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Who Justin Ruggiano Is and Why the Blue Jays Should Get Him

With spring training just days away now, it’s getting awfully tough to generate interesting topics surrounding the Blue Jays. Luckily, an interesting player has reportedly become available in the last day or so that should interest the Blue Jays. It’s not Michael Young either, although the where, if and how of him coming to the Jays will be kicked around some more below.

The player the Jays should take a long look at acquiring is Justin Ruggiano from the Tampa Bay Rays. Ruggiano was designated for assignment by the Rays, who now have 10 days to either trade him or put him on waivers. This, according to MLB Trade Rumors site, was to make room for the recent additions of outfielders Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

Ruggiano is an outfielder himself with a grand total of 96 career plate appearances with the Rays, the last coming back in 2008.  He’ll turn 29 in April and has put together a solid enough career in the minors for the Jays to take some interest in him. It would be a similar move to the one Alex Anthopoulos made last offseason when he claimed another productive Triple-A player with little big league time, Jarrett Hoffpauir. That wasn’t a pennant winning move, but he had a solid season with Triple-A Las Vegas and was a good depth move.

The Jays aren’t exactly flush with major league ready outfield players, and Ruggiano could step in and provide immediate competition to Corey Patterson for a bench spot. Ruggiano has spent adequate time at all three outfield spots in the minors and posted plus defensive numbers across the outfield in recent seasons as well. That includes 106 career games in centerfield with a +10 TotalZone rating.

Ruggiano would also provide ample speed on the bases, swiping 47 bases between 2009 and 2010 with Triple-A Durham at an 83 percent success rate. In four seasons with Durham from 2007-2010, Ruggiano hit .288 with a solid nine percent walk rate. He has some pop too, averaging 19.5 homers and 34 doubles per 600 plate appearances. His .181 isolated power looks nice, too, and these numbers came in the International League, not the hitting happy PCL where the Jays Triple-A team resides.

His one major drawback is his staggering 30.2 percent strikeout rate, well above average in any league. That’s really his only significant drawback; otherwise, he actually looks pretty good for a guy who hasn’t seen the show in two years. Players that get DFA’d don’t typically come at a high cost in a trade, since the team has essentially announced they don’t want him around anymore. The Jays could try and grab him on waivers too, but if the price to get him isn’t much, and it shouldn’t be, they should jump on it.

In another much more heralded development Texas Rangers third baseman Michael Young has asked to be traded. He doesn’t seem too thrilled with being a part time player and sharing at-bats with Mike Napoli at the DH spot.

As covered here a little ways back, Young would be interesting to the Jays if his contractible obligations were halved and the Jays were left with a 24 million dollar commitment over three years. Even then it’s not a slam dunk, but he would take over third for 2011 and push Jose Bautista into right field and Edwin Encarnacion to the DH spot.

Honestly, going out and signing Russell Branyan to DH would be a better solution to resolve the Jays issue of where to play Bautista. That will be covered tomorrow.  The Michael Young issue is all over the place today, but as usual, the guys at FanGraphs have it covered for you with their own unique perspective.

Other than that, Blue Bird Banter’s Tom Dakers has got a pretty good debate going over on their site about where to play Jose Bautista. And lastly, check out the Hardball Times outstanding breakdown of all things Kyle Drabek. Less than a week now until it all gets started down in Dunedin.

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Should The Blue Jays Opt For Mike McCoy Over John McDonald?

Unless the Blue Jays sign Jose Bautista to an extension or trade for Michael Young there doesn’t figure to be much Blue Jay related issues to discuss this week. There is also still the possibility the Jays could add another free agent on a minor league deal before spring training opens next week. Guys like Willy Aybar, Russell Branyan and Hank Blalock are still out there looking for work.

Branyan is of particular interest to the Jays with the way their roster is currently constructed. That will be touched on this week too. In the meantime, the Jays could have an issue to resolve this spring with a pair of guys already on the roster, John McDonald and Mike McCoy. Last season the two were both on the bench essentially filling the same role of utility infielder until the middle of June.

This season the Jays will have to skip on keeping a pair of light hitting, quality fielders on the bench if they do, as they have said they may, go with an eight man bullpen. They should skip the whole idea even if they go with a traditional seven man bullpen and bring on a corner infield or corner outfield type who can hit or keep Corey Patterson around as the fourth bench player instead.

That decision is a relatively easy one but deciding on which to keep around is a little trickier. Financially, the Jays owe McDonald 1.5 million dollars this season where as McCoy would likely cost them a half million or so. It’s possible McDonald could be traded and the Jays could avoid paying him if they decide they don’t need him. Even if they couldn’t eating that amount of money is insignificant enough to not be a worry. They could also get him through waivers and stash him at Triple-A, if McDonald was open to that sort of thing.

Whatever happens the amount of money being spent on the utility infield bench spot shouldn’t get in the way of which player to go with. The incumbent is McDonald who’s spent parts of six seasons with the Jays compiling a .242/.277/.339 batting line. He rarely walks, doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t hit for average either. His existence as a Major Leaguer has been completely justified solely by his glove work. His fielding around the infield has been worth 40 defensive runs saved above average and has UZR/150 marks of +18.9 at second base and +6.4 at shortstop in his career.

McCoy has had a solid minor league career at the plate but as he approaches thirty years of age, has logged only 96 MLB plate appearances. In 1465 career Triple-A plate appearances, almost all in the hitter happy Pacific Coast League, McCoy has hit .296/.391/.405. The PCL inflates power numbers so McCoy probably has just as little power as McDonald but it’s clear he should be capable of walking quite a bit more. Odds are he could probably out hit McDonald at this point too.

Defensively, the limited minor league fielding stats available suggest McCoy would be below average across the diamond. In terms of pure versatility though McCoy has spent ample time at second, third and short but also has 88 games amongst all three outfield positions in his career. That includes 24 in center, 7 in left and 10 in right with Colorado Springs in 2009. McDonald has only six games in the outfield in his career.

Up until now Bill James’ 2011 projections have been used in this space to look forward but we’ll take Tom Tango’s 2011 Marcel projections for a spin today. They came out last week and you can download them in spreadsheet form here. FanGraphs has them for every player on their player pages too and they went ahead and extrapolated out some stats not included with the downloadable sheets.  The one big benefit of the Marcel stuff is there’s projections for more players than James has, including, as luck would have it, Mike McCoy.

Marcel’s has McDonald down for a .242 batting average with an optimistic 5.1% walk rate and a .132 isolated power. The walk rate seems optimistic because McDonald hasn’t had a walk rate anywhere near that high since 2006. Of course, McDonald’s .204 ISO in 2010 was more than double his .089 career ISO, small sample sizes can be funny like that. Anyways, McDonald’s offensive projection boils down to a .287 wOBA.

