Posts tagged Kelly Johnson

Transactions, We Have Transactions!

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

So…for once all the noise about the Blue Jays making a move was true. Jon Heyman first reported the signing and a Blue Jays press release later confirmed that the Blue Jays had signed Maicer Izturis to a 3 year contract worth $9 million dollars with a option for a fourth year at $3 million. As was pointed out by the masses, that contract marks the largest free agent contract that has been handed out since Alex Anthopoulos took over the general manager job in 2009. It’s also two times as big as the contract that was previously the largest, which was a 1 year $4.5 million contract handed out to Francisco Cordero last offseason.

Perhaps more surprisingly the Maicer Izturis contract marks just the second guaranteed multiyear free agent contract handed out by Anthopoulos. The only other one? A 2 year $3 million contract that the Blue Jays gave to the John Macdonald in 2009.

A lot has been made of these various milestones and perhaps for good reason, as Shi Davidi speculated in his article on the Izturis signing, this signing may be a prelude of things to come. As we heard earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays reportedly have money to spend as they plan on increasing the payroll for 2013 and perhaps this is an indication of just that. As I stated in the free agency preview, the difference between this year and last, other than this preliminary signing, is that AA has been much more forthright in his statements regarding the payroll and now in his actions as well.

With that said, the specifics of the Izturis deal itself are fairly intriguing. The deal pays Maicer Izturis $3 million a year in each of the three guaranteed seasons as well as in the option year. For a player whom is often labelled as a utility player that may seem like a fair amount of money to guarantee, but for what he provides it looks to be a fair and justified contract.

Maicer Izturis is coming off a 3 year $10 million contract with the Angels and if you look at Maicer Izturis’ WAR over the last three years of his previous contract you will see that he has produced a total of 4.1 WAR. Using the rough $5 million per win above replacement value calculation, the Angels got approximately $10.5 million of value over the course of Maicer Izturis’ contract. While both Izturis’ previous contract as well this current one did not and do not provide a base for a clear abundance of potential value they pay him for what he is, which is a great utility infielder…or perhaps even a starting second baseman?

As Anthopoulos noted in the conversation he had with reporters after the Izturis signing, Izturis as the starting second baseman would be a fine solution to the hole that is currently at the position. Solely on a fWAR level in 2012, Maicer Izturis was worth as much as former second baseman Kelly Johnson while being paid $1.2 million less. Furthermore this came in part as a result of Izturis’ 391 plate appearances as opposed to Johnson’s 581. As well, Izturis’ 2012 season isn’t necessarily the best measure of his true talent level being that it was his worst season since 2005 despite no major change in approach or sabrmetric results besides a few odd batted ball stats as a result of an absurdly high infield fly ball rate, which doesn’t necessarily hold predictive value.

Another point that Anthopoulos noted was the idea that he would keep his options open, as he often does, and if the Blue Jays do in fact find another second baseman worthy of a starting job then pencilling in Izturis as utility player extraordinaire at the price they’re paying for him isn’t half bad either.

In the grand scheme of things the Izturis contract is a deal that is buying out the ages 32, 33, and 34 seasons of a player who is a career utility player, but a good one at that. Maicer Izturis is 1-2 WAR player, with the potential for a bit more; he can play multiple positions and he appears to be flexible in doing so. The fact that the Jays went to 3 years with Izturis could be a criticism, but it really isn’t a hinderance in the overall picture. For once, the Blue Jays seemed to have gotten exactly who they wanted, which hasn’t exactly been a frequent occurrence for the Jays on the free agent market in recent years.

Projecting Performance: Infield

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Projecting Performance is a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. The Starting Rotation and Outfield pieces are already posted.

Going in to 2011 the Blue Jays infield had more questions than Encarnacion has errors at third base. Would Lind and Hill return to 2009 form? Would Yunel Escobar build on a strong finish to the 2010 season? Would Arencibia improve on his abysmal call up performance? Would Encarnacion be able to play third base? Over the course of the season we found answers to those questions and things worked themselves out as they usually do. This year there may be even more questions with a couple of higher upside players in Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie added to the infield later in the year. However rather than questions on if players could be feasible, this year we seem to be asking how much better could they get.

