Thursday, July 28, 2011

SPORTS: Waiting For The Other Shoe

Today's trades by the ever-interesting Alex Anthopoulos have certainly created a most surprising situation in Toronto. The Blue Jays now have too many outfielders of decent quality!!

That was my concern earlier this year when I contemplated an outfield of Travis Snider, Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera. I just shuddered thinking again of the defensive inabilities of that particular trio would have been. I understood not getting too much more in the way of outfield depth, with the assumption that Jose Bautista was eventually going to move back to right field. But I still worried about Snider, who I've been very public about not impressing me much.

Out of the box, Davis impressed me offensively, but I hate his catching motion and he got hurt, forcing Corey Patterson into the line-up. When Davis came back, he didn't bring the stick with him, and we found out that Davis doesn't possess the instincts of a centre-fielder. Sure, he'd run down balls with his magnificent foot speed. But those, and ones he missed, were made much harder by ... let's call them circuitous routes to fly balls. We instantly put updates on Anthony Gose on our daily newsfeed.

Patterson certainly did better than be a fifth outfielder for the first half of the season. He was a danger to his teammates out there, but, in general he contributed as much as we should have expected from a fifth outfielder who suddenly was starting because Bautista's triumphant return to right was followed by an emergency u-turn back to third base. Hitting in front of Bautista, Patterson produced quite credible numbers.

But all mirages eventually go away and Patterson was revealed to be the fifth kind of guy he was. Eric Thames was brought up from the minors and installed as a starter, including being put into the same safe hammock between Yunel Escobar and Bautista as Patterson had occupied. Less speed, more power, higher average and a chance to see what kind of defensive proclivities Thames had. In a year of testing, not bad.

Then today, AA pulled the trigger on acquiring a CF who was one of the top 20 players in the game last year, but had been on the outs with his poor performance this year and an active social clash on-going with Tony LaRussa, one of the last "My way or the highway" managers. Colby Rasmus' act has been seen in these here parts before. Last year in fact. The same script had been applied to Escobar. And really, Escobar wasn't the first. Go back to the first (and only) Blue Jay dynasty. Sure it was fueled by the trade to acquire Joe Carter and Robby "The Human Rainstorm" Alomar. But the engine turned on thanks to former California Angel devil-child Devon White. Clarence Gaston took White under his wing, told him he started no matter what. The result, like it looks like Escobar is going to end up, was an all-star player. Despite the Ricciardi Interregnum that blemished a once-proud franchise, the fact is that these guys historically know how to get the best out of other team's discards.

Since I stumped in this blog for getting Rasmus (although back then, I hoped the price would be Snider ... which I still would have preferred), I'm hardly going to complain at the price AA paid to acquire Rasmus. He had to take on the contracts of a three relievers, two of which have Blue Jay backgrounds and the contract of Teahen, while giving up a bunch of relievers and semi-well-liked pitching prospect Zach Stewart. So, we are talking money, lost supplemental draft picks that Jason Fraser and Octavio Dotel would have brought back and not a single player who was necessarily in the plans for next year, let alone the succeeding few years when the Jays hope to be the beasts of the A.L. East. The only guy I have a twinge about is Marc Rzepczynski, who I think is going to be a good left-handed reliever in the majors for the next decade and change. But his most recent swoon has induced doubts into my mind.

So, a steal for the bright young mind running the Blue Jays. Right? Well, there are warning statistical indicators that Rasmus' offence last year was based on a bit of smoke (a very high batting average on balls in play, which was above norm for the league). And the good defensive rep hasn't been mirrored in the new-fangled defensive stats. It's a question of do you believe your eyes or what I tell you? Baseball people think he's got it all, needed a fresh start and will get in Toronto. Shame he's not Latino and can be enveloped into the Bautista group. But for the nonce, I think we will enjoy the moment. I like the trade, right or wrong. All it really cost was money. And if it does go south, Gose has a spot lined-up in about 20 months.

Which brings me to the current miasma that is the Blue Jays outfield. We're a few weeks away from Brett Lawrie coming up and moving Bautista to the outfield. Maybe less. Maybe days! But the Jays need to find playing time for Bautista, Rasmus, Snider (the currently presumed starting outfield, right to left). What to do with Thames? What to do with Davis, especially since he's actually been a contributor since surviving the June Troubles (went nearly a month without a steal, yet ended tonight tied for the league lead in steals). As for Teahen ... well, not many teams need a sixth outfielder slash fourth third-baseman.

Davis stays as the fourth outfielder, playing in left on days when the Jays play a tough left-hander. Which leaves the Thames situation. The guy is batting .300 since he came up for his second tour. And THIS is the guy who will have to be sacrificed to the heat of Las Vegas to delay the Snider/Edwin Encarnacion question? I belabour the obvious when I say I would end the fascination so many have over Snider and make him an ex-Blue Jay. But I'm in a very, very small minority.

But I think another shoe's going to fall to relieve the bursting outfield issue before Bautista returns to the outfield. It says here that the Blue Jays will trade Thames and a decent pitching prospect at the A League level to Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. It's a salary dump for the Astros who get somebody who might be able to start in right or left (depending on whether they trade Hunter Pence) plus a pitcher under their control for the next seven years who might just turn out to be the second coming of Rodriguez. What Toronto gets out of this is moving excess talent for a solid innings eater who resolves the question at the tail end of the starting pitching staff brought on by the designation for movement of Jo-Jo Reyes.  He's got a big ticket for a back-end starter. But it's only for the two or so years the Jays need somebody like him until the first wave of Toronto pitching talent starts to hit the big leagues.

The old saw is that you can never have enough talent, that too much is the best kind of problem to have. But with young kids needing playing time to determine their future on the Blue Jays, the idea of sitting major league outfield talent or sending kids hitting .300 (albeit in one of the nicest order spots in the bigs) back to the minors, is probably NOT in Toronto's best interests. If it isn't Rodriguez, then it should be somebody else. Toronto needs an innings-eating pitcher to get the kids through the last third of the season and possibly to provide a 2012 cushion too.

Until then, as much as I like the trades AA pulled off today, I sure as heck hope he isn't finished.

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