Free Agency Primer – Part 2

Upper Deck Insight 11 November 2015 | 0 Comments


Yesterday in part 1 of 500 Level Fan’s 2015 Free Agency Primer we looked at Infielders, Outfielders, and Relievers, and made a guess as to who the Jays might be interested in.  More importantly, we made a guess as to the realistic chances that Toronto could actually sign any of the players.  The result was that even though a guy like Chris Davis, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, or Alex Gordon would look great in a Jays uniform, there is little to no chance that management opens the vault for a non-pitcher.

Especially a non-starting pitcher.

Which brings us to today – a look at the free agent starting pitchers.

As it stands right now, with David Price and Marco Estrada becoming free agents and Mark Buehrle set to possibly retire, the Blue Jays 2016 rotation looks to be Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, and whatever is left of Drew Hutchison’s confidence.  There has been discussion about moving Aaron Sanchez back to the rotation, and potentially moving Roberto Osuna as well.  Any help from the minor leagues is still years away, meaning there are several question marks.  As we saw last year, when the team broke camp with Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez in the rotation, question marks aren’t a good thing.

So who can plug the holes?  There are a ton of starting pitchers available, ranging from the truly elite to the avoidable.  The elite are more than likely out of Toronto’s budget (sorry Zack Greinke), and the avoidable should be…well…avoided (we don’t want a repeat of the Josh Towers or Tomo Ohka debacles).  So who does that leave?

Here are 10 possibilities:

David Price (yes he is a member of the elite, but we will include him anyway)

Pros – elite pitcher; possible 2015 Cy Young winner; by all accounts loved his time in Toronto; great teammate

Cons – price and term will likely be over and above what Shapiro and team will be willing to offer; by all accounts seems to be locked into the Cubs

Interest Level – 10/10.  After the end of 2015, of course the Jays want him back.

Realistic Chance – 1/10.  The only reason it’s not a 0 is because he was already here and there’s a small, tiny, minuscule chance that his time in TO, and guys like Stroman can convince him to return.

Jordan Zimmermann

Pros – 195+ IP in four straight seasons; above average ERA+ in five straight seasons; won’t turn 30 until May; not in the elite tier, so price and term will be more manageable

Cons – numbers generally down across the board last year; never pitched in the AL; still likely to command > $100 million

Interest Level – 9/10.  Not quite an ace like Price/Greinke, but would still slot in at 1 or 2 on the SP depth chart

Realistic Chance – 3/10.  MLB Trade Rumors predicts he will land with the Jays, so there’s that.  It would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath.

Johnny Cueto

Pros – had a great 2015 season and even better 2011-2014 stretch; World Series experience

Cons – fancies himself to be a top-3 arm in all of baseball, which he isn’t; absolutely imploded in the playoffs at Rogers Centre, and in Pittsburgh a few years ago; concern of an elbow injury

Interest Level – 5/10.  While he would upgrade the rotation, I have a hard time seeing the Jays showing a ton of interest after seeing his performance against them at the end of the season.

Realistic Chance – 0/10.  Not after he was destroyed by the Toronto fans in October.

Doug Fister

Pros – was outstanding from 2011-2014; off year in 2015 likely lowers his asking price

Cons – he was pretty awful last year and dealt with injuries; not overpowering

Interest Level – 5/10.  A similar style to Marco Estrada – but if they want somebody like Estrada, why not just bring back Estrada?

Realistic Chance – 3/10.  I would think the Jays make an offer only if they whiff on everybody else.

Marco Estrada

Pros – fantastic 2015 with the Jays; dominated down the stretch and in the playoffs

Cons – career high in innings by far; best year of his career, so regression is a concern; looking for a huge salary increase

Interest Level – 9/10.  Judging by how successful he was last year, there has to be interest in bringing him back (at the right price)

Realistic Chance – 7/10.  He might test the open waters, but there’s a good chance he stays home and sacrifices a bit of money for extra term.

Wei-Yin Chen

Pros – solid and dependable, if not spectacular; consistent ; left-handed; AL East experience

Cons – not overpowering; struggled badly against right-handed batters; Scott Boras client; prone to home runs; comes with a qualifying offer attached

Interest Level – 6/10.  If only because he’s a lefty.

Realistic Chance – 1/10.  Boras will insist on either a high dollar value or a 5-6 year deal (or both).  Thanks but no thanks.

Jeff Samardzija

Pros – strikeout pitcher who showed flashes of brilliance last year and in prior years; dependable – 30+ starts for 4 straight seasons

Cons – let’s be honest – he stunk last year, leading baseball in ER, HR, and Hits

Interest Level – 7/10.  Was last year a fluke?  I’m willing to believe the Blue Jays think so and would be interested in the righty to slot in behind Stroman.

Realistic Chance – 3/10.  It all depends on the market, but the guess is that somebody throws a ton of money at him convinced that 2015 was an outlier.  I don’t think it will be the Jays.

Mike Leake

Pros – young (turns 28 on Thursday); fairly consistent – 190+ IP, sub 4.00 ERA each of the last three seasons

Cons – contact pitcher who is HR prone; low strikeout rates; will likely demand a fifth year

Interest Level – 4/10.  With his age he can demand a bit more than some of the older pitchers, but doesn’t have the track record that screams $80-$100 million

Realistic Chance – 2/10.  Risk outweighs potential reward.

Chris Young

Pros – coming off back-to-back solid seasons in ’14 and ’15; generally keeps the ball in the ballpark; doesn’t walk many; due to his age can potentially be signed to a one-year deal; relatively inexpensive

Cons – age (will turn 37 in May); soft thrower with low strikeout rate; depends heavily on defense (FIP over 1.50 higher than ERA in past two years); hasn’t reached 30 starts in a season since 2007

Interest Level – 6/10.  Mainly depends on the market.  If Estrada leaves and the Jays haven’t added anybody, I can see interest in Young increasing towards late winter.

