Friday, September 26, 2008

SPORTS: A Last Plan for Blue Jay Happiness

As I enter my last weekend as a Toronto Blue Jay fan for the foreseeable future, I guess it's time to map out the off-season in the vain hope that Blue Jay management will see this, realize how complete a failure GM JP Ricciardi (with the abling provided by similarly incompetent president Paul Godfrey) has been.

The Blue Jays have floated from the depths of the standings to as high as seventh overall in the American League during Ricciardi's tenure. He has covered up that now league-standard for playoff futility (for current reigning GMs) by citing injury, year after year. It ignores the fact that injuries happen to other teams too, but when the Blue Jay ownership, and until recently, too much of the Blue Jay fan base, concentrated on navel gazing, they were allowed to shout "Woe is us" to the point of absurdity. Heck, we've already got built-in excuses for next year based on injuries.

Injuries happen.

Other teams have talent pipelines that cover injuries. Toronto doesn't. A direct result of Ricciardi's mistakes learning on the job. He's done better of late, but he's a slow learner. For example, he's gotten over his phobia about drafting high school kids. But he was STILL a dedicated moneyball-er until the day the management told him to hire Clarence Gaston, and most especially, get rid of flunkie Gary Denbo (who preached the Ricciardi line on batting to his own detriment) and replace him with a new coach and a new hitting philosophy. That's when the club's biggest failing stopped being that.

Okay, enough dragging the self-admitted liar and destroyer of Canadian Olympic team hopes through the ether. He's a lousy person and somewhere between a lousy GM and a slow-learning, slightly-less than mediocre GM. What to do with next year?

The Jays can tread water. And will, in all likelyhood. A smart GM would do something to get the Jays off the island in the middle. The contracts the club has handed out have hamstrung the squad to a certain extent. The lack of imminent talent (it's two years away, with the exception of Travis Snider) hurts worse. And the injured talent leaves holes that might self-heal in a year's time. That tends to indicate blow-up mode probably doesn't make sense. Boldness is required.

I've said my piece on the proposed Alexis Rios for NL Cy Young candidate Tim Lincecum. It was an interesting trade for the two teams, but WRONG for both teams. Take Rios out of the line-up and the woeful Blue Jay attack in the spring would have turned positively funereal. And adding Lincecum to the Blue Jay pitching staff would have let the team move up in the pitching standings how? You can't improve on first overall.

Soooooo, how do I start the off-season? By exploring trading Rios. I don't have any idea whether he has no-trade protection, but I'd sniff around. The SF deal is off the table after Lincecum actually exceeded the high expectations of him. But there might be other deals out there where a solid #2 starter with some remaining up-side, might be worth exploring a trade for Rios for. I don't think I'd move Rios for Matt Cain, the return SF offered in response to the Toronto trade offer last winter. I WOULD see if they'd swap Cain for Adam Lind and a Toronto infielder (the only excess inventory the Jays have). But since Milwaukee is allegedly offering Prince Fielder for Cain and surplus, I'm thinking that's the kind of trade that won't fly.

By the way, the difference between this winter and last, is that Snider IS major-league ready. I don't expect him to bat a gaudy .333 next year, but I think a bold Blue Jays could live with Lind and Snider surrounding the gold-glover Wells. Plus, the whole plan is expecting big returns next year from Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay and Aaron Hill. (They call trifecta's money losers in the pony betting game. But we've already decided on BOLD behaviour and expectation).

With SF out of the picture, the team I like a lot for dealing with is situated in Florida. No, it's not Tampa Bay, who could definitely use Rios or even Lind. The target team is Florida. That's the team with excess pitching and outfield needs. Rios could answer a LOT of questions for the Marlins. He WOULD be expensive, but the Marlins are REAL CLOSE to being a really good club again, after the latest rebuilding phase. I like the idea a lot of taking on troubled Scott Olsen (a lefty), a decent pitching prospect and heavy-hitting DH candidate Mike Jacobs for Rios and Joe Inglett. That might give the Marlins the ability to deal Dan Uggla and/or Jeremy Hermida elsewhere for a group of good youngsters and tread water OR keep 'em all and go for it. And yes, substituting Lind for Rios and excluding Jacobs should also be discussed.

Make no mistake, Olsen's an all or nothing gamble. He would replace Burnett, or not be as good as Gustavo Chacin. He's been both. But whatever the Jays do, they will gamble on health, overpaying or underperforming with ALL of their acquisitions.

Excising Rios for Olsen and Jacobs would save a few million. It might be enough to rehire AJ Burnett. That would mean the team comes back with the same team that started last year (three/four spots in the rotation taken, with one TBD), with Snider and Jacobs replacing Rios and Thomas. That might be a wash. However, there's a few bucks still in the kitty to play with. (No Thomas, Stairs or Zaun money to pay-out)

Another outfielder would be needed, possibly one that could spell Wells (the biggest down side of dealing away Rios). I really wonder if the Yankees might give Melky Cabrera away for a good middle-reliever. Might Jason Frasor and Brian Tallett add up to a discarded Cabrera? Would either be worth weak-hitting speed demon Brett Gardiner? Ultimately, if no trade opens up, then there is free agency.

Since we are adding only a third/fourth/fifth outfielder (I still think Wilkinson has some worth), that shouldn't break the bank. The focus on upgrading then falls on the catcher spot, with shortstop as a secondary situation. I'd be willing to offer Paul LoDuca a minor-league deal to earn sharing time with Rod Barajas, but I'd also sniff out whether the Rangers might take David Purcey for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Josh Bard might be available at the San Diego Padres fire sale. And Yorvit Torrealba's numbers in Colorado might make him available. I don't like any free agents, although I'd certainly be interested in being used by Jason Varitek to drive up the price of his eventual re-signing with Boston.

So that leaves shortstop. And, while I love the John McDonald/Marco Scutaro pair, nobody else does. Besides Scutaro might be required full-time at second base, if Hill doesn't come all the way back. So here's where I spend the money on a home-run shot. I'd sign Edgar Renteria, soon to be an ex-Detroit Tiger. His price will likely be reasonable, he's had a year to get re-acclimated to the AL and he's not necessarily a defensive liability to go with decent offensive numbers.

Let me see if I've got the 25-man roster set:
C: Barajas, Torrealba
1B: Overbay
2B: Hill
SS: Renteria
3B: Rolen
IF: McDonald, Scutaro, Bautista
OF: Snider, Wells, Lind, Cabrera
DH: Jacobs
SP: Halladay, Burnett, Olsen, Litsch, (Jansen/Parrish/Richmond ... McGowan)
RP: Carlson, Downs, League, Camp, Wolfe
CL: Ryan

Obviously, excising Burnett would leave enough money to overpay a free-agent pitcher. Burnett's preferable to Ben Sheets, for instance, because he's a known quantity to Gaston and his coaches. But there ARE options starting at 12M and going to about the 17.5M I imagine it would take (per a four-year contract) to keep Burnett. He'd make more in pinstripes, but might like pitching here rather than there.

Is that a championship team? No. The upside IS the playoffs and the downside considerable. But it's a reasonable set of players (and trades to get them), within the likely team budget.

Mind you, I won't be cheering them on. I'm a fan of the Minnesota Twins at 9:01 am on Monday. GO TWINKIES!

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