Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is now 4 days away and, as always, rumours are rampant.  Due to Anthopoulos‘ ways, the Blue Jays have been mentioned in a high percentage of trade discussion.  As we have heard year in and year out, he checks in on everyone.  I generally don’t get overly excited about these rumours though, because AA’s biggest moves have generally been quite stealthy.  The biggest deal so far was Samardjiza to the A’s, but there are certainly still big names out there including Price, Hamels, and even Tulowitzki.

At this point, Blue Jays fans are going into hysterics about how terrible Anthopoulos is for not having made a move yet.  Even though we know those same critics would be the first to complain that he gave up too much to get a deal done, if one were occur.  Well, if you can’t beat them, join them.  This is my input into what the Blue Jays should do for the 2014 MLB Trade Deadline.

Most rumours surrounding the Jays have centred on pitching — most often starting pitching.  The reality is that starting pitching may not provide us with the easiest path to improving the team.  This team has holes, but the starting pitching has been a recent strong point.  They rank 6th in the MLB over the last month for WAR with 2.9.  Once Stroman fit into the rotation, these 5 guys simply haven’t been that bad.  Any trade is going to likely drop Happ out of the rotation, so we aren’t looking for back-end guys.  Additionally, I think we will have ample depth down the stretch with the return of Nolin and possibly Morrow, no worries for me there.  The only deal for a SP that makes sense is a front-end guy like Price or Hamels.  Those guys will cost multiple big prospects and we will have no guarantee we can even sign them long-term.

The reliever market has even more big names in play in 2014.  Uehara, Miller, Bastardo, Papelbon, etc. may be the crown jewels remaining, but Street, Soria, & Thatcher have already been moved.  The price paid for these relievers so far seems to be quite fair really.  Normally a couple of mid-level prospects will get the deal done.  I view the reliever position as an easier way to upgrade their current roster.  Although many of the pieces have remained the same since 2013, the results have not matched.  Janssen has struggled as of late, Santos is gone, Delabar lost the ability to throw strikes, Wagner never stepped up, and the list goes on.  Outside of Loup, Janssen, & Cecil, the 2014 Blue Jays bullpen simply hasn’t been very good.

Lastly we have the position players.  The Blue Jays have mostly been linked to second and third basemen.  The idea seems to be that Lawrie can take whatever position is left available between the two.  This makes a lot of sense considering the relative lack of production the Jays have gotten from the 2B position this year when Lawrie was not in.  Tolleson has been a good platoon utility player, but I don’t want him playing every day. [Note: The Blue Jays traded for Danny Valencia, who will assumedly platoon with Francisco at 3B.]

So of these three options, I would like the Blue Jays to address them in the following order: third base, relief pitching, starting pitching.  Ideally I want the Blue Jays to go out and get Beltre from the Rangers for a handful of prospects.  Beltre is an aging 3B with $18M owed to him next, but he still produces at an elite level and provides solid, but declining defence.  However, a big splash like this doesn’t appear likely for the Blue Jays in 2014.  They truly do appear to be at some imaginary salary cap imposed by ownership.  This would perfectly explain the Valencia move that just happened.  He is cheap, controllable, and fits a very niche role – playing 3B and hitting only lefties.  It just so happens we currently have a 3B who only hits righties.  Looks like we will be going with Lawrie at 2B and a Valencia/Francisco platoon at 3B.  I bet they keep Tolleson around to play some utility and pinch hit.  Goins and Kawasaki will fight it out until Lawrie returns, but both may end up getting sent down.

With the Valencia deal done, the Jays should move hard on the RP market.  Spend the prospects to go get an elite late innings reliever to sure up the bullpen.  A move like this coupled with the addition of Sanchez,  perhaps Morrow, and a rebound second half for a couple guys could quickly revert the Blue Jays bullpen back to elite form.

Luckily for the Blue Jays, they had a strong 2014 draft and have seen numerous prospects take big steps forward.  This gives them more ammunition for trades and makes the potential loss of prospects easier to swallow.  I would suggest moving some of their infield depth and/or pitching depth at the A-ball level for a quality RP.  Uehara would truly look great in a Blue Jays uniform down the stretch.

Biggest Surprise – Mark Buehrle

Mark_Buehrle_

Oh how the mood of Jays’ fans has changed.  My last post – on May 5th – was a plea for fans to be patient with their 14-17 ball club.  All signs pointed to a team that had been actually quite good, but experienced some bad luck and poor outcomes. Now, here we stand at 41-31, a comfy 3.5 games clear of our closest competitor in the AL East.  This change has lead me to a new topic – which Blue Jay has been the most pleasant surprise?