Realistic Chance – 4/10.  Again, it all depends how the early part of winter plays out, but I can see Young coming on a one-year deal with an option as the #4 or 5 man in the rotation.

Dillon Gee

Pros – he was kind of decent in 2013?; should be fairly cheap after being dumped by the Mets

Cons – has not been very good for two years; only made 7 starts last season before being demoted;

Interest Level – 3/10.  This screams reclamation project, which is not really a thing the Jays should be interested in.

Realistic Chance – 7/10.  For some reason I can’t get the thought out of my head that Gee becomes the fifth starter after the Jays take a gamble on him.  He should be relatively inexpensive with something to prove, and at the very least be better than the 2015 version of Hutchison.

Free Agency Primer – Part 1

Upper Deck Insight 9 November 2015 | 0 Comments


The business of baseball never stops.

Though most Blue Jay fans wouldn’t mind a month or two to catch our breaths – after the unbelievable high of the second half and the epic Game 5 win over Texas, and the unbelievable low of the ALCS loss and the departure of Alex Anthopoulos – it’s not going to happen.

It’s time to move on.

A total of 139 players officially became free agents after the World Series ended, and 132 of them are available for any team to sign (seven players officially retired).  Nine members of the Jays are in that group (Buehrle, Estrada, Francis, Hawkins, Kawasaki, Lowe, Navarro, Pennington, Price), and while it would be great to bring them all back, it’s obvious that most (if not all) will be gone for the 2016 season.

So what should interim GM Tony LaCava and new president Mark Shapiro do to replace those who are departing?  With the majority of the offense returning next year, the obvious need is pitching – both starting and relief.  But there are other questions as well: do the Jays need another strong left-handed bat?  What will happen with LF? Is there enough depth in the infield?

Jon Heyman from CBS Sports recently posted a top-50 free agent power rankings, listing the most desirable players available.  I thought I’d take a look through the list and see what players the Blue Jays might be interested in as free agents, and what the realistic chance is that they come to Toronto.


Elite Free Agents: Chris Davis

Next Tier: Ian Desmond, Ben Zobrist, Matt Wieters, Daniel Murphy

With the infield core of Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Travis, Goins, Smoak, Colabello, and Encarnacion returning it doesn’t seem like there is much room for additions.  But questions remain: will Tulo and Travis stay healthy?  Was 2015 a realistic water mark (especially offensively) for Goins and Colabello? Is Smoak’s bat reliable enough to be the only lefty?

13 of the 50 players listed by Heyman can be classified as IF/C.  Several can immediately be scratched off the list, guys such as Jimmy Rollins, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Desmond, and Matt Wieters.  But there are a few options that are intriguing, especially these two:

Chris Davis

Pros – premier power hitter (126 HR since 2013); left-handed bat; massive 1.129 career OPS at the Rogers Centre; can play 1B and DH; will only be 30 as of Opening Day

Cons – will be very expensive; would give the Jays a glut of 1B/DH type players (with EE, Smoak, and Colabello)

Interest Level – 9/10.  Toronto should have huge interest in Davis, even at the expense of Smoak or Colabello, as he gives them the left-handed power they sorely lack.

Realistic Chance – 1/10.  Heyman predicts $182-million over 7-years, and other sites have Davis hitting the $200-million range.  If the Jays are going to spend that much, it’s going to be on pitching.

Ben Zobrist

Pros – he can play pretty much anywhere, meaning he could provide coverage at 3B and 2B and even replace Revere in LF; crushes the ball in the Rogers Centre (.915 career OPS, 1.375 OPS in 2015); can likely be signed for a shorter term; switch hitter

Cons – age (turns 35 in May); strong postseason likely increased his demand

Interest Level – 7/10.  The thought of having a guy who can play multiple positions and actually hit is appetizing.

Realistic Chance – 2/10.  Heyman predicts $60-million over 4-years, and I can’t see Toronto spending that much.


Elite Free Agents: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon

Next Tier: Colby Rasmus, Dexter Fowler, Denard  Span, Austin Jackson, Gerardo Parra

Bautista will be back, Pillar seems locked into CF, and with Revere heading into his second year of arbitration, he will most likely return (barring a non-tender).  Plus Dalton Pompey is waiting in the wings.  Seems like a strong group.  But Bautista showed signs of breaking down with injury last year, Pillar came out of nowhere and carries serious regression risk, and the jury is still out on whether Pompey can hit in the majors.

So who’s out there?  14 of the top-50 are outfielders, but none of them seem like good fits.  There are ex-Jays who are definitely not coming back (Rios, Rajai Davis, Colby), older or injury-prone players (Span, Chris Young, Nori Aoki), or superstars who will attract huge money (Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton).  A guy like Gerardo Parra might be worth a look, but doesn’t offer a huge improvement over Revere and would likely be more expensive.  In a perfect world the Jays would take a run at Heyward or Gordon (interest level 10/10), but the former will possibly exceed $200-million, and I can’t see the latter leaving his hometown Royals (realistic chance 0/10).

Relief Pitching

Elite Free Agents: None

This is where things get interesting.  At the end of the year the Jays bullpen put up pretty solid numbers, but it sure seemed like a wild rollercoaster ride for much of the season.  The ‘pen seemed to settle down after the trade deadline after five guys cemented themselves into key roles: Osuna as closer, Sanchez and Cecil as set-up men, and Lowe and Hawkins as shutdown guys.  In 2016, Cecil might be the only one left, with Sanchez and Osuna possibly moved to the rotation, Lowe a free agent, and Hawkins retired.  On top of that mess, the Jays are short on lefties, something that was exposed in the playoffs when only Aaron Loup was available.  So unless a host of internal guys really turn things around (Loup, Delabar, Schultz, Tepera, etc.), external help is needed.

