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Toronto Blue Jays News and Rumors: Silver Slugger, Waiver Claims and Trades

Alex Anthopoulos is ready to prepare his Blue Jays for the 2011 season.  His coaching staff has all been assembled and it is an interesting mix of old and new.  Now it is time for Anthopoulos to work on the team he is going to field in the coming season.

One of the issues that must get dealt with sooner or later is Jose Bautista’s new contract, or whether he will just get a raise through arbitration.  

The outfielder and third basemen just won the Silver Slugger for the right field position, making him the third Blue Jay in two years to win the award.

There is a good chance that the GM will wait until part way through the season to see whether the slugger can keep up his record breaking numbers, then work up a contract based upon his performance.

After letting Edwin Encarnacion be claimed off waivers by the Oakland Athletics, the Blue Jays could be looking for a new third baseman, or slotting Bautista into that spot. Bautista’s arm is highly valued in right field, so there is a chance they will keep him there and look for a more permanent solution in third.

A couple of options could be the Kansas City Royals Alex Gordon or the Chicago White Sox’s Gordon Beckham.  The Toronto Sun was reporting that the Blue Jays were talking with Kansas City about their former first round pick, as well as their Cy Young winning pitcher Zack Greinke.  

It seems unlikely that they would pry Greinke away from Kansas since they seem hesitant to deal their primary starter, also due to the costs for the Jays to acquire him and the options they already have for starting.  

Both the Jays and the Red Sox have inquired about Greinke, who has a partial no-trade clause with two years and $27 million remaining on his contract.  

Gordon is a much easier target, once a highly regarded prospect, his stock has fallen after struggling to make it at the big league level.  His defense was rather weak when he played at third, so he has since been moved to the outfield.  Gordon is rather injury prone, but could develop into a hitting star if given the proper guidance and at-bats.

MLB trade rumors has been discussing that the White Sox have thought about dealing Beckham, and listed the possible suitors for the young infielder.  His experience at third base, combined with his youth and potential seem like a prime option for Anthopoulos to pursue.

The same site is also reporting that the Florida Marlins talks with Dan Uggla have stalled, both sides in disagreement after the Marlins 4-year, $48 million contract extension was rejected.  ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that two executives both said that Toronto would be their best guess for a possible trade destination for the second baseman.  

Whether that would mean that Aaron Hill or Dan Uggla would be moved to third base remains to be seen, but this is all still speculation.

On ESPN, a survey by the analysts of the top free agents and their possible destinations mentioned two names for the Blue Jays, Manny Ramirez and Magglio Ordonez.

 Both sluggers are nearing the end of the careers and don’t seem like a long term option for the Jays, so it seems unlikely Anthopoulos would bite on adding either of these two to his roster.

In other waiver news, both Brian Tallet and DeWayne Wise refused their assignment to Triple-A, which makes them free agents now.

Finally, since Tallet leaving creates an opening in the left handed long relief role, a possibility to fill that role is Marc Rzepczynski, who is currently working on his game in the Arizona Fall League.

 Rzepczynski was just named one of the two Players of the Week, and in three starts so far has gone 1-0, with a 1.29 ERA, nine strikeouts and seven walks.

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AL Gold Glove: Does Derek Jeter Really Deserve His 5th More Than Yunel Escobar?

The American League Gold Glove awards were announced on Tuesday and there were some old standards and a couple newer ones.  Ichiro Suzuki, that ever-consistent star for the Seattle Mariners, won his 10th Gold Glove award for his outfield prowess.

Sure to spark debate is Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees winning his fifth Gold Glove for his work in the 2010 season.  

It is often argued by followers of advanced baseball statistics that not only is Jeter not the top defensive shortstop, he is not even in the top echelon anymore.

This, of course, would be disputed by his teammates and various coaches and general managers who have seen him perform over the years, as he is held in the highest regard for both his play and his leadership.