I had my own personal anecdotal thoughts, but I put it to the fans on Twitter to get a feel for public opinion:

 



The same names kept coming up with fans – Hutch, Buehrle, Gose, Lawrie, & Melky.

I decided to take a more statistical look at the question. I took ZiPS projections from before the season for the entire Blue Jays roster and compared them to the current updated ZiPS projections. The 5 biggest increases (WAR) for pitchers and batters are as follows:

Top 5 WAR Increases - Batter
Player WAR Increase
Bautista 1.7
Francisco 1.1
Encarnacion 0.9
Cabrera 0.6
Lind 0.6

Top 5 WAR Increases - Pitcher
Player WAR Increase
Buehrle 1.6
Hutchison 1.3
Korecky 0.7
Drabek 0.6
Rasmussen 0.5

Excuse some of the AAA depth pitchers making the list, apparently they are doing better than ZiPS anticipated and also more likely to log MLB innings. Two real items of substance jump out here – Bautista is having an even better year than the tremendous one he was expected to have and a couple of the fan votes didn’t make the top 5 list. Gose is almost there with a 0.6, but Lawrie has actually decreased his projected WAR by 0.2. Albeit, mostly due to defensive issues tied into the switch to 2B.

With this info in hand, I am going to take a look at a few of the players individually. Today, I will try to determine what has led to Buehrle’s success so far in 2014.

If we were to pick a player at the start of the year who would greatly outperform expectations, I would not have picked Buehrle. Surely one of the young players would breakout before the 35 year-old lefty reversed the tides of the aging curve. A quick look at some of Buehrle’s numbers and it seems like success would be impossible – the first season where his average fastball has dipped below 85 MPH, an almost 2 point dip in K%, and a career high BB%. How could he be outperforming projections with peripherials like that?

The answer is simple; he isn’t giving up home runs and he is getting lucky. A HR/FB of 4% is quite easily the lowest of Mark’s career, he has been victimized by the long ball quite frequently previously in his career. A lot of people would believe a decrease like this is mostly due to luck, but almost everyone would think a career high in Left on Base % (LOB%) of 81% is based in luck. The timing of events over the course of a year will generally stabilize, such is randomness. It is likely that both of these numbers will regress closer to career norms, which will mean more HRs and more runners scoring.

However, this feels like a cheap way out. Picking some peripherals that are abnormal and saying they will normalize is really quite easy. These are the outcomes. Perhaps Buehrle is actually doing something different that is leading to these improved and unpredicted results?

His pitch usage has changed substantially in 2014. He is no longer relying on his fastball as much – probably a wise choice – and has increased the usage of his curveball twofold. This has worked out very well for Mark, he already has as many whiffs on his breaking ball as he did in all of 2013. Not only that, but when hitters are making contact with his curveball, they are hitting for a 0.019 ISO. That is less than 1/6 of what they are hitting off of his fastball or changeup. Evidence A:

plot_profile

The old adage about pitching smarter, not harder, may never have been more true. Buehrle has changed his pitch mix to rely more on his curveball and changeup, and less on his very hittable and slowing fastball. Perhaps regression isn’t imminent for Buehrle. After all, we can see some obvious changes in the way he is pitching. It is likely that hitters will become wise to sly ol’ Marks tricks, but he may have more surprises waiting for them. Maybe we will see the return of his slider which he hasn’t thrown since his time with the Marlins?

Step Back From The Ledge…

colbyslam

Here we are, May 5th, exactly 19.13% of the way through the 2014 Blue Jays schedule.  If you were to only gauge the success of the team by the reactions of the fans and media, you would assume a start somewhere in the 10-21 range, likely 15+ games out of the playoffs.  Another season ruined before June.  However back here in reality, the Jays are 14-17 and within 2.5 games of the division lead, 2 games out of the wildcard if that means anything at this junction.

The calls have come loud and clear – Fire Gibby!, Trade Bautista!, or at the very least, Fire AA and Beeston!  Perhaps these statements will have merit at some point, but basing them on the start to this season is irrational.

To appease the nay-sayers, lets look at what has gone wrong so far in 2014.  Obviously the bullpens outcomes have been a letdown to start the season.  Their 5.33 ERA is second worst in the MLB, beating only the lowly Astros. The narrative about the bullpen will quickly turn to walks, as they have allowed 4.88 BB/9.  Even a casual observer will realize allowing over half a walk an inning isn’t satisfactory.