And therein lies the problem.  Take a look at Heyman’s top-50 and you will only see four relievers.  All four are right-handed and on the wrong side of 30, and all four have had a wide array of success and failure in recent years.  Worse, because they are deemed the four best, each of Darren O’Day, Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria, and Ryan Madson are going to be overpaid.  Would any help the Jays?  Potentially, but not for a 3+ year deal.

The Jays might be best to look at the next tier of guys, but to be honest none of those names are too sexy either.  The list includes Tony Sipp, Shawn Kelley, Antonio Bastardo, Trevor Cahill, and Blaine Boyer.

Best bet?  Who knows!

Tomorrow we tackle the granddaddy of free agency – the starting pitchers.


So Long AA

Upper Deck Insight 30 October 2015 | 0 Comments

so long AA

It seemed like a no-brainer.

It was such a slam dunk that the conversation about what would happen if Alex Anthopoulos didn’t return was never even considered.

After all, this was a guy who created the team that ended the longest playoff drought in North American pro sports.  This was a guy who constructed the roster that made the Blue Jays not only relevant again in Toronto, but across Canada and in Major League Baseball.  This was a guy who almost single-handedly drove revenue through the roof and directly benefited the bottom line of Rogers Communications.

Even more: he is young, he is charismatic, he is energetic, he is Canadian, he is bilingual, and he is devoted.  What more could you ask for?

Yet here we are, only one week removed from a bitter ALCS loss to the Royals, and before we can even catch our collective breath and fondly look back on an amazing season, it’s all gone to hell again.

Classic Toronto sports – one step forward, ten steps back.

The news is still too fresh to fully digest, and the full story has yet to emerge.  It’s easy to take a brush and paint either side with a negative spin.

Living in a city he loves and a place where his kids were born, working his dream job and just being offered a brand new five-year deal, how could Anthopoulos turn it down?  Is he selfish?  Greedy?  So egotistical that he couldn’t bear the thought of sharing even a small amount of power with Mark Shapiro?

From the other angle, how could Shapiro, and especially Rogers, allow this to happen?  The freshly minted MLB Executive of the Year who just led your team to the postseason wants to leave…and you let him?  How do you not do everything in your power to keep him?

Depending on your prerogative it’s fairly simple to be pulled in by one side or the other.  But with everything that has surfaced so far, I don’t know how anybody can take the side of Rogers.  First there was the mess from last year when they tried to replace Paul Beeston behind his back.  Then there was the hiring of Shapiro, a baseball guy, to oversee Anthopoulos, a baseball guy – an obvious slight and a hint that AA requires at least a little bit of hand holding.  Then comes this tidbit from this morning: Ed Rogers, the Chairman of the Toronto Blue Jays and the son of the late Ted Rogers, did not even meet Alex Anthopoulos, the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays for the past six years, until this week.  That’s right – THIS WEEK!

It sounds absurd, and the only thing that makes it more absurd is that it’s true.

Alas, what’s done is done.  Alex is not coming back.  Shapiro is not going anywhere.  Neither, sadly, is Rogers.

For better or worse, and perhaps unfairly, Mark Shapiro is now the most hated man in Toronto.  He hasn’t even started his contract and people want him gone.  It is very presumptuous and incredibly unfair, but it’s true.  From all accounts, Shapiro is an intelligent man and a great baseball mind.  He was GM of the Cleveland Indians from 2001-2010, and during that time led the small market and perennially attendance starved Indians to a 795-825 record and two playoff appearances, which in all honesty isn’t too bad for that market and in a division that featured first the Mauer and Morneau Twins, then the Cabrera and Verlander Tigers.

But here’s the thing.  He also led the Indians to three 90+ loss seasons and seemed to be continually attempting to perfect the art of building for the future.  Several times he was forced to sell off assets before they became too expensive to re-sign, and while the return was often good, it took years and years of waiting for it to pay off.  Example 1: in 2002 he engineered the famous Bartolo Colon trade, acquiring Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips.  But neither Lee nor Sizemore made an impact in Cleveland until 05/06 and Phillips never did, shipped to the Reds for a PTBNL.  Example 2: in 2008 he dumped upcoming free agent-to-be CC Sabathia for a package that included Michael Brantley.  Brantley has become an All-Star, but didn’t really come into his own until 2014, six years after being acquired.  Example 3: in 2009 he sent Lee to the Phillies for a package led by Carlos Carrasco, who didn’t become an elite pitcher until 2014.

And that, friends, is my biggest fear about what has transpired these past few days.  Alex Anthopoulos took over the Toronto Blue Jays at a time when they were behaving like a small market team with no resources.  It took him six years to finally convince fans and executives that Toronto is not a small market team, but is in fact the fourth largest market in baseball.  It took him six years to finally convince fans and executives that Rogers Communications is one of the, if not the, richest ownership groups in baseball.  It took him six years to finally convince everybody that the Toronto Blue Jays can afford to sign superstar baseball players, that the Toronto Blue Jays can afford to gamble on transactions the same way that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers gamble on transactions.  And after six years, the philosophy paid off with an AL East title and a mere two wins from a World Series appearance.

Now he’s gone, and in his place running the show is a guy renowned for making decisions in a small market, a guy renowned for getting by with limited resources and always keeping the farm stocked for next year.  The only problem, of course, is that next year very rarely arrived for the Indians.  By the time the prospects he stockpiled were ready to make an impact, they had one year to do so before being traded away (usually in their primes) to a team with bigger pockets.  It’s no fault of Shapiro – he was simply handcuffed by his market and his ownership.

