Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blue Jays Holiday Wish List

I want you to do something for me.

I want you to think back to the Christmases of your childhood.

Think back to that one year when there was something you wanted more than anything in the world, some toy that you coveted so badly that the days leading up to Christmas seemed as though they were spent on the cross.

Do you remember that Christmas morning? Running down the stairs with unbridled enthusiasm as your sleepy-eyed parents struggled to match your excitement. Remember how ferociously you tore at the wrapping paper and the futility with which you tried to resist the premature smile that crept over your face?

Now for the purpose of this exercise, I want you to imagine that beneath the wrapping paper, inside the box, there was nothing. Not so much as a lump of coal.

Fortunately, I have no such memory because, well, I'm Jewish.

But I can imagine that is exactly how the vast majority of Blue Jays fans felt last night when it was revealed that Texas had won the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish.

However, today marks the first day of Chanukkah. For those unfamiliar with this holiday, it's the Jewish equivalent of Christmas except we boast the luxury of an additional seven days of presents. Oh, and instead of celebrating the birth of our saviour we rejoice over the fact that we were able to fend off another attempt at our annihilation.

So, given the festivity in the air, I think it's only appropriate that I devise a Blue Jays Chanukkah list. In this case, Alex Anthopoulos will serve as Santa (for lack of a Jewish equivalent).

1. Prince Fielder -- Hey, if there's one thing that Chanukkah proves it's that bigger miracles have happened. The wiley Scott Boras has ever so patiently let a market develop for his client's services, and with the Jays losing on Darvish, it stands to reason that they will at least throw their hat into the ring. Ultimately, this decision will come down to years. Boras likely recognizes that this offseason represents Prince's best opportunity to maximize his profits, rather than signing a shorter deal (five or six years) and heading back onto the market again at age 32 or 33. Having said that, Darvishgate did demonstrate that the Jays have money to spend, and having Prince hitting behind Jose Bautista would instantly give the Jays the best 3-4 punch in the game. Also, Texas' acquisition of Darvish probably removes them from the equation, eliminating one of the supposed favourites for Prince.

2. Matt Garza -- The Cubs are shopping their ace aggressively, and the Jays are in desperate need of starting pitching help. Garza enjoyed three strong years with the Tampa Bay Rays, over which he fashioned an ERA of 3.86 in 94 starts and one relief appearance, while averaging 7.1 Ks/9. The former first-round pick would likely fill the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Ricky Romero, and the Jays have the organization depth to pull off a move like this.

3. Gio Gonzalez -- While Gio would ostensibly serve the same purpose as Garza, this present comes with more strings attached, namely an astronomical walk rate. While Gonzalez has pitched quite well over the past two years, his numbers have been inflated by the pitcher-friendly confines of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Though he posted an impressive 3.12 ERA over 32 starts last year, Gonzalez averaged almost a full run more per start on the road. He also led the league in walks, a factor that will not play well in the much more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.

4. Carlos Beltran -- The holidays are the season of renewed hope. In this case, Carlos Beltran could serve as the poster boy. The aging outfielder continues his quest to reemergence in 2012 after a solid bounceback 2011 campaign split between the Mets and the Giants. Though he's only averaged 96 games played over the past three seasons, Beltran posted a .300 average with 22 homers and 84 RBIs in 142 games last year, and signing with an American League team could alleviate some of the physical strain of playing the outfield every day. At a reasonable cost with a team-friendly deal, I'd take Beltran in a heartbeat.

5. Andrew Bailey -- The Blue Jays bullpen is in a state of disarray. Sure, we have Sergio Santos now, but aside from him and Casey Janssen, the rest of our relief corps remains highly suspect. In fact, aside from those two and Luis Perez, there doesn't appear to be anyone who's guaranteed a spot. Trading for Bailey would also allow AA to utilize his players as he intended, reserving Janssen for the 7th inning rather than using him as a set-up man. Bailey does have a history of arm trouble, but he's only 27, and has averaged a strikeout per inning for his career. You can always use talent like that.

