Posts tagged Zack Greinke

Free Agency Preview: Payroll, Pitching, and Prioritization

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Today, Saturday November 3rd, marks the beginning of the MLB Free Agency period. After a long, disappointing season that saw the Blue Jays create more questions than they answered, free agency and the allure of the limitless potential of the offseason has become the focus among the Blue Jays media and blogosphere. As it was one year prior the words Blue Jays and rumour have almost become synonymous and the transactions haven’t even started yet.

The difference is this year unlike last, there seems to be a definite desire for an increase in payroll. As Shi Davidi noted earlier this week Alex Anthopoulos is definitely ready and willing to increase payroll, even stating that, “[the Jays] will be able to look at players we wouldn’t have been as serious about or wouldn’t have fit.” In his article, Davidi speculated that this increase could reach the heights of the $95 million range, which as he notes would leave roughly $15 million in spending money for the 2013 offseason.

After a season which saw 3/5 of the projected rotation spend significant time on the disabled list and the other 2/5 regress past imaginable levels of performance, it’s no surprise that Anthopoulos has made the starting rotation a priority with this newfound increase in payroll. Those in the media as well as the blogosphere have speculated on such options as Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, and recently declared free agent Dan Haren. Of that list, all of the options seem feasible, save for Greinke, which leaves four pitchers to pine for and analyze until most (hopefully not all) sign with teams other than the Blue Jays, but that’s the pain and fortune of being a Blue Jays fan.

Edwin Jackson
The first of the four pitchers is ex-Blue Jay Edwin Jackson, who MLBTR predicted to be the only one of their Top 50 free agents to land in Toronto. On the surface the thrill of signing a pitcher with Jackson’s unpredictability and general lack of impressiveness seems almost non-existent, because he isn’t exactly the type of pitcher who you would expect to be the missing piece in the quest for a playoff spot. He’s coming off a good year, results wise, but the figures that he’s reportedly looking for aren’t exactly appealing

However Edwin Jackson is exactly the type of pitcher many of us are often describe. He’s an average MLB starter who fits fine into the middle of a rotation and he hasn’t pitched less than 180 innings since his first full season as a starter. Moreover once you realize that in the worst year of Jackson’s career, save for his Devil Rays days, he still posted an fWAR better than any Blue Jays pitcher this year, he seems like a much more appealing option. Even if he’ll never be what he was once projected to become, he is a more than satisfactory option for the middle of a rotation it only depends on whether or not he can get the contract he wants this time around.

Brandon McCarthy
The second of the four pitchers is everyone’s favourite Twitter follow, Brandon McCarthy. As a player with perhaps the largest social media following of any in the MLB, McCarthy’s name gets brought up in reference to a plethora of topics, but especially in comparison to the potential signing of other free agent starting pitchers. Toronto is no different, the online baseball community here has become just as enthralled with McCarthy as any other major league fanbase. Be that it may this mindset has gotten in the way of analysis of McCarthy as a pitcher and a free agent option for the Jays.

Brandon McCarthy is a pitcher who has had four 60-Day DL stints and four 15-Day DL stints in his seven season career. He’s also a pitcher who is coming off a skull fracture and a brain injury that some say he’s lucky to come out of functioning to the extent that he is. With regards to McCarthy as a person, what happened to him is terrible and shouldn’t be wished upon anyone, but with regards to McCarthy as a pitcher, signing him may not be the smartest baseball move when he hasn’t pitched since the incident. He’s an alluring figure because he has the potential to be great as we saw in 2011, but there’s no way of knowing how he will pitch once he gets back on the mound or how long he will stay on the mound for before sustaining another injury.

Anibal Sanchez
The third of the four pitchers, Anibal Sanchez, could easily end up being the best overall signing. Over his career Sanchez has been an afterthought in discussion, be that because he can be unpredictable or because he was on the same team as Josh Johnson for a majority of his career. Even this offseason, where Sanchez could be the second place prize to whomever doesn’t get or can’t afford Zack Greinke. This is despite the fact that over the last three years Sanchez is 16th in all of baseball in fWAR, above noted pitchers like Josh Johnson, James Shields, and Yovani Gallardo, yet he still doesn’t get the attention he deserves.

Also over those three years Anibal Sanchez’s walk rate has consecutively fallen as has his flyball rate, while he has increased his groundball rate and maintained a relatively consistent strikeout rate. All of those facts are positive trends towards Sanchez’s free agent case, but once again the problem lies in the pay. In FanGraph’s contract crowd sourcing they found a 4 year $52 million contract to be most likely and other estimates have been similar. While an average annual value of $13 million doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for surplus value, it’s a bargain in comparison to the deals given to C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle last winter.