With over $12.5 billion in annual revenues, Rogers definitely does not have small pockets, but being corporate owners (don’t even get me started on that – that’s an entirely different post), they would love nothing more than to act like small market owners.  A dollar saved on the Jays is a dollar earned for shareholders.  Who better to bring in and run such an operation?  Mark Shapiro.

So what now?  What happens in the offseason?  My guess is definitely no David Price, likely no Marco Estrada, and certainly no big left-handed bat that we desperately need (i.e. Chris Davis or Jason Heyward).  What happens if the team is scuffling along in May or June?  Does Shapiro look to the future and deal Bautista or Encarnacion or Tulowitzki or Donaldson (or all of them) for a return of blue chip prospects that may become elite players in 2021?  Does he make it his #1 priority to rebuild the farm system, even at a time when five of the best players in all of baseball currently reside on the major league roster?

In a perfect world, these fears will be unfounded and Shapiro will continue to lead the team with a goal of winning the 2016 World Series.

But a perfect world doesn’t exit.

Because in a perfect world, Alex Anthopoulos would still be a Toronto Blue Jay.

A Season of Success

Upper Deck Insight 27 October 2015 | 0 Comments

epic bau

It all started last November, and eleven months later – almost to the day – it ended in a sudden, crashing, painful instant.

Though pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in February and Opening Day was on April 6th, the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays season officially started on November 28, 2014.  It was on that date that Alex Anthopoulos shocked the baseball world by acquiring potential-MVP candidate Josh Donaldson from the Oakland A’s for a package of players led by Brett Lawrie.

329 days later that same player (though now the probable MVP) grounded to third base to end the season that he kicked off, one of the wildest, craziest, and most entertaining seasons in the history of the franchise.

In between, the Blue Jays experienced some of the lowest lows and highest highs in their history, re-energized both a city and a country, and re-acquainted themselves with both the Major League Baseball spotlight and with postseason baseball for the first time in 22 years.  The team transformed itself into a juggernaut and tore its way through the second half, something that would have been a dream in March, and seemed unimaginable in the depths of despair that was May.

There were so many things that stuck out about the 2015 Blue Jays.  There was the offense that blew away opposing teams and led baseball in runs scored by a country mile.  There was the emergence of rookies in the bullpen who pitched well beyond their years.  There was the thunder in the middle of the lineup, the renaissance of R.A. Dickey, the trades, the second half, and on and on.  But the most telling stat of the season has to be this: 0.

That is the number of times the Blue Jays were able to field their full starting lineup this season.

Remember back in March, when Toronto’s anticipated lineup consisted of Bautista, Pompey, and Saunders in the outfield, and Donaldson, Reyes, Travis, Encarnacion, Martin, and Smoak in the infield and DH?  They never played together – not even once.  Saunders was hurt to start the season, and when he came back Bautista was hurt, and when he came back Reyes went down.  Then Saunders went down again, and so did Travis.

So AA went out in July and brought in Revere and Tulo, who along with Pillar, replaced Reyes, Saunders, and Pompey.  But still, even after the reinforcements arrived, not even that lineup could make the field as a unit.  Devon Travis was injured the day before Tulowitzki arrived, forcing even more changes.

All of which meant that John Gibbons was forced to juggle his lineup before a single pitch was even thrown, before a single inning was even played, and he continued to do so flawlessly all year.  Every team experiences injuries, but this is a team that at various points of the season lost Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and Michael Saunders – yet still dominated offensively.  And think about what else the Jays had to overcome:

This is a team that lost its best starting pitcher in spring training to a torn ACL, effectively ending his season (or so we thought) before it even began.

This is a team that broke camp with six rookies in important roles on the roster, yet saw three of them flame out spectacularly, and two more deal with significant injuries.  Two of the six wouldn’t even be with the organization by August.

This is a team whose Opening Day starter turned in one of the worst seasons in all of baseball, including historically awful numbers on the road.

This is a team that was forced to turn to a guy in LF (and then CF) with terrible career numbers and who was banished to the minors last year for attitude issues, and hope that he developed into a serviceable big leaguer (hint: he did).

This is a team who burned through two closers before the season was even a few weeks old, and who used 28 pitchers in total, a number so high not due to injury but due to general ineffectiveness.

Yet somehow, this is also a team that surprised baseball and captured the hearts of fans all across Canada by winning the American League East in dominating fashion.  This is a team that inspired Canadians from coast-to-coast in September – a time when most are eagerly anticipating the start of hockey season – to cast aside their thoughts of the Canucks and Senators and instead focus on the boys in blue.  It didn’t matter the market, be it Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Ottawa, and, yes, even Montreal – this is a team that reignited baseball passion in this country.

There are many amazing stories that took place this past season, and many were about redemption.

There was Marcus Stroman making a miraculous comeback from that torn ACL to go 4-0 down the stretch, and then pitch incredibly in the playoffs.

There was Kevin Pillar (the guy who was banished and had bad numbers) developing into one of the premier CF in all of baseball.  He should win a Gold Glove for his defense, and he proved he could also hit by finishing the season with a .278 average, 12 HR, 25 SB, and 76 R.

There was R.A. Dickey – already vilified in this city for having the nerve to be acquired for d’Arnaud and Syndergaard – going 8-1 with a 2.80 ERA in his last 15 starts to stabilize an often erratic rotation.

And most of all there was John Gibbons, the skipper, the man whose head was being demanded by fans and media on a weekly – no, daily – basis, sticking to his plan and leading the team to glory.

