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September 29, 2009

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 76-86, fourth place
Current record: 73-84, fourth place

So-anyone want Vernon Wells, or what?

Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take

What went wrong: The Blue Jays charged out and started strongly, winning 22 of their first 34 games, but then the Yankees/Red Sox/Rays portion of their schedule began, and Toronto collapsed. In a series of rapid-fire decisions, the Jays dumped expensive reliever B.J. Ryan, weighed offers for ace Roy Halladay (and the expectation among other teams is that he will be traded this winter), and unloaded the $60 million contract of Alex Rios in a waiver claim. As the regular season ends, the team is in the process of choosing its front-office leaders; the future of GM J.P. Ricciardi remains murky.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Jays' ownership has been presented with a recommendation from the front office of going one of two ways: either raise the payroll dramatically to about $110-120 million, or slash it back to $60 million. The thinking behind those numbers is that if Toronto wants to seriously go toe-to-toe with the AL East money monsters in Boston and New York, then they'll have to spend a lot more-and short of that, it doesn't make a lot of sense to overspend, so better to keep a modest payroll and give the team a chance to earn a profit. Odds are that the Blue Jays will go with the lower number, as Paul Beeston steps aside as the team's CEO.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

As far back as the 2006 season, the Blue Jays have been one of the best teams in baseball to not reach October, generally combining average or below-average offense with top-notch pitching. This season has reaped little in the way of any different results, even though their usually sure-handed staff could not stay healthy, but Aaron Hill and Adam Lind gave the Jays their first 30+ home-run hitters since 2006, and others have joined the fray to bump the club's aggregate mark up to 190, the highest team total for the Jays since 2003. For the most part, their 2009 season will be remembered for the non-trade of Roy Halladay; in spite of J.P. Ricciardi's "failure" to move Halladay for the bounties offered by both the Red Sox and Phillies, the GM did find ways to cut costs by letting Rios slip away on waivers to the White Sox and trading away Scott Rolen to the Reds. The Jays had a tough road ahead of them to remain competitive, and their final record should in no way be surprising.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: $107 million

In spite of moving Rios and Rolen, the Jays are completely hamstrung by the deal of Vernon Wells. The seven-year, $126 million deal breaks down to $25.5 million in signing bonuses and $100.5 million in salary from 2008-14, with $8.5 million being paid in the bonuses in each of the 2008-10 seasons. That leaves the Blue Jays on the hook for $107 million over the next five seasons to a player perhaps overrated to begin with, and who has since regressed to the offensive mean of Omar Vizquel. Harsh as that sounds, Wells has hit .266/.318/.428 over the last three calendar years, a triple-slash line eerily similar to that of Jose Guillen (.270/.324/.433) over the same span, and we all know how sunny Guillen's offensive reputation has become. Even Wells's .343 OBP and .496 SLG last season can be considered a relative disappointment when compared to the contractual expectations and the number of players providing equal or better production for far less money. At this point, with a .255 EqA on the books for 2009, Jays' fans would relish production even remotely resembling that which was accrued in his injury-shortened 2008 campaign. It will be very difficult to build a winner when the highest-paid player falls below the replacement level mark.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus

ESPN.com Rumor Central

Trades: Sure, they'll shop him all winter, but don't be shocked if Doc Halladay is still a Blue Jay come April, for two big reasons. First, with upheaval in the organization that could see a GM switch, it's no time for major deal-making-and the teams that could trade for Halladay would have to be extremely confident they can sign him, mitigating his status as a mere rental. Teams simply covet their prospects too much.

Free Agency: Cito Gaston has not expressed a ton of confidence that the team will be able to re-sign Marco Scutaro, who was a big hit for the Jays this season. No, that doesn't add many spikes to the 2010 Hope Index. Instead, expect the Jays to look for rotation help, something Gaston said this week he expects they'll do. The offense might not change much, but consider that youngster Travis Snider could be next season's Aaron Lind, ready for a breakout year. The stout outfield/DH-type kills minor league pitching. He just needs to get the major league ABs. Speaking of...