Dan Haren
The last of the four pitchers, Haren may perhaps be the most interesting of the bunch. Following the apparent fallout of a deal that would have sent him to the Cubs in exchange for Carlos Marmol the Angels declined their $15.5 million option and instead opted to pay the $3.5 million buyout. Within the confines of that deal there has been an abundance of speculation as to why the deal fell through. Some speculate that it was the medicals, other the money, but either way it stems from Haren’s inability to perform to the level he did in the past.

The often cited reasoning behind Haren’s ineptitude during the 2012 season has been his drop in velocity, but as Michael Barr rather excellent noted in a recent FanGraphs article there’s quite a bit more to it. Barr referenced Haren’s declining velocity, but also his declining swinging strike rate, Zone% as well as his increasing Contact%. While Haren’s numbers in September are encouraging and a case could be made for signing him, the inherent risk of signing a player coming off a down season and an injury could outweigh the potential that Haren offers. Ultimately, like many free agent deals, it will come down to years that Haren is offered. If there is a team out there willing to give Haren a four (or even five?) year contract then there’s no point in trying to beat that. On the other hand if Haren is looking to re-establish some value on a one year deal then give him all you can and hope for the best.

On the whole, the Blue Jays appear to willing to go after one of these bigger name free agents, but with a budget that still looks limited to a certain extent due diligence will be key in the decision to sign any free agent pitcher, or position player for that matter. As it stands the Blue Jays don’t have a whole lot of room for error if they plan on running an efficient payroll with the hopes of a playoff berth. Perhaps unfortunately, as @cantpredictball has taught us, this game we love is inherently erratic, but the key is to squeeze out every bit of added probability for success possible. The Jays can be successful in that manner, but we must wait and see.

Time to Play the Waiting Game

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Depending on who you ask the 2011-2012 offseason for the Jays could be classified as any number of things. On one hand Anthopoulos hasn’t addressed all of the pieces on his wish list, having only bolstered the bullpen, but not acquired the middle of the order bat and front of the rotation starter that I’m sure both he and the fans wanted. Though on the other hand he did address the most pressing need, the bullpen, by acquiring Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor through trade and signing Darren Oliver in free agency.

Some people would call that a quiet offseason, but those three changes to the 25 man roster are the same amount that the Yankees have made. Maybe the fans are just a wee bit spoiled from last offseason when there was five trades (6 if you count Olivo) plus another two major league signings, but theres no way anyone can expect that pace to continue. Last offseason many of those trades and signings were completed to fill roster spots, but this year is that really needed?

The Jays already have five solid guys in the infield (Arencibia, Lawrie, Escobar, Johnson, Lind) and another two in the outfield (Rasmus, Bautista) and that doesn’t include the Thames/Snider battle in left field. Then in the rotation you could say three spots are filled with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Henderson Alvarez and then there is at least three worthy candidates to fill the last two spots. Granted you could always sign or trade for better players, but in a year that at least I don’t think the Jays are ready to compete in, why not let the guys already there play?
If the Jays sign Prince Fielder, sure he’d be an upgrade over Lind, but to what extent? Lind does have “some” upside if you believe in his 2009 season and Fielder has downside in his inconsistencies. Then if the Jays trade for a front of the rotation starter it would be an upgrade and give the Jays some piece of mind, but again you have to think of what the other players could become.

Before the year Kyle Drabek had, some pegged him as a guy with #2 starter upside and before all his injuries Dustin McGowan had top of the rotation stuff. What’s to say one of those two starters or even a player like Henderson Alvarez doesn’t step it up and improve. Beyond that even a player like Brett Cecil could return from mediocrity, or a player like Brandon Morrow could finally live up to his peripheral stats. Of course this is for the most part highly unlikely, but with this much uncertainty in what the above players could do and also what players like Travis Snider, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames, and even Brett Lawrie might do, why rush the process?

Looking at the Jays record last season they finished at exactly .500 a record of 81-81 and ten games out of a playoff spot. Some players will surely improve and having Brett Lawrie at third instead of Jayson Nix is definitely a plus, but how can we know how good the team will truly be? Using Sky Kalkman’s WAR Calculator as well as the Bill James projections (via Fangraphs) I found that James puts the Jays’ win count around 90 wins, but he also puts both the Yankees and Red Sox at around 105 wins meaning he thinks the Jays are still 15 games worse than the beasts of the east. Looking at other projections systems the sentiment seems to be similar.