The season didn’t end the way everybody wanted.  There will be no World Series banner hanging above the Jumbotron.  There will be no parade downtown Toronto.

But even though the final goal proved unattainable, the season was a smashing success.  When the smoke clears and the cold, dark winter arrives, it won’t be the near misses or what-ifs that fans look back on.  We won’t wonder if things would have been different if Goins caught that pop up, if the Amish Royals fan didn’t reach over the fence, or if the pitch to Revere was called a ball.


What will be remembered is the ear-crushing volume of a sold-out Rogers Centre.

What will be remembered is a huge smile on the face of Ben Revere, or a diving catch by Kevin Pillar, or the look of awe on the face of David Price as Ryan Goins makes an incredible play at short.

What will be remembered is the Bautista bat flip.

What will be remembered is the on-field embrace between Gibbons and Anthopoulos minutes after the AL East was clinched, and minutes before chaos erupted in the locker room.

This will be remembered as a season for the ages.

I can’t wait for 2016.

Have We Seen This Before?

Upper Deck Insight 20 October 2015 | 0 Comments


The third letter in the acronym has changed, and the opponent is different, but I feel as if the ALDS vs. Texas and the ALCS vs. Kansas City have been nearly identical.

Think about it:

Game 1: Toronto is shut down by the opposing starter and though they had chances to break through, it never felt like they were really in the game.  Against Texas it was Yovani Gallardo who kept them off balance, and against KC it was Edinson Volquez.  In both games they had chances – a Bautista HR cut the Texas lead to 4-3, and they had several innings with runners on base against the Royals – but couldn’t take a lead.

Game 2: The Jays play much better, get outstanding starting pitching for most of the game, and take a lead into the very late innings.  Against the Rangers it was Stroman who was dealing before the Jays blew a 4-3 lead in the 8th (with two outs).  In KC it was Price who crushed the Royals until the fateful seventh inning when things fell apart.  Both games they should have won.  Both games they lost.

Game 3: A tight game early, but Troy Tulowitzki crushes a huge 3-run homer to give the Jays breathing room, and Osuna enters in a non-save situation to shut the door.

Three games, three near identical results. translations  And now here comes game 4, once again with Dickey on the mound trying to even the series against a pitcher who one would thing the Jays bats should be able to handle.

They won it in the DS.  Let’s hope the script rewrites itself in the CS.

Tale of the Tape: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals

Upper Deck Insight 16 October 2015 | 0 Comments


After two thrilling ALDS matchups that went the distance and featured incredible comebacks, the Toronto Blue Jays will face the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS, rekindling a rematch of the classic 1985 series.

Game one is set for tonight in Kansas City.  Before the teams take the field, let’s measure up the Jays and Royals.

Team Comparison

KC Team Comp

After coming off a division series against the Rangers, a team that could hit home runs and score a lot of runs, the Jays must now face a team that is almost the exact opposite of them.  Kansas City finished second last in the AL with only 139 HR, almost a full 100 fewer than the Jays slugged.  The Royals led the AL in wins, and they did so mainly on the strength of an outstanding bullpen, team speed, and team defense.  But there are two things to note.  The first is that closer Greg Holland is out for the season, and while Wade Davis has done a sensational job filling in, it shifts the entire identity of the ‘epn.  And second, is that while the Defensive Runs Saved metric has the Royals as a far superior defensive team, Total Zone Rating puts Toronto as the better defensive squad.  Suddenly KC’s pitching and defense advantage isn’t as big as you might have thought.

Player Comparison

KC Player comp

According to the above WAR chart (based on regular season stats only), the Jays have about a 10 win lead based on their projected starting lineups.  The bulk of that comes from an edge in RF and 3B, but the Jays can also claim to have an edge at DH, SS, and Catcher as well.  Both teams feature MVP candidates, in likely winner Josh Donaldson and KC CF Lorenzo Cain, and both feature very important players coming off fairly significant injuries in Troy Tulowitzki and Alex Gordon.  Jarrod Dyson has been pretty good off the bench for Kansas City, but so have both Chris Colabello and Dioner Navarro for Toronto, and Dalton Pompey can seemingly steal bases at will these days.  It should be a very interesting matchup.

Pitcher Comparison

KC Pitcher Comp

This is where things get interesting.  Both teams made huge mid-season trades to acquire an ace to lead their staffs.  The big difference is that while David Price dominated down the stretch, Johnny Cueto was pretty terrible.  However, he pitched very well in the elimination game against Houston while Price struggled against the Rangers.  The huge advantage, however, comes with the rest of Toronto’s staff.  Estrada, Dickey, and Stroman all pitched incredibly in the second half of the season, especially lately.  Each sports a sub-1.00 WHIP in his last five starts, and better-than-3.50 K/BB ratio.  Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura have been up-and-down over the past few months, and each struggles against the Jays.  KC has not yet announced who their fourth starter will be (or even if they will use a fourth), but it figures to be either Kris Medlen or Danny Duffy, each of whom sports an ERA north of 4.00.

Head to Head

Toronto won the season series 4 -3, outscoring the Rangers 39-23.  The teams also had a very well publicized donnybrook in early August when Volquez plunked Donaldson and pitched him inside several times.  That will make for a very interesting storyline as the series gets underway.