But respecting his game and his historical contributions is one thing, and giving him the honour of the winning the top defensive prize is quite something else.

Granted, his traditional fielding statistics are impressive.  His six allowed errors were lowest among shortstops in the league and his .989 fielding percentage led the league as well.

As baseball acquires more and more statistics in the age of sabermetrics, it is argued that these prior categories don’t properly reflect a fielder’s prowess.  

It is argued that even though Jeter committed fewer errors than anyone else, it is only because his range didn’t allow him to get to balls that other shortstops might have made a play on.

So if you were to nominate another shortstop to win in his stead, why not Yunel Escobar, the acrobatic new fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays?  His plays regularly made the highlight reels of sports shows across North America.

His errors committed and fielding percentage are average, but he led the league, along with former Blue Jay Alex Gonzalez, in double plays with 104.

Also, likely the most important of the new stats that have emerged is the UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which is a complicated calculation that basically determines the fielder’s effectiveness.  

With a 4.3 rating, Escobar is in the top third of shortstops in the league while Jeter, with a -4.7 rating, ranks in the bottom third.

So if you were to compare Jeter to Escobar, you could make the case that Escobar deserves the Gold Glove just as much as Jeter.

Many sports commentators have argued though that Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox actually deserved the Gold Glove.  His stats in sabermetrics are right at the top of the leaderboard, as are his ratings in scouting.

But it is his average traditional stats that drag him down and out of consideration for the award, which causes some to question the integrity of the award.

As Jeter enters next year at 36 years old, he will have plenty of challengers to his title. Whether he can maintain his status remains to be seen.

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Toronto Blue Jays Have Decisions to Make on Kevin Gregg and Free Agent Pitchers

Decision time is looming for Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.  

He has to decide by Thursday, November the fourth whether to renew the option on Kevin Gregg for one year at $4.5 million, or two years at $8.75 million.  Or, the third choice, the Blue Jays can let Gregg enter the free agent pool.

It seems unlikely that Anthopoulos would let Gregg go without first ensuring that they have someone to take his spot.  The problem is, none of the Jays pitchers seem like they are ready to take on a full-time closer role, and free agents are only available once the option has expired on Gregg.

A new rule has been instituted by the league that gives teams a limited five-day window to negotiate with their free agents, instead of the previous fifteen-day time period.

That would mean that the Blue Jays also only have five days to sign new contracts with Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and John Buck.  Since both Downs and Frasor were determined to be Type-A free agents, the Jays would receive four draft picks in total if they were to sign elsewhere.  

If the Jays were to let these two go through free agency, and then didn’t renew the option on Gregg, that would considerably deplete their bullpen.  The Jays certainly aren’t lacking in young arms, but the management has often claimed their preference for veterans in the relief role.

It is a strong possibility that the Jays would keep at least one of the these three pitchers to provide leadership and a steadying influence.  The one-year option on Gregg is the easiest solution since he fills the necessary closer role.

Of the other two pitchers, Downs is a left handed set-up man with fantastic numbers and will be highly sought after.  The Jays chances of outbidding the competition on Downs is limited, so they might be quite happy with taking the two compensatory picks.  

So it would seem that Frasor would be the less desired commodity of the two, and has the better chance of being retained by the Jays simply due to the price.

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Toronto Blue Jays October News: Manny Ramirez, Jose Molina and John Farrell

It has already been an interesting off-season for the Toronto Blue Jays, as they have hired a new manager and some intriguing rumors have emerged.

John Farrell, the former pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, was hired to replace the outgoing Cito Gaston.  Farrell doesn’t have any experience managing at the big league level, but his diverse expertise gave him the edge in landing the job with the Blue Jays.  

He is a former big league pitcher who became a director of player development with Cleveland, turning their farm system into the best in the league at the time.  From there, he moved to the Boston Red Sox to oversee their pitching, motivated by his burning need to compete.

