Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 3 Basic Moves AA Needs to Make this Off-Season

Before going after starting pitching, which obviously should be Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous' number 1 priority this off-season, there are 3 basic moves that I think should be made by the 3rd year GM. 2 to help(or clear up) the bullpen, and 1 to fill the void at second base that will be made when, hopefully, Kelly Johnson packs his things, and goes to strike out somewhere else in the MLB.

1.Let RP Brandon Lyon walk as a Free Agent: It is hard for me to say this as it has been a great pleasure to see Lyon sit batters down like it's going out of style since coming over in that huge not so huge trade with the Astros completed in July, but it needs to be done. The 33 year old from Salt Lake City,Utah has a k/9 ratio of 11.1 with the Jays this year(20.1 IP), but is making $5.5MM in 2012. Given his success this season, I see no reason why that salary will not be in the $7MM range next season, which is a huge amount of money, and frankly, I rather see that spent elsewhere. Unfortunately the Blue Jays will not receive any compensation for letting Lyon walk, except for that extra cash to spend on other aspects of the team that need fixing.
If Lyon is not brought back, the bullpen in 2013 should look like this, barring any FA signings and/or trades, injuries.
CL Casey Janssen
SU Sergio Santos
SU Darren Oliver
MRP Steve Delabar
MRP Brad Lincoln
MRP Aaron Loup
MRP Brett Cecil
Which brings me to my next point of...
2. Sign Brett Cecil to a 4 year, $6.25MM contract extension with 2, $1.5MM club options for 2017 and 2018:"What? The guy has a career 4.73 ERA and you want to extend him?" Ya, that's exactly what I want did you know?(was it because it says that above this?) Cecil is lights out against lefties, and will make a great reliever for many years to come. His velocity has been down as a starter the past couple of seasons as a starter, but when he relieves, his velocity sits at 91-92. Still not so good, but at least whenever he makes a mistake at that velocity, it won't be out of the ballpark every time. With the upcoming vacancy in the Blue Jays bullpen due to Brandon Lyon's imminent departure, and due to he fact that Cecil is 26 year old lefty killer who can fill multiple roles for you in the bullpen and rotation, there is no good reason why not to extend him. This contract would buy out his 3 arbitration years, and his 1st year of free agency. Then, AA would have two perfectly priced Anthoptions on him for 2017 and 2018. This is an easy way to keep Cecil, who is a lefty, in your bullpen for at least 4 more years, and save money. Instead of having to sign a lefty killer every off-season, AA will now have one for a cheap price, and, for 2013, should make a nasty 1-2 punch against lefties with Darren Oliver. Another reason why this is a no brainer for Alex; some fans are starting to turn against him, and signing Cecil, who is a fan favourite, could get some of those "Fans" back. This move would solidify the bullpen, and save money, which could be used to...
3. Sign Marco Scutaro to a 1 year, $6.5MM contract, with a club option for 2014 at $6MM: Scutaro is the exact opposite of current Blue Jays 2nd baseman Kelly Johnson. He rarely misses the ball(only 48 strikeouts in all of 2012), and, as a result of that, he gets on base, a lot! He has a .372 OBP since being acquired by the Giants in July(49 GP), and a career mark of .339. Marco, who played with the Jays for 2 season in 2008 and 2009, is just the stop gap AA needs, as there really are no second base or shortstop prospects in the Blue Jays system right now. Chances are Scutaro will re-sign with the Giants, as he said he would like to do, but if not, AA better jump on this opportunity to get a second baseman. A move like this would allow the Blue Jays to trade one of Yunel Escobar or Adeiny Hechavarria, as only one of them would no longer be needed. So, a signing of Scutaro  could fill a hole in the rotation. Yup, another amazing reason to get Scutaro back north of the border!

What do you think of these moves, let us know with your well appreciated comments below.

You can follow me on twitter, @gideonturk.
To connect with the site, Follow us on Twitter, and Like us on Facebook.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Baseball in Autumn

I love Autumn.  The leaves begin to change color and the temperature begins to be bearable.  I love wearing hoodies and vests.  The long drives just to see the new colors as they appear.  Autumn is also when the postseason begins for baseball.  
There already are commercials on FOX promoting their postseason coverage.  The Blue Jays have not been in the fall classic in over 19 years now since they won it all in 1993.  This season will be no different.  This season will also be completed with an asterix beside it with all of the injuries they have endured. 