July 10 – 12 in Kansas City:

L 3 – 0, W 6 – 2, L 11 – 10

July 30 – August 2 in Toronto

W 5 – 2, W 7 – 6, L 7 – 6, W 5 – 2

KC’s top performers vs. Toronto:

Ben Zobrist – 5-for-15, .333 average, 1.375 OPS, 3 HR

Lorenzo Cain – 9-for-24, .375 average, .923 OPS, 7 R

Greg Holland – 3 IP, 3 Saves, 0.00 ERA

Toronto’s top performers vs. KC:

Josh Donaldson – 6-for-23, .261 average, 1.023 OPS, 2 HR, 7 RBI

Jose Bautista – 9-for-28, .321 average, .976 OPS, 2 HR, 5 RBI

Marco Estrada – 1-1, 12.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

KC Recent Comp

Kansas City really struggled down the stretch, and if not for a last gasp five game win streak to close the season they would have finished behind the Jays in the standings after being 12 games ahead of them in late July.  They then struggled mightily against the Astros in the ALDS, needing a miraculous eighth inning comeback in game 4 to stay alive before winning game 5 at home.  The Jays, of course, dropped two straight at home to Texas to open their ALDS, before storming back to win that one.  They were also the much hotter team in the last month, but that doesn’t hold much relevance anymore.

Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez are especially hot for KC right now, combining for 5 HR against the Astros.  But the bad news for the Royals is that Toronto’s big three combined for 5 HR, and 12 RBI against the Rangers, with most of that damage coming in the last three games.  They are hot.

Oh Hello Again!

The Royals have just one former Blue Jay on their roster, outfielder Alex Rios.  Rios was supposed to be a core member of the next great Toronto dynasty, with Vernon Wells and others, but instead will only be remembered for two things: being given away by J.P. Ricciardi on waivers, and this:


The Verdict

After what we saw in the regular season, all signs point to a very close, very intense series.  But I think the difference will be in the rotations for each team.  The Jays have four reliable and hot guys to choose from, while KC does not. adsense banned  I think Toronto takes one of the first two in Kansas City, then wipes the Royals out in Toronto.  Jays in five. 

Greatest. Game. Ever.

Upper Deck Insight 15 October 2015 | 0 Comments

epic bau

Image from Getty Images


Incredible.  Unbelievable.  Mind blowing.

All of those adjectives describe what happened last night in the Rogers Centre.  I was lucky enough to be there (in the 500’s of course), and I can say that it was the greatest game that I have ever been to in person.  The atmosphere was electric right from the first pitch until the final out.  Actually, the atmosphere was electric as early as 1 pm when I was sitting in Jack Astor’s having a few nerve-settling pints.  Blue Jay gear was everywhere – it seemed like every single person in the downtown core had a jersey or a hat or a jacket or a hoodie.  People were definitely jacked up for the game.

And what else can you say about the game itself?  It had everything.  There was amazing pitching by both Marcus Stroman and Cole Hamels.  There were unbelievable defensive plays (Pillar!  Donaldson!!) and terrible defensive plays (three awful Texas errors in a row in the fateful seventh). There was clutch hitting by all three of Toronto’s bombers, with Encarnacion delivering a game tying homer in the 6th, Donaldson delivering a game tying fielders choice in the 7th, then of course Bautista’s bomb.  There was the most insane and unreal inning perhaps ever.  And there was controversy.  Lots and lots of controversy.

What happened in the top of the seventh inning was shameful.  Yes the correct call was technically made: the ball was live and Odor scored.  But that’s not the issue.  The real problem is that the umpire called the ball dead on the field, effectively ending the play.  Did you wonder why neither Donaldson nor Sanchez nor Martin made a move to get the ball and make a play?  Because they were essentially told not to bother by the home plate umpire.  I’m not saying they would have been in position to throw him out, but at least they could have had a shot.  Instead they all stood there watching.  A friend of mine made a fitting comparison this morning, saying that what happened was akin to a football player scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery after the officials have already blown the play dead.  Defenders would not try to tackle the runner once the whistle blows, and no way would the touchdown be allowed to stand.  Yet that is exactly what happened last night.

What made the play even worse, and really increased the level of anger in the stadium, was that nobody in attendance had any idea what was happening.  There was no announcement as to why the call was reversed and why the run was able to stand.  The ump simply pointed to home plate and that was that.  Perhaps MLB should consider instituting what already exists in the NFL and NHL with replays, where referees announce to the entire stadium the reasoning behind any call.  That might have helped a bit last night.

Obviously it didn’t matter in the end.  The Jays stormed back for four in the bottom of the seventh, three on one of the most important and iconic home runs in the history of the franchise.  Joe Carter’s walkoff is obviously the biggest HR in team history, and you can argue that Roberto Alomar’s ALCS shot off of Eckersley or Ed Sprague’s bomb off of Jeff Reardon were more important, but that’s it.  Bautista was already one of the greatest Blue Jays of all time – last night simply cemented his legacy further.

The stadium reaction to both Bautista’s and EE’s home runs was the loudest I have ever heard.  The place simply exploded.

I woke up today with sore hands from clapping, sore legs from jumping up and down and hugging strangers, and a sore throat and non-existent voice from yelling.

And I will gladly do it all again starting tomorrow.

Bring on KC.

Tale of the Tape: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers

Upper Deck Insight 7 October 2015 | 0 Comments


For the first time in 22 years the Toronto Blue Jays are in the Major League Baseball playoffs.  How good does that sound?

More importantly, for the first time in the history of this blog I am able to write a playoff preview that features Toronto!

The Jays take on the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, with game 1 set for 3:30 PM tomorrow afternoon. That means we are just over 24 hours away from the most fun yet intense and stressful stretch of baseball games in decades.

Before the games start, however, let’s measure up the Jays and Rangers.