McCoy’s outlook is a little better, mostly on the strength of his walk drawing abilities. Marcel’s pegs him for a .239 batting average, 8.5% walk rate and a .126 ISO good enough for a .302 wOBA. Not light years better than McDonald but with more reason for optimism as McCoy will be six years younger than McDonald on Opening Day, and has hit for almost a .310 average in the minors the last two seasons.

There’s no lefty/righty split data to speak of available for McCoy’s time in the minors but both him and McDonald are righties and McDonald isn’t exactly a lefty killer anyways. The offensive edge goes to McCoy, the defensive ability goes to McDonald and McCoy’s defensive versatility breaks the tie.

McCoy would be able to fill both the utility infield and fifth outfielder role, albeit with less quality infield defense, but coupled with his offensive upside he nudges ahead of the incumbent McDonald and should be on the bench if and when the Jays have to choose one or the other.

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What To Expect from Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects Part II

Earlier in the week we took a look at ESPN’s Keith Law’s top five Blue Jays prospects. Today we’ll have a look at the second half of Law’s top 10 and what they need to do moving forward in 2011. As mentioned in the first half, this is purely a statistical analysis of each player and not a scouting/tools report. Again, that kind of information is essential to have, not knocking that type of analysis in the least, it’s just not being provided here.

Checking in at No. 6 on Law’s top 10 is the Jays’ top and most promising shortstop prospect, the Cuban born Adeiny Hechavarria. The Jays signed him last spring to a four-year, $10 million contract and immediately added him to the 40-man roster. Hechavarria will be 22 when the minor league season gets underway in mid April.

A good number of players start their minor league careers as shortstops before switching off to other positions for defensive reasons. Hechavarria is in no danger of falling into that category, it’s just the opposite with him in that his glove work will carry him up to the show. Law gives a glowing review of Hechavarria’s defense from his footwork, hands, range and arm. His only complaint is his low throwing angle can put a spin on the ball that could be difficult for first basemen to handle. He still has plenty of time to correct that one and only apparent defensive issue.

Hitting is what troubled Hechavarria last year in his first pro season. The Blue Jays don’t need him to turn into a force at the dish but another season or two in the minors is probably going to be needed for them to be comfortable with him hitting at the highest level. Hechavarria started off with high Single-A, Dunedin, where he had a .245 wOBA in just 41 games and 167 plate appearances.

That wound up being all the time he spent in Single-A as the Jays moved him up to Double-A at the end of June and left him there for the rest of the season. He hit quite a bit better after the move putting together a .300 wOBA in 61 games with the Fisher Cats.

Hechavarria didn’t show much power at either stop with isolated power marks of .099 with Dunedin and .087 with New Hampshire. He also didn’t walk much but didn’t strike out a ton either at both stops. And after hitting .193 with Dunedin he hit .273 in New Hampshire.

For 2011 it’s a safe bet that he’ll start in Double-A again. The Jays don’t need him to be a great hitter but something along the lines of hitting .280-.290 with a 6-8 percent walk rate and an ISO around .100 would be good enough improvement to send him off to Triple-A late in the year or the start of 2012.

Next up on the list is 18-year-old, Aaron Sanchez, a 6’4″, right-handed pitcher drafted by the Jays with the 34th overall pick in last year’s draft. There isn’t much to discuss statistically with Sanchez as he logged just six innings in low Single-A and 19 in rookie ball. There’s little to no use in looking over the numbers or trying to project anything for 2011. But if he’s on Keith Law’s radar, he should be on yours so keep an eye on what he does in 2011.

If the Jays system lacks one thing it is without a doubt legit center field prospects. Darin Mastroianni had a good season last year in Double-A but he’s already 25 with no Triple-A at-bats to his name. In a move aimed squarely at addressing this issue, Alex Anthopoulos dealt the Jays top first base prospect, Brett Wallace, straight up for Anthony Gose at last season’s trade deadline. The move was a surprise at the time—many thought Wallace was destined to replace Lyle Overbay at first for the Jays when the trade went down.

Anthopoulos considers Gose to be athletic enough to stick in center as he moves up the system and it might be another two or three years before he’ll make the show to try and prove that Anthopoulos’ move to get him was a good one. The first thing that jumps out statistically is his strikeout rate. He went down on strikes 25.7 percent of the time in 2010 between the Phillies and Jays’ high Single-A teams. He did show some patience too, walking in 7.8 percent of his plate appearances.

Gose will be just 20 next year and he’d benefit from drawing the discrepancy in his walk and strikeout rates closer. He’d also benefit from improving his base-stealing ability. In 2009 he stole 76 bases with a 79 percent success rate. That dipped drastically in 2010, he still swiped 45 bases but with a greatly diminished 58 percent success rate.

He hasn’t hit for much of an average yet, but after putting up a below-league-average ISO of .094 in 2009 his ISO jumped to .131 last year, a good cut above the league’s average ISO of .109. The Jays could push him to Double-A to start 2011 but he’s still so young the Jays should let him have stronger success in high A first and then move him up.

The ninth spot is held by the third catcher in Law’s top 10, Carlos Perez, who impressed at the plate last season in his first season above rookie-level ball. Perez spent 2010 in low Single-A and only got to the plate 278 times but had some exciting results. He hit .298, walked 12.2 percent of the time and had a .140 ISO that all added up to a .390 wOBA. Not bad for a 19-year-old catcher.

Now, 278 plate appearances is still a small sample but it’s a start. Perez also has impressive numbers throwing out baserunners nailing 49 percent of would-be base stealers in 2009 and 36 percent this past season.

Total Zone for catchers, which evaluates catchers only on their ability to control the running game, had him at plus-six runs saved in 2009. Perez also stole seven bases in 10 tries last year. His numbers are solid all the way around at the plate, behind the plate and on the bases so far. If he keeps it all up at a higher level next season he’ll shoot up this list next offseason.

Law rounds out the top 10 with another 20-year-old, Henderson Alvarez, a right-handed starting pitcher. After skipping low A he had a successful 2009 in Single-A, and an equally impressive 2010 with high Single-A Dunedin. Alvarez displayed excellent control in both seasons walking only 1.38 batters per nine innings in ’09 and 2.16 per nine in 2010.

He has yet to strike out batters in bunches, getting only 6.25 strikeouts per nine innings with Dunedin. He copes with that quite well with, you guessed it, excellent ground-ball rates. Alvarez generated 50 percent ground-ball rates in both ’09 and ’10 and did an excellent job suppressing the long ball as well.

