The Value of Keeping Dioner Navarro

Over the years, I have heard many people say that they view the backup catcher as the least important position on a major league roster. While I don’t necessarily agree with this viewpoint, I can at least understand where it comes from and am willing to debate it and listen to arguments. However, what I’ve seen happening over the last couple of years boggles my mind; somehow, popular opinion on the backup has shifted from it being the least important position to “who cares about the position?” For example, just last week, the Pittsburgh Pirates avoided arbitration with catchers Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli that would see the pair of defensive studs combine to make $2.15M, or just $400K more than the Blue Jays backup and defensive dud, Josh Thole. While I saw it as the latest good move from an intelligent organization, I was a little stunned to see the negative reaction it received on social media. It’s rare to find a season where you have double digit catchers qualifying for the batting title, let alone 30 of them. Catcher is such a grueling position and arguably the most important one on the field, so there’s no way the backup can mean nothing. Of course the question for Blue Jays fans is how much it matters. Or more specifically, how much Dioner Navarro matters.

When Toronto signed Russell Martin, I, like many Jays fans, was all but certain that Navarro would be traded. While I think a Martin/Navarro combo would make a tremendous duo behind the plate and add useful depth to the roster, I understand that there are holes on this team and freeing up $5 million from a backup could potentially go along way in improving the ball club. We’ve read that there is plenty of interest and that Alex Anthopoulos has received multiple offers for Navarro, but so far, no deal has been made. I think AA realizes he has plenty of internal options to fill the bullpen, and doesn’t want to simply dump a solid bench player. I agree with him.

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Under The Hood: The Josh Donaldson Swing Adjustment

When the Blue Jays pulled off their blockbuster, (American) Thanksgiving Day trade with the Oakland A’s, a shockwave made its way through the fanbase. The Canadian golden boy, Brett Lawrie, once thought to be unmovable, is now an Athletic. And filling Lawrie’s part-time shoes at the Rogers Centre will be all-star third baseman, Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson is a fascinating player in many ways. As recently as three years ago, his scouting profiles painted a picture of a player who might hit, but would likely be in a fight just for a spot on the big league roster. Now, he’s one of the best third basemen in the game.

If you follow Donaldson or hitting guru Jerry Brewer on Twitter, you might be aware of how hard Donaldson has worked to learn and fully understand his craft. This intense study of mechanics all started 3 years ago; Donaldson, whose stock had fallen from his first round pedigree, took a look at his approach and realized that everything he was doing, everything he had ever been taught, was completely wrong.
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How Likely is it that Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s “Deal” Actualizes?

The awful thing about being a fan of Toronto sports teams is that after a while, the unexpected begins to become extremely expected. Even if it may not be entirely factual, years of Toronto sports mediocrity have led one to believe that in any given situation, the negative outcomes seem more likely to occur than the positive ones. Like if the Blue Jays are in first place in June. It seems that most people won’t buy it until the team has mathematically clinched a playoff spot. People in this city have gone through so many terrible sports let-downs that the fear of being hurt has taken over. It just isn’t worth it for people to get excited about things months in advance if they could just wait a while and not be at risk of being let down. People generally don’t like to be let down, go figure.

In the same light as the situation described above, when word leaked yesterday on Twitter from Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs that the Blue Jays have a verbal agreement with soon to be 16-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the reaction was rather mixed. There were people who were happy that the Blue Jays were going to be getting a player with his potential (and name recognition, obviously), and there were those saying they’d wait before getting excited, because it is just a verbal agreement.

But why is this happening? Perhaps it comes as the result of the fact that 10 months ago, the Blue Jays supposedly had an agreement in place with Ervin Santana for 1 year and $14 million. However, before the physical could be taken and the agreement could be made official, the Braves lost 2/5 of their rotation, and came calling to Santana’s agent, Jay Alou. For Santana’s camp, it was a no brainer to forego the agreement with Toronto and sign with the Braves. The Blue Jays play in the homer-prone Rogers Centre and face lineups that regularly contain competent DH’s, whereas the Braves play in pitcher friendly Turner Field and in a league wherein Santana would get to strike out a pitcher 3 times a game. When the primary objective is to get a better free agent deal in the following offseason, taking the pillow contract that presents the best opportunity to do so isn’t a hard choice.  Furthermore, Alou is also Jose Bautista‘s agent, so it wasn’t like he was risking ruining his relationship with the Blue Jays by spurning them…that Bautista guy is kind of essential. The only risk to him was that his reputation might get slightly tarnished, but given the circumstances outlined above, that didn’t seem likely.