In the latest Cairo projected standings (A projection system I generally like) they have the Jays at 78 wins and 15 games out of a playoff spot. No matter what projection system you use be it Bill James, Marcel’s, PECOTA, Cairo, or even just your gut feeling, there is very little way to work the numbers such that they end up with the Jays in a playoff position. As well according to the two projection systems I cited, not even 2001 Barry Bonds would push the Jays into the playoffs in 2012.

With all that said there’s no need to punt the season and call it quits now (like the Oakland A’s), but rather take a wait and see approach and with knowledge gained in 2012 to put that towards a better team in 2013. By 2013 prospects like Anthony Gose, Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchison, and Travis d’Arnaud will likely be pushing for spots on the 25 man roster out of spring training. As well if the Jays feel like they are really one player away at the point a quick look at MLBTR’s 2013 Free Agent Class page shows that top of the rotation starters Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, and Zack Greinke could all be potentially available with a more than formidable supporting cast of Anibal Sanchez, Francisco Liriano, and Brandon McCarthy all of which have had at least one 4 WAR season in the past two seasons.

Of course any number of these guys could be extended particularly Hamels and Cain, but with a more certain team going in to 2012, the Jays will have a better view on what their financial flexibility will be as well as their playoff proximity. Furthermore rather than attempting to acquire a top of the rotation starter in a weak market (i.e. 2011-2012 offseason) they would be doing it in a saturated pitching market. We saw what happened to a less saturated pitching market this year when Buster Olney tweeted that free agent starters Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, and Hiroki Kuroda were dropping their asking prices. As well as the major pay cut that Madson took because of a saturated closer market. All even more reason to wait out the 2012 season. And as an added bonus in 2013 there is the possibility that there may be two wildcard teams an indescribable addition to the Blue Jays playoff chances.

On the whole despite what some may believe the Jays haven’t and won’t really “need”anything this offseason. Anthopoulos recently responded to the question of whether or not the roster the Jays have now will be the one they have going in to spring training while on the FAN 590 stating that, “Right now I would say yes, but I’m hopeful that something breaks in the next 2-3 weeks.” Some are hopeful that this means something will happen, but I take it as Anthopoulos just continuing the interest in the team, but still stating that he pretty much has his team set for spring training. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is your choice, but in my opinion I am more than happy with the Jays offseason. They addressed their biggest need without sacrificing too much of the future and they left themselves in a position to let players like Travis Snider the ability to work out their issues. Here’s to a hopeful 2012 that gives us a better picture of what is to come in 2013 and beyond.

Reminising on Offseason Trade Rumors

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Photo by ElCapitanBSC       Photo by SD Dirk         Photo by Keith Allison
All licensed under Creative Commons
During the 2010/2011 offseason Alex Anthopolous was said to have been extremely active on the offseason trade market. According to rumors the Jays tried to acquire Dan Uggla, Justin Upton, and Zack Greinke among others. All three were prime trade targets with many teams looking to acquire each of of them and in the case of Justin Upton half the league was getting involved. So it is no surprise to hear that Alex Anthopolous was right there with the other GM’s in trying to acquire these “star” players. Although none of the three players were traded to the Blue Jays it is nice to hear that the Jays are getting involved. Alex Anthopolous checked all the possibilities and with that said we can now look back at what may have been.
Dan Uggla
Dan Uggla was the one of these three guys that the Jays were probably closest to acquiring, at least according to the rumors. Some of the big names being thrown around as players to be sent to the Marlins were along the likes of Travis d’Arnaud plus a pitcher such as Brett Cecil or Mark Rzepczynski and then some filler prospects. At the time it seemed like it was a little much for Uggla, but he was coming off the best season of his career, a season in which he produced 5.0 WAR. But nonetheless it takes talent to get talent and in the prior seasons Dan Uggla had been an all-star second basemen with the year in and year out consitency of a 30 home run season, which from second base or even the proposed switch to third base would have been a welcome addition to the Blue Jays.

