.1M) and Adam Lind (four years, $18M), not to mention the world’s greatest player, Jose Bautista (five years, $75M).

The Roy Halladay trade was one that had to be made because Toronto was going to lose him to free agency after the 2010 season. Anthopoulos acquired a prospect with frontline starter potential (Kyle Drabek) and one of the game’s top catching prospects (Travis d’Arnaud) in exchange for Halladay, turning what seemed like an unwinnable situation into one that could pay big dividends. You can’t ask for much more given that tough spot, everyone knew Halladay had to go. Brandon League for Brandon Morrow gave them another high-strikeout power arm for the AL East. Shaun Marcum turned into Brett Lawrie, one of the top offensive prospects in the game. Carlos Villanueva has a 3.25 FIP and was acquired for a relatively insignificant amount of cash. Anthopoulos’ obsession with draft picks (15 top 100 and 20 top 150 picks over the last two drafts combined) have helped create what is now considered to be one of the game’s three best farm systems.

All the young, cost-controlled players are nice, but remember that Toronto is not a small market. The team is owned by Rogers Communication, which is like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Time Warner, and Cablevision combined up in Canada. The city itself has about 2.5M people within the city limits plus another 5.5M or so in the surrounding areas. The ballpark holds close to 50,000 people, and as we saw in the early-90’s, the seats will be packed if the team is competitive. The Jays had a $98M payroll as recently as 2008, and everything is in place for them to support a nine-figure team. Don’t be surprised to see them dip their toe in the deep end of the free agent pool in the coming years.

The Jays aren’t going anywhere this year, they’re the fourth best team in baseball’s toughest division, and their 52-52 record and +12 run differential bears that out. But they certainly play the Yankees tough every time they meet, and that was with guys like Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera in the lineup. Replace them with Rasmus and soon enough Lawrie, and they’ll only be tougher. Anthopoulos is building his team from the middle out, focusing on up-the-middle players and pitching. He’ll have money to work with in coming years and even more young players on the way. Toronto won’t be a factor in the division race this year and probably not next year, but they’re well on their way to being a force in the AL East.

Categories : Musings
  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    There’s a common denominator here: Anthopoulos bought low on both players because of attitude problems. Yunel had tons of trouble with Bobby Cox and the coaching staff in Atlanta while Rasmus managed to get on Tony LaRussa’s bad side. Maybe jerks are the new market inefficiency.

    The 2010-2020 Blue Jays never won a title, therefore, “Jerkball” didn’t work.

    Sincerely,
    2020 Greg

    • Will (the other one)

      You may be right, but I’m still looking forward to Jerkball the movie, starring Ryan Reynolds as Alex Anthopolous and Danny deVito as “J.D. Ritch-i-fardy.”

      • Crime Dog

        Dramatic shots of Yunel Escobar jogging to first with Atlanta. Escobar to be played by Juan Uribe

      • MikeD

        …with Keifer Sutherland playing disgruntled former Blue Jay executive Keith Law? Oh, wait. Sutherland is supposed to play Michael Kay in some unnamed and yet-to-defined movie, according Mrs. Kay.

  • Your mom

    They look good on paper that’s for sure.

  • CountryClub

    Rasmus appears to have a ton of talent, and at 24 he can obviously get better, but so far the hype eclipses the results (just like BJ Upton).

  • CP

    Anthopoulos managed to unload $100M worth of Vernon Wells on the Angels last winter, a win even though the return was negligible.

    He should win executive of the year for that deal alone.

    • jsbrendog

      seriously, didn’t they get napoli and then flip him to the rangers for something?

      • jsbrendog

        meh, they sent him there for frank francisco and cash. still, to turn wells into a well above average (until this year) reliever is pretty good.

        http://www.baseball-reference......fr01.shtml

        francisco was money for TX from 08-10. i wonder what happened this yr, maybe miles on his arm….as they say, so goes the reliever

        • MikeD

          The move for Fancisco was a good one. Like many releivers, he just hasn’t panned out this year.