Alvarez has shown enough to warrant starting 2011 in Double-A. Expect him to hit some growing pains as his walk rate may spike with the increase in the opposition’s willingness to take a pitch or two at a higher level. The jump in talent from A ball to Double-A should also put a dent in his strikeout rates too. Naturally, he’ll progress too but he may need close to two full seasons with New Hampshire before he can start to be considered ready to make the jump to Triple-A or Toronto.

The top seven Jays prospects made Law’s top 100 prospect list—a number bested only by the Rays putting eight into the top 100. Having a player development system mentioned in the same breath as the Rays is no small achievement. The Rays have twice in three seasons propelled themselves past either the Yankees or Red Sox and into the playoffs on the strength of their player development. Alex Anthopoulos fully intends to do the same with Toronto but with a better chance to sustain what he builds because of the team’s ability to support a much higher payroll than Tampa.

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Defining Roles in the Toronto Blue Jays Bullpen for 2011

Over at Mop Up Duty, Matthias Koster tells us the eight men expected to start the season in the Toronto Blue Jays’ ‘pen are slated to make just over $19 million, making it the second most expensive bullpen the team has ever assembled. The group trails only the 2009 version that was heavily influenced by B.J. Ryan’s $12 million payout. The cash is spread a bit more evenly with these guys, three of them will earn between $3.5-4 million, and the next four will make between $1 million and $2.75 million; David Purcey brings up the rear at 400k.

Normally, you don’t see an eight man bullpen, as it can be tough to get regular work for that many pitchers. But John Farrell and Alex Anthopoulos have both expressed their desire to avoid overworking their young rotation. Ultimately, the need will probably arise very quickly during the season for a fourth bench player at the expense of the bullpen’s extra pitcher. All it would take is one position player to go down for something less than a trip to the disabled list, say for two-four games, to reduce the Jays’ bench to a meager two men.

For now, though, let’s take them at their word and assume they will start the season with an extra reliever, and let’s also assume that eight will initially be compromised of the men listed by Koster. The likes of Chad Cordero, Josh Roenicke and lefty Jesse Carlson aren’t on the list but could be possibilities down the road, if not to open the season. Carlson in particular should be in the running for a spot, which was covered more in-depthly here.

Farrell stated recently that he plans on going with a designated closer to open the season and is not considering a bullpen by committee. Everyone else would then fall in line behind the closer into the typical roles of setup man, mop up man, long reliever, first lefty option (only lefty in this case) and so on.

For the sake of the pitchers, that’s the best way to go because it makes their lives easier if they know what to expect each night in terms of when they’ll be called upon. But the Jays should steal a page from Moneyball and deploy their best reliever in a true fireman role while using their second best pitcher in the closer’s role. Also, to avoid fan and media backlash, they should never mention this approach if they choose to use it.

Last season, whether intentional or not, the Boston Red Sox used their best reliever, Daniel Bard, as a pretty close representation of a fireman often bringing him in at the most crucial moments of the game while saving their second best reliever, Jonathan Papelbon, to close out games. Of course, Papelbon was the incumbent closer, but by mid-season, at the latest, it was clear Bard was out-pitching Papelbon. It’s possible the switch of roles never came out of respect for Papelbon, but it’s also possible they decided to stick with Papelbon as the closer because Bard was being thrown into the fire and having success while Papelbon was less than stellar.

In a bullpen operating with a defined closer and defined fireman, the other six relievers, or five, would still have all the traditional bullpen roles with which to get comfortable. They would only need one guy, their best guy, to be comfortable heading out to the ‘pen every night knowing he could be used at almost any point in the game.

The easiest way to find that pitcher is work backwards and settle on everyone else’s roles first. First off, Carlos Villanueva, Casey Janssen and Purcey have all made starts in at least one of the last two seasons. With eight guys and a goal of protecting the young starters, the Jays should keep two of these three stretched out for long relief work and spot starts.

It would be easy to rule out Purcey because he’s a lefty but his lefty/righty splits aren’t that far apart so far as ERA and FIP are concerned. He’s also been much better at striking out righties than lefties and walks less righties than lefties as well. Of the three he had the both the highest ERA and FIP between 2009 and 2010 and Bill James projects him to be the worst of the three in 2011. There’s your mop up long man.

The other long spot would be the preferred spot/emergency starter and long relief when they’re not too far behind or ahead guy. Villanueva has the higher ERA in the last two years at 4.74 to Janssen‘s 4.47 despite besting Janssen in tERA, FIP and xFIP. Villanueva is also two years younger than Janssen and will be 27 next season, leaving him with a bit more upside than Janssen. James’ projections don’t agree, however he projects their ERAs to be close but Janssen is slotted for a 3.83 FIP to Villanueva’s 4.36.

It’s all about the youth right now with the Jays, though, and Villanueva’s youth nudges him into the primary long man/spot starter role. Janssen now gets lumped in with Shawn Camp and Octavio Dotel to fill up the team’s middle relief spots. Dotel and Camp are a distant fourth and fifth amongst the eight in their 2009-2010 FIPs with Janssen not far behind.

Now we’re down to three roles and three pitchers left to fill them with. All three of Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor and Frank Francisco have previous closing experience. All three also yielded the role to others in 2009 or 2010, too. It would be easy to dismiss Frasor from closer consideration considering last season’s abbreviated stint in April in which he went three for five in save opportunities before having the role taken from him and given to Kevin Gregg. Frasor wound up going four for eight in save chances on the season.

The fact is, though, he’s been better than both Rauch and Francisco the last two years in ERA (3.12) and FIP (3.16) and second in tERA (3.25) to Rauch and second in xFIP (3.76) to Francisco. Rauch’s 3.46 FIP in ’09-’10 is the worst of the bunch and James projects him as such for 2011. So we’ll give the setup role to Rauch.

Despite Frasor being half a run better in ERA than Francisco in ’09-’10, they’re much closer in FIP with Francisco checking in at 3.22. James projects Francisco for a 3.09 ERA and a 3.28 FIP, a good deal better than Frasor’s projected 3.49 ERA and 3.54 FIP. It’s a tough call whether to buy Frasor continuing to be better than Francisco based on the last two seasons of data or to take James’ projections, which are at least somewhat influenced by Frasor being two years further into his supposed decline years than Francisco.

Turning to one final piece of data, since the Jays lack a lefthander among their better relievers, Francisco’s FIP against lefties is just 2.80 over the last three seasons, easily trumping Frasor’s 4.08 FIP in the same sample size. If we consider their overall ability to be about even, Francisco’s dominance against lefties makes him the more ideal fireman. When the game has reached it’s perceived highest point of importance, the Jays need to be able to summon a reliever who can take on either a lefty or a righty and get out of the jam.

