Tag:Blue Jays
Posted on: February 10, 2012 10:59 am
 

Spring position battles: American League East



By Matt Snyder


Here we are for the fifth of six installments of spring positional battles. This one is the mighty AL East, the most polarizing and probably best division in the majors.

Previous spring position battles: AL West | NL West | AL Central | NL Central

New York Yankees
Designated Hitter: Andruw Jones vs. Russell Branyan vs. Free Agent vs. Revolving Door

I still feel like the Yankees will sign either Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez or Hideki Matsui -- any of whom likely nails down this job full-time. But it's undecided as of right now, and wide open. Will Andruw Jones or Russell Branyan hit well enough to justify being the full-time DH? Maybe, or maybe they platoon -- as Jones hits from the right side while Branyan is a lefty. Or maybe the Yankees use bench players like Eduardo Nunez, Bill Hall and Chris Dickerson in the field while using starters like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher at DH a few times a week in order to keep guys healthy and in tip-top shape.

Tampa Bay Rays
No. 4-5 starters: Jeff Niemann vs. Wade Davis vs. Matt Moore vs. Six-man rotation

Talk about a nice "problem" to have. The Rays obviously have David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson as the top three in the rotation. While there isn't a big problem with either Niemann or Davis, it's time to find a place in the rotation for Moore and I'm certain they will. The 22-year-old left-hander was awesome in his limited time in the majors last year, including a stellar outing against the Rangers in Texas for Game 1 of the ALDS. Moore's already received the type of team-friendly contract Evan Longoria got when he was a rookie -- as Moore is signed through 2016 with club options running all the way through 2019. So the question is, do the Rays demote either Niemann or Davis to the bullpen or trade one of them? Niemann would be the trade candidate, as Davis also has a team-friendly contract with club options that take him through 2017. And I doubt this happens, but the Rays could always go with a six-man rotation. Seeing how this plays out will a big spring storyline.

Boston Red Sox
Shortstop: Nick Punto vs. Mike Aviles vs. Jose Iglesias

After trading both Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie this offseason, the Red Sox are left with what appears to be Mike Aviles against Nick Punto at short. Punto had a good offensive campaign by his standards last season, when he hit .278 with a .388 on-base percentage. He only had six starts at shortstop, though, and his career numbers don't indicate he's worthy of an everyday gig at shortstop. Aviles also only started six games at short last season, and he only hit .255/.289/.409. He did hit well for the Red Sox, but it was a small 107 plate appearance sample. So the choice between Punto and Aviles is dubious defensively and neither is a good offensive option. Enter Iglesias, the dazzling defensive prospect. He's a dreadful hitter -- his line in Triple-A was .235/.285/.269 last season -- but it's not like Aviles or Punto are going to be confused with Troy Tulowitzki or anything. Maybe the Red Sox just plant Iglesias in the nine-hole and enjoy the exceptional defense?

Corner Outfield spots: Cody Ross vs. Ryan Sweeney vs. Carl Crawford and his health

Crawford is said to be questionable for the start of the season after undergoing minor wrist surgery a few weeks ago. If he's healthy, he starts in left easily while Sweeney and Ross battle it out for the right field job. If Crawford can't start the season, Ross and Sweeney are the corner outfielders, yet still fighting for the right field job for when Crawford returns. At some point, Ryan Kalish will return from offseason shoulder surgery and could eventually fight for playing time in right field as well.

Toronto Blue Jays
Outfield logjam: Colby Rasmus vs. Eric Thames vs. Rajai Davis vs. Travis Snider

We know who mans right field, but these four guys are competing for the other two spots. Thames in left field and Rasmus in center seem the most likely, but Davis will get a shot at either spot and Snider is in the mix for left.

