Friday, September 28, 2012

SPORTS: Lose ... Please!

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About a year ago, I opined that the Toronto Blue Jays should tank the last month to ensure a low-enough drafting position to weather going out onto the free agent market and spending big, but retaining the first-round draft pick this summer. They won just a LITTLE too much over the last month to protect the draft pick and Alex Anthopoulos didn't go after the free agents he needed to, because of the cost of that precious pick. And went through injury hell all season long as a seeming karmic response.

New season. A bit later (there's a week left this time). Same message.

The Jays currently sit seventh in the so-called reverse standings with the same number of wins as the eight-place Red Sox and one less than the tenth place Royals. In between are the Pirates, who hold the ninth pick by virtue of not signing Mark Appel after the summer draft. The Pirate win totals are moot.

Soooo, can the Blue Jays somehow 'catch' the Mets, currently with three more wins? Of course the Jays can. And it would be partially at the cost of the front-running Yankees, maybe even costing the Bronx Bombers a playoff spot. THAT would be fun ... for about a day. Long-term? Not so much.

Nope, the idea is to keep the current seventh pick and maybe even move up a slot or two. The Marlins have three less wins right now and the Twins (visitors for the last three games of the season in Toronto) and Indians have four less. The odds are surely against Toronto moving 'up,' although a Twins sweep in the concluding week of the season would help. That seems like the best hope for a better draft pick.

And it's not outside the realm. Sure, the Twins will face Brandon Morrow, the lone Toronto starter worthy of the name. But the rest of the final six-game rotation reads like a draftnik's wish list: rookie Chad Jenkins for his second and third career starts, starting with New York tonight, Ricky Romero, the worst starter in the league since June, Aaron Laffey, fading fast and Carlos Villanueva in his last start in a Toronto uniform and with August stats comparable to Romero's. His fading has been the most precipitous, coming after Anthopoulos wondered publicly (and correctly) about his endurance. Suddenly, 1-5 or even 0-6 doesn't appear to be so much of a pipe-dream, hunh?

Having a protected top-10 pick in the draft affords Anthopoulos the luxury he didn't have last year: signing one big-ticket free agent with impunity (well, a LOT of money and impunity). The big problem, is that there might not be somebody willing to take Toronto loonies and toonies. At least that will help the team. Most of the pitching choices seem to want West Coast, contenders or specifically West Coast contenders to sign them. And it would take a little bit of forward thinking to call Toronto a contender in 2013. Just a little bit. But many athletes are not real good at the thinking part.

The Jays need to do something at second base, add one more bat to play LF or in the 1B-DH platoon with Edwin Encarnacion and arrange for the addition of two REAL GOOD pitchers or one ACE and two pretty good pitchers.

I'd like to see them send Escobar out of town to Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Arizona or some place far, far, away ... but get some talent back. In the absence of a talent-acquiring trade, I'm torn about keeping him and moving Hechavarria to second. But I'd prefer Hechavarria to start at SS on Day one, 2013. He's ready. If Rasmus, Lind and Arencibia were given new addresses, I think I could find a way not to cry (by cheering, but that's just how I handle happiness). I am a Lind fan, but everything comes to a natural conclusion. And Rasmus for a power-hitting left-fielder might be a solution. I think I could live with the growing pains for Gose (SOMEBODY teach the man how to bunt, PUHLEASE!!!) and the time to cash Arencibia is NOW. Good defence, good power, good guy. Better to trade the guy a year early then a year late. And is anybody going to pay full price when the Jays are stuck with an embarrassment of riches upon the arrival of Travis D'Arnaud?). Or when Arencibia gets hurt?

So, if the Jays were REALLY going to start the rookies (no longer because of playing time in 2012, but WE will call them rookies), and team them with Encarnacion, Bautista and Lawrie, you would still need that LF, 1B/DH and a 2B. There isn't ANY second-sacker on the free-agent market. A trade would be necessary. Maybe Daniel Murphy of the Mets or one of the Nationals' middle infielders. Maybe employing an old-timer like a Marco Scutaro to put off the decision for a year might work. Problem is, that Scutaro seems to have settled into San Francisco and they probably have the will and the dollars to want him back. It's THIS conundrum that will most plague Anthopoulos come winter. As much as he despises the jackass behaviour and cultural insensitivity demonstrated by his current shortstop, he might have to hold onto him for a year. The BEST combo for Toronto 2013 might very well be Escobar-Hechavarria.