  • CapitalT

    With the pitching staff, they are in good shape. The problem I see with the team is their all or nothing hitting approach. Swinging for the fences has killed Hill and not helped the development of Lind and Snyder. The team just refuses to take a walk. Replace their hitting coach and get a little lucky with a 5th starter (not unlike NY this year) and the Jays could compete next season.

  • Jorge

    Good for them. It’ll be nice to have a new rivalry when the Red Sox all drop dead of lice and STDs by 2014.

  • Jonathan

    An offense of:

    C: Arencibia/D’Arnaud
    1B: Lind
    2B: Hill?
    3B: Lawrie
    SS: Yunel
    LF: Snyder
    CF: Rasmus
    RF: Bautista

    is definitely scary if they hit their potential. They’ll need a little luck in the pitching department but that is definitely scary to think about.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Omar Infante is a FA this winter, maybe he replaces Hill. Maybe they go hard for Prince Fielder and move Lind (or Prince) to DH.

      I’m more curious to see if they get a pitcher on the market this winter. Do they go heavy for C.J. Wilson? Rich Harden? Joel Pineiro? Maybe trade some of their considerable prospect depth for Wandy?

      • jsbrendog

        is the 2012 offseason free agent pitcher list more impressive? they might be better served doing some tinkering and then trying to pry an ace away at the trade deadline next year instead of overpaying for wilson harden or piniero. and wandy is not an ace. they need their cc…

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Weaver, Greinke, Hamels, Cain, Danks, Liriano, Marcum, both Sanchezes (Anibal and Jonathan), plus De La Rosa and Zambrano with (unlikely to decline) player options and Haren/Carmona/Floyd/Santana/Shields with (unlikely to be declined) club options.

          And probably Jake Peavy; I don’t see CWS exercising that 22M club option, so add him too.

          How many of those names actually make it to free agency, though?

          Liriano and Marcum, Carmona, probably one of the Sanchezes… that might be it.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            Oh, Weaver too; he’s a Boras client IIRC.

            So maybe that’s who they go all-in for, but they’ll still be competing against some big dogs for that prize.

          • Guest

            I think Hamels makes it. The Phils already have two 20 mill per year pitchers and Hamels with require at least that. Three 20 million + starters would be amazingly unusual.

            I see the Phillies trading him (a la Lee) before they re-sign him.

            • Kiersten

              I see the Phillies trading him (a la Lee) before they re-sign him.

              *drools*

      • Reggie C.

        Adding Cj Wilson would give the jays the best 1-2 in the ALE. And its not particularly close. Didn’t think of the Jays as a contenders for Wilson, but the team has a core in place to contend.

        • Sayid J.

          I would say it would be pretty close. Beckett/Lester, CC/anyone, Price/Shields all matchup with the Jays 1/2 if they sign CJ.

        • Ted Nelson

          I’m not even sure if you are referring to Morrow or Romero as #2… but I would say it’s close with Beckett and Lester and maybe Price and Shields (or possibly Hellickson, Cobb, and/or Moore in the coming years). And CC, Banuelos/Betances could be a fearsome 1-2 punch as well. So… I would say it’s close.

      • infernoscurse

        they will get ubaldo jimenez

      • Ted Nelson

        “Omar Infante is a FA this winter, maybe he replaces Hill.”

        Omar Infante of .289 wOBA in 2011 and .309 career fame?

        Harden, Piniero, and Infante… is that really likely to get them into contention?