Next, a nay-sayer will likely point fingers at the starting rotations performance thus far.  They do only have the 19th best ERA in the game, while only pitching the 26th most innings.  Clearly those are not good enough to make the playoffs, and likely they are leading to some of the bullpen issues.

Lastly, a nay-sayer will probably say we have too many injury prone players.  It is true our team has numerous players with injury-plagued pasts.  Already this season we have seen Reyes, Lind, Janssen, and now Morrow miss significant time.   Only time will tell if the injury bug catches up with Bautista, Lawrie, McGowan, et al. as it has in the past.

I have had these discussions with numerous people now, they almost always cite the above reasons for losing hope and demanding change.  So let’s take a step back and assess the situation on a deeper level than simply looking at the W-L record.

The Blue Jays have scored 147 runs while allowing 147 runs, a run differential of 0 for the math-challenged.  This would typically indicate a .500 ball club, a pace they are off by .048.  This isn’t too significant on its own, but a run differential of 0 rates them first in the AL East. This is a very tight division and likely the Jays should have won a couple more games so far.  The Blue Jays are scoring (and allowing) 4.74 runs per game in 2014, which ranks them 8th in the MLB.  The league average in 2013 was 4.17, a pace the 2014 Blue Jays are 0.57 ahead of.  This has been a truly elite offence to start the year, which was mostly expected.  Bautista has continued his dominance of the league with a silly .458 OBP and 190 wRC+, which is a pace that will put him comfortably in the MVP discussion.  There have been some revelations with the offence as well, none more so than Melky Cabrera.   The Melkman is hitting a cool .336, while leading the league with 45 hits.  Perhaps even more noteworthy for Melky is that 6 of those 45 hits have been of the HR variety.

I will concede the bullpen has been frustrating to start the year.  We can directly tag a few of the losses on their performances so far in 2014.  All members of the bullpen have struggled at different times, which is made more frustrating by the fact that they were considered our strongest asset coming into 2014.  It is hard to overlook the loses, but we know the skill level of this bullpen and it is considerably above how they have pitched.  If we look at xFIP, which normalizes for things *mostly* out of control of the pitcher – fielding, timing, HR/FB rates – things get a lot better.  Cecil, Jenkins, Santos, Rogers, & Loup all have xFIPs comfortably below their more advertised ERAs.  Furthermore, we just added one of the most electric pitchers our bullpen has ever seen in Stroman.  We should expect a lot more from this bullpen going forward, it is still an asset and there is depth in the minors.

Our starting pitching has been unable to go deep into games, but that does appear to be improving.  Buehrle has been so much more than we can reasonably expect going forward.  What we can expect is for him to eat innings (quickly), while giving us a chance to win most games he is out there.   Hutchison has proven he is the real deal, although his sparkling 27.3 K% may not be sustainable.  Dickey and McGowan both started the year with short outings and were giving up a lot of contact.  They both seemed to have improved, which is understandable for pitchers in coming out of April.  Our most suspect starter thus far, Morrow, is now out for a few months and possibly the whole year.  This is too bad, as I was as big of a Morrow fan as they come, but it was predictable.  I was blinded by Morrows ability to rack up Ks when we acquired him, but he has never realized his potential and has battled countless injuries.  We – mostly me – may have to accept that Morrow is done as a Blue Jay.

There are other positives on the roster as well.  Brett Lawrie has tapped into his extinct power after a slow start, albeit mostly due to a poor BABIP.  Juan Francisco may be another diamond in the rough for the Jays, much the same as Bautista and Edwin before.  We all knew he had power, but he is also getting on base and playing passable defence for the time being.

There have been a few pleasant surprises on the farm to start 2014.  The trio of Stroman, Nolin, and Hendricks have all pitched well at AAA and give the Blue Jays that SP depth they sorely lacked in 2013.  Dan Johnson, Kevin Pillar, and John Stilson have also all impressed at AAA.  Down a level in New Hampshire, Aaron Sanchez has started out strong and it appears increasingly likely that he could play a role on this 2014 Blue Jays team.  I’ll put up another post covering some of the other Jays prospects soon.

All in all, I am happy with this start.  The offence is running on all cylinders, the rotation is starting to take shape, and the bullpen is due to regress to its true skill level.  We have much more depth than we had last year, and the other teams in the division are suffering from more injuries and underperformance.  That being said, we need to start winning some games, or this is all for not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Offseason + Spring Training Final Thoughts

Hutch

First things first, I am going to – for the most part – pretend like yesterday didn’t happen.  Yeah, the Jays lost badly and yeah, Reyes is back on the DL.  But I want to focus on the Offseason and Spring Training today.

