Archive for Blue Jays

Effectively Wild Episode 1191: Season Preview Series: Blue Jays and Pirates


Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about a new nautical analogy by Scott Boras, the resurgent Lucas Giolito, Ronald Acuña (again), and possible destinations for free agents Alex Cobb and Greg Holland, then preview the 2018 Blue Jays (15:00) with Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, and the 2018 Pirates (46:48) with’s Adam Berry.

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The Adjustment to Revive the Final Boss

This post begins with a friendly reminder — specifically, that there are five teams in each of baseball’s six divisions. Given the noise around baseball for much of the offseason, one could be forgiven for thinking there were only four clubs in the American League East. Much of the chatter regarding the AL East this winter has centered around the formidability of the Yankees’ roster, the Red Sox’ (now successful) pursuit of J.D. Martinez, the imminent close of Baltimore’s competitive window, and the Rays’ sort of, kind of, not really teardown. It isn’t that the Blue Jays have done nothing — they’ve made several good trades and taken low-cost risks — it’s just that there have been a few more prominent stories and louder fanbases.

The most recent move out of Toronto continues the club’s offseason trend of reasonable, low-cost acquisitions. For a price of just $2.5 million, the signing of Seung-Hwan Oh — a player who, in 2016, recorded nearly three wins out of the bullpen — seems like a potential bargain.

Of course, he would not be available at this time of the offseason and at this price if he didn’t have some warts. He is coming off of a mediocre 2017 campaign, falling from one of the leauge’s top-10 relievers to barely replacement level. Of possibly greater concern is the fact that the Rangers nixed a potential deal after expressing concerns with Oh’s physical. Despite these warning signs, there is reasonable optimism for an Oh turnaround, one that would benefit the Blue Jays in either a playoff chase or as a deadline trade chip.

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Sunday Notes: Tim Mayza Was a Mystery to Me (He’s a Blue Jay)

Every now and again I’ll forgo my usual spot in the Fenway Park press box and watch a game in the stands, an overpriced adult beverage in hand. Such was the case last September when the visiting Blue Jays made a pitching change and the friend I was with asked what I knew about the left-hander jogging in from the bullpen. My response was something along the lines of, “Not a whole heckuva lot, but maybe I’ll talk to him tomorrow and see what I can learn.”

That’s exactly what I did. I approached Tim Mayza the following day, and as he’d thrown almost exclusively sliders, I began our conversation by inquiring as to why.

“It’s is my out-pitch,” explained Mayza, who’d come into the previous night’s game with 13-and-a-third big-league innings under his belt. “I’ll throw it at any time, in any count, and I faced two lefties. With deception and the different shapes of the slider, it tends to be more effective than a fastball, per se, left on left.” Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Jays Continue Sneaky-Good Offseason with Jaime Garcia

Around the same time the Orioles were finalizing a two-year deal for Andrew Cashner, the Toronto Blue Jays signed a better pitcher at about half the cost. After multiple arm and shoulder surgeries, Jaime Garcia isn’t what he once was, but the 31-year-old was an average starter last year and should repeat that level of production in the coming season. For $8 million over one year plus a $2 million buyout on a $10 million option for 2019, the Blue Jays are paying for less than average.

Garcia fits the mold of many of the Blue Jays’ moves this offseason. In addition to other formers Cardinals Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays have also acquired multiple low-cost, quality players like Curtis Granderson and Yangervis Solarte, allowing for the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle to make a run for the playoffs. On the other hand, if the season goes south, the team has plenty of flexibility to take the franchise in a different direction and try to reload as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. get closer to the majors.

Injuries took away the bulk of Jaime Garcia’s prime. He barely pitched in 2013 and 2014, and wasn’t ready at the start of 2015, either. He had a resurgence in 2015, though, making 20 starts and pitching like a top-of-the-rotation starter, with a 3.00 FIP and 2.43 ERA. Garcia was more good than ace for the first part of 2016, but still showed some flashes of greatness before falling apart at the end of the season. The Cardinals traded him to the Braves, and he had a roughly average season, putting up a 4.25 FIP, 4.41 ERA, and 2.1 WAR over 157 innings for a combination of the Braves, Twins, and the Yankees.