As for this season Uggla hasn’t been quite as stellar as in years past. On the whole Uggla has a 106 wRC+ putting him in the category of slightly above average, but prior to July when his hitting streak started Uggla was hitting to a lack-luster 59 wRC+ which is far below average. He was having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career until July when he suddenly started a hitting streak that went on for 33 games before Cubs second basemen Darwin Barney made a diving play to rob Uggla of a hit.
During his hitting streak Dan Uggla was a completely different person than the man who had been hitting to a 59 wRC+. In that 33 game span Uggla brought his batting average up above the mendoza line and hit a whopping 15 homers. After seeing how Uggla performed at the beginning of the season and how he has performed since the beginning of July it is really a tale of two seasons. Though if you look at the numbers that Uggla has put up in the past you have to believe the talent level lies closer to the latter half of the season. Even with Uggla’s disappointing first half he still has a 2.3 lead in the FanGraphs version of WAR over the recently departed Aaron Hill (Uggla 1.8 WAR, Hill -0.5 WAR).
If the trade was to go through with the proposed d’Arnaud, Cecil/Rzep plus filler that would seem to be a little much. Having seen the breakout season from d’Arnaud as well as how Rzep was kind of the main part in the Rasmus trade I’m thinking that it wouldn’t have been a great trade for the Jays. As well had the trade been made then it would block Adeiny Hechavarria who has enjoyed a very nice batting line since joining the 51′s. It is already known that he has major league defense and in AAA it looks like he has made some genuine changes to his swing as to push at the Jays for a promotion. He may not be ready yet, but if he can put it together his combination of stellar defense, good speed, okay hitting and the fact that he would make far less money than Uggla he could turn out to be a much better option. All of this is just pluses to the fall-through of a what was a possible Dan Uggla trade.
Justin Upton
Justin Upton was probably the single most sought after player in the offseason trade market and he never even ended up being traded. Despite that the Jays were always rumored to be one of the top teams in the running for Upton before Kevin Towers decided that no prospect package he had been offered was good enough for the younger Upton. The major rumored trade offer that was heard from the Jays was Travis Snider, Kyle Drabek, Carlos Perez, plus another pitcher in the lower ranks of the farm system (Chad Jenkins, Drew Hutchison) for Justin Upton.
Originally this package looked like a lot to give up for Upton, even if he was a 23 year old phenom. But now looking in hindsight it would have been a steal for the Jays. Three of the proposed trade chips haven’t really impressed this year Snider has been sent up and down, Drabek started the year with the Jays and then got sent down, and Perez looks to have taken major steps back in both his offensive and defensive play. Sure Drabek and Snider can be considered top prospects, but in my eyes Snider at least kind of seems like a lost cause he may only be 23, but he has plenty of major league at bats and he can’t seem to figure it out. He has shown flashes of multiple tools, but all in different seasons, he can’t seem to figure it out and put it all together for one final season. Then with Drabek it seems like a mental issue where he has kind of dominated every level of the minors, but with him skipping AAA it seemed like the majors were a little too much for him.
Looking on Jays forums with the topic of that package for Justin Upton the almost consensus thought was that the Jays shouldn’t give up that package for Upton, who at the time had a 4 WAR and 3 WAR season behind him, with scouts only predicting for him to improve. This year he has definitely done that because with still a month to go Justin Upton leads the league with a 6.2 WAR and is looking like he may become the NL MVP.
Where as you look at the stats of Snider and Drabek in the majors and they are a little lacking. During his two tenures with the Jays this season Travis Snider has a .225/.269/.348 slash line with a 69 wRC+. That 69 wRC+ would rank 11th last in the league if Travis was qualified. Also between his post all-star call-up and his recent demotion Travis Snider took a whopping total of one walk. Walking used to be a skill that Travis had, but now for whatever reason he seems to have forgotten how to utilize it. Because of this lack luster play in the majors the Jays send him down to AAA and there he plays how we expected him to play in the . Granted it is the PCL which is very hitter friendly, but could Travis be that AAAA guy. He’s still young and has time to change things, but as of right now things aren’t looking good. He isn’t getting major league at bats and he has a flurry of outfield prospects looking to pass him in the ranks.
As for Drabek well he definitely hasn’t been much better. When he was in the majors he had an ERA of 5.70 with a FIP that suggests it shouldn’t have been much better. This was due in part to the fact that Drabek wasn’t missing bats (5.94 K/9) and in part because his control was no where to be seen (6.44 B/9). This led him to a last in the league 0.92 K/BB ratio. He was supposed to be some super prospect and he just simply couldn’t do it in the majors. I personally attribute some of that to him skipping AAA. I know that the PCL is extremely hitter friendly and that it can be a nightmare for pitchers, but if he got the experience there and dealt with struggles at AAA it may have prepared him better for struggles in the majors.