Adam Lind
At this point I have lost all hope in Adam Lind. Some still seem to think that he could return to 2009 form many citing his .508 wOBA in the 2 months after he returned from injury. For one thing that was in a 123 PA sample and for another producing that well is great, but not when the other four months he produced a sub .300 wOBA to go along with his sub .300 OBP. As well when you consider that during Lind’s stretch of extreme relevance he was facing 7% less lefties than the rest of the season you could see why he had a bit of a boost.

The problem I then have with the people who talk about Lind’s two monster months are that they are also generally the same people that say Lind performed poorly late in the year because of his injury. What it really seems like is some people just can’t let go of Lind’s rather impressive 3.7 fWAR season in 2009 and who could blame them. Adam Lind was a great player, but there is a large emphasis on the ‘was’ there. As time goes on that great 2009 season more and more becomes the very definition of a ‘career year’.

Of course I outlined this before, but in short in 2009 Lind simply saw the ball better. This isn’t simply a factor of being hot though, in 2009 Lind had an O-Swing% almost 10% better than any other year of his career. He was seeing the ball better, but for whatever reason that really hasn’t translated in to any other year of Lind’s career and at this point I doubt it ever will.

The Verdict:
Lind isn’t a great player, but he’s not the worst first baseman in the league (He’s close).  Despite the putrid results in 2011, I’d expect some improvement in 2012. He may not be one of the best hitters in baseball for a month again, but I’d guess that the production evens outs a little and he becomes at the very least an above average hitter in 2012. Unfortunately being a slightly above average hitter at first base simply won’t cut it and the Jays could seriously find themselves pining for Votto come November. In the end of it all, it couldn’t get any worse, could it?

WAR Prediction: 1.2

Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson didn’t have a great 2011, but I’m definitely less worried about him than some of the others. Sure he did hit almost as terribly as Hill has the past couple years, but he’s only one year removed from a 5.9 fWAR season. As well unlike Lind who did have a good season, Kelly has had a couple other respectable season with 2.7 fWAR in 2008 and 3.6 fWAR in 2007.

Furthermore it wasn’t as if Kelly was Jeff Mathis with the stick last season. Despite hitting .222 last year Kelly Johnson still had a OBP higher than Adam Lind as well as a 2.2 fWAR. Meaning that even if he produced exactly the same as he did last year he would still be more than two times better than former second baseman Aaron Hill was.

The bonus on top of that if one would expect him to perform better. The course of his career has been a plethora of up and down seasons. He was bad last year so one would expect him to be better this year. Well that and he has shown that he has the skills to be a very good player.

The Verdict:
KJ wasn’t great in 2011, but he was better than Aaron Hill and was more than just a serviceable second baseman. Beyond that he has history of success including his 5.9 fWAR season from 2010. Because of this one would expect a bounce back year from Kelly, maybe not to the tune of his 2010 season, but he could surely outperform what he did last year as well as what he did in 2008 and 2009.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Yunel Escobar
Last year Yunel was the very proof that Anthopoulos’ plan can work. He was unwanted in Atlanta because of supposed personal issues with Bobby Cox, but that didn’t bother AA. He saw the potential and it payed off last year. Going forward Yunel would appear to continue to put out similar production. Prior to his iffy 2010 he was more than just a serviceable shortstop. Two other times he had an fWAR above 3.5 and in 2009 he had a better season than he did in 2011.

That right there is what sets Yunel apart from some of Toronto’s other high potential players. Unlike the Sniders and Rasmusi (Yes that is the plural of Rasmus) of this world Yunel has a history of well sustained success. It wouldn’t be crazy at all to assume at least another 4.0 WAR season out of Yunel with the possibility for more. He is aging and will be getting closer to the back end of his prime this year at age 29, but the tools he has generally aren’t the ones that are conducive to the immediate effects of aging.

For example Yunel isn’t much of a speedster, but rather a high hit tool, high walk kind of guy. That should do well to keep his offensive numbers up for longer than the average shortstop’s prime. As well on the defensive side of things, a lot of Yunel’s defensive value is gained from his throwing arm rather than his raw defensive techniques.