The lefty pitched better for the Braves than he did with the Yankees. In New York, struggled to throw strikes, pitching in the zone just 40% of the time — well below his career average of 48% — and experiencing a similar dip in first-strike percentage. Even with those issues, he was only slightly below average as a starter for the Yankees. Assuming his 21% HR/FB rate was more a reflection on the small 37.1-inning sample and not his true talent level, he didn’t pitch too poorly. 

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Blue Jays Prospect Patrick Murphy Curveballs His Injury Demons

Health issues have thrown Patrick Murphy a curve. Toronto’s pick in the third round of the 2013 draft has had Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and a nerve moved in his elbow. As a result, he went into last season having amassed just 94.2 professional innings.

He more than doubled that total in 2017. Four years into what had been a frustrating career, the 22-year-old right-hander was finally able to cast aside his injury demons and demonstrate an ability to flummox opposing batters. Featuring a hook-heavy three-pitch mix, Murphy fashioned a 2.94 ERA with the Low-A Lansing Lugnuts, then finished up the year by making two starts for high-A Dunedin.

Late in the season, I asked the 6-foot-4 curveball specialist about the arduous path he’s taken to what now qualifies as promising prospect status.

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The Depreciating Randal Grichuk

A few days ago, the Blue Jays picked up a new, young, cost-controlled starting outfielder. They got him in exchange for a reliever, and for a pitching prospect with lousy peripherals. It’s not hard to see how you could spin this as a big positive for Toronto. The other side, of course, is that the Blue Jays are taking a chance on a guy who the Cardinals couldn’t make better over a number of years. It’s fine for any team to express faith in its own player-development system, but if the Cardinals can’t get a guy polished, what hope might another club have?

As is generally the case, all three players in the trade are interesting. High-level baseball players are always interesting. Randal Grichuk is interesting, because of his track record and skillset. Dominic Leone is interesting, for the way he reemerged in 2017. And Conner Greene is interesting, because of the raw quality of his stuff. The Cardinals hope they just made their bullpen better. I don’t mean to ignore their side of this. But I’d like to focus on Grichuk, and, specifically, I’d like to focus on how he hasn’t progressed. The era in which Grichuk plays today isn’t the same as the era in which he debuted.

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Scouting the Talented, Frustrating Conner Greene

Blue Jays, red birds, Conner Greene. The 22-year-old righty was the lone prospect involved in a trade Friday evening that sent power-hitting OF Randal Grichuk from St. Louis to Toronto in exchange for Greene and reliever Dominic Leone.

Greene is coming off a maddening statistical season at Double-A New Hampshire, where he accumulated a 5.29 ERA in 132.2 innings. He experienced some success till the beginning of summer, entering July with a 3.23 ERA despite erratic command, but started getting shelled as the season continued. Greene has a plus-plus fastball that sits 94-97 and will touch 99. The pitch has heavy sink and arm-side movement, as well as notable downhill angle to the plate — a result, that, of Greene’s size, relatively upright delivery, and high three-quarters arm slot. It’s Greene’s best pitch and he uses it heavily, perhaps too frequently, as his strikeout totals are not commensurate with his quality of stuff.

The curveball (which was bad last fall) has taken a huge step forward and is now Greene’s best secondary pitch. It has traditional power curveball shape, bite, and depth. It projects to a 55 on the scouting scale. Greene’s changeup is inconsistent and a bit easy to identify out of his hand, as Greene is prone to drop his arm slot when he throws it. Due to his loose, fluid arm action and incredible arm speed, though, some scouts project quite heavily on the changeup. It pretty conservatively projects to average and has more upside than that. There’s a chance Greene develops two above-average secondaries to pair with his plus-plus fastball, but no measure of his ability to miss bats indicates anything remotely close to that.

