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Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox: Which AL East Team Has the Best Bullpen?

After the Toronto Blue Jays acquired power arm Frank Francisco from the Texas Rangers, it became a possibility that the Jays could run well into the season with a 13-man pitching staff.

Even though running eight relievers seems like the perfect insurance to a very young rotation, it begs one question: Even though there’s quantity, do the Jays have quality in their ‘pen?

Well, I thought, what better way to answer that question than to compare the Jays’ relief corps to those of their major competitors in the AL East, and those who are also thought to have solid relievers—the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox?

Answering the question won’t have the best answer due to the fact that injuries, slow starts, etc. will all have an effect on the bullpen’s seasons, but looking deep into the statistics should help us understand who is projected to have the stronger bullpen based on last season’s production from all the pitchers who are part of the three teams.


Boston Red Sox

Projected Bullpen: Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Tim Wakefield

Projected Bullpen Stat Line: 3.94 ERA, .245 BAA, 1.17 WHIP

The Red Sox bullpen can be considered a hit or miss type of relief team. If the team reaches even half its potential, their overall ERA will be much below 3.00, while teams will struggle to hit against them. However, if all their relievers play like last season or close to it, the above stat line is quite realistic.

Jonathan Papelbon will most likely start the season as closer, but if he falters, he will have two other pitchers just as capable in Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard waiting.

The Sox will also have trouble with left-handed batting, as all their relievers—with the exception of Bard—had ERAs above 4.80 when pitching against lefties last season. They should specialize against righties.


New York Yankees

Projected Bullpen: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Pedro Feliciano

Projected Bullpen Stat Line: 3.00 ERA, .226 BAA, 1.21 WHIP

The Yankees most likely have the deepest pitching staff in baseball—in terms of the back end of it. Mariano Rivera will surely have yet another stellar season, while Rafael Soriano is another premier closer who will set up for the veteran. David Robertson is a fine complement to that fantastic duo.

However, when you look at the long-relieving options for the Yankees, well, there really aren’t any. Joba Chamberlain can be considered a long reliever, but his stamina has been questionable of late and can’t be fully relied on. Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan are better suited as middle or late relief than long too.

The question remains, what happens when A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes has his trademark “off night?” It’s a question the Yankees are hoping to answer with Chamberlain and perhaps some of their younger arms still in the minors, like Ivan Nova.

The Yankees should be fine when batting against lefties, as even though Soriano’s and Rivera’s strong sides are against righties, their BAAs vs. lefties are still quite respectable. Logan and Feliciano should also help shut down left-handed batting.


Toronto Blue Jays

Projected Bullpen: Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson, Casey Janssen, David Purcey

Projected Bullpen Stat Line: 3.70 ERA, .246 BAA, 1.30 WHIP

The Blue Jays don’t really have an electric-type arm like the Yanks and Sox have, but they do have something the other two don’t—reliability at both ends of the staff and on both sides of the ball. They will rely on Casey Janssen and Shawn Camp for long relief, while the rest will combine to form a solid middle and late relief team.

Toronto will also have some versatility in their relief team. Relievers Camp, Janssen, David Purcey and Jon Rauch will be able to pitch at both ends of the bullpen, while they will also specialize in certain roles.

Rauch may close for the team, while Carlson and Purcey will be relied on to shut down left-handed batting. Camp should be one of John Farrell’s go-to relievers, given his proven reliability.

Something the Jays don’t have is a sure-fire closer. They will have a bevy of relievers competing for the job, most notably Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco. Others who will battle for the position include Jason Frasor and former All-Star Chad Cordero. However, they do have quantity at the position, so if anyone falters, there will always be a fallback option.



If you match up all the ‘pens against each other, the Yankees are the clear-cut winners based on stats. They have the best closer in the game, probably the best setup man in the game and one of the better left-handed specialists as well. Nonetheless, their long relief will remain a question, simply because of the known inconsistency their rotation will inevitably face.

The Red Sox are also strong at the closing position but will face some real struggles with left-handed batting. No one in their bullpen is really a specialist in terms of lefties. Also, despite completely cleaning the house of relievers in the free market this winter, the Red Sox still don’t have a reliable long relief option either. Most of their better relievers are suited for setup/closing roles.

The Jays, I think anyway, have the best bullpen of the three. Despite not having a sure-fire closer, they do have numerous reliable options at the position to fill in for the dominance the Sox and Yankees have at the position. The Jays also have numerous long relief options, which should pay dividends for a young rotation. The Jays are also strong on both sides of the plate, where the other two are only dominant on one side.

The Jays are committing a lot of money to their relief corps this season, and it should pay off well, as Toronto not only has quantity but has quantity too. This should put them a step ahead in terms of pitching vs. the Red Sox and Yankees.