Team Comparison

Rangers Jays

We all know about Toronto’s offense.  It was the best in baseball this year, and one of the best in the past decade.  But there is more than just home runs to this team.  They won five more games than the Rangers for a number of reasons.  They outscored them by 140 runs, but also allowed 63 fewer runs.  Their starter ERA was almost half a run lower, and the bullpen ERA was more than half a run lower.  Defensively the team was also much better than Texas, both by Defensive Runs Saved and Total Zone Rating.  About the only thing that Texas did better was steal bases, and one of their top base stealers (Leonys Martin) was sent to the minors in August.  In short, Toronto is better in basically every aspect of the game (which of course guarantees nothing in a short series).

Player Comparison

WAR Comp

Based on the team stats, it shouldn’t be any surprise that on a player-by-player basis the Jays also outshine the Rangers.  According to the above WAR chart, Toronto has a sizable advantage at Catcher, 3B, CF, RF, and DH.  It should also be pointed out that the WAR figures for Tulowitzki and Revere only capture their time spent in Toronto.  If you include Tulo’s Colorado numbers he jumps to a 2.9, and Revere jumps to a 2.6 when including his numbers on the Phillies.  Texas might have a slight edge on the bench, but that mainly comes down to the poor WAR of Carrera who likely (hopefully) won’t see much (if any) action.

The Rangers have several big names, but most of them are also real wild cards.  Adrian Beltre has been on fire as of late, but Josh Hamilton only started 6 games in September/October and Prince Fielder posted a below average .742 OPS in the second half.  Mike Napoli has the ability to hit 3 HR in a game, but also to go 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts.

Head to Head

Toronto won the season series 4 -2, outscoring the Rangers 34-21.

June 26 – 28 in Toronto:

W 12 – 2, L 4 – 0, W 3 – 2

August 25 – 27 in Texas

W 6 – 5, W 12 – 4, L 4 – 1

Texas’ top performers vs. Toronto:

Rougned Odor – 8-for-14, .571 average, 1.777 OPS, 2 HR

Delino Deshields – 4-for-10, .400 average, 1.238 OPS, 3 R

Elvis Andrus – 9-for-22, .409 average, 1.004 OPS, 2 SB

Yovani Gallardo – 2-0, 13.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 6 K

Toronto’s top performers vs. Texas:

Edwin Encarnacion – 7-for-24, .292 average, 1.153 OPS, 4 HR, 11 RBI

Chris Colabello – 3-for-10, .300 average, 1.064 OPS, 3 R

Ben Revere – 5-for-12, .417 average, 1 SB

David Price – 1-0, 6 IP, 3.00 ERA, 8 K

Roberto Osuna – 2.1 IP, 2 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

What Have You Done For Me Lately?


A lot, actually.  After the All-Star break the Texas Rangers were the third best team in all of baseball with a .622 winning percentage.  The only teams ahead of them?  The Chicago Cubs and the Toronto Blue Jays.  So many people are talking about the NL Wild Card game, about how it pits two of the best teams in all of baseball – and for good reason.  But the Toronto / Texas ALDS pits two of the hottest teams in all of baseball against each other.  On the morning of July 29th both the Jays and the Rangers were under .500, and each were 8 games back in their respective divisions.  Then a few shrewd trades (Price, Tulo, Revere, Hamels, Dyson) re-ignited the teams, sent them on a tear, and the rest is history.

But I give Toronto a bit of an advantage, and here’s why.  Because of a brutal bullpen collapse last Saturday, the Rangers had to fight tooth and nail to the final day of the season to wrap up the AL West, while the Jays clinched last Wednesday.  Toronto was able to rest starters, get healthy, and set up their rotation, while the Rangers played full lineups and had to burn Cole Hamels on Sunday.

Oh Hello Again!

The Rangers have just one former Blue Jay on their roster, reliever Sam Dyson.  Dyson was drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft by Toronto and spent 2012 in the Jays system.  He pitched 0.2 IP for the big club, allowing 3 ER before being selected by the Marlins on waivers.  Texas acquired him at the trade deadline for Cody Ege and Tomas Telis and he has been a revelation for the Rangers in the bullpen.  In 31.1 IP Dyson has a 1.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 30 strikeouts to 4 walks, a .212 batting average against, and a staggering 3.15 ground ball to fly ball ratio.

The Verdict

Both teams are hot.  Both team can hit.  Both teams have true (and newly acquired) aces.  But the Jays are just a bit hotter, can hit a bit better, and have the better ace.  Plus they have an edge on D, in relief, and in overall team depth.  Plus they can’t make the playoffs for the first time in 22 years and lose in the first round.  Can they?  Jays in four.

The Week That Was: Week 26

Weekly Things 5 October 2015 | 0 Comments

AL East

Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 26.

Week 26: September 28 – October 4

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 93 – 69

AL East: 1st, 6 ahead of New York

Wild Card: N/A

  1. AL East Champs!

Even though we all knew it was coming and it was only a matter of time, nothing could diminish the excitement of last Wednesday when the Toronto Blue Jays officially clinched the AL East title for the sixth time in franchise history.  Not even the rain that forced a Wednesday doubleheader and postponed the real celebration until after the second game.  And not even the awkward way the game ended, with LaTroy Hawkins striking out the last Oriole hitter in the ninth yet nobody in the stadium realizing it was even a strikeout.  When the final out was recorded, that loud sound you heard was an entire city and an entire country cheering at once and letting out 22 of years of frustration.  The Jays couldn’t have clinched it in a better way either, absolutely bludgeoning the Orioles 15-2 and winning in the same blowout style they have won with all year long.  The after party was one for the ages, giving us such gems as Josh Donaldson’s “1 beer, 2 beers, 3 beers, 4 beers!” and Kawasaki’s “I’m drunk” interview.  It feels really good to be back on top.