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Feathers in Their Caps: Blue Jay Hall of Fame Connections

Every year between the end of the World Series and the reporting of pitchers and catchers to Spring Training, there are a number of offseason rituals that the great game of baseball drags itself through. One of these unfailing traditions is the election of a select few of baseball’s greatest players to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

The process involves a lot of people who currently write about baseball, and a bunch of other people who used to write about baseball, voting on a list of candidates. The system is, in my humble opinion, incredibly restrictive, and unnecessarily convoluted. It certainly provides a lot of opportunity for baseball fans to chew the fat for about a month every year. In the interest of bringing all the relevant information about each year’s candidates to light, Jay Jaffe does an excellent job with his JAWS series every year on the Sports Illustrated web vehicle. If you would like to have an educated debate about the Hall candidates and their relative merits, Jay’s series is your one stop shop. I will be referring to his JAWS standard more than once in the following article, and if you haven’t heard of it before, a full explanation of its meaning can be found here.

I could not possibly do the wonderful job that Jay does, but as a Blue Jay fan, I am always looking for connections back to the ‘blue birds’ when Hall of Fame time comes around. This year there are four players on the ballot who donned a Jays uniform at some point in their careers, and one more who has an interesting story, albeit a more tangential connection to the Blue Jays. Let’s take a look at what each of these players accomplished as a Blue Jay. Then we can speculate on their chances of getting into the Hall. Lastly, you have to consider the hat, because what is a Hall Of Fame player if you don’t know what logo is on his hat? He’s hardly a player at all.

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The Blue Jays Payroll Deception

For a team that didn’t make a single move during a very busy day at the Winter Meetings, the Blue Jays sure managed to rile up their fan base yesterday. Rogers messing with the Blue Jays payroll is always a sore spot with fans, and with a pair of articles by Blue Jays beat writers Gregor Chisolm and Shi Davidi, it has come to the forefront yet again.

All off-season, the speculation has been that the Jays have anywhere between $15-20M to spend (depending on what happens with Dioner Navarro) to help fill the remaining holes on the roster. This has been met with plenty of optimism since that should be more than enough to add a couple of bullpen arms and maybe even address the second base situation.

All of a sudden, that figure has been called in to question. From Davidi:

“The Blue Jays have roughly $119 million in guaranteed salary and arbitration projections for 16 players in 2015, and a reasonable guess for total payroll is in the neighbourhood of $140 million.

But Anthopoulos also must account for the $5.6 million in potential buyouts on the 2016 options for Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Maicer Izturis, R.A. Dickey and Ricky Romero whether they’re exercised or not.

Factor in roughly $3 million more for 0-3 service time players plus another $3-4 million cushion to pay players called up to cover injuries, and the Blue Jays are suddenly in the neighbourhood of $131.5 million, perhaps leaving Anthopoulos with only $8.5 million to work with (a number that could be lower if reports that the Blue Jays are sending about $3 million to Seattle to equalize salaries between Michael Saunders and J.A. Happ are true).

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Is the Blue Jays Offense Actually Better?

As Alex Anthopoulos and other members of the Toronto front office depart the Hilton San Diego Bayfront after a quiet 2014 Winter Meetings, the team’s focus has shifted to the need to upgrade in the bullpen.

The Blue Jays’ relief corps finished 25th in all of baseball with an ERA of 4.09 in 2014, and that was with decent performances from Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan, who have since left the squad. In fact, the only real locks to return are left-handers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder the team is working on the pen. After all, they’ve done plenty with the rest of the roster already. With a flurry of November moves, the Jays have dramatically changed the makeup of the team. The defense is better, the starting pitching has more upside and of course, the offense improv – wait a minute…

The offense? At the recent Pitch Talks event, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi referred to the offense as “clearly better.” And he’s definitely not alone there. In fact, it has sort of become the accepted viewpoint as the off-season has moved forward. But is it actually true? The club has definitely added some big names with Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the Blue Jays offense as a whole being better…colour me skeptical.

In an effort to find out, I decided to break down each position with a lineup change.
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