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Toronto Blue Jays: Do They Have a Long Term Spot For Jose Bautista?

A few weeks ago, it became publicly known that the Toronto Blue Jays and home run king Jose Bautista were almost $3 million apart in contract negotiations.

The Jays were reportedly offering the slugger $7.6 million to stay north of the border for another year, where Bautista was seeking a $10.5 million contract.

The massive gap between the two side’s arbitration figures didn’t bode well for their hopes of reaching a one-year agreement.

With the doubt in both side’s minds to reach an agreement before the arbitration date, it was rumored that the both sides were discussing the possibility of a long-term contract; however, it became publicly known a few days later that no contracts had been discussed, just the idea had been.

Nonetheless, the discussions that did take place raise a valid question: Do the Toronto Blue Jays have room for Bautista in the long term?

It’s no secret that Jose Bautista may have, historically, made the biggest jump in production statistically in all of sports.

Before the 2010 season (54 HR, 124 RBI), Bautista’s career high in home run and RBI totals were 16 and 63, respectively. Not to mention his slugging percentage going from a career high .420 to a ridiculous .617.

So then another question is raised: Why even consider not signing Bautista to a long term deal? Well, it’s not as simple as that, as basing the decision to lock him up to long-term contract on just one season is just ignorant (*cough* Vernon Wells *cough*).

However, even if No. 19 can put up respectable numbers this upcoming season, do the Jays have a long term spot for Bautista?

First, let me say this: If Bautista can come close to the 54 HR season he had a year ago, perhaps some along the lines of 30-35 homers, then the Jays will need to find a spot for the slugging utility player.

That type of power has been a rare sight in Toronto recently, and it shouldn’t be underestimated.

Nonetheless, if Bautista settles down into the 25 HR range (much more likely), then it should be said as inevitable that he gets traded or let go somewhere down the line, only because of the potential we have already in our prospect system and his age.

Should the Jays want to keep Bautista long-term at third base, it would most likely stunt the development of Brett Lawrie, who the organization said would be transitioning into a third baseman starting this season.

Keeping Bautista at third would most likely force Lawrie into Bautista’s other strong position: corner outfield, another crowded spot in the Jays system. Also, Lawrie is noted as the Jays best hitting prospect, so it’s likely they’ll want to fast track him to the majors and get him in ASAP.

Then, if the Jays wanted to option Bautista back to right field, it would be a sticky situation too. Currently, Travis Snider has one of the two corner outfield spots locked, while Anthony Gose has the center spot locked two years down the road.

In the right spot, the Jays have not one, but two promising outfielders who have had success in the minors: Eric Thames and Moises Sierra.

Thames, projected to be closer to the majors than Sierra, completely destroyed New Hampshire AA this past season, belting 27 home runs, driving in 108, and nearly hitting .290. He also had a respectable fielding percentage as well in .968, showing his versatility on both sides of the ball.

Sierra, plagued by injuries last season, is known as more of a defensive, speedy fielder who has said to have the ability to lead-off the batting order. In his last full season, 2009, he hit only five homers and 56 RBI’s. His batting average though was quite respectable at .286 and had a respectable .361 on-base percentage.

Clearly, the Jays have a future in the outfield, offensively and defensively, and keeping Bautista may damage that. Also, when you factor in Bautista is turning 30 years old this year, compared to Thames and Sierra, who are turning 24 and 22, age also clearly becomes a deciding factor.

Of course, there is always the chance Bautista does develop into a solid 35 home run, 100 RBI man or both Sierra and Thames flop and then, like I said, it’s completely inevitable that the Jays keep him.

And realistically, the Jays will have to make their decision on Bautista at the end of next season, or shortly thereafter.

Simply because Bautista himself isn’t going to give the Jays all the time in the world to decide if they want to keep him or not.

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Where’d That Come From? Frank Francisco Trade Makes More Sense Than it Seems

First reported by Ken Rosenthal, the Toronto Blue Jays traded the recently-acquired Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers in exchange for reliever Frank Francisco and cash considerations.

Napoli was acquired just a few days ago in the blockbuster that saw long-tenured Blue Jay Vernon Wells shipped to the Los Angeles Angels. Juan Rivera was also sent to the Jays in that swap.

Napoli was thought to be a perfect fit for Toronto, who needed help at catcher, first base and designated hitterthree positions that Napoli has experience at, which makes this trade surprising.

What makes the deal even more surprising is that Francisco is yet another right-handed reliever added to a right-heavy pitching staff. Both players have arbitration hearings set in March, after both of them had struggles in reaching a new deal with their former clubs, the Angels and Rangers.