There is a genuine anger/disappointment among Jays fan after the Offseason.  Almost everyone expected at least one mid-tier starting pitcher to be signed, while some expected another blockbuster trade or multiple signings.  We now know that none of those things happened, although it appears they were very close with Ervin Santana and may have been duked by his side a little bit.  I will even count myself as one of those who expected the club to sign either Santana or Jiminez, it just made too much sense.  With the most glaring hole on the roster being SPs and a couple of mid-tier guys available without a tonne of suitors, it seemed logical for the Jays.  It didn’t happen.  Instead we are going into the season with a rotation of Dickey, Hutchison, Buehrle, Morrow, & McGowan.

The lack of a big signing or trade however, has not turned me into an Anthopoulos hating, Blue Jay doubting troll.  Unfortunately, I appear to be in the minority on this one.  I believe the Jays were able to set their price for Santana and Jiminez because they knew what they had in Hutchison, Redmond, Stroman, Sanchez, and to some degree McGowan.  The level of depth they have at SP this year is leaps and bounds ahead of what they had last year.  If they were to sign Santana or Jiminez to 4/5 year deal, it would only further the logjam and may not be their best use of those dollars.  I do believe they will need to make a move at 2B before too long though.  I like that they are going to give Goins a shot with new hitting coach Seitzer, but I just don’t know if a Goins/Izturis platoon will be able to hit enough.  (This Reyes injury only complicates things, Stephen Drew time?)

Going into 2013 the Blue Jays were highly regarded as World Series favourites, with a playoff birth almost guaranteed.  Fast forward to 2014 with mostly minor roster changes – gone are Johnson, JP,  & Bonifacio, here are Navarro, Goins, & Hutchison – and we are now expected to be cellar dwellers.  A large part of baseball writing is going with the herd and taking the trendy picks.  Luckily, the herd is quite often wrong (see: 2013).  I do believe people are overreacting to an injury-riddled 2013 for the Jays and are discounting their true skill levels.  The Jays have a premier offence and bullpen, a starting rotation that needs to step up and stay healthy, and a bench that just sucks.  The way that I look at it is this – less things have to go right this year for it to be a success, than things went wrong last year for it to end up as it did.  Let’s have a little hope here, it is a long season!

As for Spring Training, it was fine.  I think Hutchison stepped up and looked ready to make an impact immediately.  Logically this makes sense, seeing as he was holding his own in the league as a 21 year old and the success rate on Tommy John is very good.  He is a young pitcher that should be a lock in our rotation for many years.  Bautista and EE both looked like premiere power hitters in the middle of the lineup, and Melky looked considerably more 2012 than 2013.  It wasn’t all rosy though, as Rasmus, RA, and Goins didn’t look great.  These are all very small sample sizes however, so they lack predictive power.  For me, the big news out of ST was Hutchison being back and better than ever.

Overall, I am really looking forward to this season.  The Jays have very low expectations and maybe that is what this team needs.  I think Seitzer is going to work really well with Lawrie and some other young hitters to get them to focus on just getting balls in play.  I am very excited for both Stroman and Sanchez to put pressure on AA to force a call up during the season, hopefully for their performance and not an injury on the big club.

Let’s get it started!

Prospects! Hansel Rodriguez!

hansel-rodriguez-2013-bmPhoto by Bill Mitchell

I have decided to do a series of posts on the Jays and the prospects that they have.  I am doing this because we are just coming off of the prospect-ranking season and there are lots of discrepancy between the rankings this year.  It all comes down to the style of the prospect evaluator, do they value potential impact or likelihood of impact greater.  So in most cases this means, do you put more value in the higher-level teams (AA & AAA), or the lower-level (DSL, Rookie & A).

The Blue Jays are loaded with young talent that you can dream on, but their arrival to the MLB is at least 3-4 years away in most cases.  That isn’t to say they don’t have a couple stud prospects much closer (e.g., Sanchez & Stroman), but for the most part the upper levels are barren of impact MLB talent.  To get a more professional ranking of our prospects, I recommend the following reads (subs req’d):

Keith Law ranks the top 100 prospects in baseball.  He also does a piece where he ranks the systems as a whole and is quite hard on the Jays, placing them 24th overall.

Jason Parks details our top 10 prospects and is much higher on the farm as a whole.

There is no getting around two facts: 1) We would easily have a top system if we hadn’t traded the likes of Syndergaard, D’Arnaud, Marisnick, Nicolino, et al. and 2) We have been unable to sign our 1st round draft picks 2 out of the last 3 years.  However, it isn’t all doom and gloom because of the following 2 facts: 1) We have two protected 1st round picks this year and 2) We have been killing it in the International market and have a very strong low-end to our system that could blossom in 2014.

