Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Winter Meetings Day 1 Recap

Winter Meetings Day 1 Recap
(Or a Stealth Positive for the Blue Jays)

            It was a relatively slow opening day to the 2013 Winter Meetings.  A day which saw a lot of smoke develop about the likes of Yunel Escobar & Ricky Nolasco in Miami, as well as the Mets & R.A. Dickey, but very little actual fire.  However, on that slow first day , I think almost all the developments within the AL East bode well for the chances of the Jays contending next season.

            The biggest news to come down on Monday had nothing to do with trades or signings, but rather the revelation that Alex Rodriguez will be recovering for 4-6 months after he will under go surgery on his left hip.  This means that in a best case scenario, A-Rod wont be back in the Bronx Bombers lineup until at least June, and who knows what shape he’ll be in when he does return.  Couple that with the broken ankle that shortstop Derek Jeter suffered in the post-season, that’s $45 million of the Yankees suddenly shrinking payroll, devoted to aging and now recovering veterans on the left side of their infield.
            The Yankees were hardly a team without holes before this news.  They already needed a right fielder (with Nick Swisher & Ichiro becoming free agents), catcher (with Russell Martin’s departure to Pittsburgh), and a designated hitter (rumoured to be the returning Raul Ibanez).  Now we can add 3rd base to that list, especially if we consider that A-Rod will likely be restricted to DH when he returns. 
            Given that they already have $168 million committed to 9 players next season, and their stated goal of getting under the luxury tax at $189 million, it doesn’t seem like they will be able to spend like they usually do to plug holes.  None of which would be an issue if their farm system, which just 12 months ago seemed to be teeming with talent, still had that perception.  With injuries to prospects like Manny Banuelos, and setbacks to players like Dellin Betances, and the new payroll restrictions, its going to be very difficult for the Yankees to put forward the typical juggernaut they usually do.

Mike Napoli To the Red Sox
            The other big news of the day, and by far the biggest free agent signing of the day, was the Red Sox inking sometimes catcher, sometimes first baseman, sometimes DH Mike Napoli to a 3 year $39 million contract.  While this is one of the biggest names on the free agent market signing with a team in our division, I still think this could be a good sign for the Jays going forward.
At first blush this is a signing that clearly makes the Red Sox a better team. Napoli fills a desperate need at first base, that was created when they traded away Adrian Gonzalez in August.  Also, his pull happy right handed swing is likely a very good fit in Fenway park, where he’ll be able to both pepper the Monster for doubles, and lollipop fly balls over it. 
However, on a number of level,s I like seeing this signing to a division rival.  When the Red Sox shed$62 million in payroll last summer in the trade with the Dodgers, my main fear was that they were gearing up to load their payroll up with high upside young stars. 
Napoli is not that kind of player what-so-ever. 
He’s a poor defensive player, whether its at first base or catcher, and is already 30 years old, so a return to his breakout 2011 season is more unlikely.  Also, given that the Red Sox have already signed catcher David Ross, to go along with incumbent starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and youngster Ryan Lavarnway, its doubtful that Napoli is going to see much time behind the plate.  Instead he seems likely to become the Red Sox every day 1st baseman.  A great deal of Napoli’s value at the moment comes from his ability to catch.  His bat is a major upgrade on the average catcher, but at first base it becomes merely average.
The other impact that Napoli signing with the Red Sox has, is that it takes a catcher out of the free agent market, which has a number of teams likely in the market for a new starting catcher.  Given how thin the free agent catching crop is behind AJ Pierzynski, that could help drive the price up for any catcher GM Alex Anthopolous chooses to trade. 
Which leads me to…

The Catching Situation & JP Arencibia
            Monday had two developments that made the Jays already confusing Jays catching situation, even more muddled.
            First, early in the day the Jays claimed Eli Whiteside off waivers after a very brief stay on the Yankees roster.  By claiming Whiteside, the Jays effectively replace Bobby Wilson on the roster, after non-tendering him last week.  The theory stood, that Whiteside was on the roster, so that after the team traded one of its two Major League catchers (JP Arencibia, or John Buck), Whiteside would serve as the backup, until uber-prospect Travis d’Arnaud was ready for action.  Seemed perfectly reasonable, especially given how many teams were in the market for a starting catcher.
            Later in the day however, the tide seemed to turn when JP Arencibia joined Jaime Campbell and said…
            “You’re our starting catcher, you’re our guy– that’s the everyday guy– and John Buck knows that he’s the backup, and he’s accepting of that role, and that’s the way it’s going to be.’ ”
“I know where I’m going to be, so I’m OK,”

            That appeared to indicate that he had been assured by the front office that he was going to start on opening day.  This was further clarified later in Jeff Blair’s column in the Globe & Mail
 “I know I’m going to be with the Blue Jays all year.” He wouldn’t elaborate. But when asked if the chances were better of him having a multiyear contract by 2013 opening day than being traded, Arencibia said: “That’s a tough question. I’ll just say I’m not going to be traded, and leave it at that.”

            Now, while I’m sure that J.P. Arencibia was told by the management team that he was assured of not being traded, I think its very easy to make those type of proclamations in November or December, but much more difficult to follow through on it, as situations develop through the off-season. 
            Currently as things stand it seems that the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees, Mets, Rangers, and potentially the Dodgers could be looking for a catcher.  Only one of those teams is going to land Pierzynski, and the services of a starting catcher (even one as flawed as JP Arencibia is), could potentially be at his value peak.  It would be a mistake for him to be on this roster come Opening Day.
            Which brings me to what is in my opinion the most important development which occurred on Monday, which was…

R.A. Dickey is Available and Being Shopped
            There had been rumblings for a few days that the Mets would be interested in trading ace pitcher R.A. Dickey, who has one year and $5 million left before he’s able to become a Free Agent.  Today those rumors were confirmed first by ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who Tweeted –
 #Mets have gotten "serious" about trading R.A. Dickey as soon as this week. 
            Now, I’ll admit that I have an irrational love for knuckleball pitchers.  Tom Candiotti is one of my favourite pitchers from the early 90s, and despite being a Red Sock, Tim Wakefield has always had a certain piece of my heart.  At the same time, Dickey has a fantastic back story of having his first professional contract voided because it was discovered he didn’t have an Ulnar Collateral Ligament (which is the one replaced in Tommy John Surgery). 
            From what I’ve seen via Twitter, Blue Jays nation seems fairly split on whether acquiring Dickey would be a good idea.  It doesn’t even seem to be a debate about what the cost would be, at its core it’s a debate about whether Dickey is the type of pitcher worth gambling on. 
            However, the article that really caught my eye today was the article by Baseball Prospectus founder, and current Grantland blogger Rany Jazayerli’s piece imploring the Kansas City Royals to give up what it took to get R.A. Dickey. 
            While that article has certain specific Royals tinges to it, everything that Rany says in the article applies to the Blue Jays just as much.  I can't recommend people enough to read that article. 
 I think that the Jays need to do whatever they can to get Dickey, if they want to go the extra mile in the very difficult AL East.  Any deal probably begins with Arencibia, as well as young toolsy centerfielder Anthony Gose.   The Jays would probably have to add at least one additional piece, but I think its more than worth while.

Follow me on Twitter @Mentoch 

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