Farrell will retain both third base coach Brian Butterfield and pitching coach Bruce Walton, decisions that seem to have been influenced by Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.  It appeared that the Jays wanted to maintain some consistency, especially in their strong area of pitching.

In regards to their pitching, it appears that Anthopoulos highly valued the experience that Jose Molina brought behind the plate and has picked up the $1.2 million option on the veteran catcher.

How this affects their catching situation remains to be seen.  There is a chance they might sign John Buck to a 1 or 2 year deal, to provide extra support in case J.P. Arencibia isn’t quite ready to take over.  This would allow Arencibia to grab the starts where he could, whether it be catching, designated hitter or perhaps even first base. This is Buck’s decision, however, as he has stated that he wants to be an everyday player.

They could also have Molina act as a mentor to help transition Arencibia into a full-time role over the course of the season.  The Jays have alluded to 2012 as the season in which they feel like they could make a run to the playoffs. That would make next year a learning experience for Arencibia to get to know the pitchers on the Jays staff, as well as a chance to become more comfortable at the plate.

Finally, in a much talked about statement, Manny Ramirez suggested that he would be interested in playing for John Farrell.  Ramirez got to know Farrell when he was playing in Boston and it would appear that the pitching coach won the respect of the slugger.  

Disregarding whether Anthopoulos is interested in Ramirez or not, would he be good for the Blue Jays?  Ramirez has never been strong in the outfield and is approaching forty years old. He certainly isn’t getting better.  That would suggest he would be a permanent designated hitter with the Blue Jays, which would greatly reduce their options.

If Ramirez is the everyday DH, that means that Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion have to be in the field.  While that might not be the worst option, it means the defense on the infield corners is suspect.  

This is of course is not even taking into account how Ramirez might affect the strong camaraderie that has been built in the clubhouse.  One of the strong points in the Jays this past season was their work ethic and their never-say-die attitude.  Would Ramirez’s presence disrupt that positive state of mind?

What Ramirez would bring to the team in terms of production, would seem to be outweighed by the negative aspects of his game.  Not to mention, he is not exactly the small-ball type player that Farrell would like to add to this team.

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Toronto Blue Jays 2010: Leadership Transition From Roy Halladay To Shaun Marcum

Roy Halladay is known as perhaps the greatest pitcher to ever pull on a Blue Jays uniform; some would say that it is without a doubt that he is.

That could be quite intimidating for a young pitcher in the rotation with him.

Last year when Halladay was still with the Blue Jays, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil came up to pitch with the team for the first time.  Halladay was the undisputed leader among the pitching staff at this time due to his experience and almost legendary status.

Having a pitcher on the team who can lead by example the way Halladay did cannot be underestimated. Simply watching Halladay practice and pitch could be a giant learning experience for pitchers just coming up to the Major Leagues.

But as ball clubs change and develop, different leaders are appropriate for the different times.  When Halladay was traded in the winter, Shaun Marcum became the veteran leader on the Blue Jays staff despite losing last season to injury.

The 2010 season has seen Marcum recover with surprising success, putting up a 3.63 ERA, a 13-8 record with 161 strikeouts and just 43 walks.  His control and consistency, as well as his experience, has made him the pitcher that the other staff looks to for leadership.  But it is his easygoing and fun approach to the games that has helped to make this a very different pitching staff.

With Marcum being the oldest starter at 28 years old, this is a very young pitching rotation with many of the starts coming from pitchers from the minors such as Kyle Drabek.

There are also new additions such as Brandon Morrow, who came over in a trade from the Seattle Mariners.

With this combination of youth and new pitchers, it is important to have someone who can bring the picthing staff together.  Marcum has become that pitcher, and because of that, the Blue Jays have a very noticeable bond and camaraderie.

This companionship has created a sense of friendly competition and pushed the starters to a surprising and rather impressive year.  Romero established himself as a future ace with his play this year, and broke the 200 innings milestone for the first time.  Morrow led the league in strikeouts per nine innings this year and learned to control his powerful arm.  Cecil greatly improved on last year with his all-around numbers and led the team in wins.