This brings me to the point of this post, Hansel Rodriguez.  Firstly, that is a great name.  Secondly, he is a 16 year old pitcher from the Dominican Republic who has already touched 95 MPH.  Thirdly, the Jays signed him today for $330K.  If you want to read a bit more about him and see a brief video (excuse the dropped ball, only 16!), Baseball America did a piece on him today.

These are the type of moves that I absolutely love.  There is very little risk at only $330K, and we have another explosive young arm to attempt to develop over the next 5 years.  Not only that, but this puts the Jays at the max for the International signing pool, which means the system is stocked again for another year.  To make this all a bit sweeter, this final signing was made possible due to a sly sign and trade of Brian Moran during the Rule 5 draft.  We were able to pick Moran and then ship him to the Angels for $243K of International signing pool.  That is the type of shrewd roster management and draft-gaming that AA is known for.  Hopefully we will be talking a lot more about this move (and Hansel) in the future.

25 Man Roster Challenge

The guys over at 1 Blue Jays Way are running their 25 Man Roster Challenge again, so shall we?  Gonna keep this pretty brief as it is pretty straight forward, but feel free to ask any questions on Twitter.

C – Navarro
1B – Lind
2B – Goins
SS – Reyes
3B – Lawrie
RF – Bautista
CF – Rasmus
LF – Cabrera
DH – Encarnacion

BN – Izturis
BN – Thole
BN – Sierra

SP – Dickey
SP – Morrow
SP – Jiminez (Ubaldo, FA signing!)
SP – Buehrle
SP – Happ

RP – Janssen
RP – Santos
RP – Cecil
RP – Delabar
RP – McGowan
RP – Rogers
RP – Jeffress
RP – Redmond

Spring Training Record : 15-13

Nothing too shocking there, besides maybe the Ubaldo signing.  I think they will wait to start the clock on Stroman or any other young players.  Could see some real good competition for that 5th rotation spot, hopefully everyone stays healthy.

The other issues with this team is options.  It is almost certain someone will need to go through waivers if there are no deals before Opening Day.  I took the fairly conservative road with this entry, but would be fully entertained if AA decided to show me up!

Wildcard – Brett Lawrie

When I look at the 2014 Toronto BlueJays, I see a lot of question marks.  Players that either have a considerable track record of injuries,  inconsistent performance, or haven’t been given a full chance yet.  The player with potentially the greatest variance in outcomes, is Brett Lawrie.

brett_lawrie

Sometimes lost when discussing Lawrie, is his age.  At the ripe old age of 24, Lawrie has already played parts of 3 seasons with the Jays.  It looks like Brett will be permanently penciled in at 3B during the 2014 season, and why the hell would they not? As uncertain as Lawrie has been at the plate, his defence has been tremendous – excluding that 2B experiment last year, but that was unfair to say the least. Just look at the following fielding spray chart from Fangraphs for Lawrie. He is showing tremendous range and making plays on balls that many aren’t even attempting.


Source: FanGraphs

So this post really isn’t about defence, because we are relatively certain what we have on that end.  As any recent Jays viewer can attest to, some of the most memorable moments in the last 2 years were watching Lawrie get to unfathomable ground balls and still have time to get the runner at first.  Gold gloves are not out of  the question if Lawrie stays healthy.

This post is about what to expect from Lawrie on offence.  When he broke into the league in 2011 we were expecting him to hit for average with developing power, while providing league average plate discipline and considerably above average base stealing ability.  However, what we have received so far is an extremely emotional player who gives 110% on every play, which has led to a string of injuries.  These injuries have undoubtedly affected his results, which for the most part have been downgrades of everything we expected.  His power has been zapped, he hasn’t hit for a consistent average, and his base stealing has been questionable at best.

Fear not, Jays fans, Lawrie just turned 24 last week.  Some of his struggles have been growing pains, while some of his struggles were self-induced due to the level of raw adrenaline.  But with age comes maturity and perspective, and for Lawrie that may allow him to tap into the immense potential he has.

2013 was a big year for Lawrie on a couple of fronts.  He cemented himself as a defensive wizard at 3B, and with the help of Mark DeRosa, he started to slow the game down.  When Lawrie shows restraint, he greatly reduces his chance for injury and will hopefully keep himself in the lineup consistently in 2014.  He needs these MLB reps at the plate to fine tune his approach, not in the minors doing countless rehab assignments.  2013 started off poorly for Lawrie with an injury in spring training which forced him to miss the World Baseball Classic and the start of the 2013 MLB season.  It is quite likely he came back to early from this injury and his stats showed it right through until July.  Lawrie posted a wRC+ of 67 for the first half of 2013, which means he was 33% worse than the average at creating runs offensively.