Although the fact that his arm is less conducive to aging could matter quite a bit less come 2013. At that time Cuban defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria could be pushing to make the big league roster, that is assuming he can hit and that assumption is no small load. If called up Adeiny could be the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues, but if his minor league numbers are any indication he could have a sub Adam Dunn batting average. In the end I’m going to bet the hitting will be his kryptonite and the reason why Yunel won’t have to worry about anyone taking shortstop from him, for this year at least.

The Verdict
Outside of the first half of the 2010 season, Yunel Escobar has consistently been an above average to well above average shortstop and I don’t expect much to change going forward. He’s still going to hit for a high average, with some power, and some speed. He is most certainly not the prototypical shortstop, but his defense is slightly above average and he gets the job done. In the end thats all that really matters.

WAR Prediction: 4.0

Brett Lawrie
To Blue Jays fans, Brett Lawrie is more than just a player, he is an icon, a Canadian god, and the man who could take their team to the playoffs. From the excitement around him it would seem as if he is some sort of Tebow North, except he is definitely not as kosher as his equivalent to the south. Besides that Lawrie is good, but assuredly not as good as he was last season.

If Lawrie were to somehow become a Canadian god it may be possible that he would put up a 9.5 WAR season, which is his 2.7 fWAR season in 2011 prorated over 600 plate appearances, unfortunately for us he is not. However he is still very, very good. Keith Law ranked him at No. 10 on his Top 50 Players Under Age 25 list and John Sickels had him at No. 2 on his Favourite Players, 25 and Under list. In his write up Sickels said, “The only thing I’m concerned about here is a possible tendency towards nagging injuries,” but also praised Lawrie’s all around game.

Lawrie can run, he can throw, he can hit, he can hit for power, and as Sickels notes, “[he has] a glove that is underrated at the minimum.” Lawrie has the tools, the question is just going to be whether he can turn those tools into fruition and then be able to stay on the field to sustain that production.

We saw what he can do in 171 plate appearances, but that is a still an eerily small sample size and nothing that should have fans realistically projecting him as an MVP candidate. ZiPS was pretty high on him, projecting a .275 average, 27 homers, 24 SBs, and a 119 OPS+. Beyond that they in the comps section his No. 1 comp was Chipper Jones and No. 2 was Adrian Beltre, which is definitely not too shabby in the projection category. As for me I think Lawrie is great, but he is really difficult to project. He could be on the Ryan Braun path or he could fall flat on his face. He did well according to both the numbers and scouts, which is encouraging, but it could take some time for him to reach superstar status.

WAR Prediction: 4.2

J.P. Arencibia 
J.P. is a lot of things, the holder of the franchise record for most home runs by a catcher in a rookie season, the creator of the Tim Kurkjian impersonations trend, a lady killer among female Blue Jays fans, and the not so proud owner .282 OBP. He was fine in 2011, he was a bad hitter, a bad defender, and he had some pop and there was nothing wrong with that the Jays had no other options. On the other hand going forward things could be much different. 

Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Travis d’Arnaud is inching ever so closely to the majors and being that he is playing in the hitter friendly PCL, he could be looking for a call up very soon. Once up it could be very hard to send him down, he is a better hitter than J.P, he has better defensive skills, and he could even hit more home runs. Granted J.P. has the major league experience, but Travis is a force to be reckoned with and will surely let make the Jays the owners of a nice problem to have.

The Verdict:.P. Arencibia isn’t a terrible player, but he isn’t as good as his 87 RBIs make him out to be. He could easily improve both his home run totals and OBP in 2012, but with his current skill set it is unlikely he ever becomes a star. However the Blue jays are still only paying Arencibia the league minimum salary to be a full time starting catcher, which isn’t a half bad deal. JP is what he is and I don’t see his skill set improving a whole lot, but that’s not to say that he can’t be a solid starting catcher.