  • Bavarian Yankee

    Anthopoulos has done awesome trades since he took over. At least on paper it seems like all his trades are a win for the Blue Jays and I wonder how he’s doing it again and again and again.
    Is he the best GM overall right now? I don’t know but he’s for sure the best GM for the Blue Jays.

    btw: his Bautista extension was awesome, too. They have the best bat in baseball. What does it cost them? Peanuts. Anthopoulos is doing it all. Let’s see if he can land Ubaldo for Aaron Hill + Frank Francisco ;)

  • Crime Dog

    I think I’m still trying to process the Wells deal. But, AA has done a good job so far. If Rasmus goes back to his ’10 numbers, and keeps improving… Wow that is scary. Just another beast in the east

  • Mike c

    The future 3rd place team in the AL east

  • Guest

    That 5 yr 75 million dollar gamble they took on Bautista repeating his results looks pretty good now, huh?

    If he were a free agent after this season, i think he gets well over 100 mill.

    But, you can’t blame Bautista for signing the deal this past off-season, he and his family are set for generations now, and there was no guarantee that he would outperform the contract at the time he signed it.

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, agree all around.

    • MikeD

      He was a fringe player who had a big break-out season in 2010. While he may have believed he could repeat it, he couldn’t be sure. He’s set for life. Both sides took some risk on the deal, but Toronto’s was bigger. They both should be happy.

  • JD

    The Halladay deal is way over sold here. He was the best trade bait in a decade and they got far less then the best deal. Sure Halladay was going but you pretend that justifies a weak return. Not so. The rest of the deals are fine but include some kiss your sister stuff like this most recent deal.

    • infernoscurse

      halladay had limited trade value, he needed to go to a team with money for extension and be approved by halladay, he wanted to where spring training was close to his home, they got a possible ace in drabek, a catcher in d’arnaud, a good OF that at the time was considered to be better than domonic brown who then was turned into brett wallace, they then traded him for gose who they project being their future CF

      it was a pretty good trade

      • Ted Nelson

        It was a good trade, but it was exactly what you would have expected.

        Believe it or not, when the Twins traded Johan Santana in a similar situation they got a very similar return. That none of the players worked out doesn’t mean they weren’t good prospects. At the time Guerra was BA’s #35 prospect, Carlos Gomez was #52, Humber was a year removed from being #73, and Mulvey was a 2nd rounder who had risen to AAA in his 2nd pro season. Gomez, Humber, and Mulvey were all MLB-ready or close.

        Drabek was the #25 prospect via BA, Taylor was #29, and d’Arnaud was #81. A bit better perhaps, but not out of line with what you would expect.

      • vin

        Not to mention the fact that the team had reservations about trading him to 2 of the most likely suitors – the Yanks and Sox because they’re in the same division.

        • Ted Nelson

          That may have actually helped them to drive up the price by getting the Yankees and Sox to up their offer then making the Phillies match.

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, I agree… most big-time players who are traded are inevitably leaving. Colon, Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, etc… all those guys were leaving/unwanted and all those guys brought big returns.

  • Monteroisdinero

    That offense is getting stronger but still no match for us and the Sox. Seems like Boston scores 12 runs 2/3rds of their games. 4 starters hitting over .300 not named Youkilis or Crawford. Scary.

    But hopefully Jesus is coming.

    • Buck Bokai

      Just to point something out – Escobar, Bautista and Thames on the Jays are all hitting over .300, and Lind is batting .290. Lawrie has been hitting over .350 (admittedly in the PCL) and is expected to be called up soon. BA doesn’t mean a whole lot, but figured I should point it out.

  • Bronx Byte

    The Jays will be a force to be reckoned with. Boston’s farm system is depleted and certain players are aging.

    • infernoscurse

      that sounds like the yankees

      • Ted Nelson

        Except that the Yankees’ farm system is the strongest it’s been in at least a decade…

    • jsbrendog

      plus youk said he didn’t want to play into his late 30s didn’t he? and he isn’t young right?

      • Gonzo

        I’d rather be dead than singing “Satisfaction” when I’m forty-five.

        That would be Mick Jagger. Money doesn’t talk it swears.