It was obvious some time off was necessary to get fully healthy and attempt to save the season for Lawrie.  He did just that in July, and the results were immediate.  Brett was one of the hottest hitters in the MLB for August with an OBP of .397.  He came back down to Earth in September, but still the difference in his 1st and 2nd half numbers are substantial.  He cut his K rate in half, added over 80 points of OBP, and bumped his wRC+ to 110.  We already know he is above average defensively, but if he can post above average offensive numbers at the age of 23 as well, we have an all-star potential player.

Most player projections systems are very bullish on Lawrie for 2014, projecting 3-4 WAR.  A big chunk of that WAR will come with the glove, but every projection also has him posting wRC+ of greater than 100.  The projections also predict him to grow into his power a bit more this year with 15+ homers and to make better choices on the base paths with 15+ steals.  These are the two elements that have mysteriously disappeared from Lawrie’s game that could really elevate him from a very good 3B, to a great 3B.  Hopefully the projections are on to something!

As you can tell, I am very high on Lawrie.  He has shown the tools necessary at a young age, he has just struggled to show them all concurrently.  We know he works hard and wants to improve, but the biggest battle will likely be mental for him.

Although us Jays fans have long praised Lawrie, I predict 2014 will be a bit of a breakout year for Lawrie on the bigger MLB stage.

Impending Free Agent – Colby Rasmus

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees

Let’s start off with this – Colby Rasmus was really good in 2013.  Sneakily underrated good.  The kind of good that would get him seriously paid in the 2014/15 offseason.  Lets take a look at just how good he was, by looking at the top 10 centerfielders by WAR:

Top 10 CF by WAR
no Player WAR
1 Trout 10.4
2 McCutchen 8.2
3 Gomez 7.6
4 Ellsbury 5.8
5 Choo 5.2
6 Rasmus 4.8
7 Jones 4.2
8 Crisp 3.9
9 Pollock 3.6
10 Span 3.5

Colby was the 6th best CF in the game, right between Choo and Jones.  However, that doesn’t tell the full story, because we know that WAR is a counting stat and we know that Rasmus missed considerable time in 2013.  So if we normalize the WAR to a full 162 game schedule we get the following:

 

Top 10 CF by Normalized WAR
no Player WAR
1 Trout 10.7
2 McCutchen 8.5
3 Gomez 8.4
4 Ellsbury 7.0
5 Rasmus 6.6
6 Choo 5.5
7 Crisp 4.8
8 Pollock 4.3
9 Jones 4.3
10 Jackson 3.9

Now obviously we can’t expect players to play 162 games a year, and these WAR numbers are inflated due to that.  It is the order that is important, with Rasmus jumping up into 5th, hot on the heels of Ellsbury.  [Sidenote: while doing this analysis, I realized Trout was producing 0.066 WAR per game. That is 2/3rds of a win every 10 games!]

Lastly, lets look at some 2014 salaries numbers for these players:

Top 10 CF by Normalized WAR + 2014 Salary
no Player WAR 2014 Salary
1 Trout 10.7 $550,000
2 McCutchen 8.5 $7,250,000
3 Gomez 8.4 $7,000,000
4 Ellsbury 7.0 $21,140,000
5 Rasmus 6.6 $6,500,000
6 Choo 5.5 $14,000,000
7 Crisp 4.8 $7,500,000
8 Pollock 4.3 $550,000
9 Jones 4.3 $13,000,000
10 Jackson 3.9 $5,300,000

This table really tells us a lot.  It tell us the importance of maximizing the value of pre-arbitration players like Trout and Pollock.  It tells us that signing good young players to long-term deals and surrendering some of that arbitration value for free agent savings — see McCutchen & Gomez — might be a very good idea.  But most importantly to Rasmus, it tell us that allowing these players to reach free agency, as Ellsbury and Choo recently did, is a very expensive proposition.  If we were to assume Rasmus could replicate his 2013 season in 2014, he would likely be a $15-17M AAV player.  Not likely something the BlueJays want to get involved, especially considering the term would almost certainly be 5+ years.

This raises two further questions – 1) What level of output is the real Rasmus  on a go forward basis? 2) Why wouldn’t the BlueJays try to lock up Rasmus to a team friendly long-term deal ala Gomez? It is very likely that the answer to the first question answers the second.