Halladay personified greatness in a Blue Jays uniform, but in the end, perhaps it was the right time for him to move on.  He gets a chance to compete in the postseason this year as he justly deserves, and the Blue Jays have the opportunity to evolve into a different team, one that once again has a chance to make it to the playoffs.  

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Cito Gaston Receives Proper Send-Off as Toronto Blue Jays Break Records

The end of an era is coming…again.

The Blue Jays had their final home game on Wednesday night and had a ceremony honoring Cito Gaston since he will be retiring this year.

With close to 900 wins under his belt with the Blue Jays, Gaston is the most successful manager in the franchise’s history.

Gaston led the Jays to four division titles and then two World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, possibly the greatest achievement among Toronto’s sports teams in relatively recent memory.

The Blue Jays manager returned to Toronto in June of 2008 and will manage his final game when the season finishes on October 3.

With an emotional pregame ceremony leading the game, the Jays gave Gaston a proper send-off by knocking around the New York Yankees 8-4 and winning the three-game series. The large crowd of 33,000 was lively and supportive, giving Gaston several ovations through the ceremonies and as the game finished.

For one who brought such good times to Toronto, it was great to see such a show of respect in this his final home game with the team.

Cito Gaston was often considered a second hitting coach, due to his diligence in working with hitters in attempts to perfect their swings. Whether it was largely influenced by Gaston or not, the Blue Jays have certainly made the manager proud with their hitting expertise this year.

At least if you are counting home runs.

Aaron Hill and John Buck both hit home runs in that Wednesday defeat of the Yankees, and then the Blue Jays added six more on Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins. Jose Bautista hit home runs No. 53 and 54, one of which was a grand slam. Edwin Encarnacion contributed two more, and both Jose Molina and Travis Snider had one each.

With 253 home runs this season, the Blue Jays have reached the fourth highest total in baseball history. Only three teams have hit more in one season, those being the 1996 Baltimore Orioles (257), the 2005 Texas Rangers (260), and the 1997 Seattle Mariners (264).

With three games remaining in the season, it is possible that the Blue Jays could climb higher in the all-time rankings if they continue their frenetic home run pace.

It seems only fitting that the Blue Jays are breaking records this year in the final season of Cito Gaston’s managing—if only it was once again enough for the postseason.

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Toronto Blue Jays 2011: Who Stays and Who Goes?

It has been a year of excitement and disappointment for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The fans witnessed history at the Rogers Centre when Jose Bautista became the 26th player in Major League history to hit 50 home runs in a season.  Bautista‘s incredible, feel good story has been one of the highlights of the Blue Jays this year, as well as the emergence of Brandon Morrow and the other young starters on the squad. 

It has been disappointing to once again fall to fourth in the American League East, and staying far out of reach of the playoffs.  But even that wasn’t unexpected, in fact the Jays performed much better than expected this year, especially with their surprising capacity for hitting home runs.

Now that the season is tailing down, thoughts towards the future come to the forefront.

Will the pitchers build upon their breakout year to become one of the best rotations in the American League?

Which of the free agents will leave and what kind of draft picks will the Jays receive because of it?

Will the team figure out other ways to score if they can’t repeat their success with the long ball?

First things first, there are certain players who are the core of this team and are therefore signed long term.  Their chances of being traded in the offseason are slim to none.  Players such as Vernon Wells, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Ricky Romero are all signed long term, and form the core which this team is built around.

A good portion of the starting rotation is likely to be back. Shaun Marcum has excelled this year coming off an injury and the trade for Brandon Morrow looked better and better throughout the year.  Those two, along with Brett Cecil, who also had a breakout year, will likely be signed to new contracts if they can continue to progress.  Those three with Romero will form most of the Blue Jays rotation barring injury or a deep regression in form.