Greene struggles to repeat his release point and has 30-grade control. He walked 13% of hitters he faced in 2017 and 83 total hitters in his 132.2 innings. Unless Greene’s ability to locate greatly improves, he’ll wind up in the bullpen. It makes sense to continue developing him as a starter on the off chance that he develops 45 or better command and simply as a way to get him more reps than he’d get out of the bullpen, but the Cardinals were quick to move Sandy Alcantara to the bullpen last year and seemed inclined to keep him there. They’re thought, by other clubs, to be considering pulling the bullpen ripcord on either or both of Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley. Greene would seem to fall into that bucket of still-raw, upper-level arms. He has a chance to pitch as a mid-rotation starter if the command comes, but he’s more likely to be a hard-throwing, above-average bullpen arm. He’s a 45 Future Value prospect.

Kiley McDaniel contributed to the scouting notes on Conner Greene.

Randal Grichuk Is Above Average for the Blue Jays

Despite having failed to record more than 500 plate appearances in any of the past three seasons, outfielder Randal Grichuk has nevertheless produced a total of 6.8 WAR during that same interval — or just over two wins per season. Players who reliably produce two wins in a season are average players. One could make the case with some ease that Randal Grichuk is an average player.

For the St. Louis Cardinals, however, average isn’t sufficient to guarantee a place in the outfield. Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, and Tommy Pham will start for the club this year and all are superior to Grichuk. Jose Martinez is another outfield option, and he just authored a breakout season. Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill are loitering in the halls somewhere. That abundance of talent is what allowed the club to exchange Stephen Piscotty for a future MVP. And now the Cards have done a similar thing with another totally competent, but not sufficiently excellent, outfield piece.

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Padres Acquire Lottery Ticket Edward Olivares

On Saturday, the Padres sent INF Yangervis Solarte to Toronto in exchange for 21-year-old Venezuelan OF Edward Olivares and 24-year-old org reliever Jared Carkuff.

Olivares is the prospect centerpiece of the deal. He had a fairly significant breakout in 2017 after he barely played affiliated ball in 2016 due to injury. He was hurt after just 15 games at Bluefield in 2016 and, aside from those organizations that had extended spring-training coverage in Florida, many clubs didn’t see him until last year. In 2017, he went to Low-A and hit .277/.330/.500 with 17 homers and 18 steals in 101 games. He was promoted to Dunedin in mid-August and struggled there for the final three weeks of the season.

Olivares has an exciting, but volatile, skillset. He’s a free swinger with mediocre breaking-ball recognition and a pull-heavy approach to contact. He takes his share of ugly, unbalanced hacks at pitches that aren’t anywhere near the strike zone. So while he struck out in just 17% of his Low-A plate appearances last year, scouts are concerned about how undercooked Olivares’s feel to hit is right no, and worry that it could become an issue against more advanced pro pitching.

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Yangervis Solarte and the Blue Jays’ Attempt to Thread the Needle

The Blue Jays traded a couple prospects for a versatile infielder this weekend following a season during which their own infielders had trouble staying on the field. That much about the Yangervis Solarte trade makes sense.

What makes a little less sense? A Toronto team projected to finish almost 10 games worse than the best two teams in their division just improved their 2018 roster at a potential cost down the road. It might be a fine trade in a vacuum, but is it a well-timed one?

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2018 ZiPS Projections – Toronto Blue Jays

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Toronto Blue Jays. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

While some organizations have had success with a “stars-and-scrubs” approach to roster construction, history reveals that the star-and-scrubs tactic has been considerably less successful. Were Kevin Pillar (616 PA, 2.9 zWAR), Russell Martin (402, 2.4), and Justin Smoak (518, 2.2) to fall even a half-win short of their respective ZiPS forecasts in 2018, however, that’s precisely what would result in Toronto.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson (572, 5.6) is clearly the centerpiece of the Blue Jays’ field-playing contingent. His projected batting line — which, of course, features adjustments both for aging and regression to the mean — would nevertheless place him among the league’s top 20 batters. The fielding number (+6 runs at third base) produced by Dan Szymborski’s computer would render Donaldson the equivalent of a league-average shortstop.