6. Edwin Jackson -- Jackson enjoyed an abbreviated stint with the Blue Jays in 2011. Really abbreviated. In fact, I'm not even sure he made it to Pearson Airport before he had been flipped for Colby Rasmus. But nonetheless, Jackson would be a decent fit for the Blue Jays. His command issues are well documented, and he is seldom economical with his pitches, but he would be a decent No. 3 starter down the road, and has averaged a sub-4.00 ERA over his past three seasons.

7. Hiroki Kuroda -- I know he's not Yu Darvish. But he might be better. Kuroda has been a rock in the Dodgers rotation for the past four seasons, over which he has fashioned an impressive 3.45 ERA. He's not the flashiest of pitchers, but he's good at keeping hitters off-balance, and his BB/9 ratio is consistently well above the league average. The only drawback is his age; he will be 37 in February.

8. Brandon Phillips -- I don't know how viable this trade route still is, but I would love to see @DatDudeBP turning double-plays with Yunel Escobar in 2012. He's a dynamic talent who ranks among the elite offensive second-basemen in the game. He would also bring some much needed swagger to a rather insipid Toronto squad.

So there you have it, folks. There might not be a Darvish under your tree (or Menorah, as it were), but there's still reason to hope.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Yu Talking About?

Alas, the Yu Darvish sweepstakes have come and gone, and much to the chagrin of the rather vociferous Blue Jays fan base, the Texas Rangers have emerged as the winners of the exclusive negotiating rights with Nippon Ham's prized Fighter.

While the Blue Jays fell short, the saga managed to invigorate Jays fans to a level that I can't recall in recent memory, and demonstrated that a profound passion for baseball in Toronto is not a thing of the past. It's simply dormant.

And despite the initial shock and disappointment -- and contrary to the premature and ubiquitous reports suggesting the Jays' bid had blown all others out of the water -- the fact that the Jays didn't obtain the rights to negotiate with Darvish is actually quite consistent with Alex Anthopoulos' modus operandi.

In fact, the two moves AA has made this offseason -- trading for Jeff Mathis and Sergio Santos -- are a microcosm of his philosophy, which espouses the acquisition of cost-controllable assets. It was a tad optimistic (and somewhat delusional) to expect him to venture into a pursuit that would've ended costing upwards of $100M.

Do I think the Jays bid on Darvish? Yes. Do I believe it was a competitive bid? I do. But AA, above all else, thinks economically. No algorithm exists for calculating how performance in Japan translates to performance in the MLB (see: Dasiuke Matsuzaka), and frankly, dishing out nine figures on a man who has never thrown a pitch in a big league uniform is not the kind of calculated, economically-astute move that has come to define AA.

Since taking over for JP Ricciardi in October of 2009, Anthopoulos has quickly established himself as one of the most savvy executives in the game with shrewd moves that A) give the organization leverage rather than the player; and/or B) bring in high-risk/reward players at a relatively low cost. Signing Darvish would've been a pretty dangerous first deviation from this model.

Of course, seeing Darvish in a Jays uniform would've been really cool. And yes, Darvish's presence would've ushered in a new contingent of fans to the Rogers Centre -- at least once every five days. But the fact that the Jays didn't land him doesn't necessarily mean that 2012 is simply another building block year.

In fact, in regards to reinforcing the rotation, there are likely better alternatives to Darvish (and his price-tag) anyway. Various reports suggest that the Cubs are interested in trading right-hander Matt Garza, who has plenty of experience and success pitching in the AL East; southpaw Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland A's is also being shopped.

And of course, the incumbent prize of the free-agent market, Prince Fielder, has yet to sign, and Toronto has been linked to the slugger in numerous reports.

If Anthopoulos has proven anything, it's that he is liable to strike at any moment, and without warning. So go ahead and waste your tears over Darvish, if you must, but bear in mind that the guy who posted an inferior bid for negotiation rights with the Japanese/Iranian phenom is the same guy who acquired Brett Lawrie and managed to foist Vernon Wells' monstrosity of a contract on some other poor bloke in the same offseason.

I think it's a little premature to fret.

Don't Yu?