  • Ted Nelson

    They’re doing a great job of positioning themselves and running their franchise since Anthopoulos took over, but it’s not inevitable that they’ll get a lot better. They still have a long way to go. I feel like the article makes it out to be a pre-determined fate that they’ll compete. I would just leave it at they made a great move and are positioning themselves well, without pretending to predict the future.

    Maybe Rasmus was “bored” in St. Louis, but the guy has been well below average defensively in CF the past two seasons and only has one very good offensive season to his credit… which was fueled by a .354 BABIP. He’s got a ton of potential and should at least provide good value at a premium position (just entering arb years too)… but I don’t think he’s the sure thing HR that a lot of people make him out to be. I think trading Zach Stewart and spare parts for him was a steal, don’t get me wrong. To consistently compete in the AL East they’re going to need to keep catching a lot of breaks, though. A 3 fWAR CF could be part of the equation, but it’s not the final piece or something. Rasmus needs to step up and they need some more “luck” in terms of performance and acquisitions. A couple of pieces of bad luck can put you out of it in the AL East pretty quickly.

    • jay

      Agree with this 100%.

  • Jobawockeez

    I was thinking we should be scared but rhen again they are adding another wildcats so meh. But yes the Jays are going to be good soon

  • Pounder

    So, what are the Maple Leafs up to?

  • http://www.twitter.com/allisauce24 allisauce

    Jays fan here –

    The other thing to consider: the Jays ownership group (Rogers Communications) is the wealthiest owner in the MLB. To put a not-too-fine a point on it, last year, Rogers’ *profits* exceeded the Yankees’ worldwide *revenues*.

    If they want to get a player via FA, they at least have the $$ to do it, and the Jays have said they’re willing to commit to $130M+ payrolls when the time is right. That time might be now.

    • Sayid J.

      Fantastic…

    • jsbrendog

      and again im saying they shouldnt jump on anything hastily and make sure it is the right choice and to give it time. informed decisions. maybe it makes sense to let everyone develop one more year and wait til the sox and yanks are 1 yr older and slower

      • Ted Nelson

        I would really take it case by case… you’re not going to find much more of a power-bat to complement Bautista than Prince Fielder, for example, so if they feel he’s worth the money this might be the time. Expanding payroll can also happen through trades as easily as free agency.

        That they might start expanding payroll doesn’t mean they have to do it all this year… I don’t think anyone is suggesting that. It’s going to start happening naturally anyway as Rasmus, Morrow, etc. start to hit arb and free agency.

        If they do start adding high priced vets around their current core, that’s really going to be a make or break time when good decisions/good luck could get them into contention and bad decisions/bad luck could keep them from competing.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      Corporations have to answer to their stockholders. If they go crazy on a spending spree, they better make sure it’s the correct decision.

      • Wooderson

        now if only they could change those hideous jerseys

        • Buck Bokai

          I believe Paul Beeston recently stated in an interview that they’re getting new uniforms next year.

      • Ted Nelson

        Agreed. I think stating that they are the richest owners was a little disingenuous. Shareholders don’t necessarily want to use their profits to subsidize the Blue Jays.

        • http://www.twitter.com/allisauce24 allisauce

          These are things I understand and yes, they definitely have to answer to shareholders. The thing is, Rogers’ CEO has stated this, their president has stated this, their GM has stated this. The Jays get very good ratings on TV right now (on Rogers’ sports channel – approx 500K/game) and on radio (on Rogers radio network), and having a better team will only boost those #s and the $$ around it.

          I’m not advocating that the Jays go out and spend recklessly simply because they can, but that if they had a “big name” they wanted to go out and get (to use 2 names from this year’s class – Fielder or Reyes) money wouldn’t hold them back from getting those players… understanding that there’s other factors involved in players signing somewhere.

          Like someone mentioned above – payroll is going to grow organizally anyway… Morrow, Cecil, Snider, Rasmus etc are going to be due paydays/extensions at some point.