The Frasor as closer experience was too short last season to serve as a concrete reason to keep him from the closer role this year. Francisco looks to be the best pitcher in the ‘pen and hopefully the Blue Jays will use him when the game is on the line, whether it’s the seventh, eight or ninth inning. When there’s a fire to be put out Francisco is the man.

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What To Expect From Blue Jays’ Top Prospects In 2011

Keith Law of ESPN recently put out his yearly organization ratings based purely on Minor League talent alone. Law rated the Jays’ system as the fourth best in all of baseball. With those rankings also came his top 100 prospects list for all of baseball as well as each team’s top ten prospects.

We’ll take a look at what to expect and what needs to be seen from the top five of those prospects today and the next five at a later, yet to be determined date. Just to clarify, this isn’t going to be a scouting report with a focus on each player’s tools but rather an overview of where they’re at and where they need to be statistically. That’s not a knock on scouting/tools based articles, they’re great and essential reading; this just isn’t one of them.

Law’s number one prospect for the Jays is starting pitcher Kyle Drabek. Drabek is almost assuredly done with his days as a minor leaguer and more than likely to be the team’s fourth starter. If that turns out to be the case, he’ll wind up completely skipping Triple-A. That’s not a move most teams make but the Jays Triple-A team, the Las Vegas 51s, play in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League in one of its most hitter-friendly parks.

Drabek didn’t look out of place in three starts for the Jays at the end of last season either, striking out 12 and walking five in 17 innings while generating a ton of groundballs as well. Before that though, his numbers in 162 innings spread out over 27 Double-A starts weren’t exactly eye popping. He did have a healthy 2.94 ERA but his FIP was almost a full run higher at 3.87. Statcorner gave him a 4.37 tRA compared to the Eastern League average of 5.00, leaving him with a tRA+ of 113.

The FIP and tRA takes a bit of the glow off the sub-3.00 ERA. Drabek looked to benefit from a .255 BABIP, some of which could be luck but some of it probably has to do with his above average 48.8 percent groundball rate too. His 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings was almost exactly league average and his 3.78 walks per nine was a little ways off the 3.4 league average.

Drabek is going to need something to help him out right away in 2011 and based on the above, his best bet is to keep generating groundballs. He might be hard pressed to keep his K/9 IN above seven and a walk rate below 4 BB/9 IN, but he’ll survive with a solid groundball rate. He also did a good job suppressing homers last season and getting grounders is conducive to not coughing up the long ball. If those trends continue he’ll be ok, but expecting him to show anything more than flashes of dominance in 2011 is wishful thinking.

Next up on Law’s list is the newly acquired Brett Lawrie who came over at the expense of Shaun Marcum when he was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers this off-season. If Lawrie has one Major League ready tool, it would appear to be his confidence as he expressed that he no longer needed to play in the minors and was ready for the show after the trade. Alex Anthopoulos probably doesn’t agree with that but AA obviously believed in the kid enough to trade him straight up for the Jays’ second best starter from last season.

Lawrie had an impressive 2010 with a safely above average .361 wOBA in his first full season of Double-A. That is of course even more impressive when you consider he was just 20-years-old and hit .285 with a .164 isolated power against older, more seasoned competition. He also walked in 7.7 percent of his plate appearances, which wasn’t far off the league average of 9.0.

His power did fall off a bit in 2010, he hit 13 homers in 423 Single-A plate appearances in ’09 but just eight homers in 609 trips to the plate in 2010. His work on the basepaths improved in 2010, stealing 30 bases with a 68 percent success rate after swiping 19 bags with a 63 percent success rate the year before; again, improvement against more experienced pitcher/catcher tandems.

All Lawrie needs to do is duplicate his Double-A success in Triple-A for 2011 to be a successful year in his development. Asking a 21-year-old to hit .285/.346/.449 in Triple-A isn’t usually a reasonable request, but he’s performed beyond his age group two years running now. The only problem will be evaluating his Triple-A numbers. He could see his numbers inflated from a change of environment to a hitter’s league in a hitter’s park and not his own skill development.

The key numbers for Lawrie will not be his isolated power, batting average or home run numbers in 2011 but rather his walk rate, strikeout rate, and his batted ball percentages. Those will need to be watched more closely if he plays in Las Vegas. If he continues to draw a solid amount of walks and hit the ball well in relation to his previous batted ball numbers, then we’ll be more sure of the progress he’s making.

Getting a read on his defense in the minors from a statistical standpoint is quite a challenge. Lawrie will be tasked with learning a new position in 2011 as the Jays have opted to move him to third base. That could be a reflection on his defensive skill, it could be the first step in moving him to the outfield, or it could reflect the Jays lack of depth at third. Whatever the reason, judgement should be withheld on him for now defensively as he is just 21 and moving to a new position.

In a bit of a surprise, Zach Stewart turned up third on the list ahead of both the Jays top two catching prospects and a few of their other top, up the middle, prospects. If Drabek’s secondary numbers weren’t overly impressive, neither were Stewart’s. He too spent all of 2010 with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats and turned in 26 starts and 136 innings.

The best result from Stewart’s season might be that he finally spent some serious time at the same level in the same role for the first time in his pro career. In 2009, he spent time at three levels on four teams in both a starting role and out of the bullpen. He had never pitched more than 42 innings for any team previous to 2010. That at least gives a solid baseline to evaluate from.

That baseline included a less than impressive 4.18 FIP stemming from striking out seven batters per nine while walking 3.58 and yielding .86 homers per nine. All three of those numbers were on the wrong side of the Eastern League average. His pedestrian 4.93 tRA was much closer to the 5.00 league average than Drabek’s was. His one saving grace, which is becoming almost a given with young Jays pitchers, was his 46.8 percent groundball rate.

Stewart’s name has been kicked around as a potential number five starter for the Jays this season. That does not seem wise, he was hardly dominate at Double-A and at least some improvement should be seen before he moves up the ladder. He did pitch better after the All-Star break, upping his K/9 IN to 7.7, dropping his walks down to three per nine, and cutting his homers per nine to .64. Even buying the most recent 42 innings of work over the season as a whole wouldn’t leave you screaming for promotion.

Stewart needs to build off his 2010 numbers almost across the board to force the Jays’ hand. He’s flashed the ability in small samples to strike out better than a batter an inning in the past and in those same small samples shown good control too. He might not need another full season at Double-A but he needs to step forward with real, solid progress.