WAR Prediction: 1.8

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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The New Mr. Unnapreciated

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Brian Jeroloman
Photo by Keith Allison licensed under Creative Commons

During the 2011 season in a article that was never ended up getting finished I outlined Mike McCoy as Mr. Unappreciated. The scrappy utility man played 2B, SS, 3B, CF, RF, and even pitched for the Jays this season. He played above average defense at 3 of the 5 positions according to UZR/150 (Beware the SSS) and hit at an almost parallel to the beloved John Mcdonald (McCoy .267 wOBA, Johhny Mac .269 wOBA). Yet, still Mikey Mick as the guys at Getting Blanked dubbed him, was always the odd man out. Granted he had the options and was easy to move, but still wasn’t really appreciated for the versatility that he brought the Blue Jays. His journey from Minors to Majors and back again and again is nicely illustrated in the graphic below.

A Graphic by Minor Leaguer of Bluebird Banter



But enough of Mike McCoy and on to the man who is the New Mr. Unappreciated. This man is the man who nobody thinks of when the question comes up on who the Jays backup catcher will be in 2012. Not Jose Molina, not Ryan Doumit, not Jason Varitek, not even Travis d’Arnaud, but instead the man who should be the backing up J.P. the sophomore is the only member of the Blue Jays during the 2011 season who didn’t play in a singlegame. Yes, ladies and gentlemen when asked who should back up Arencibia, I respond, Why not Brian Jeroloman.


It may not seem like the obvious first choice as Jeroloman isn’t exactly a coveted catcher, nor is he a proven veteran (not that it matters), but the Jays believed in him enough to call him up to the majors in 2011 for a cup of coffee, if you can really call it that. Jeroloman surely won’t produce in a major offensive way as evidenced by his sub .300 wOBA is the extremely hitter friendly PCL. There was the sentiment by some that he could become a fine offensive contributor after putting up a .429 OBP and .392 wOBA for the Fisher Cats in 2010, but at that point he was a little old for the league (24 at the time) and hasn’t really shown he can cut it and what is often regarded as a easier level to pad the stats.


Still despite his offensive shortcomings it doesn’t seem like he gets enough appreciation for what the guy who was “just a placeholder” on the roster could mean going forward. Brian is 25 will only make the MLB minimum salary in 2012 and provides absolutely stellar defense behind the plate. In fact as he progressed through the Blue Jays farm system there was always the sentiment that he had the defense to be a backup, if that is the direction the Jays wanted to take, but was always questionable on the hitting aspect (Unless you ask Ricciardi who called Jeroloman the catcher of the future). After over 2000 plate appearances in the minors it has become increasingly clear that the hitting just isn’t there. Fortunately for Jeroloman the sparkling defense as described in scouting reports should get him to the big leagues.


I could go on and show off the dazzling scouting reports, but this quote from Jays Journal’s Top 50 Jays Prospects List  pretty much sums it up, He has above average receiving skills, a good ability to block balls in the dirt , and he really enjoys developing a positive rapport with his pitchers, who like throwing to him. He also has a good arm behind the plate, and might not hit for a high average but getting on base through taking pitches has always been his strength.”

With the Jays pretty obviously looking for a defensively minded catcher to handle their young pitching staff the question becomes why not Jeroloman. Sure he isn’t really going to hit much at all for the Jays, but with d’Arnaud maybe pushing for a spot at some point in 2012 and the other options really only being guys like Ramon Castro, Dionner Navarro, and Jason Varitek among others, why not give Jeroloman a chance. The Jays said they viewed him as a potential backup catcher for the future when they called him up after the Kelly Johnson trade in August and I’d bet that same opinion would still hold true. Sure, there was the ongoing joke about whether or not Jeroloman would be placed in a game as the 2011 season came to a close and the final verdict gave Jeroloman a thumbs down in that category. But he did get an interesting nickname as “Moonlight Graham” named after the 1905 New York Giants outfielder by the same name. Moonlight Graham only ever played in one game in his career and so far has done Jeroloman one better, but hopefully Brian will be able to overcome his nickname in 2012. 

In 2012 even if it means putting up with a likely well below average offensive production, the defense Jeroloman provides behind the plate, his game calling abilities, and the fact that he will make the league minimum in 2012 are all the pros towards making Jeroloman the backup. The only situation that I would want to see Brian not taking that spot in 2012 would be on the very off chance that the Blue Jays re-sign Jose Molina. That very likely won’t happen unless the new CBA firmly changes draft pick compensation for the 2011-2012 offseason. So next time someone asks you who the backup will be, Why not Brian Jeroloman?

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