As for what’s missing, the club would probably benefit most immediately from some assistance at a corner-outfield spot. Neither Teoscar Hernandez (553, 1.2) nor Steve Pearce (318, 0.8) profile as anything much better than a strong bench piece at the moment, nor do any superior options exist on the major-league roster.

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Third Base Looks Like a Buyer’s Market

Yesterday, I suggested the Blue Jays and Cardinals should consider making a swap centered around Josh Donaldson. Unsurprisingly, many of the comments felt the return for a true superstar was less than it should be. Historically, the public expectation of what elite players will return in trade is less than they actually bring back when traded. But beyond just a difference in expected market value for one year of an elite player, I think that the Jays might want to consider that, if things go south this year, they’ll be tasked with trading a third baseman in a buyer’s market.

Let’s start by just looking at the teams that we can reasonably expect to be buyers this summer. There are 10 teams that currently project for 84+ wins in 2018; here are their third base situations.

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Let’s Figure Out a Cardinals Trade for Josh Donaldson

The Cardinals are trying to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. They’ve made no secret of their off-season plan to consolidate some of their young talent into a trade for an impact hitter, and Stanton seems to be Plan A. But they aren’t the only team trying to trade for the reigning NL MVP, and reports have suggested the Giants might be the most aggressive bidder so far. Additionally, Stanton might have some preference for playing on the west coast, and since he has a full no-trade clause, Stanton could just veto a trade to STL if he thought he had some chance of going to SF instead.

So the Cardinals might want Giancarlo Stanton and even line up best with the Marlins in a trade, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. And thus, the Cardinals should have some kind of Plan B. So let me suggest that, while the Blue Jays continue to say they aren’t trading their star player, the Cardinals should be pestering Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins about making a deal for Josh Donaldson.

Because a Donaldson-to-STL trade might make even more sense than a Stanton trade.

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Which Teams Most Need the Next Win?

Not every team approaches the offseason looking to get better in the same way. That much is obvious: budget alone can dictate much of a club’s activity on the free-agent market. A little bit less obvious, though, is how the present quality of a team’s roster can affect the players they pursue. Teams that reside on a certain part of the win curve, for example, need that next win more than teams on other parts. That can inform a team’s decisions in the offseason.

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Where Ohtani Would Make the Most Impact

“The best for the group comes when everyone in the group does what’s best for himself and the group.”

–American mathematician John Nash

Shohei Ohtani is fascinating for a number of reasons. We start with the dual talent, of course.

While injury limited him to just five starts as a pitcher in 2017, he struck out 29 and allowed only 13 hits in 25.1 innings — as a 22-year-old. He produced a .332/.403/.540 slash line in 230 plate appearances. In 2016, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA over 20 starts in the NPB. He struck out 174 and walked 45 in 140 innings. He also OPS’d 1.004 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats in 104 games.

He was named the league’s best pitcher and best DH.

While Clay Davenport’s deadly accurate statistical translations don’t appear to be available for 2017 NPB play, Davenport’s 2016 translations are available to the public.

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What I Loved About Roy Halladay

When a baseball player dies, as Roy Halladay did yesterday, it can be difficult to know what to say. I never met Roy Halladay. I don’t have any personal anecdotes to share or any insight into who he was as a person. I don’t know his family. I only knew him through the television, when I watched him work. And you can’t really know a person that way.

The people that really did know Roy Halladay seemed enamored of him. In awe of him, not just as a player, but as a person. In the last 24 hours, the universal reaction within the baseball community has been that the game lost not just a guy who was great at pitching, but an ambassador for the sport. The stories that have emerged are both heartbreaking and inspiring. Stories like Jayson Werth‘s:

“For a guy that was very serious, quiet and reserved, I can remember it like it was yesterday, the look on his face to see us waiting for him to celebrate together,” Werth said. “He loved the game but played for his teammates, for us to love him back like that you could tell it meant a lot. I’d never seen him so genuinely happy. I’ll never forget the expression on his face.”