No. 5 starter: Dustin McGowan vs. Kyle Drabek

This may bleed up into the No. 4 starter as well, but I'll give Brett Cecil the nod for now, since he is left-handed. The top three are Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez. So, for now, I'll guess the last spot comes down to McGowan and Drabek. McGowan was once a very promising young arm. He went 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 169 2/3 innings back in 2007, when he was 25. He then made 19 starts before falling injured in 2008 and finally just resurfaced late last season -- two shoulder surgeries and one knee surgery later. Does he have anything left? He was good in 12 minor-league starts in 2011, but had a 6.43 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in the small sample of 21 innings pitched for the Blue Jays. Drabek was a top 30 prospect each of the past two years, according to Baseball America, but he fell flat last season for the Jays. He had a 6.06 ERA, 1.81 WHIP and more walks than strikeouts for the big-league club. Even worse, he was knocked around for Triple-A Las Vegas, to the tune of a 7.44 ERA and 2.03 WHIP in 75 innings. Walks, again, were an issue with Drabek issuing 41 compared to 45 strikeouts. Prospects Deck McGuire and Drew Hutchison could also figure in the mix eventually, but this feels like Drabek vs. McGowan heading into March.

Baltimore Orioles
The entire pitching staff: Johnny Wholestaff vs. Joe Allstaff

So let's see ... the following pitchers might have a chance at the starting rotation: Zach Britton (very safe bet), Jason Hammel (safe bet), Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Dana Eveland, Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada, Alfredo Simon and Tommy Hunter. That's quite a mix of pitchers to sift through, but the job isn't overwith yet, because we have to look at the bullpen.

Three pitchers -- Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom and Kevin Gregg -- will compete for the closer job, with Troy Patton, Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day also being part of the bullpen mix. Of course, guys like Simon, Hunter and Bergesen will get a shot in the bullpen if they miss out on the rotation, too. There are more (Willie Eyre, Armando Galarraga, etc.), but I already named 17 pitchers vying for 12 spots.

We could probably move Simon and Hunter to the bullpen while eliminating Eveland from the starting mix, but that still leaves eight guys in competition. In the bullpen, Johnson seems the best bet to win the closer gig, with Lindstrom and Gregg setting up. Add Strop, Patton, Simon and Hunter and you have your seven. But, again, we've thrown out Eveland and there would still be three extra starters along with O'Day, Eyre et al on the outside looking in.

I'll say one thing: Orioles manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair won't be bored this spring. Maybe frustrated, but definitely not bored.

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Posted on: January 31, 2012 1:14 pm
 

Increased drug tests don't bother Bautista



By Matt Snyder


Major League Baseball has "random" drug testing on its players, but Jose Bautista has seen a drastic increase in testing the past two seasons. Bautista had never hit more than 16 homers in a season until he hit 54 in 2010 and then 43 in 2011. There's a group of fans and media who seem to think the only possible way to make that kind of jump is to take some form of illicit "supplement." It could be a coincidence, but Bautista's testing has increased along with his home run totals. 

On TSN 1050 radio, Bautista estimated he's been tested 16 times in the past two seasons (via TSN.com). But don't get all worked up about it, Blue Jays fans and Bautista supporters, because he's cool with it.

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"It has increased in the last two years compared to before but I'm not complaining whatsoever. It's a question that I was asked so I gave an honest answer. It's not in my interest to make it seem like I'm getting picked on."

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"I don't mind it; it's something that is not going to affect my focus and I'm not going to allow it to affect how I play my game," Bautista said. "They are entitled to do whatever they want and test you as many times as they want. If I get picked to be tested a million times, that's fine with me."

I've emphatically supported Bautista against the small-minded haters the past two seasons and these comments make me dig my heels in even further.

It should be noted that it's entirely possible random testing causes sporadic testing, meaning you could be tested zero times one season and 20 the next -- like flipping a coin and having heads turn up 20 times in a row -- so I'm not trying to accuse the MLB of anything nefarious. For me, the most important takeaway here is the fact that Bautista basically says "bring it on" and has passed all these tests.

Hat-tip: Hardball Talk

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Posted on: January 31, 2012 12:16 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2012 12:38 pm
 

Report: Mariners wanted Lawrie for Pineda



By Matt Snyder


The Blue Jays had to field some questions from a few disgruntled fans Monday night in their State of the Franchise meeting concerning a seeming lack of major moves this offseason. At one point, general manager Alex Anthopolous reportedly discussed a trade that he didn't make because he would have had to give up a "major-league ready player" in return.