The Jays top five is rounded out by a pair of catchers with Travis d’Arnaud checking in ahead of the projected Opening Day starter for the big club, J.P. Arencibia. Like Drabek, d’Arnaud came over in the Roy Halladay trade and is at the top of an impressive group of catchers in the Jays’ minor league system.

Keith Law says he is a plus defender across the board in his write-up for his top 100 prospects. That is necessary praise for any young catching prospect set on remaining behind the plate when he reaches the Majors. D’Arnaud will be 22 to open next season and should start the year with Double-A New Hampshire as their primary catcher.

D’Arnaud has hit well too, posting wRC+ over 100 in each of his stops across all three levels of Single-A ball. His batting line of .259/.315/.411 isn’t terribly impressive taken out of context. Those stats came out of the hitter friendly, power suppressing, Florida State League that had a league average batting line of .255/.324/.364. A quick once over shows that d’Arnaud came up a little short getting on base but had solid power.

Law thinks d’Arnaud is ready to breakout with the bat in 2011, and with no good reason to disagree, you should look forward to the same thing from him with the Fisher Cats. The Jays might not be far off from the “problem” of having two quality, MLB ready, cost controlled, catchers. Too much up the middle talent is always a good problem to have.

J.P. Arencibia both rounds out the top five and figures to have a bigger impact at the big league level than the four guys in front of him in 2011. He has nothing left to prove in the minors after last season’s offensive display with Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League. Even taking the context of the league and his home park into consideration, Arencibia was a force at the dish all season long.

Arencibia blasted 32 homers, second best in the league, hit .301, drew a walk in a career best 8.3 percent of his plate appearances and more than doubled the league average .155 ISO with a thunderous .325 mark. The power numbers were career bests but Arencibia has never lacked power.

However, he had lacked plate discipline, having never previously walked in more than 5.6 percent of his plate appearances at any minor league level. He also cut his strikeout rate from 24.5 in 2009(also at Triple-A) to a more reasonable 20.6 percent. That nearly doubled his walks per strikeout from .23 in 2009 to .45.

Patience from the fans and the team will be paramount to Arencibia’s success next year. He can’t be expected to reproduce his .412 wOBA from 2010 in the show. Jays fans should expect to see something closer to his 2009 Triple-A numbers that saw him hit .236 with a 5.2 percent walk rate and .208 isolated power. That’s not going to win him Rookie of the Year honors, but it’s not about the final numbers in 2011.

It is all about giving him 500 plate appearances in 2011 and being prepared to hand him at least a couple hundred more in 2012 and see how much he improves. Not every catching prospect can be expected to burst into the spotlight like Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, and that’s the case here.

Obviously, the Jays’ front office doesn’t need any advice on evaluating their catcher and how many at-bats to give him before thinking about moving on to other options. The typical fan though might be a different story and hopefully the team and writers around the team are ready to express that patience needs to be taken with the results of Arencibia’s 2011 campaign—good or bad.

Arencibia will also have his hands full working with the pitching staff and controlling the running game. But Law likes his arm and he’s caught several of the Jays’ starters in the past as they’ve moved up the system, so he won’t be completely unfamiliar with them. 

Check back late in the week for the second half of Law’s top ten.

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Toronto Blue Jays Add Potential Closer at the Expense of Mike Napoli

Mike Napoli was a member of the Blue Jays just long enough for most of the team’s writers and fans to get familiar with his capabilities and salary situation and come to a conclusion as to where he would fit in with the club. Napoli seemed to fit as the team’s primary DH, which caused a chain effect with the rest of the position players.

All that needs to be revisited now though as Napoli has already been spun to the Texas Rangers for reliever, and potential closer, Frank Francisco. He is the latest new arm to a bullpen that will be stocked with new faces come Opening Day. The Jays have already added Carlos Villanueva, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero this offseason and figure to welcome back Jason Frasor and David Purcey as well. Francisco is the fifth arm added and he also figures to be the best of the bunch as well.

Francisco has been about as consistent as you could reasonably expect from a relief pitcher over the last four seasons. He’s made no less 51 appearances in any of those four seasons and has been particularly effective the last three seasons. Since 2008 he’s struck out at least 10.25 batters per nine innings and has put FIPs of 3.18, 3.34 and 3.12 in those three seasons.

After struggling with walks early in his career he’s only given up 2.74 and 3.08 free passes per nine innings the last two years. The end result has seen his ERA range from 3.13 to 3.83 to 3.76 the last three years. He also brings along the reputation of being someone who can handle closing duties (always up for debate is how overrated that sort of thing is) having saved 25 games in 29 chances back in 2009.

Francisco also figures to be cheaper than Napoli by a couple million dollars or so. Although, that’s not a big deal when you figure Napoli was part of a deal that saved the Jays $70 million in future payroll obligations and the simple fact that Napoli projected to provide more value than Francisco, thus justifying the increased cost of employment.

Alex Anthopoulos did address the Jays’ seeming abundance of relief help added this offseason by stating that he wants a deep and veteran bullpen to help ease the burden on the young starting rotation. Indeed, the Jays rotation as currently constituted won’t send anyone to the mound over the age of 26. It’s tough to argue with that logic but it’s also tough not to wonder if the bullpen really needed another arm and if the team would’ve been better off keeping Napoli.

The loss of Napoli also changes the outlook of the Jays lineup and roster construction. Just two days ago he looked to be the primary option at DH with Adam Lind at first and either Jose Bautista at third and Juan Rivera in left or Bautista in right and Edwin Encarnacion at third.

That’s still probably the case and Bautista is probably slightly better off in right than third. But now if Encarnacion is going to play third they have a hole at DH. The only good thing about a hole at DH is that finding a DH is easier than finding a third baseman to push Encarnacion back to DH where he’d probably be better off in a perfect world because his defense is lacking.

Again, as mentioned here, the Jays might be dead set on keeping Encarnacion away from playing third. If that is the case, barring another trade, their only option at third is Bautista. This would allow the Jays to see what Encarnacion can do with the bat while keeping him away from what he clearly cannot do, play something resembling average defense. And finding a corner outfielder isn’t as easy as finding a DH but it’s still easier than landing a third baseman in late January/early February.

The Jays’ options for another outfielder were covered a few days ago here, but now that they suddenly might need a DH let’s take a look at some of the remaining free-agent options. The biggest name left on the market, at any position, is Vlad Guerrero who spent last season with the Texas Rangers. Vlad enjoyed a nice bounce-back season with the Rangers hitting .300 with a 5.4 percent walk rate, .196 isolated power and 29 homers in 643 plate appearances. By keeping him off the field he was healthy enough to play in 152 games, his highest total since 2006.