A strong case can certainly be made that a long-term deal should have been made.  Just look at the lifetime numbers of Gomez and Rasmus.  They are both high strikeout, low average, and high power guys with considerably above average base running and defence.

# Name Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
1 CarlosGomez - – - 823 2720 68 371 271 170 5.3% 22.8% .152 .311 .255 .303 .406 .311 90 23.3 -12.3 82.6 16.6
2 ColbyRasmus - – - 689 2663 98 364 312 24 8.7% 24.1% .188 .298 .248 .317 .436 .327 103 13.3 22.6 15.7 13.0

The numbers are even more similar for the 2013 season in which they both broke out:

# Name Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
1 CarlosGomez Brewers 147 590 24 80 73 40 6.3% 24.7% .222 .344 .284 .338 .506 .363 130 6.2 26.3 26.5 7.6
2 ColbyRasmus BlueJays 118 458 22 57 66 0 8.1% 29.5% .225 .356 .276 .338 .501 .365 130 1.2 16.7 12.9 4.8

It is very likely too late to sign Colby to any kind of very team friendly long-term deal, with his looming 2014/15 free agency.  However, the BlueJays must decide if they want to try to lock him up during the 2014 season for somewhere between team friendly and crazy free agent prices.  If we use the above prices for team friendly ($7-13M) and free agent ($14-21M), they would likely be looking at a long term deal with an AAV of $13M.  Let’s say 6yr/$80M, or just over $13M per season.

Since we aren’t talking about true free agent prices, Rasmus would need to produce 2-3 WAR a season to justify the $13M.  Is that reasonable? Well, over his 5-year MLB career he has produced 2.6, 4.0, 0.5, 1.1, & 4.8 WAR, for an average of 2.6.  If we want to believe that his 2013 was truly a breakout (really a turnaround) year, than $13M would be a terrific bargain. Unfortunately I am not sold on 2013 being the new norm for 2 reasons, BABIP and K%.  Colby’s BABIP jumped by .100 in 2013 over 2012, to a career high .356.  In general terms, for every 10 times Colby hit the ball in play, an extra 1 was landing for a hit versus 2012.  This is very likely unsustainable and due for regression in 2014.  This will drag down the rest of his numbers and bring everyones attention back to point #2 – Colby strikes out a lot.  Colby struck out in 29.5% of plate appearances in 2013, another career high.  It is amazing he was so productive with this strikeout rate, but when paired with a more normal BABIP it may greatly reduce his efficiency.

Steamer  has Colby as a 3.3 WAR player in 2014 and I believe that is fair assessment.  I think the Jays should do a long-term deal with Colby before the All-Star break.  If they keep the deal below $15M/yr and on the low side of 7 years, than they can very likely get good value from that contract.  This also opens up the availability to package Gose for a position of greater need, such as 2B and SP.

Lets go AA, 6 years/$80M.

Bonus: Colby had 0 stolen bases last year and has only 4 since joining the BlueJays.  Hard to believe when you see his speed in the outfield.  Would love for him to add that element back into his game (after we sign him).

2013/14 Offseason – Robinson Cano

canojay

So, we have established that the Mariners 10yr/$240M contract was not the gross overpay that is was mostly panned to be.  We also know the market for Cano wasn’t as competitive as it could have been, with some of the biggest spenders content at 2B or at their spending limit.  Lastly, we know that the BlueJays got a combined -2.1 WAR from their collection of second basemen in 2013.  Do you see where this is going?

At $24M per season, Cano is an expensive compliment to a roster that is already at historic highs.  Cano would team with Reyes  to form the premiere combo up the middle, but at a steep cost.  The Jays would owe the two $40M in 2014 and $46M in 2015, but man that would be exciting.  It would have limited our ability to sign a midlevel SP, but I have (a bit) of faith in some  assortment of Hutchison, Drabek, Stroman, Happ, Redmond, McGowan,  and Romero (?) to hold down the back end of this rotation.  I mean, how much pitching would we need with a potential lineup of:

Reyes
Bautista
Cano
Encarnacion
Lind
Rasmus
Lawrie
Cabrera
Navarro

Look at that lineup! You are legitimately expecting 20 HR from 5 of those guys, and with any luck 4 of them could hit 30 HR.  Lets stroll out a rotation of Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle,  Hutchison, & Stroman and see what happens.  I really think we need to start to capitalize on some cheap controllable years from pitching prospects.  League average pitching is so expensive right now, if we can get near league average from a couple guys making $500K/year, we have to take that ‘risk’.  The savings from pitching Stroman and Huthison in 2014 compared to league average free agents, would more than pay for Robinson Cano.  We may not have St. Louis Cardinals depth in our young pitching, but we should follow a similar blueprint to their 2013 team and leverage those cheap innings.