I never got to see that Roy Halladay. Most of us probably don’t have that kind of connection with him, but yet, there is still the natural desire to mourn. For most of us, Roy Halladay wasn’t really part of our lives anymore, but it still feels like we lost something. So, today, while acknowledging that our loss cannot compare to the sort endured by those who knew him in a more personal way, I’d like to honor the Roy Halladay I did know.

This guy.

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Is This the End for Jose Bautista?

Ten months ago, Jose Bautista hit the free-agent market. Even coming off a down year, he looked like one of the best hitters available. However, Bautista was caught up in the cratering market for bat-only sluggers and, after a few months of just moderate interest, eventually re-signed with the Blue Jays on a one-year deal.

Now, with that contract expiring in a few weeks, it looks quite possible that not only will Jose Bautista not be returning to Toronto next year, but we might be seeing the last few weeks of Bautista’s major-league career.

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The Most Unusual Minor-League Prospect

No respectable prospect list has ever read as a leaderboard of minor-league on-base percentages. There are a million other important considerations, details that help to fill out a profile. That being said, the best hitting prospects tend to avoid making too many outs, and when you don’t make outs, you get a high OBP. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s OBP this year was .425. Bo Bichette‘s OBP was .423. Lewis Brinson‘s OBP was .400, and Rhys Hoskins‘ OBP was .385. Scouts are always repeating that minor-league numbers aren’t that important, but then, minor-league competition is awfully good, and the numbers show who’s most often winning the battles.

Guerrero and Bichette are both in the Blue Jays organization, and they’re considered two of the better position-player prospects anywhere. They wrapped up their seasons with High-A Dunedin, but the teenagers opened with Single-A Lansing. Down there, they were the stars of the roster, but they had one particularly unusual teammate. A teammate who fell short of Guerrero’s OBP by only four points. This player reached base in more than two-fifths of his plate appearances. He also registered a hit in barely one-fifth of his at-bats. He knocked all of one single home run, out of just about 300 opportunities. There’s nobody else quite like Nick Sinay.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/23 & 8/24

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.


Mike O’Reilly, RHP, St. Louis (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: NR  Top 100: NR
Line: 6 IP, 9 H, 0 BB, 2 R, 7 K

A 27th rounder out of Flagler College last year, O’Reilly was promoted to High-A Palm Beach in late July after a dominant four-game stretch of Midwest League starts that included a complete game, one-hit, 12-strikeout performance. O’Reilly doesn’t throw all that hard, sitting 88-91, but he’s deceptive, he can locate his breaking ball for strikes, and he flashes a plus changeup. There’s some risk that O’Reilly’s fastball won’t be effective against upper-level hitters, but he has quality secondary stuff, throws strikes, and overall has a profile in line with valuable upper-level pitching depth.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/22

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Victor Robles, CF, Washington (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 20   Org Rank:Top 100: 8
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, HR, SB

Robles is slashing .320/.375/.505 since his promotion to Double-A and has tallied a career-high 51 extra-base hits already this year. Many of those are doubles hooked down the left-field line that Robles turns into extra bases because of his plus-plus speed. Though he still has occasional lapses out there right now, that speed is likely to make Robles a very good defensive center fielder at maturity as he runs down balls in the gaps that many center fielders cannot. Scouts anticipate Robles will hit around .300 with some pop — though probably not quite as much as he’s shown this year — while playing good defense in center field. As a point of reference, Lorenzo Cain, a good defensive center fielder, has slashed .295/.360/.440 this season with strikeout and walk rates within 1% of Robles’ career marks. Cain has generated 3.3 WAR in 119 games this year. That appears to be a very reasonable outcome for Robles, who is one of baseball’s best prospects.

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