The Sleeping Giant

(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.

Yanks can’t finish sweep, end Mariners’ skid

Wednesday afternoon was the probably the closest the Mariners are going to get to feeling like they won the World Series for a while. Their 17-game losing streak is kaput thanks to ace Felix Hernandez and some late-inning lolpen action and defensive miscues on the Yankees’ part.

Coulda been worse.

More Of The Same From Hughes

The end result – two runs in six innings – is perfectly fine for Phil Hughes, but the process was unchanged. A better offense would have probably hit him pretty hard, and the only reason he escaped a bases loaded, no out situation by allowing just one run in the fifth was because Josh Bard is unfathomable slow and Brett Gardner has a fine outfield arm. Hughes came out of the gate throwing 92-93 in a quick 1-2-3 first inning, but his velocity soon tailed back off into the 90-91 range the rest of the game. Everyone harps on the velocity, but the bigger problem is his command. Phil’s missing his spot consistently, like every single pitch. Sometimes he gets away with it, sometimes the pitch is left over the plate and he doesn’t. That’s how you give up nine hits in six innings against the worst offense in baseball.

Joe Girardi wouldn’t come out and say it after the loss, but Ivan Nova is fully expected to start one of the games in Saturday’s doubleheader. Asked if there could be a chance for Nova to take his rotation spot back from Hughes, Girardi replied “there could be … we want guys to throw the ball well and earn their spots every time.” He did add the standard disclaimer, saying “as far as saying there’s a competition for Phil Hughes’ next start, I’m not saying that.” Hughes will make at least one more start just because of how the schedule shakes out, and if he doesn’t perform better the calls for Nova will only grow louder. That said, he’s allowed two or fewer runs in three of his four starts since coming off the disabled list, and the end results have a way of speaking more than they should at times.

Two Runs Ain’t Enough

Got only one run out of that situation.

It really doesn’t matter who’s pitching for you when you only score two runs like the Yankees did in this game. The first run was umpire-aided to a certain extent; first base ump Brian Knight said that Brendan Ryan‘s throw pulled Justin Smoak off the bag at first on Eduardo Nunez‘s ground ball, setting up a first and third situation with one out. Replay showed that no such thing happened and Nunez should have been called out. Derek Jeter got the run in two batters later with a sacrifice fly, but the Yankees left men on second and third when Curtis Granderson struck out.

Felix was good but not utterly dominant. He allowed five hits in seven innings but did walk four, so that’s nine baserunners the Yankees had to work with. They drew two of those walks in a 24-pitch first inning but couldn’t score, and they couldn’t build on that pitch count because they went down on seven pitches in the second and 13 pitches in the third. There wasn’t much pressure on Hernandez after that. I get the feeling that Felix would have thrown 150 pitches if that’s what it took to end that losing streak through.

The Yankees left two men on base in the first, one on  in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth, and one in the seventh. The leadoff man reached base in the first, second, fifth, and seventh innings, but only one came around to score. New York’s only other run can in garbage time, when Robinson Cano drove in Granderson with an RBI groundout after a leadoff double. The Yankees had just one hit in ten at-bats with men in scoring position, and they went down on just 20 total pitches in the eighth and ninth inning. The end of the game kinda had a “let’s get this over with and start the off day” feel to it.

Clank.

Meltdown

It was a one-run game when Cory Wade relieved Hughes to open the seventh inning, but it didn’t stay that way for long. Ichiro doubled with one out and Ryan followed up with a single off Cano’s glove, setting up a first and third situation with one out. Boone Logan came on to pitch since three of the next four batters were left-handed (the one exception was a switch-hitter), and he got exactly one of them out. Dustin Ackley hit a ground ball to second that had double play potential, but Cano flubbed the flip to Derek Jeter at the bag and everyone was safe. It wasn’t routine but it looked like they had a chance to turn two. Hard to assume they would have gotten it anyway, Ackley’s not slow. That scored a run to stretch Seattle’s lead to two.

Logan then walked Smoak before striking out Adam Kennedy, so he had a chance to limit the damage with Mike Carp coming up. Carp has had a pretty pronounced platoon split in his career, but he drove Boone’s first pitch slider to dead center. Granderson had trouble with the ball, either he misread it or lost it in the sun or something, but it clanked off his glove for a bases-clearing triple. That was pretty much the game right there, the Mariners went up by five and then by six with Franklin Gutierrez followed with a double. The defense didn’t do the pitching staff any favors that inning, but then again the lefty specialist can’t be giving up balls to the warning track to a guy that was in Triple-A two weeks ago. Ugly inning all around, a classic meltdown.