Robinson Cano, is he worth it?

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The reaction to the Mariners signing of Robinson Cano has been quite mixed.  Most people agree it is a huge pickup for the M’s, but believe the contract is not a good one.  In this article, I intend to look at the 10 year/$240M contract and determine, is he worth it?

I think we can all agree that Cano has been a terrific player up until this point in his career.  He has certainly been a top 10 player in the league over his career, and perhaps a case can be made for top 5 as of late.  However, this article is about predicting his future value and if it aligns with the large sum of money the Mariners agreed to pay him.

Inevitably, the aging curve will catch up to Robinson, as it does to everyone.  He hasn’t shown any serious signs of deteriorating play yet however, posting a wRC+ of 142 in his age 30 season which was worth 6.0 WAR.  The amazing consistency of high output over his career has led to forward looking projections being quite kind to Cano.

The 10-year ZIPS projection for Cano breaks down as follows:

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
5.5 5.2 5.0 4.6 4.0 3.3 2.8 2.2 1.6 1.1

You are getting a 4.0+ WAR player for the first half of this contract and a 2.2+ WAR player for 8/10ths of it.  I think the opinion of many is that Cano is due for a much quicker decline, making the back half of this contract look much uglier, however we are dealing with a truly elite talent who has been remarkably consistent and shown no signs of slowing down entering his age 31 season.

As we know, the output of the player is only half of this equation. We must compare this returned value with the cost the Mariners agreed to pay.  Luckily, this is a fairly simple contract to analyze:

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
$24M $24M $24M $24M $24M $24M $24M $24M $24M $24M

This is where most of the analysis I have read on this deal ends.  However, there are two factors being left out here which could be quite considerable over 10 years.  Firstly, $24M now does not equal $24M in 2023.  I don’t consider discounting of future cash flows on shorter deals, but 10 years can make a significant difference in the value of a currency.  Not to mention, an MLB team would have a fairly high Internal Rate of Return (IRR), or the expected return on any investments they make.  If we use a 5% discount rate, we get the following present values (in $M) for the 10-year contract:

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
24.00 22.86 21.77 20.73 29.74 18.80 17.91 17.06 16.24 15.47

This total of $194.59M might seem considerably more stomachable for 10 years of Mr. Cano’s services. So now let’s combine our new PV $ numbers with his expected WAR output to forecast a $/WAR amount:

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
PV $ 24.00 23.08 22.19 21.34 20.52 19.73 18.97 18.24 17.54 16.86
WAR 5.5 5.2 5.0 4.6 4.0 3.3 2.8 2.2 1.6 1.1
$/WAR 4.36 4.40 4.35 4.51 4.94 5.70 6.40 7.75 10.15 14.06

If we look at comparable free agent signings, we know that teams are paying $6-7M per WAR. Using that metric on Cano’s deal shows us the Mariners are actually getting a deep discount for years 1-6, market value for years 7 & 8, and paying a significant premium for years 9 & 10. It is very likely they had to tack on the losing 9 & 10 years to get this deal done at an AAV of $24M, but I don’t believe that spoiled the deal at all.

The second factor I wanted to consider above the basic analysis is the increasing value of $/WAR. A lot of this increase would be covered in discounting the cash flows back to present values, but I would make the case that it isn’t completely covered. A boat load of additional revenue has been pumped into the MLB lately with new national and regional TV deals, plus greater incentives to spend with additional playoff spots. I won’t calculate it in, but its an interesting side note that some of these longer term deals may seem considerably better after a few more offseasons of increased spending.

This deal is also obviously bigger for the Mariners than if he returned to the Yankees or another traditional big spender. It has rejuvenated a beat down fanbase by showing the team is willing to spend to bring in elite talent. The team is now more marketable, they may even find it easier to bring in the next big piece. Unfortunately, the ultimate value of this contract may be determined by the moves that come after it. Can the Mariners build around Cano? Can they extract the most value from his peak years under the deal? We have shown that they didn’t overpay for his services for the vast majority of the deal, but if the team doesn’t win, who cares?

So, is he worth it? Yes, absolutely. Robinson Cano is a monster who has aged well to this point in his career, and likely has another ~5 years of terrific production left, before a slow decline sets in. The Mariners should continue to strike while the iron is hot and make the most out of this good value.