He, unlike Napoli or even Encarnacion, would be strictly a DH at this point in his career. He’ll also be 36 but he’s been a very consistent hitter and his production last year showed that he can’t be written off just yet as a productive hitter. Vlad has never hit below .295 going all the way back to 1997 and has had an ISO lower than 2010’s .196 just once in that same time. But there’s always a first, or second, time for everything and if his average and power slip he doesn’t offer much else to provide value. He hasn’t walked much the last two seasons posting on-base percentages of .334 and .345 despite being, basically, a .300 hitter the last two years.

The Jays could also use their low risk, high reward approach to bullpen building and take a flyer on Hank Blalock. He was last seen in 2010 getting just 69 trips to the plate for the Tampa Bay Rays and putting together a .297 wOBA. That’s nothing to get excited about but from 2007-2009 in just over 1,000 plate appearances he had a .230 ISO and 47 homers to go with a .262 batting average and a .313 OBP. It’s been a while since Blalock was both productive and playing every day but with a low financial commitment he’d be worth a look.

The bottom line is that the loss of Napoli for Francisco stings, but if Napoli was primarily going to DH and give up time at first to Adam Lind and time at catcher to J.P. Arencibia, then replacing him won’t be all that hard. They could commit some money to Vlad or go bargain shopping for Blalock or even Willy Aybar for that matter. The decision on Bautista’s spot in the field still dictates how they round out the roster but there are still options at both DH and the outfield worth exploring.

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Digesting The Blue Jays Shocking Trade Of Vernon Wells

Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled off the seemingly impossible tonight when he managed to trade Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. It’s almost inconceivable to think that Wells and his $86 million contract could be unloaded on anyone, without, as has been reported, sending ANY money along with Wells to his new team. The implications of this deal for the Jays are far reaching into many aspects of the team both on the field and off in both the long term and the short term.

The extent of the effect of this deal won’t be completely known for a while, as it leaves several questions to be answered. But let’s start with what we know and what is good for the Blue Jays. This is a complete and utter coup for Anthopoulos in terms of the financial benefits to the team. As it’s well known, Wells is set to make $86 million over the next four years, which is an annual salary of $21.5 million on average. To rid themselves of this debt the Jays took on about $11 million in guaranteed money between Rivera’s guaranteed $5.25 million and the $6 million or so Napoli is expected to make next season.

That’s it. Neither player is owed any money beyond 2011 meaning if they both moved on for 2012 the Jays would save 75 million dollars over the course of the next four seasons. That is a substantial amount of money, and if Anthopoulos has the ability to allocate some or all of that money elsewhere in the next couple of off seasons, the Jays will be in a far better position to go into the free agent market and aggressively make moves to fill players in around their developing talent already residing in the system.

This could influence the on going negotiations with slugger Jose Bautista, who is currently slated to head to arbitration if the two sides can’t work out a deal. Anthopoulos would be better off resisting the urge to lock up Bautista long term just because he has more money to play with. The financial windfall for the team doesn’t change the fact that Jays should avoid paying for Bautista’s 2010 for the next three or four years if they don’t think it’s going to be a repeatable performance level.

The loss of Wells, barring another move, opens up centerfield for Rajai Davis whom the Jays picked up earlier in the offseason from the Oakland Athletics. Davis is easily the best defensive outfielder the Jays have and the only one the team would feel comfortable sending out to center in 2011. Davis doesn’t walk a lot, but on a team without a clear-cut leadoff hitter, if he’s in the starting lineup he’s probably closest to fitting the bill. On his career he’s a .281 hitter with a .330 on-base percentage and just a .102 isolated power.

He’s not going to equal Wells output at the plate, but he’s a defensive upgrade and a terror on the basepaths, who can easily and effectively steal 50-60 bases a season. He’s also not too far removed from a 2008 season in which he hit .305 with a .360 OBP with a .354 wOBA, 41 steals, and above average defensive work. Davis isn’t a star, but the Jays could certainly use his defense and base stealing ability.

There’s quite a bit to be sorted out in the Jays infield, and that will influence the outfield playing time as well. In theory, Bautista would be the everyday third baseman leaving Travis Snider to play right and the newly acquired Juan Rivera to patrol left, his usual spot with the Angels. But that could change, and Bautista and Snider could get the bulk of the time in the outfield corners with Rivera fwilling the role of fourth outfielder. There could also be a more flexible arrangement that blends the above two scenarios.

A healthy Juan Rivera as the Jays everyday left fielder wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. His defensive numbers have fluctuated all over the place in the last three seasons making it tough to pin down his defensive contributions. Compared to last year’s primary left fielder, Fred Lewis, Rivera’s defense doesn’t look to be all that much worse, and could possibly even be better.

Rivera’s bat took a step back last season with a below average wOBA of .314 just one year after a 2009 that saw him produce a .348 wOBA thanks in part to solid power(25 homers, .191 ISO) and a .287 batting average that gave him a passable .330 OBP despite walking just 6.3 percent of the time. Much to the delight of Jays fans who got accustomed to most of the lineup not walking while striking out a ton, Rivera has only struckout in 12.5 percent of his at-bats in his career, solidly below the league average in most seasons.

Bill James’ 2011 projection for Rivera has him hitting .270 with a .324 OBP and a .174 ISO. Not earth shattering numbers. James also projects Rivera to only get about 400 plate appearances in 120 or so games based on the fact he’s never played more than 138 games in any season including just a combined 103 games in 2007 and 2008. The so-so bat and potential health issues definitely increases the urge to put Bautista in right, Snider in left and Rivera on the bench for 2011.

The Bautista conundrum of where to play him was about the only thing this trade didn’t help. Mike Napoli played 67 games behind the plate and 57 at first last season. Naturally, since he can swing a bat he’s also an option at DH, and a good one at that. Napoli has put up some big offensive numbers in his career. He owns a 11.1 percent career walk rate and has power to spare with a career ISO of .234. In both 2008 and 2009 he hit 20 homers in each despite playing in just 78 and 114 games, respectively.

Napoli will be 29 for the whole of next season and should bounce back from an off-year in 2010. Nothing less than 20 plus homers and 20 plus doubles coupled with an on-base percentage around .360 should be expected of Napoli with a solid amount of playing time. The question is, where is that playing time going to come from, and at who’s expense?