Who 2 Watch 4: Travis Snider, OF

It's easy to forget that Travis Snider is just 21 years old. Of the six other high school hitters selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, none were even close to the big leagues this year; only three had even gotten as high as Double-A. Snider's time in the big leagues has been more a matter of on-the-job training than anything else, but even then he's shown significant adjustments in the second half, as despite a .235 batting average overall, his .359 on-base percentage and .437 slugging have still provided some value at the plate. His 2010 campaign could still very much be a breakout season, and scouts still project him as a future number-three hitter on a first-division club.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap
Signed: 33 of 51
Spent: Just over $4 million
Hit: Jake Marisnick, OF (104th overall) and Ryan Schimpf, 2B (160th): Marisnick was a first-round talent heading into the spring, but he fell due to a somewhat disappointing showing at the plate. Nevertheless, he's a potential power bat whose athleticism profiles well in a corner outfield spot. Schimpf signed for less than $200,000 and he might be the second coming of Dustin Pedroia or Marco Scutaro.
Miss: Although the Blue Jays inked right-hander Chad Jenkins, the club's first-round pick, they failed to lock up lefties James Paxton and Jake Eliopoulus, as well as right-hander Jake Barrett, leaving their draft haul as light as any in recent memory.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com

The Bottom Line

The Jays' only notable free agents to hit the market will be Scutaro and Rod Barajas, and the team should really resist the urge to re-sign either. Though Scutaro has impressed with a flashy glove and a .286 EqA in a career year, he is not a franchise shortstop, nor is he someone in which to invest three years and $30 million, while Barajas has his uses but should not be the starting backstop on a team serious about contending. Aaron Hill (27), Adam Lind (25), and Travis Snider (21) can form a potent nucleus, but the Jays desperately need help elsewhere. Jose Bautista is currently playing right field, Lyle Overbay is the varsity version of Casey Kotchman-which still equates to below-average performance at first base-and the team only has one designated hitter spot despite several players with no business playing the field. Luckily, pitching help is on the way with the potential returns of Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch, who should rejoin Halladay and the rest of this year's crew to form an impressive rotation. The team will not win with its currently constructed roster, so it needs to maximize return on trades in an attempt to bolster the farm and hope to become competitive in the inevitable post-Halladay era.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Related Content:  The Who,  Prospectus,  Travis Snider

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

baserip4

I find a front office that gave Wells that terrible contract asking for more money the highest of comedy.

Sep 29, 2009 10:59 AM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

I think it's even funnier that same front office claims to be financially disadvantaged. True or not, in the light of Wells' contract, the complaint's disingenuous.

Sep 29, 2009 12:25 PM
rating: 2
 
mswain784

"could be the second coming of Dustin Pedroia or Marco Scutaro"

That's like saying someone could be the second coming of Ryan Howard or Calvin Pickering.

Sep 29, 2009 12:02 PM
rating: 8
 
R.A.Wagman

True that Pedroia and Scutaro are not equals, but the biggest difference between them is height and age. I wouldn't compare them to Howard and Pickering. More like Howard and Derrek Lee.

Sep 29, 2009 20:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

No mention of how Rogers' death affects things? Or does it affect things?

Sep 29, 2009 12:45 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

All effects from the death of Ted Rogers were already felt. He was somewhat of a fan, willing to pay when convinced that that was the right way to go. The guys currently in charge are much more in the vein of businessmen.
Regardless of their chances for next season and beyond, this is a team that needs new direction (read, new GM, manager, CEO and more).
Also to note - most people around Toronto are skeptical that Dustin McGowan will be able to return. Marcum should be back at full strength by Spring Training and Litsch should be ready to play well before the All-Star break, but McGowan is surrounded by question marks.