And reliable Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Jeff Blair says sources tell him the proposed deal was third baseman Brett Lawrie for then-Seattle starting pitcher Michael Pineda (Update: Geoff Baker of the The Seattle Times back up this assertion). The Blue Jays refused to deal Lawrie, so instead the Mariners went out and flipped Pineda for then-Yankees designated hitter Jesus Montero.

Interesting.

Pineda-for-Montero swap
The Mariners interest in Lawrie makes a ton of sense. Not only is he a great young talent, but M's GM Jack Zduriencik was the Brewers director of amateur scouting when they drafted Lawrie in the first round 2008. Plus, the Mainers have a hole at third.

But, personally, the most interesting part here is from the Blue Jays' angle. Lawrie is only 22 and had a great debut for the Jays last season, hitting .293/.373/.580 with nine homers, 25 RBI and 26 runs in just 171 plate appearances. That's a line that has future star written all over it. Pineda, though, is only 23 and was an All-Star for Seattle last season. He faded down the stretch, but still struck out 173 hitters in 171 innings. Considering the Blue Jays need pitching more than hitting at this point, that they could play Jose Bautista at third and also that they have a handful of young outfielders, this move might have made some sense.

Instead, it seems Anthopolous played his own little game of Would You Rather Have and elected he wanted Lawrie more than Pineda (but wait, how could he possibly "compare" a third baseman and a pitcher?!?).

And when Anthopolous did balk at making the move, it opened the door for the Yankees to make a deal that strengthened their pitching staff.

Only time will tell on what would have been the right move here for the Blue Jays, but it's certainly an interesting nugget on a slow Tuesday to chew on.

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Posted on: January 30, 2012 9:46 pm
 

Blue Jays president optimistic on near future

By Matt Snyder

The Blue Jays held their "State of the Franchise" event with fans Monday night in Toronto. It was the opportunity for fans to ask questions of -- or yell at -- team president Paul Beeston, general manager Alex Anthopolous and/or manager John Farrell.

A variety of topics were discussed, obviously, but the money quote came courtesy of Beeston (pictured right), when he said he expects the Jays to make the playoffs "two to three times in the next five years." (Mike Cormack via Twitter)

"Could start this year, could start next year," Beeston said (Mike Cormack via Twitter).

Now, there is nothing wrong with confidence, but this is a bit ambitious. The Jays went 81-81 last season, which was good for fourth place in baseball's toughest division. In 2010, they won 85 games and still came in fourth. In 2008, the win total was 86. And, again, the Jays finished fourth. That wins other divisions some seasons. In the AL East, it makes you an afterthought.

Further clouding matters is the front office's refusal to dole out big-time contracts. Both Beeston and Anthopolous said the club would not give out a contract of longer than five years. That is what eliminated them in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, for example, as Beeston specifically told fans money wasn't the issue and they were interested in Fielder on a deal from one through five years.

The Blue Jays do have a good amount of young talent and I fully expect them to be better in 2012 than they were in 2011. With the playoffs expanding to allow two wild cards, that helps, too. But making the playoffs three times in the next five years is pretty tough for anyone, let alone a team competing against the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox in the AL East. 

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 10:03 pm
 

Report: Uehara blocks potential trade to Toronto

By Matt Snyder

Evidently relief pitcher Koji Uehara isn't a fan of Toronto. The Rangers had agreed to trade the right-hander to the Blue Jays, but Uehara invoked his no-trade clause and rejected the deal, according to ESPN Dallas. This wasn't a full no-trade clause, either. Uehara reportedly has a list of just six teams with which he could reject a trade, and the Blue Jays happened to be one of those six.

This means, at least for now, Uehara will remain in the Rangers' bullpen. For what it's worth, a report from Japan said that Uehara didn't want to move his family from Baltimore to Toronto. Of course, he plays in Arlington, Texas, now, so that doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. But it's certainly his right to reject the trade.