A perfect strike as HOPE Week continues.

Leftovers

Granderson also misplayed a ball in the ninth inning, and he pretty clearly lost that one in the sun. He overran it by a few steps and was a little too far in. That resulted in one run directly (Ackley scored from second on the play) and another indirectly (Kennedy scored from second on Carp’s single when he shouldn’t have been on base in the first place). Rough day for Curtis in the field, but thankfully that’s not a regular occurrence.

Everyone but Jeter (sac fly) reached base in the game and everyone but Gardner (two walks and a stolen base) and Mark Teixeira (walk) had exactly one hit. Granderson and Jorge Posada had doubles, everyone else singles. Nunez also swiped a bag. The Yankees went down in order just twice, in the third and ninth innings. That’s one thing I’ve noticed and would like to look into a little deeper, the Yanks very rarely seem to have 1-2-3 innings on offense. Of course there’s always going to be one or two or three per game, but I’m willing to bet the percentage of offensive innings in which they have at least one baserunner is substantially higher than the league average.

Take a look at Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone, that thing is brutal. For both sides, I don’t want to sound like I’m saying the Yankees got jobbed or anything. No called strikes at the knees and apparently up and away to lefties was the way to go. That call at first was blown in the fifth, and we saw what, two other blown calls at first in this series? I think it’s four if you go back to the final game of the A’s series. I think the umpires’ union has secretly planted some moles to make some blatantly bad calls to help usher in the instant replay/roboumps era. I for one will embrace our new robot overlords.

The loss ends the Mariners’ 17-game losing streak, which must have felt like a huge relief to them. That’s just brutal, I can’t imagine what it’s like dealing with that as a fan. I don’t think RAB would make it past loss seven or eight, we might all have one foot off the ledge by then.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some other neat stuff, and ESPN the up to date standings.

Up Next

Off day on Thursday, then the Orioles come to town for four games in three days. A.J. Burnett gets the start in the series opener against Jeremy Guthrie, though I suppose it’s not out of the question that Baltimore could trade its ace before then. If you want to catch the game, RAB Tickets can help get you there on the cheap.

Culver goes deep twice as SI wins big

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Buffalo)
Austin Krum, CF & Luis Nunez, 2B: both 1 for 4, 1 2B – Krum struck out twice … Nunez drove in a run and whiffed
Greg Golson, RF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K – threw a runner out at second
Jesus Montero, DH: 0 for 4 – .000/.000/.000 in his last four at-bats, so he’s slumping again
Mike Lamb, 3B: 0 for 4, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K - 21 K in his last 39 at-bats
Jordan Parraz, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K – ten for his last 28 (.357) with two doubles, a triples, and the homer
Gus Molina, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3
Pants Lendleton, RHP: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 6-5 GB/FB – 64 of 94 pitches were strikes (68.1%) … just 31 K in 45.2 IP with SWB this year (6.1 K/9)
George Kontos, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB – threw just 19 pitches, 13 strikes (68.4%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2 WP, 2-0 GB/FB – ten of 15 pitches were strikes

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Rosenthal: Yankees intesifying pursuit of Kuroda

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have intensified their pursuit of Dodgers’ right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. Several other clubs are involved as well, so the Yankees have competition. Kuroda has a full no-trade clause and will need to be persuaded to waive it, though perhaps former teammate Russell Martin could help do that. I can’t imagine it’ll hurt. Here’s pretty much everything you need to know about the guy, who would be a definite upgrade to the rotation.

Open Thread: A-Rod’s Birthday

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Alex Rodriguez isn’t with the Yankees right now because of his knee surgery, but that’s no reason to skip out on wishing him a happy birthday. He turns 36 today, and is the most productive position player in baseball that age or older in terms of bWAR (3.2). Todd Helton (2.6) is the only other guy that age that has been worth more than two wins to his team this year. Earlier today we heard that Alex will start his baseball related rehab activities with the team in New York rather than Tampa, but he’s still a few weeks from returning. It’ll be nice to have him back, it’s impossible to replace a hitter of his caliber and there’s definitely a different vibe to the offense when he’s out.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The now Carlos Beltran-less Mets are playing the Reds at 7pm ET (Pelfrey vs. Arroyo), and Beltran’s new team (the Giants) are in Philadelphia (Cain vs. Hamels) on ESPN at the same time. The trade can’t be official for 24 hours because of his no-trade clause per league rules, so Beltran isn’t in the lineup for San Fran tonight. Use this thread to talk about anything your heart desires, so have at it.