  1. So Close….Twice

Both Mark Buehrle and Edwin Encarnacion fell agonizingly short of personal milestones yesterday, ending the regular season on a bit of a down note.  First Edwin: despite going deep both Friday and Saturday he fell one HR short of 40, preventing the Jays from becoming the fourth team in MLB history to feature three 40 HR players.  Edwin finished the year with 39, Bautista with 40, and Donaldson with 41.  Buehrle on the other hand, entered Friday’s game just 8.2 innings away from reaching 200 for the 15th straight year.  He pitched well but not well enough, going 6.2 innings to reach 198.  In an effort to get him to the magical mark, John Gibbons brought him back to start Sunday on one day rest, in hopes he could get through the second inning.  However, shoddy defense, a tight strike zone, and ineffectiveness prevented him from even finishing the first.  Buehrle finishes 2015 with 198.2 IP – close, but no cigar.

  1. Another Pillar Catch of the Year

Wow.  Just….wow.

Player of the Week

Marcus Stroman, SP

The guy is just amazing: 1-0, 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 1.67 ERA., 0.88 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: missed playoffs

AA – New Hampshire: missed playoffs

A+ – Dunedin: missed playoffs

A – Lansing: Semi-Finals vs. West Michigan, lost series 2-1

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: missed playoffs

The Look Ahead

Playoffs Baby!!!

Game 1 vs. Texas on Thursday

Game 2 vs. Texas on Friday

Game 3 at Texas on Sunday

Playoff Positioning? Who Cares Man!

Upper Deck Insight 2 October 2015 | 0 Comments


Question: did the Blue Jays just clinch the AL East title for the first time in 22 years?

I thought they did, but you’d never know that judging from many of the fans on social media.  Just one day after celebrating for the first time in two decades, fans were lambasting John Gibbons and Blue Jays management on Twitter for the lineup they put on the field against Baltimore yesterday afternoon.  Yes the lineup was sub-par and looked more like a Buffalo Bisons squad, but that’s what clinching the division does – it allows the manager to rest his stars.

“But there is home field advantage to play for!” the irate fans shouted.  “We have to stay ahead of the Royals!”

Would staying ahead of Kansas City and securing home field advantage for the entire postseason be nice?  Absolutely.  But I agree with Shi Davidi who wrote an article on defending the decision to rest players.  I’d rather Toronto finish second in the AL with a healthy team, then have them finish first with a few injuries.  The conditions in Baltimore yesterday were horrific, and (no offense to them) if somebody was going to slip on the wet grass and get hurt I’d rather it be Matt Hague or Ezequiel Carrera than Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista.

Besides, even with the two losses the Jays are still in the drivers seat for first.  The only way that Toronto can lose home field and have it come back to haunt them is if all of the following come true:

1. Kansas City wins more games against Minnesota this weekend than Toronto does against Tampa Bay.

2. Both Toronto and Kansas City win their ALDS series.

3. The ALCS goes the full seven games.

Possible?  Definitely.  Likely?  Who knows.  Definitely not worth banking on.

Even more absurd is the notion that the Jays should be going for it based on who they might play in the playoffs.  There is nothing worse than trying to look ahead and plan your own path to the championship.  Teams that do that inevitably slip up and fail against so-called “weaker opponents”.  How many times in the NBA or NHL have we seen teams finish 6th or 7th instead of 5th because they wanted to face the team in 2nd or 3rd instead of the team in 4th?  It rarely works.

Besides, there are pros and cons about all of Toronto’s potential ALDS opponents.  Take a look:

New York Yankees


– Jays finished 13-6 against them in the regular season

– They have an old roster that is fading down the stretch (McCann, Headley, Gardner, Ellsbury, and A-Rod are all hitting lower than .235 in September)

– They have a thin rotation that won’t be able to throw Masahiro Tanaka early in the series due to him pitching in the Wild Card game.


– Tanaka owns the Blue Jays, and even though he would pitch the Wild Card game, due to the number of off days in the postseason he can still potentially pitch twice in the ALDS.

– They have a very strong bullpen, especially Betances and Miller.

– They are the Yankees, and one expects a little playoff magic.

Texas Rangers


– Jays took of 4 of 6 meetings, outscoring them 34-21

– Aside from Cole Hamels the rotation is fairly thin (and Hamels hasn’t really impressed all that much since being acquired: 3.86 era, 1.27 whip)


– Very powerful offense with Beltre, Fielder, Odor, Choo, and Hamilton

– Despite the weaker rotation, Yovani Gallardo went 2-0 against Toronto this year, with a 0.00 ERA in 13.2 IP

Houston Astros


– They are fading a bit down the stretch and look ripe for the picking

– They are a very inexperienced team with a ton of rookies


– Have a true ace in Dallas Keuchel, and although he would pitch the WC game, he could also potentially pitch twice

– Jays always seem to struggle against Houston, especially in Houston where they have lost seven consecutive games

– Astros are the second best HR hitting team in baseball

LA Angels


– Probably the most hittable bullpen of the four potential opponents, especially with Huston Street less than 100%

– 646 runs scored is tied for the third lowest in the entire American League

– They don’t have a true ace like Hamels, Keuchel, Tanaka, or Price.


– Mike Trout and Albert Pujols – enough said

There are positives and negatives about any team the Jays might face, and the main thing to remember is that all of them are good.  They all made the playoffs right?

But here are a few more numbers that are worth remembering (and are far more important): .792, 877, 3.27, 3.32.

Those represent Toronto’s winning percentage since Troy Tulowitzki’s first game (best in baseball), the number of runs scored by the Jays (best in baseball by a mile), Toronto’s bullpen ERA since the All-Star break (2nd best in the AL), and Toronto’s rotation ERA since the break (best in the AL).

In short, it shouldn’t matter who the Jays play.

They can beat ‘em all.

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