The door for J.P. Arencibia to be the full-time catcher appeared to be wide open for him in the coming season. That isn’t as clear now, though. Napoli isn’t going to be mistaken for an excellent defensive backstop, but his bat is well above average behind the dish and he can provide positive stats from that spot. However, the Jays have to take a look at what they have in Arencibia this season and make strides in deciding whether or not he’s their catcher of the future. If he isn’t, there’s at least a couple more catchers coming up the pipeline that could be, and they’ll need their shots to prove themselves too.

If Napoli isn’t going to take anymore than 12-20 starts away from J.P. and Molina, he figures to be a great option to pair with Adam Lind at first. Napoli hits right-handed and Lind is a lefty, which quickly leads to the possibility of a platoon. A similar problem arises here at first, with Lind being signed to a long term deal the Jays. The Jays need him to play a lot, both to work on his defense at first and see where his true talent lies against left-handed pitching.

That leaves the DH spot as the optimal place for Napoli to start on a regular basis. Edwin Encarncacion looked to be the Jays best option there, but Napoli is the superior hitter, and they are both righties. The addition of Napoli should relegate Edwin to a bench role. With Lind primarily at first, Arencibia behind the dish, Napoli at DH, and Bautista and Snider in the outfield corners, the Jays are really only left looking for a third baseman. Or they could put Bautista at third and sign another outfielder.

One trade wasn’t going to solve everything on and off the field, but this one provides instant as well as long term payroll flexibility. With Davis playing everyday in center, and Napoli hitting bombs wherever he plays, the Jays are probably better overall on the field in 2011 as well. Alex Anthopoulos had been impressive with his moves up to this point, but this deal is nothing short of incredible. He’ll be hard pressed to ever top this move, and no one in Toronto will forget about it for a long time to come.  

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Is Marc Rzepczynski the Toronto Blue Jays’ Best Option for a Fifth Starter?

The fifth spot of the rotation is usually the most volatile one, and teams can go through any number of pitchers in the last spot over the course of a season.

Ineffective, injury-prone or young pitchers usually find themselves bringing up the rear of the rotation, and short spouts of poor performance will get a pitcher pulled out of the rotation quicker than its more established members.

By definition the fifth spot is the least important of the five, but more innings get thrown from that position than any position in the bullpen. It comes up about 30 times or so a season, leaving a team to commit to at least 150 innings or so from somebody.

Even if a team went through two or three starters in the five spot over the course of a season, each one would still throw as many innings as most of the bullpen’s top pitchers. It’s far from a team’s most pressing role, yes, but certainly not one to be overlooked either.

Whoever starts the season as the fifth starter is unlikely to last the whole season in the rotation, but it’s still worth taking a look over who that man may be come Opening Day.

The Jays have as many as three in-house options for the fifth spot. This assumes that Kyle Drabek, as has been rumored, is penciled in as the fourth starter behind Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil. Whittling it down to the one who will get the assignment out of the gate may not be decided until some point in the spring, but let’s take a look at the candidates and try to see who should be favored to win the spot.

Of all the Jays’ candidates, one is practically guaranteed to get hurt and give way to someone else during the season. That would be Jesse Litsch, who hasn’t worked over 100 innings since at least 2008. Litsch did however make nine starts in the second half of last season for the Jays and should be healthy to start the season.

Litsch threw 83.2 innings in 15 starts across three levels of the Blue Jays system, culminating in 46.2 innings over nine starts with the big club. He wasn’t effective for the Jays, posting a 5.79 ERA and 5.44 FIP, but that’s not a big surprise given that he threw a total of nine innings the year before.

Litsch did have back-to-back seasons of over 100 innings of work for the Jays back in 2007 and 2008. He had sub-4.00 ERAs in both of those seasons. His secondary numbers were much better in ’08; he maintained a 2.54 strikeout to walk ratio despite only striking out 5.06 batters per nine.

Despite having been with the Jays for parts of four seasons, he’ll only be 26 on Opening Day. It wouldn’t be prudent to give Litsch a heavy workload, but 20 or so starts would probably be a safe increase over last year’s work. Having pitched effectively at the top level before, coupled with his age, leaves little reason to put him in the minors or the ‘pen if he’s healthy enough to start.

Other than Litsch the Jays have two potential candidates who are both younger and less experienced than Litsch.

The completely unproven Zach Stewart is one of the two candidates. Stewart spent all of 2010 at Double-A and made 26 appearances, all starts, after only 14 starts in 34 appearances in 2009. He posted excellent numbers across four levels and six teams in two systems in 2008 and 2009 but didn’t pitch a substantial number of innings at any of those six stops.

Last year was different though, as noted he stayed with one team, pitched only out of the rotation and logged 126 innings.

He had a nice and shiny 3.63 ERA, but his other numbers were a bit less impressive. His 0.83 homers per nine innings looks good, but it was actually slightly above the Eastern League average of 0.80. Likewise, his seven strikeouts per nine innings and 3.56 walks per nine innings were more or less league average as well. Average results in Double-A don’t translate to average performance at the big league level.

It doesn’t mean Stewart wouldn’t be effective either, but another go-around with better results should be warranted before he gets promoted.

That bounces Stewart out of the competition and leaves only Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski left standing for the fifth spot. Rzepczynski has racked up 23 starts and 125 innings of about average results for the Jays in the last two seasons.

His control hasn’t been great, as he’s walked 4.32 batters per nine, but he’s countered that with above-average strikeout rates in both seasons with a combined mark of 8.42 Ks/9 IP. Zep has also shown an ability to generate lots of ground balls, getting them on 51 percent of his balls in play.

Rzepczynski will be 25 for most of next season, and looking at his minor league numbers he still has room to progress towards more strikeouts and fewer walks. His ERA did jump from 3.67 in ’09 to 4.95 last year, but his FIP was much less volatile, only rising from 4.14 to 4.57. The rise in FIP came from a drop, not a drastic one, in strikeouts and a slight increase in homers, but his combined numbers from ’09 and ’10 are more telling than either season by itself.

There’s no reason not to let Rzepczynski start the season in the rotation and see what he can do with a full season at the big league level. With his above-average ability to miss bats and get ground balls, coupled with being young enough for further progression, he certainly has the potential for a breakout season.

Litsch, besides being hurt, hasn’t done anything either to rule him out of a starting spot. Their past health issues tip the scale ever so slightly in favor of Zep to get the nod out of spring training. It’s also too hard to get past Rzepczynski’s potential to set down a batter for every inning of work to see him start another year in the minors or move to the ‘pen.

If history is any indication, and it almost always is, Litsch will get his shot in the rotation for the Jays in 2011, but Rzepczynski should get his first. 