With Carlos Perez there isn’t much to say. He was a highly attributed catching prospect for the Jays despite him playing in the lower ranks of the farm system. This year he has definitely regressed at both his defense and offense as he was known for being an contact hitter and his average has regressed more than 30 points down to .269. As for his defense well his CS% has dropped from 49% in 2009 to 36% in 2010 to %30 in 2011, thats not a great trend there.
Finally with the add on prospect which was speculated to be a pitcher it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Even if it were a higher end prospect such as Chad Jenkins or Drew Hutchison it wouldn’t have been a big deal because the Jays just have so much pitching talent in even the rookie leagues now. Players such as Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Arodis Cardona, and Justin Nicolino are all poised to take any spot that would have been opened with the Justin Upton trade.
On the whole unlike with the first trade rumor it is looking like the Jays should have jumped on this. Even if both Snider and Drabek turn out to be serviceable major leaguers, they still aren’t worth a guy who is an MVP candidate at 24 and one who is signed through until 2015 at a now team friendly contract. Despite this I can understand how at the time AA wouldn’t have made this trade. Prior to this season Snider looked like he still had plenty of potential and Drabek looked like he may become a #2 starter in the long run. Who knows maybe in a year or two Justin Upton will wear out his welcome in Arizona and the Silent Assassin will come in for the kill.
Zack Greinke
Last but certainly not least was Zack Greinke. Greinke was kind of a difficult trade candidate because he was the AL Cy Young winner in 2009, but then in 2010 it appeared as if he appeared to have completely tanked as he put up a 4.17 ERA and produced a 10-14 win loss record. Despite the basic numbers his peripherals still looked pretty good as he had a 3.34 FIP and a 3.60 xFIP for the year. The only thing that was a little concerning was the dip in Greinke’s strikeout rate which went from a career high 9.5 K/9 in 2009 to a 7.4 K/9 in 2010. Greinke would have seemed like a classic buy low AA pickup.
The reported asking price for what at the time seemed like the only Top 25 pitcher on the trade market  was apparently Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek, which seemed like an absurd overvalue. They were asking for two players who were going to be the centerpieces for a deal for a 23 year old signed to a team friendly contract for 5 years to be the centerpieces to a 27 year old coming off a bad season signed to a less team friendly contract for two years . I think that right there was the problem and once the Royals reportedly wanted that and nothing less the trade talks with the Jays seemed to dwindle.
When you look at the surface stats by Zack Greinke this year with his 4.22 ERA and 12-5 win loss record it looks like the Jays were right in keeping their young, but recently disappointing prospects. Though when you look further you see that Zack Greinke actually has been much better than his 4.21 ERA indicates as he holds a 3.01 FIP as well as a 2.42 xFIP. Much of the difference between the ERA and these advanced stats can be attributed to the absolutely horrid defense that the Brewers have put out on the field this year, but what can also be held somewhat accountable is his career low 64.3 LOB%. As well as having better peripheral ERA stats Greinke also has a 10.90 K/9 and a 5.17 K/BB, two numbers that rank as the highest in the young hurlers career and among the leagues elite.
All of this sums up to a trade that may have worked and may not have. On one hand Greinke has been doing great this year (although the basic numbers don’t show it) where as Snider and Drabek have been lacking, but on the other hand Greinke is only signed until 2012 and there is no guarantee that he would sign with us past that mark. The real time when the Blue Jays would need a guy like Greinke is when they know that they are competeing, kind of like the Brewers this season. The Jays very well may compete next season if there is the added wildcard spot, but it is still not a sure thing. I would say that if Greinke was signed until 2013 a year when the Jays are definitley more likely to compete for a playoff spot then maybe the trade makes sense, but it is still a little iffy due to the still very apparent potential of Drabek and Snider. But with where the Jays are and where they will be next year, it seems like it was a good decision to let the deal fall through.
Final Thoughts
This past offseason was definitely filled with many Blue Jays trade rumors, much of which can be attributed to the man who never sleeps Alex Anthopolous. These rumors showed that the Jays aren’t afraid to agressively pursue three fairly high profile players, even if in the end they don’t acquire any of them. But nonetheless they tried and in this set of rumors there was a trade that they didn’t make and shouldn’t have made, a trade that they should have made, but couldn’t have made and a trade that could be considered a toss up. Of course all of these opinions are with hindsight so its always nice to say the Blue Jays should have done this or they should have done that, but in the end the Jays acquired none of the three high profile players and they may just be better because of it in the future. That is the thing with these kind of high profile trades you just never know until years down the road.
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