The question of the fifth starter is completely open on the other hand.  Various pitchers can fill that slot, but it is tough to say who will be the best fit.  Jesse Litsch is hampered by injury once again, but has the most experience of the candidates.  Marc Rzepczynski has had experience as well but has struggled at the Major League level.

The X-factor in the rotation is Kyle Drabek, who has had two starts so far with the Jays this year, and showed some good control and focus.  He was the Easter League pitcher of the year in Double-A and many have pronounced him ready for joining the Jays.

Jose Bautista will go through arbitration this summer and will stay under Jays control, so the GM Alex Anthopoulos will likely wait to see how he performs next year before deciding whether to offer him a big contract.  He will likely continue to play both right field and third unless a more permanent player can be filled in either slot. 

It is unlikely that the Jays will settle on having Edwin Encarnacion as their regular third baseman, so some infield moves could be a possibility.  There has been some talk about moving Hill to third on the chance that Adeiny Hechavarria is ready next year, in which case either him or Yunel Escobar would play second.

The other infield spot up in the air is first base, with Lyle Overbay becoming a free agent.  Adam Lind has played a few games at first, and catching prospect J.P Arencibia has the potential to play some games both behind the plate and on first.

Speculation has popped up the press lately that Lind and Arencibia aren’t ready yet to take over for Overbay and catcher John Buck, who is also a free agent.

It seems unlikely that they would be re-signed, since Buck has made it clear he wants to play full-time and Overbay is likely looking for a multi-year contract.  This doesn’t seem to create any progress or move the team forward, so those two leaving as free agents still seems the most likely.

Catcher Jose Molina could be kept on to mentor Arencibia on defense and game-calling and continue his work with the pitching staff.

Unless there are some big trades or free agent acquisitions, which seem unlikely, the roster could very well look like this:

Outfield:  Fred Lewis, Vernon Wells, Travis Snider.

Infield:  Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind.

Catcher: J.P. Arencibia.

On the Bench:  John McDonald, Jose Molina.

Encarnacion is too expensive to be a bench player, so he would either have to be dealt or given third base full-time.  Other bench roles could be filled by Jarret Hoffpauir, DeWayne Wise, and Mike McCoy unless someone from Triple-A or a free agent comes in.

Starting Rotation:  Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek.

Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, and Jason Frasor are all free agents this summer, but since the Jays favour veteran players in the bullpen, there is a chance that at least one of them will be retained.  Of course, the benefits of acquiring draft picks if they leave, as free agents might be too good to pass up.

Bullpen:  Kevin Gregg, Rommie Lewis, David Purcey, Brian Tallet, Jesse Carlson, Shawn Camp, Josh Roenicke.

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Blue Jays’ Pitcher Kyle Drabek To Start Wednesday: The Future Is on Display

The Blue Jays top pitching prospect has gotten the call. Kyle Drabek will start against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday.

Acquired in the Roy Halladay trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, Drabek was one of three players the Blue Jays received in return.

A word of caution has to be sent out to the Blue Jays fans, though. Remember that Drabek has only pitched in Double-A and that he is still at the very young age of 22.  This will be his first opportunity pitching in the Major Leagues, so expectations should be reasonable. 

There is no doubting his talent, as he recently won the Eastern League pitcher of the year award.  Leading the New Hampshire Fisher Cats with a 14-9 record and an impressive 2.94 ERA, he became available after the team was just eliminated from the playoffs.

Since Brandon Morrow was recently put on the shelf for the year due to his innings count, the Blue Jays have been calling up various pitchers to fill in the occasional start.

Whatever the result, it will give Drabek a chance to test his stuff in the Major Leagues.  Granted it will be against the Orioles, who the Blue Jays have beat up all season, but they have been a slightly different team of late under their new manager, Buck Showalter. 

Whether this suggests to the Blue Jays brass that Drabek could be a starter with the club next year or that he will need more seasoning in the minors remains to be seen.  But one thing is for sure: It will be a bit of a reward for the fans who have followed all year to see another piece of the future in action. 