          • Ted Nelson

            I agree that they can spend a lot of money and should try to do it wisely… I’m just saying that stating that they’re the richest is a little misleading since they’re not necessarily going to spend that money unless its justified financially. The greater Toronto area has roughly 5.5 mill people via wikipedia, while the NY metro area has almost 20 mill. So even if the Yankees split the NY area with the Mets, they’ve got roughly twice the local residents to attract as fans… plus obviously the Yankees’ brand is pretty far reaching (Toronto might be Canada’s team I guess, but I’m not sure if that matches the revenue of being on network television in Japan… not sure if they still are, but apparently the Yankees were).

            “I’m not advocating that the Jays go out and spend recklessly simply because they can”

            Yeah, I know. I’m just saying that even responsibly I don’t think they’ll match anything close to the Yankees’ spending under the current system. Whether or not the current system is a good once is another matter, and I’m inclined to say that it’s not IMO (even though as a Yankee fan I benefit from it).

            • http://www.twitter.com/allisauce24 allisauce

              Yeah, I don’t think they will either (match the Yankees spending). They’re also not going to be a $60M team for very much longer, either.

              Should make for some interesting years in the not too distant future, thats for sure.

              Intelligent bunch of posters here, too.

              • Ted Nelson

                Blue Jays are doing a great job positioning themselves. Will be interesting to see how the next few years go.

  • Wooderson

    AL east is gonna be so sick in a few years

  • http://unclemikesmusings.blogspot.com Uncle Mike

    The Jays will not be a force in the AL East or anything else until they get serious and start bringing in big names like they did in the early 1990s. They cut those players loose after the 1993 World Series, even before the 1994 strike hit, and have been mediocre at best ever since. They may be rather pesky at times, but they remain irrelevant. It’s only because the Expos were lame-ducked for about 5 years and then moved that the Jays are even the best team in Canada.

    • Jared

      Really? This blatanly ignores reality.

  • j

    They are going to be big players in the FA market. Wouldn’t be shocked if they got Pujols/Fielder + Reyes. (Moving Escobar to 2B).

    • vin

      I’d be shocked if they got Pujols, but Prince makes a lot of sense.

  • BklynJT

    This guy is one of the best GMs in the game. Him and Friedman… I would never make a deal with them as an opposing GM.

  • j

    They only have like 36 million committed to payroll next year, and are willing to go into nine figures. They could be the surprise story of the off season.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    Yay! Contenders for a 3rd place finish for the next 4 years! Baby steps I guess, right?

  • http://www.youcantpredictbaseball.com bexarama

    I think AA has done an absolutely terrific job, I am not trying to claim otherwise, but I also think their much-heralded young pitching gets overrated because the Blue Jays always play the Yankees tough. Again, all these guys are very young, but – whatever, people on here act like Hughes and Joba’s careers are over. Romero’s a stud, but people act like Cecil, Morrow, Drabek, and Litsch are all studs right now too. They’re not, and some of them are just not going to be. (Then again, if they have a great offense, they don’t need all of them to be.)

    That said, their offensive core is already really good and adding Fielder would make it scary. And yes I know the Blue Jays are very rich, but there are many points in the past where they could’ve forced the issue by going for big-time FAs and they didn’t. The ownership saying they’re going to spend doesn’t really surprise me, either but let’s see ‘em do it.

    • YanksFan in MA

      Morrow is a stud. Horrible luck this year. Has lowered his BB rate the last two years to a very respectable 3.5/9, and has a 2.96 FIP. Horrible LOB% and some bad BABIP luck.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Toronto plays the Yankees tough but that team goes to sleep when it plays Boston.

  • http://none Favrest

    I think “team” is the key word here. They have a lot of strong individual parts, and one very strong part in Bautista, but they have been beaten because there isn’t anything they can count on. Starting pitching is fine. Defense is average at best. Power is fine. Speed is fine. Pen is fine. Good enough for about .500 in the AL east every year. Not good. Not bad. Just average. I don’t see it improving.