Corner outfielders with some power are not in endless supply, but are available in limited numbers each year. The suggestion that Torii Hunter might want a short-term contract is a thing Toronto should think about. Sure, Hunter wants that contract in California and would have a soft spot in his heart if Minnesota came a-calling. But both options MIGHT not be available to him. Hunter doesn't offer up power as much as good defence (still), a decent bat and some leadership. And that seemed lacking in Bautista's absence due to injury and recuperating elsewhere. Hiring Hunter for a year and keeping Rajai Davis for his late-inning legs would leave me happy with our outfield, with or without Rasmus.

David Ortiz is not leaving Boston. He would be an add for Toronto of immense proportions and would be the final kick at the carcass of what was a Boston contender. But he isn't moving north of the border. Who is? Don't know. I'd hate to start the year with Lind in place, but if he goes, he's going to end up being Aaron Hill redux (you know, the solution at 2B, grrrrrr!). The Mets have Ike Davis (and Lucas Duda) which would make him available. The issue, of course, is that Lind won't fetch much beyond salary relief. Maybe better to keep him as the pinch-hitter, DH and emergency fifth outfielder. But there HAS to be somebody in place between him and regular duty to start the year.

The solution might very well be the same place I expect Toronto to go pitching shopping. The Angels. Might Jerry DiPoto be agreeable to Toronto solving some overstock issues for some of the Blue Jays' pitching treasure? Allegedly, the Angels are thinking hard of non-tendering Dan Haren AND Ervin Santana to accrue the funds to pay for recently-acquired Zack Greinke. PLUS, the Angels have one too many DH types.

So, we have the MASSIVE trade of the off-season. The Jays acquire BOTH Haren and Santana, plus Kendrys Morales. And maybe the Angels even throw in Maicer Izturis but I'm stretching things JUST a tad with that one. What does Toronto offer in return? Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver, JP Arencibia and one of the Lugnut Three, say Sanchez, Deck McGuire from AA and Lind for money and backup reasons. Maybe you announce a player to be named later and make that player a second of the Lugnut trio, contingent on the Blue Jays signing either Haren or Santana to a contract extension. Otherwise, the PTBNL turns into a secondary prospect from the low A ranks.

How's THAT for a whopper?

The Jays would then follow that up with signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year contract. Plus the addition of Hunter. But the Jackson signing is the 'big' money free-agent signing. In fact, I'd give Haren, Santana and Jackson all the same money.

Which would still leave Rasmus, Escobar and ... Ricky Romero as Blue Jays. Would Cleveland take all three (plus Lind if he isn't California-bound) for Shin Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson? Wouldn't THAT be interesting?

Why would the Angels participate in this massive re-organization of the Toronto Blue Jays' major-league roster? Turning non-tenders into bullpen upgrades, catching depth (for trade purposes) and two pitching prospects, one of which is exciting, at the cost of an extra DH and an infield super-sub, plus the money saved from declining options on unwanted players, makes this a trade worth considering for them. Choo and Masterson are on their last years in Cleveland and Cabrera can be a bit Escobarish. Maybe swapping the problem children would work out. Escobar has a friendly contract, Rasmus is still under team control for a few years and Romero is, or was, a LOT better than Masterson. Can Romero repeat a common pattern of a good pitcher bouncing back from one bad year? I'd rather he do it far, far away. But if he comes back ... well, history does suggest Toronto regains an ace. But I wouldn't sniff at the opportunity to divest myself of Escobar and Rasmus, both passive-aggressive pains in the butt. And you know, Cabrera might even be willing to move to 2B!!!

Awright, let's see what that leaves in the starting line-up in Toronto come opening day:
Brett Lawrie 3B, Asdrubal Cabrera 2B/SS, Jose Bautista RF, Edwin Encarnacion 1B, Kendrys Morales DH, Torii Hunter LF, Travis D'Arnaud C, Adeiny Hechavarria 2B/SS, Anthony Gose CF. On the bench, Shin Soo Choo, Rajai Davis, Maizer Izturis and Jeff Mathis.