But there is something bigger than getting players healthy that needs to be addressed next season.
The Toronto Blue Jays need to fix the impression that the average fan has of them.  

Below is a picture from the local newspaper that I received at my front porch just a few hours ago.  

I would like to think that the cartoonist is taking a double shot at the team by poking fun at the fact that the Baltimore Orioles (I know its a robin not an Oriole but its looks close enough) are in playoff contention and the Blue Jays are not, but I doubt they were that smart.

Ever since players like Carlos Delgado, Roger Clemons and recently Roy Halladay; I believe the mainstream media have been taking shots at the Blue Jays for their lack of success.  I am not talking about the major sports media outlets, who showcase the nightly highlight shows on TV.  But the average Toronto newscast.
If your reading this, chances are you probably are a Blue Jays fan, but think about what the average guy at work thinks about the Blue Jays when you mention their losses as of late.
I am not sure why people who don’t know or watch the Blue Jays have this idea that they are not a good team.

The only thing to combat that notion is winning – and a lot of it.  In the past 10 years, the Blue Jays have won at least 81 games, 7 out of the 10 seasons.  Only once (in 2004) did they lose 90 or more games.  A feat they are not on pace for but could reach.  They have averaged the 4th worst attendance percentage (at 54.5% with 26,854 people per game).  Beating only Houston, Cleveland and Seattle percentage wise.

I think they are at least 20-25,000 fans in Toronto who regularly attend games.  The trick is getting the other 40% of the dome filled.  At the beginning of the season I was seeing a lot more hats and jerseys around the city.  There was an excitement in April surrounding the Blue Jays.  We all had a feeling the post season might be a reach, but an 81 game season, was attainable.

We all know that every team has injuries and other hurdles they need to move past to have great seasons.  Injuries will hold any team back but to have the amount the Blue Jays have had (and are still having with Happ and now Cooper just this week), it certainly can be a buzz kill.

The thing that holds Jays fans attention is the development on the young rookies – Gose, Hech, Lawrie, and Sierra.  But try selling that to the fan who couldn’t tell you where the Blue Jays triple-AAA team plays or what position Brett Lawrie naturally plays.

Its easy to say, ‘those are not really fans anyways’.  But as long as the Blue Jays play in the Rogers Centre, the team will have to find a way to attract the other 40% of fans who come to be entertained by wins alone.

Sadly, until the Blue Jays play in October, we will continue to see comics like this appear in local newspapers across Toronto.  The idea that the Blue Jays are losers needs to be reversed.  Lets hope 2013 is the beginning of something special like it was in 1989 when they won the AL East and began to build towards 5 years of success and two world series wins.


Follow me on Twitter.
Follow Blue Jays Plus too!
Don't forget to like us on Facebook!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Something is Happ-ening Here

The Toronto Blue Jays were the #1 team in Runs Scored…and then the (pitching) wheels fell off. Actually, broke off might be slightly more appropriate. In July the Blue Jays were forced to deal with significant injuries to Morrow, Drabek, Hutchison, Frasor, Perez; compounded with the season-ending early injuries to Santos and McGowan. I believe that the introduction and performance of J.A. Happ is a big part of the silver lining that Blue Jays fans will have to sift through in order to step back from the ledge.

J.A. Happ was brought into the Blue Jays organization earlier this season from Houston as part of a stopgap program of pitching help that GM Anthopoulos attempted. The Blue Jays pitching rotation was decimated by injuries around the midpoint of the 2012 season, and Happ was the type of available player that could help keep the team afloat. However, bad news became grave news. The injuries that piled up have been devastating and yet the addition of southpaw Happ should be good news.

J.A. Happ was an intriguing young pitcher who found brilliant early success with the Philadelphia Phillies. Happ was rumoured to be a part of Roy Halladay trade talks – and as history has proven, AA always gets his man. Happ has faltered in recent years, giving up far too many HRs and not displaying the crisp fastball command that attracted so many suitors in 2009. Happ saw his numbers post-2009 begin to climb in the wrong direction: higher H/9 doubled his ER/9, almost doubled his BB/9, and as his manager in Houston pointed out his “arm” just didn’t work like it should.
The mysterious aura surrounding the J.A. Happ fastball up in the zone continues to perplex hitters. Watching Happ repeatedly deliver his 91-93mph fastball up in the zone without it being punished is stupefying. Yet it works! I anticipate the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays to give Happ a legitimate chance at the starting rotation, and I would be very content with a solid veteran innings-eater who can pitch to the caliber of a Clayton Richard or Randy Wells. With all of the uncertainty surrounding this young promising team, a little stability is a welcome sign of reprieve.