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Blue Jays Buy Low On Former Closer Chad Cordero

For the second consecutive week the Blue Jays signed a former closer with the intent of rebuilding their bullpen for 2011. The newest addition to the bullpen corps is Chad Cordero who was last seen throwing a whole nine and two-thirds innings out of the Mariners’ bullpen last season. Previous to that he, more or less, completely missed all of 2008 and 2009 after an injury to his right shoulder. The deal is a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, making it about as low-risk a move as your going to find.

Cordero is best know for his three year run as the closer for the Washington Nationals. From 2005 to 2007 he made at least 68 appearances and worked no less than 73 innings each year while compiling 113 saves in 133 chances, an 85 percent success rate. If you throw in his 2004, in which he pitched 82 innings but had only 14 saves in 18 chances, he had a cumulative ERA of 2.83 in over 300 innings of work. His FIP in that time was a much less impressive 4.05.

Though Cordero was consistently healthy and effective in terms of his ERA and save percentage for those four years his peripheral numbers fluctuated greatly. None more so than his walk rate which went from bad(4.68 BB/9 IN in 2004) to outstanding(2.06 in ’05, 2.70 in ’06) to just average(3.48 in ’07) in the span of four seasons. His strikeout rates fluctuated as well, peaking at 9.04 K/9 IN in 2004, but stayed above average each season. His homer rates were around average, with one glaring exception in 2006.

Cordero out pitched his FIP by almost a full run in each of his four full seasons which leaves a reasonable expectation he can repeat that in the future. He was able to do so in both 2005 and 2006 by suppressing line drives better than all but two NL relievers. Cordero kept his homer rates around average despite being a heavy flyball pitcher. That too looks to be repeatable skill, and not luck, from 2004 to 2007 his percentage of flyballs that turned into homers was just 9.1 percent, league average is generally around 12-14 percent.

All that is good and fine but the reality is that on Opening Day 2011 that run of performance will be almost four years into the past. Cordero will still be just 29 when the season opens however, making it very possible he can still be effective if healthy. He was healthy enough to throw 45 1/3 innings over 43 appearances between Triple-A and the show in 2010. His Triple-A numbers were impressive putting up a 2.66 FIP between the Mets and Mariners Triple-A teams and striking out 36 batters in 35 2/3 innings while walking only 9.

The arm injury is a concern and is the reason for Cordero’s absence from the majors for the last three seasons. But on the bright side, Cordero wasn’t a fireball pitcher who had success by throwing high 90s heat past opposing batters. His fastball averaged right around 89 MPH during his peak seasons and was paired almost exclusively with a 79-80 MPH slider and an occasional 83 MPH change-up.

Cordero has also never heavily relied on being a swing and miss pitcher, he had two seasons above and two seasons below average swinging strike percentages. That would partially explain his fluctuating strikeout rates as most pitchers who consistently strikeout more than a batter an inning also have high swing and miss rates. That implies his success had more to do with deception in his delivery and a batters inability to differentiate his fastball from his slider than anything else. This would be great for the Jays and Cordero since he’ll be facing plenty of new faces in a new league. 

The Jays would be delighted if Cordero could put together 50-60 innings of anything resembling his peak performance out of the Jays ‘pen next season. If healthy, he’ll almost certainly be given the opportunity. And unlike the recently acquired Octavio Dotel, all of 37 years young, the Jays might actually keep Cordero around for two or three seasons if he’s able to pitch effectively and stay healthy. A harmless move for the Jays if it fails but with his history Cordero is one of the more interesting guys to pay attention to next season when summoned from the ‘pen.  

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Blue Jays Add Veteran Reliever Octavio Dotel to 2011 Bullpen

After the idea of the Blue Jays adding Octavio Dotel had been kicked around by everyone with an interest in baseball or the Jays on twitter off and on for the last month, it finally went down today. The deal is another inexpensive move by GM Alex Anthopoulos following on the heals of signing Edwin Encarnacion, trading for and releasing Miquel Olivo, and sending Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee for a prospect. Dotel is guaranteed, according to Fox Sports, 3.5 million dollars between a 2011 salary of 2.75 million and another 750,000 if his 3.75 million 2012 option is declined.

Unlike a good deal of Anthopoulos’ moves this year, in season and off, this one brought in a player well past the age of thirty, Dotel will be thirty-seven on Opening Day. But like all of his moves it does have implications for the future should Dotel pitch well enough to bring draft pick compensation upon becoming a free agent. Hopefully, and surely, there is more to it than that because counting on any reliever approaching forty years of age to do anything is always a big question mark, except for that guy the Yankees have. The Jays might be better off getting compensation for him by spinning him at the trade deadline instead of waiting to see if he holds up all season.

Something should be said about the state of player movement in baseball when newly signed players having their exit from the club discussed before they even put on a uniform. Dotel will certainly pitch for the Jays for some length of time in 2011 turning the question to what should be expected of him. First off, he has the over glorified title of being a proven closer, proven and former are quickly becoming interchangeable when talking about relievers who’ve made lots of appearances in the ninth inning of baseball games when his team is leading.

Dotel has just one season with more than thirty saves and three overall with ten or more. That does include last season when he saved 22 games in 28 chances while pitching for no less than three clubs. Turning to numbers of more importance Dotel pitched 64 innings in 72 appearances last year, his third consecutive year logging over 60 innings. That of course followed three straight years of pitching no more than 30 innings.

In those 64 innings he set down 10.55 batters per nine innings and issued 4.50 walks per nine. The walk rate was an improvement, if you can call it that, from 2009’s 5.20 BB/9 but both marks came in well above his career rate of 4.09 and 2008’s 3.90. It’s unlikely to expect much improvement moving forward. The impressive strikeout rate will need to stay impressive to mitigate the free passes, making his ability to miss bats more of a necessity than a luxury.

His three year average ERA, from 2008-2010, is 3.72 with a FIP of 4.11 in that same time. Last season his ERA was 4.09 with a FIP of 4.20, not great numbers for a reliever but good enough, if repeatable, to help shore up the bullpen for 2011. Dotel instantly becomes the favorite to close games for the Jays and should serve as a decent place holder until someone substantially younger comes through and pushes Dotel out of the role.

However superficial the title of closer or the burdens of being labelled as such may be it can cause confidence issues with young relievers thrust into the role. Many closers have started off their careers setting up someone just like Dotel as a ways of easing them into a future closing role. Between his actual pitching, potential future value to other teams, and, in theory, being perfectly fine with the closer tag Dotel’s services should be worth the price paid. Since that price isn’t all that large, especially compared to other releivers’ deals this off season, if he can’t stay healthy or pitches horribly the Jays won’t be on the hook for any amount of money worth getting upset about.  

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