Uehara, 36, was having a great season in Baltimore before being traded to Texas last season. He had a 1.72 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 47 innings for the Orioles. For the Rangers, though, he had a 4.00 ERA and ended up pitching his way off the World Series roster. Much of his decline could be traced to him stranding an absurd 97.6 percent of baserunners with the Orioles, so it was only natural more of those runners would start crossing the plate. Still, he did pitch worse for the Rangers.

Uehara remains in a crowded bullpen. The Rangers have Joe Nathan as closer and Mike Adams as the setup man. Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman also figure to have more prominent roles than Uehara.

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 4:46 pm
 

Report: Blue Jays sign Francisco Cordero

By Matt Snyder

The Blue Jays have signed free agent reliever Francisco Cordero to a one-year, $4.5 million contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Cordero appeared to be the last remaining closer on the market, but apparently he wasn't even considered that. The Blue Jays will use Sergio Santos -- who they acquired from the White Sox during the Winter Meetings -- as the closer while Cordero will set up, Rosenthal reports.

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Cordero, 36, had 37 saves in 43 chances with a 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings last season for the Reds. With 327 career saves, only the great Mariano Rivera has more among active pitchers.

Still, the report states Santos is the Blue Jays' man. He's only 28 and got his first closing gig last season for the White Sox. He converted 30 of 36 save chances with a 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and an astounding 92 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings.

If nothing else, Cordero provides insurance for Santos and gives the Jays' an excellent 8th-9th inning combo. Don't underestimate the upgrade from the likes of Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, either, as the Blue Jays tied the Angels with an AL-worst 25 blown saves last season. They finished 81-81 and 10 games behind the wild-card winning Rays.

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 9:39 am
Edited on: January 24, 2012 9:44 am
 

Blue Jays sign Morrow to three-year extension

By Matt Snyder

Blue Jays starting pitcher Brandon Morrow has been signed to a three-year contract extension worth $20 million, the club announced Tuesday (hat-tip MLB Trade Rumors). The deal is also said to include a $10 million option for the 2015 season -- meaning this deal buys out the last two years of arbitration and could eat up the first two years of possible free agency. The average annual value of the contract represents quite a raise for Morrow, who earned $2.3 million last season.

Morrow, 27, went 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 203 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings last season. He has great stuff, seemingly capable of flirting with a no-hitter or hitting double digits in strikeouts on any given night. On the other hand, he's been unable to harness all that talent consistently, as he's just as capable of getting knocked around the yard. Witness a four-start stretch in September: Morrow gave up eight runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings to the Red Sox and followed up that effort by giving up seven hits and five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Red Sox again. But in the next two starts -- against the Yankees and Rays, respectively -- Morrow went 15 combined shutout innings, only giving up six hits while striking out 17.

If the Jays can find a way to coax some consistency out of Morrow, this contract would be an absolute bargain. He figures to be the Blue Jays No. 2 starter this season behind Ricky Romero, so the Jays need Morrow to step up if they intend to compete in the tough AL East.

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Posted on: January 23, 2012 7:44 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 8:09 pm
 

Blue Jays sign Omar Vizquel

By Matt Snyder

Omar Vizquel's career will be extended yet another season. The now-utility infielder has signed a one-year contract with the Blue Jays. He confirmed the news himself on Twitter Tuesday night. Assuming Vizquel makes it to opening day with the Jays, it will be his 24th season in the majors.

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Vizquel, 44, used to be an All-Star shortstop and routinely took home the Gold Glove while providing good offensive production, but those days are far in the rearview mirror. Now he's simply a bench player. Last season, he appeared in just 58 games for the White Sox, hitting .251/.287/.305 with 18 runs scored. He played all four infield positions at some point.

The Blue Jays will be Vizquel's sixth team.

Amazingly, Vizquel is not likely to be the oldest player in baseball -- even though he'll turn 45 in late April. Tim Wakefield has him beat and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer just signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies.

Vizquel is just 159 hits away from the coveted 3,000, but he only had 137 hits combined in the past two seasons. Still, he could very well make it there if he keeps finding work.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com