Sep 29, 2009 20:11 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter
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What a minute! Wells is a centerfielder, Guillen is not. That was an unfair comparison. So why should I believe you, Eric, that Wells is really below replacement level? What is replacement level for an American League centerfielder? More importantly, I'd like to hear Will Carroll's view as to whether Wells can regain his 2006 form. He may have been still recovering from his off season shoulder operation this season.

Scutaro's BABiP was not alarmingly large, so why can't he repeat something close to this performance? Let's see how much some other team is willing to pay him. Perhaps, the Jays can resign him for what he's worth. They certainly don't have anything close to replacement level to take his place, do they?

Baseball is much more unpredictable than what these analysts make it sound. If Lind-Wells-Snider could cover enough ground in the outfield, I would love to see Randy Ruiz's bat in the line-up more often. That still leaves a hole at third-base unless Encarncion can develop into some competentcy there. He is still young. If he does, Toronto has a completely competent line-up with enough requisite stars (Halladay, Hill, Lind, maybe Snider) to support a fine pitching staff IF they could stay healthy giving the allegedly aging Yankees and always interesting Red Sox, and, yikes, not forgetting those Rays a run for the glory.

Humans are incredibly optimistic beings, aren't they?

Sep 29, 2009 20:37 PM
rating: -4
 
Richard Bergstrom

Wow, um... that's a new side of you.

Sep 29, 2009 21:12 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Hmm. I've been sick. I do live in Toronto, but I didn't grow up in Canada, so the Jays don't own my loyalty. I try to be objective about them, but I can't help but follow what is happening with them a bit more closely than other teams. Yes, of course, I was laying out a best possible outcome of their circumstances which combined are highly unlikely, but I think they are possible enough to not to be ignored.

The Wells contract was nearly reasonable at the time it was made. He was considered one of the most durable players in the game. He had a couple of impact seasons, was still relatively young, and seems to be a highly regarded individual by the management. I also think sometimes some teams try to manufacture a "star" by overpaying them - and the Jays may have been slightly guilty of that in Wells regard. Unfortunately, Wells suddenly started having injuries and they seem to have hampered him ever since.

R. A. below speaks of one complaint about Ricciardi. My largest criticsm of him is that he doesn't weigh the liklieness of injury well enough with the teams he assembles. I'd say the BJ Ryan contract was the most blatent case of that. All of us BP readers were warned of his fragility, what was J.P. reading?

With Ricciardi now well criticized, Paul Beeston now an interim President for a very long interim, and new Rogers leader Nadir Mohammed now looking into the Blue Jays business everything is officially "busines as usual", but in reality "up in the air". I've met Nadir on a personal basis and like him very much. He seems very sane and very perceptive.

Sep 30, 2009 13:25 PM
rating: -1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

Everybody knows the Jays biggest problem is the division they've been in. The JP era hasn't been all Jays fans have hoped for, but the Jays have still been one of the top 8 teams in baseball, arguably, around their 2007 peak (say 2005-2009). How many teams have been better for the 5 seasons 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009? The sad fact is that around half of the teams that have been better over that span also play in the AL East.

So JP isn't really the problem. He's not the best GM in the business, but he isn't the worst, and he's probably above average even. Sure the Wells deal was the typical mistake (paying a guy as if his career best performance was his true talent level) that has turned in to a disaster thanks to the combination of Wells being even worse than expected + the economy causing the market for contracts to change versus what was expected. But changing GMs is unlikely to change the fate of the Toronto organization.

Sep 30, 2009 02:25 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Ricciardi's main problem is that he is a PR nightmare, repeatedly stating that the Jays have no hope of competing with the Yankees and the Red Sox due to those two teams' incredibly large budgets. That, and a GM who fails to convince his paymasters to fork out a few extra hundred thousand to sign their top draft picks, makes him a failure.

Sep 30, 2009 05:14 AM
rating: 2
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

That's one of those difficult political mistakes to get past - when you accidentally explicitly speak the truth that is usually ignored.

Sep 30, 2009 16:08 PM
rating: -1
 
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