The Blue Jays are out of the playoffs again this year, but they have the promising pieces in place to make a run at it in the near future.

One of those pieces, Kyle Drabek, will show his stuff Wednesday night.

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Cito Gaston’s Home Run Projections in Spring Training Surprisingly Accurate

When the Blue Jays started the season, it came as a bit of a surprise that the manager Cito Gaston projected that the Jays lineup would live and die by the home run. 

Gaston suggested that his lineup was packed full of potential 20 home run hitters.

“Bautista has a chance to hit maybe 20-25 home runs because he’s done it before,” Gaston said. “Then, of course, you’ve got Hill, you’ve got Lind and Vernon who hit 20 home runs the year before.

“Then you’ve got (Lyle) Overbay you hope can hit you 20 and you have (Edwin) Encarnacion; he might hit 20. “You’re talking about the first six hitters. If (Travis) Snider makes the club, he might do it, too. I think this club right now, the strength is the hitters.”

After all, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill were the only two hitters to surpass the twenty home run mark last year, with 35 and 36 respectively. 

Now that September has arrived, those numbers and projections no longer look so outlandish.  The Blue Jays lead the majors in home runs by a landslide, with 208, the next closest team the Boston Red Sox with 178. 

So how close are those projections so far?

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Toronto Blue Jays News: Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Jeremy Accardo

There was a lot of news surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays in the final weekend of August.

They were playing the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, and despite having one of his best strikeout totals, Marc Rzepczynski struggled to keep the ball in the zone and suffered as a result.

Three of the five baserunners he walked later came in to score, a costly result when he only allowed five hits. 

Rzepczynski looked better at times than he has in his other starts with the Jays, as his breaking ball pitches were causing some wild swings by the Tigers. But his inability to hold the runners ended up costing him, and the Jays weren’t able to recover.

In the midst of the game it was announced that the team has decided to shut down Brandon Morrow for the season after his final start on Friday. He is nearing the 150 innings that they set as his max this year to prevent overworking his arm. 

Since this a large increase on the number of innings he pitched last year with the Seattle Mariners, they want to avoid the chance of an injury from arm exhaustion.  It happens a lot in the Major Leagues now where a pitcher is on a strict innings limit from year to year, as many statistics show that significant inning increases are likely to cause serious injury and thus often require surgery. 

Many of the Blue Jays’ starters are likely being watched for the number of innings they reach, as Shaun Marcum is coming off an injury and Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil have not yet accumulated a lot of experience.

Kyle Drabek was announced as the Double-A Eastern League pitcher of the year at Rogers Centre on Sunday as well and received his first standing ovation long before he has pitched a game there.

Drabek racked up some pretty impressive stats this year, going 14-9 with a 2.98 ERA heading into this past Saturday’s start. He led the league in wins and was second both in innings pitched (154) and batting average against (.216). His 123 strikeouts were good enough for third in the league before he recorded nine more in seven scoreless innings on that Saturday game.

Still only 22, there is a chance that Drabek could be called up for some spot starts in September, especially with Morrow out of the lineup. Though having spent the year in Double-A, there are some who feel that Drabek could be ready to make the jump to the Jays next year, but for now fans might be happy to see him make a spot start or two.

Finally, Jeremy Accardo spoke to a reporter in Las Vegas about being upset with his role in the organization this year. Having pitched most of the last two years with the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, Accardo feels that he has been lied to by the GMs and not given a fair shake.

Having been shuttled back and forth by former Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, Accardo felt that after a talk with the new boss, Alex Anthopoulos, his role with the team would be different this year. Having saved 30 games for the Jays in 2007, Accardo likely felt that he deserved a spot in the bullpen and some more playing time.

Whether he is traded now or brought up when the rosters expand in September, there seems to be a rift that will not be easily mended.

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