Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SPORTS: The 1B Conundrum

Wouldn't it be great to have Albert Pujols in the Toronto Blue Jays' line-up next year, even if it cost $30M a season to put him there? And you know, watching more of Prince Fielder over the last ten days has me convinced he'd look almost as good, even at $27M. BUT, although I don't think GM Alex Anthopoulos has ever categorically denied he's had the same dream, I'm coming around to the idea that neither NL star is coming to T.O. to play in Blue Jay whites.

To be honest, I've also come around to the idea of prefering Fielder over Pujols. I first saw the rotund Milwaukee Brewer as a pre-teen, bashing balls out of the Toronto ballyard. He wasn't the most svelte of kids even then, but the girth he now sports is waaaay more muscle than fat and he does possess two ever-lovin' qualities. He has extremely quick hands, the David Ortiz kind that lasts well past the rest of his body's best-before date. And he's left-handed.

The idea of getting either Pujols or Fielder is founded very much on the need for protection for Jose Bautista. The right-swinging Pujols would do that, but there's a certain nightmarish charm in having a lefty slugger protect the righty Bautista. Late in games, it's going to take two one-batter situational pitchers to get around the duo.

And to be honest, Fielder is a better fielder than merely sighting him at the All-Star Game would have you believe. Maybe not Gold Glove good, but good. Over a seven-year contract for the 29-year old, I wouldn't be surprised to see him be a first choice at 1B for four of the seven years. Then, he could (and would) settle back into an Ortizian role for the remainder of his contract. In other words, I would have no problem paying either his bill or Pujols' bill should either guy deign to head north of the 49th Parallel.

In fact, I've stumped for the very idea. It's not like the Jays aren't in a position to outbid baseball for either guy. And getting Bautista protection would up Joey Bats' production. So, why not do it?

The makeup of the team currently, AA's antipathy towards losing a first-round draft pick ... and Bautista.

I hadn't thought much about it until a column posting elsewhere brought it up, but it might not be a good idea to get a DH type because that position MIGHT be manned by Bautista rather sooner than later. I know the defensive metrics aren't very fair to Bautista who's a better right fielder than the numbers seem to say. Plus, he can fill in at 3B, where I think Brett Lawrie might miss more than the occasional game, playing kamikaze style all the time. But really, with the upcoming Blue Jay outfield talent, it's more than possible that Joey Bats might turn out to be a DH as soon as two seasons from now.

Can you sign a player long-term that will have to share the DH slot, and possibly 1B, with Bautista? Right around the time you might HAVE to move Bautista into DH, the career arcs of either Pujols or Fielder might be headed in the exact same direction.

That's a conundrum that need's resolving before signing either of the sluggers, or even thinking about a Joey Votto trade, a dream dreamt up by Walt Jocketty, who talks like he wouldn't even think about that, but then adds a Mark Texiera-like booty to emerging 1B candidate Yonder Alonso and sees a bright rosy Cincy Reds future.

Besides, even if AA can nab one of the three aforementioned first sackers, whither Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion?

Lind is an underpaid and under-appreciated ball player who opened eyes this summer with his very solid play around first base. While not Gold Glove level, I don't see it beyond the possibility he might get there. I was aware of his history as a collegiate first baseman, but was gob-smacked at how good he was. His problem, of course, was that his numbers offensively took a second-half tumble, removing his ability to protect Bautista, which resulted in a down-turn in Bautista's numbers, maybe costing him the MVP. But here's something the numbers didn't reveal. He became a first-time father at the end of the season. Births, Marriages, Deaths and Divorces. People get through these life-changing events, but most times, the passage isn't smooth. Baseball is a game of the three C's, Capability, Confidence and Concentration. Have a break in the third C and baseball can become a very hard game to play. It wouldn't shock me at all if Lind returned to being a Silver Slugger winning elite player. He did that two years ago and his hot streak early in the season, split in two by his injury, was long enough for me to think he's still got it. Plus, he's got that incredibly team-friendly contract,

Encarnacion really had me going in August. I'd seen that seed in him and thought we were watching the emergence of a mini-Bautista, with the actual Bautista serving as his mentor and chief kicker of the ass. But as suddenly as it came, it went away. Fooled again. E-5/E-3 actually became somewhat reliable defensively and kept it at that level through the finish line. But his old lunging habits at the plate returned in September, although not to the same degree as his horrible first two months. Still, given the assurety of his presence in the line-up, Encarnacion earned out his contract, and then some. In fact, he'll be pretty well underpaid in 2012 if he merely duplicates 2011, although the Jays hope he smooths out the peak and valley results. And, if he can just do June-August twice over in 2012, well he'll be great.

So, barring a change in the Blue Jays' roster, you need one of Bautista or Encarnacion to play the outfield (Encarnacion practiced in LF, but never played there, I believe), the other to play DH in a tandem with 1B Lind. Add one of the NL stars and you have to move one of the players currently ensconsed here in Toronto. Play Encarnacion part-time and he'll never rise to meet that potential three months this past summer shows he has. Now, both Lind and Encarnacion have nice contracts for interested trade partners. But money isn't the whole thing. You have to have believe the player will bounce back (Lind) or do a Bautista (Encarnacion) to think of trading something of worth back to Canada.

Ultimately, the best of all worlds would be signing Fielder, trading Lind and AAAA prospect Travis Snider for a quality left fielder and letting Encarnacion be the DH this year in the hopes he turns into a Type B Free Agent next winter. That would leave enough playing time to handle Bautista and Fielder for three more years, at which point you might have to move one or the other DH candidate for an actual first baseman (or maybe Mike McDade will be on hand with bat in tow).

Of course, that scenario requires Anthopoulos to get over his aversion to surrendering first-round picks and for the Jays to find a trading partner for the Lind-Snider package. I opined earlier this year that it made sense for the Dodgers to give up Andre Ethier. Chiefly because the Dodgers were seemingly set on cutting James Loney loose. Well, Loney closed very well over the last six weeks of the season, making the deal less attractive to Los Angeles. On the other hand, Ethier ended up hurt, as was Snider. Still, the allure of a Lind bounce-back, maybe Snider relishing a new set of coaches and a move closer to his home state and the worries that Ethier might be too expensive to keep, might still give this trade proposal legs. Loney might then be a trading chip to the teams that don't wind up with Pujols or Fielder.

First base. Tis a conundrum indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He has extremely quick hands, the David Ortiz kind that lasts well past the rest of his body's best-before date.Sports Good