The Jays starter pitching staff? Morrow, Haren, Masterson, Jackson and Santana. Uhhh, THAT'S an upgrade. A little right-handed for my liking, but them's the breaks. The relief crew? Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar at the back end. Lefties would include Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil plus J.A. Happ in long relief. The two righties would be Brad Lincoln and hopefully the re-signed Brandon Lyon.

Which leaves Henderson Alvarez in Buffalo, along with whatever veteran flotsam and jetsam Anthopoulos can find to stock up for the inevitable injuries. Jenkins, David Carpenter, Joel Carreno, Sam Dyson, maybe Aaron Laffey and the returning-from-injury crew ... Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan and eventually Luis Perez, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchinson. I'd still go out and get a veteran or three to stash in Buffalo. Experience is supposed to be a great teacher. The offence in Buffalo would be a bit thin. Yan Gomes, David Cooper, Sierra ... the New Hampshire grads from the team that had a losing record. Depending on how quickly the High A class could move, moving the AA crop up ahead of them, the talent stream might be a bit better than mediocre. High tides raise all boats in all. But I'd be spending some money on veteran free agents willing to wait in Buffalo. This year's injury history might attract some good ol' old guys.

What's REALLY going to happen this off-season. I suspect some of that Angel pitching is headed to Toronto. I still think Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Arizona all have stuff Toronto wants and Toronto, for sure, has stuff they want. i keep thinking Washington and the Mets are also trade partner candidates. The Blue Jays DO have one big signing in them, but it will be just one and the rest of the replacements will come via trade. I expect Lind, Rasmus and Escobar to stay. Drat!! As much as they want to see D'Arnaud get some more time in Buffalo to prevent being a Super Two, I just think this off-season is the time to maximize the return on Arencibia. So, he DOES move. Romero stays, of course. But the acquisition of an Angel hurler or two, plus maybe Masterson or Jackson isn't an option, it's a requirement. And if Alvarez starts opening week, it won't break my heart. I STILL believe in him. I don't think Toronto will be in play for Josh Hamilton and I hope desperately Nick Swisher to Toronto never appears. He's the next Jason Werth. On the other hand, his wife is a knockout. Hmmmmm.

My probable Blue Jay line-up in April? D'Arnaud, Ike Davis, Hechavarria, Escobar, Lawrie, Hunter, Rasmus and Bautista, with Encarnacion DH'ing. Davis, Lind, Mathis and a McCoy type on the bench. Morrow, Romero, Santana, Masterson or Jake Peavy, Alvarez starting. In the bullpen, Janssen, Santos, Delabar and Oliver on the back end, Loup and Happ from the left side and Lincoln from the right side. Cecil, Gose, Sierra, Gomes, Cooper et al will be in Buffalo.

Oliver is the wild card, equally likely to retire, agree to being traded to a more logical contender nearer his home town or to come back. By the way, Arencibia went to the Mets along with Dyson and a couple of prospects. ONE of the Lugnet Three along with maybe Oliver went to California for Santana and either Peavy signs for big money or Alvarez and prospects go for Masterson, leaving a spot for secondary free agent pitching being signed. Some mix of trades like that.

Important: No getting National League pitching that doesn't have a track record of success in the American League. No taking on other team's problems, whether they be psychological or injuries. And that includes Grady Sizemore, who I hope has a bit of Paul Molitor in him. Same goes for Brian Roberts. Ohh that would hurt to say no to both of them. A solid citizen, or two, have to be added. No signing on anybody, though, just for teaching purposes. In other words, no footing the bill for Omar Vizquel's farewell tour. Or a reasonable facsimile there of.

LASTLY: Trade John Farrell to Boston. I'd like one of the pitching prospects from the Dodger trade. But I think I'd accept Daniel Bard. Would Cleveland do Bard and Sierra for Choo subsequently? Might be the way to avoid having to sign Hunter. And Choo and Davis would make a good platoon. But Farrell hasn't done anything to indicate he's the new Terry Francona. With both Cleveland and Boston maybe having a hankering for their old-time employee, let's see which is willing to foot the bill. Then sign the old Terry Francona. Or elevate Brian Butterfield or Don Wakamatsu. Torey Lovullo probably follows Farrell elsewhere. But if he stays ...

All of which require Jays to "just lose, baby, just lose."

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