Feel free to comment below and give me a follow on Twitter: ntopolie13 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is the Bullpen the Place for Brett Cecil?

When Brett Cecil was called back up to the Blue Jays a few days ago, Jays Manager John Farrell placed him in the bullpen to be part of the Relief corps. Cecil made his 1st appearance as a Relief Pitcher for the Jays on Monday, pitching 2 innings allowing 3 hits,2 walks, and 1 earned run. Looking at that line you assume he pitched very badly, but his outing was actually very promising. His fastball velocity was up(a product of being in the bullpen), and his slider, as always, was nasty against lefties. Cecil came into ST this season a lot lighter than last season, 32 pounds lighter! This was part of an effort to regain his lost velocity that went missing in 2011. It did nothing, and Cecil was in the same situation as 2011, just he was in better shape. Brett made 9 starts earlier this season filling in for one of the injured spots in the rotation. He wasn't so bad(minus 2 horrible starts on June 23rd and July 8th), but was sent down a few weeks ago when his fill-in services were no longer needed.

The question with Brett over the past couple of seasons has been;Is Brett Cecil best suited in the rotation, or is he better off in the bullpen?

There are obviously 2 sides to this debate, and I think the Blue Jays are finally realizing that he could be a very dominant reliever.
Reasons why Brett should be a Reliever
Brett, like a lot of lefties, is a lefty killer! Left handers are hitting just .189 against him this season, and only .231 lifetime. He can be used as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen, and would be very dominant. A switch to being a reliever at this stage in Brett's career would be similar to what fellow teammate Darren Oliver did earlier on in his long career. Darren suffered through 12 full horrific years of starting before finally switching to being a reliever in 2004. Ever since then he has been one of the best in the game, and has been able to extend his career because of it. Of course Darren switched much later on in his career than where Brett is right now, but it might not be such a bad idea.

As I mentioned earlier, Brett lost 2-3 MPH on his fastball last season, and has not gained them back.  He went from throwing 91-92 in 2010, to 87-89 this season and in 2011.  Those numbers are when starting, as on Monday, when he was relieving, he averaged 90.92 MPH, but hit 92 multiple times.When he was drafted, as a closer, Brett was throwing 94-95 MPH. So, we can assume that if Brett does regain that lost velocity, he could be throwing around 94 MPH consistently out of the bullpen. Is a reliever who is lights out against lefties, has a hard fastball, and a nasty slider more valuable than what Cecil could be as a starter?

How Brett can get back to being a solid #4 Starter
Obviously, the easiest way for Brett to get back to being a good back of the rotation pitcher is by regaining his velocity. But how could he do that? It is most likely pretty simple. Brett lost all of that weight last off-season in a very short period of time. His arm was not going to get stronger from him getting "weaker".  If Brett is able to add some muscle to his new thin body, he might be able to get that extra zip on his fastball again. If he can sit over 90 MPH again, he doesn't need to rely completely on control. He would be able to leave a ball over the plate without knowing that it will get crushed. Right now, when he leaves a 86 or 87 MPH fastball down the heart of the plate, it is not coming back. Another factor that has to do with velocity is his GB%. In 2010, batters were hitting the ball on the ground almost 45% of the time against Cecil. This season they are putting it on the ground at a rate of 34%.  That's a huge factor that has led to his HR/9 rate go up by .20. Putting on that extra muscle to compliment his new body could get Cecil throwing hard again, and back to how he was in 2010, or even better.

I feel like this article was all over the place, so I'll just summarize my points.
1. Cecil's lefty splits would make him a great specialist out of the bullpen.
2. Cecil's increased velocity as a reliever makes him more effective in that role.

1. Brett can gain that velocity back if he puts on muscle this off-season to compliment all the weight he lost last winter. This would get him back up to 91-92 when starting, and he would be a good back end starter.
2. With that increased velocity would come less home runs(which has been Cecil's kryptonite this season), and more ground ball outs.

Where do you prefer Brett? If he doesn't regain his past velocity, would you still want him there? Leave your comments below with your opinion.

You can follow me on twitter, @gideonturk.
To connect with the site, Follow us on Twitter, and Like us on Facebook.