Francisco all around seems to be a solid addition to what was once a weak bullpen. However, it also jeopardizes fellow reliever Jason Frasor’s future with the club. Frasor and Francisco are similar pitcherspower-throwing, strikeout pitchersso the question arises: Why have two of the same thing?

Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos earlier today responded by saying he likes to have a very deep bullpen, meaning the Jays could play into the early part of the season with a 13-man pitching staff.

However, there may be some logic to the deal (with Anthopoulos, there usually always is). Despite being a right-handed reliever,  Francisco still brings a bevy of options for the Jays:

left-handed batters have only hit .213 on Francisco during his career, compared to the .234 right-handed batters have

Francisco also has closing experience and will most definitely be one of the four or five names competing for the closer’s job come spring training

As Jonah Keri noted, Francisco’s xFIPs of the last three seasons are quite impressive and are actually better than some of the league’s better closers3.34, 3.53, 3.31.

Clearing some salary could have been a motive for Anthopoulos in this deal too. Napoli’s and Francisco’s arbitration figures could be up to $3 million apart. The Jays also receive almost a million in hard cash from the Rangers, so the writing’s on the wall there too.

Toronto also needed another power bat for the upcoming season, and Napoli and Rivera filled those needs. However, with one of them gone, we are virtually in the same position as we were when we had Wells (in terms of production and power).

This also suggests that Anthopoulos may not be finished before spring training opens (which is approaching fast), and we could see another deal to land the Jays another veteran bat.

In another aspect of the deal, it also allows the Jays to play their younger players to see what they can do. In this view of the trade, one would suggest that Rivera could be traded as well. Anyway, I may have overanalyzed this deal to this point, but that’s what Toronto sports fanatics do, don’t we?

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I’m on Twitter, join the fun! @degratenhlsport

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MLB Free Agency: AL East Continues to Prove Its Dominance

After seeing the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays make their own offseason splashes this week, proceeded by the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles offseason marks happening earlier on, there isn’t a more accurate statement than “the AL East is the most dominant division in baseball.”

Sure, maybe the topic has been beaten to death, but it never ceases to amaze me on how competitive this division really is. For the past five years, the competitiveness in the division has really heated up. All five teams part of the ultra-tough division have competed against one another and never stop either and it’s entertaining.

For proof, look no further than this year’s offseason:

Boston Red Sox – The Sox acquire two of the games most prominent hitters in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

Baltimore Orioles The Orioles complete a roster overhaul, adding veterans Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo.

Tampa Bay Rays The Rays decimated their roster, trading away many of their key pieces for the future, but also made an effort to fill the seats in South Florida by recently signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year pacts.

Toronto Blue Jays After being quiet all offseason, resigning many within the organization and stock-piling draft picks and prospects, they finally made their move – acquiring power-hitters Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Vernon Wells.

New York Yankees – Brian Cashman was snubbed on numerous occasions this offseason, from big names like Crawford or Cliff Lee to smaller names like Kevin Gregg. They finally made their mark late, signing closer/setup-man Rafael Soriano to a massive contract.

This is just one offseason, but it’s clear that when one team makes a move in the AL East, it has a very big ripple effect on the rest of the division. The first move was made on Dec. 4 by Boston, and it continued from there. And this isn’t the only offseason that this has happened, the competitiveness during the offseason has picked up in recent years especially:

2006 The Jays sign Frank Thomas and give Wells his big contract, the Yanks bring back Andy Pettite, the Sox sign Japanese phenomenon Daisuke Matsuzaka, where the Rays bring in their own Japanese star in Akinori Iwamura, and the Orioles vastly improve their bullpen while also signing Aubrey Huff in his heyday.

2008 – The Jays add all-star infielders David Eckstein and Scott Rolen, the Yankees name Joe Girardi their new skipper while adding Alex Rodriguez back to the MLB‘s largest contract ever. The Red Sox bring in a heavy bat in Mike Lowell. The Rays bank their prospect system, while the Orioles complete a pair of blockbusters, acquiring future key pieces in Adam Jones, Luke Scott and Matt Albers.

These are just three recent off-seasons, but it proves my point well. Whenever one of the teams in the AL East make a move, it has a very big ripple effect on the rest of the division and sooner or later all the teams react in some way.

Perhaps it’s due to the amount of money the division produces. The Yankees and Red Sox have a payroll that succeeds the $200 million mark, while the Jays and Orioles have support from their owners as well. The Rays have the least of the five, but still remain competitive.

Either way, if it’s something in the air in the Eastern part of North America or the world’s best baseball mind just happen to all run teams in the same division – the AL East is baseball’s most competitive division and until the entire league shuts down, it always will be.

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