Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SPORTS: Pushing All In THIS Year. Or Next?

Toronto Blue Jays fans have been hankering for a revival of the early nineties when the club was world champion twice over ... and the team with the largest payroll. The latter will never happen again. In fact, tripling the payroll wouldn't even get them within a all-star pitcher's contract of the New York Yankees. And might not even get them past the Boston Red Sox payroll. But the first part? Well, the Blue Jay fans are dreaming of ticker tape parades again.

Which presents a problem for GM Alex Anthopoulos. He's got a .500 ball club that has the locals all hot and bothered. "Spend some money," they all say, certain that with only a few more shekels from Rogers' coffers, the Blue Jays could be world champions again. The age-impaired Yanks, the payroll-stricken Rays and the apparent return of Babe Ruth's Curse to the hallowed ground of Fenway Park all demand instant action.

BUT, is THIS year the year AA pushes all in? Could he sell one more rebuilding year before breaking the piggy bank in the winter of 2012-2013? Fact is, Anthopoulos hates the idea of giving away a first-round draft pick as compensation for signing a Type A free agent. Another year of stocking the Blue Jays farm system would leave him better placed to trade for ready Major League talent a year from now or to go on a draft-pick and money costing spree next off-season. That's assuming the current rules are still in effect once MLB and the player's union finish off their collective bargaining agreement this winter. That agreement MIGHT have an extra wild card in place for 2012. Might not. But it almost certaily will have that extra carrot on a stick come 2013.

On the other hand, the natives are restless. For all the good AA's done in ridding our memories of J.P. Ricciardi (a process I thought impossible), his results have been a better team playing to about the same performance levels as his sad sack predecessor. Oh, the future is so bright you have to wear blue-colour shades. But add one more season like the last two, maybe even a drop-off to 1st round draft pick protected sub-.500 status, and you might hear more than just rumbles from the fans. And Anthopoulos fan and protector Paul Beeston is only signed as head honcho through to the end of next year. I'd like to think that Beest is here to enjoy the ride back to prominence, but I wouldn't mortgage the house on it. No guarantees that Patrick and Dawna would let me take up residence on their couch.

The other thing to consider is whether this is the off-season to go free agent hunting? Ideally, the Jays would like to do it all in one off-season because then you pay off Type A free agent acquisitions in the likes of second, third and maybe even fourth-round draft picks. Do it year by year and the cost (again assuming a continuation of current rules) is first round picks each year. And while only about a third of first round picks click, doing it three years in a row means you have likely lost a star for your three expensive new acquisitions.

It's not like Toronto doesn't have holes the kids might not cover in the near term. Toronto needs a second baseman, a left-field solution, a closer, some other relievers and a stud for the top of the rotation (and wouldn't turn down two). If you don't believe in an Adam Lind bounce back, you need a first baseman. And one of the above-mentioned additions needs to be somebody who can put the fear in the thought of walking Jose Bautista with first base open.

The second baseman in question should be left-handed hitting Kelly Johnson. I expect a bounce-back season for him. And his cost is, more or less, already buried in the current payroll. 

Now, if I had an EXTRA $60M to play around with, I'd see if I could get Yu Darvish for something less than $20M after factoring in the posting fee. That pickup requires money only. I'd look at another $15M for a closer, prefering Ryan Madson over Jon Papelbon because donating to the well-being of the BoSox doesn't feel right. And I'd give the rest (and a bit more) to Prince Fielder. Old Toronto assistant GM Gord Ash could make better use out of that first round pick. And I'd hope huge fan favourite John McDonald would get an offer so immense, he'd have to turn down a set-in-stone return to Toronto so that the Jays could re-sign Mike McCoy. I know, heresy. But I think Mikey brings just a bit more to the 25th man role than would McDonald. Better still would have McDonald retiring to a role as a coach, one that could see him re-activated in the case of a dire emergency.

Then, I would start trading some of the talent to fill out the pen. Tampa Bay did it. Texas re-tooled mid summer. Minnesota failed miserably at the task. I think some of the young talent Toronto possesses and the right mix and match picks could work. But the team needs some of the current holdovers to step up and get lucky with the incoming lefties (at least two). The most important trade would be the one sending Lind or Edwin Encarnacion packing to shore up left field. Left field SHOULD be the easiest spot on the field to fill with an able player. Finally, the second pitching stud would require Brandon Morrow (or Brett Cecil with some myopic GM, but they just sent Tony Reagins packing in Anaheim, oh well) plus some farm subsidies.

But, let's say Anthopoulos holds the pay stubs and cards tight and waits for ANOTHER YEAR. The crop for next winter has lots of outfielders and starting pitchers of worth, but those crops can be cut down considerably in the interim. Assuming most of the would-be free agents do re-resign, the fact is,  this year's depleted group might look pretty good to what might be the pickings a year from now. Which might then lead to Toronto depending on the graduating group of kids they have in the pipeline. Again. Which might prove the most winning decision, both for the team on the field and for the accountants at head office. On the other hand, hitting the quinella isn't something Toronto fans would be happy about until it paid off. It might turn out that the team's MVP (Most Valuable Personnel) will be the beleagured group in the PR Office.

Anthopoulos has long postulated a trading regime for team improvement. And barring the Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco trade (Grrrr, teeth gnashing), it's hard to see where Anthopoulos has done much wrong. He's quick to move guys no matter what they've done in the short term to win his heart. He understands the allure of young pitchers, and even middle-aged ones. He connives team-positive options on just about every contract he gets signed, thus limiting the fall-out when an Aaron Hill or an Adam Lind falls down. Those contracts are attractive, even with sligthly sub-par results. So, it's not unforseeable that AA gets busy on the trading front over the next 30 months or so.

But first he has to ask himself that cogent question. This year or next?

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