Jays Have the Bling?

If you read Richard Griffin's article today, you'll notice quite a few pithy barbs thrown in. A few short, curt sentences that seem to indicate that Griffin thinks 1) Jays management are, on the whole, retarded, and 2) They are on even ground financially with their competition.

"It was not planned."
"No excuses."
"The heat is clearly on Ricciardi."

If you read the article carte blanche, it seems quite convincing. You'd think, 'Wow! 100 million dollar payroll? Griffin is right, these Jays should be kicking ass and anything less than kicking ass makes no sense. They've gone from 50 million to 100 million? That's a tonne of new money!! Kick some ass Jays!!' But Griffin leaves out some pretty key information.

The article seems to suggest that payroll disparity is now non-existant -- thereby no longer a mitigating factor in Toronto's quest for the postseason. It puts the Toronto franchise in a bubble, ignoring everything that is going on around the league, it's as if only Toronto's payroll has risen in the past five years. It makes one reading think that Toronto's ponied up the cash to even themselves out on stagnating franchises around them. While it is true they've opened the books exponentially higher since 2003, in pure dollars, they've pretty much held ground with the rest of division -- keeping the hole intact that has existed since 2003.

Here's what the article has not provided.

Jays Payroll:
2003: 51,000,000
2008: ~100,000,000

Red Sox Payroll
2003: 99,000,000
2008: ~145,000,000

Yankees Payroll
2003: 152,000,000
2008: ~205,000,000

So Yes. The Jays payroll has exponentially risen higher than the Yanks and Sox. However, 5 years later, they still remain, in hard cash, the same amount of money below the Yanks and Sox. 50 million less dollars than Boston, 100 million dollars less than the Yankees. Yeah.

No Excuses.

This is not to say that expectations shouldn't be warranted toward the franchise, but payroll parity shouldn't be used as arsenal against the incompetenc of the regime. Want to criticize Ricciardi? There are plenty of places to start, from putting too much emphasis on "character" guys early on in his tenure, abandoning international scouting, and poor instincts in evaluating pitching talent -- (though this can certainly be debated.), but to suggest having a payroll 100 million dollars less than a division rival as being merely inconsequential is... well.. odd.

Happy Trails Sal

It appears that Brian Butterfield has more influence on decisions than I had first thought, there's no reasonable other explanation as to why the Jays decided to ignore their minor league deal just signed with Sal Fasano to get anti-Blue Jay Rod Barajas inked to a one year deal.

When asked to explain the reasononing behind the deal, Ricciardi provided a number of insights, but the one that reasonated with me was that Butterfield "had him over in Arizona and raves about him. He's going to be a nice addition."

Wilner meanwhile echoes the thoughts of pretty much everyone else on the planet about this deal though.

Rod Barajas > Sal Fasano? Probably, but very marginally. This seems to be the ultimate signing of business being business.

Presidential Doppelgangers

It's a long offseason, with many days to fill the void between the World Series, and Spring Training. One can only write about Scott Rolen so much.

So I've decided to throw something together that draws parallels between those in the American Presidential race and members of the Blue Jays. Maybe it will help Americans choose their next President. So... Presidential Doppelgangers... let's roll....

Barack Obama / Vernon Wells - Tremendously popular, and have unassuming, but very appealing demeaners. Past results are a little overstated, but both are very good at what they do. Black.

Hilary Clinton / JP Ricciardi - Healthy egos, a propensity for doing all the right things on paper, but suffering from a disconnect with the average Joe. Polarizing individuals who have both ardent supporters, and equally strident opponents.

John Edwards / Shaun Marcum - Never taken as seriously as they would like, viewed as quality workmen, whose ultimate fate is destined to be a second fiddle, or a part of the machine rather than the head.

Dennis Kucinich / David Eckstein - Small, fiesty, scrappy, and appealing to the press. Should not be taken seriously as a difference maker, but sometimes, unusually is.

John McCain / Roy Halladay - Rarely a bad word written about them. Quality workrate, and histories littered with times of trouble, but both able to fight, and overcome adversity.

Rudy Giuliani / Gregg Zaun - Leadership qualities considered to be their strength. Glaring holes in other parts of their repitoire are summarily dismissed, and critics reminded once again of their leadership qualities.

Mike Huckabee / John Gibbons - Popular philosophies with the heartland, widely mocked by the urbanites.

Mitt Romney / Paul Godfrey - Working with money is the general forte. Everything else is questionable.

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Memo to Marketing Department

May I submit my first idea for a Jays commercial for the upcoming year. Starring new Jay David Eckstein and returning Jay Frank Thomas, a re-inactment of the famous David and Goliath story:

Jays Chances Hinge on Johan?

It seems the bandwagon is in full force right now, with articles popping all over the place indicating that the Jays may, in fact, be a contender for the year 2008. Dayn Perry over at Foxsports provided some guarded optimism, which clearly puts things in perspective in his second last paragraph.

Says Perry: "In the East alone, the Yankees and Red Sox have better talent and vastly deeper coffers. Elsewhere, the Angels and Indians won 94 and 96 games last season, respectively, and the Tigers have drastically upgraded this winter by adding Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria to the fold."

This is true, however the Yankees roster, aside from Alex Rodriguez don't seem to be as intimidating as in years past... they need to acquire Johan Santana to put them over the top. While a lot of the Jay articles coming out indicate that the Jays have a shot at a wild card this year, they seem to all gloss over the state of the Yankees and focus on the health of the Jays. But it seems quite clear for the Jays to have a fighting chance this year, it all boils down to how the Yanks play their cards.

If Johan is a Yankee in 2008, the Jays have no chance. If they don't, then they've left the door open a bit, and anything can happen. Hopefully, the Twinkies give the American League a little bit of a break. Hopefully, the Mets understand the importance of having an elite starter.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

It looks official. The 2008 Blue Jays have incarnated the 2006 MLB Champion Cardinals roster to take over the left side of the infield.

Scott Rolen is a Jay, and my initial reaction is this: change is good. From a pure entertainment standpoint, Rolen gives the average fan a new attraction for the next season. Once regarded as the premiere 3B in the game, Jays fans have never really had the opportunity to see Rolen on a regular basis... a career National Leaguer, his defensive gems were largely not seen in Canada.

Granted, Rolen is not the same player he once was. However, after multiple surgeries on his shoulders, apparantly Jays brass, who have seen his medical reports, are high on his chances to return to greatness.

I suspected late last year that the Jays were desparate to unload Glaus, but didn't think there'd be any market at all for him. With the public fighting between LaRussa and Rolen, all of a sudden the Cards were a team that was desparate for a change at the position, and the Jays were happy to oblige, ridding the team of their own corner infielder that they obviously grew tired of.

Contracts aside, past production aside, this deal really boils down to a health issue. Which player do you think has the best chance to recover from past injuries and has the body to sustain the gruelling 162 game schedule for 2008 and beyond. It seems the jury is divided, but put me on the side of the Jays camp. After seeing Glaus "play" the last 2 years, it's hard to think that he'll be able to get his career back on track, even if playing on grass.

Keep Rollin'

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Blue Jays are set to swap Troy Glaus for the Cardinals Scott Rolen. Check back for commentary on this development when the deal is more set in stone, and the financial peramters have all been set.

Still loading up that Pen

As if a bullpen that consisted of Brandon League, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brian Wolfe, Brian Tallet, and a returning BJ Ryan, weren't enough (not to mention the possibility of a returning Casey Janssen in the pen, Jason Frasor still somehow on the roster, and Davis Romero coming back to hopefully kick some ass), the Jays have been ridiculously busy this last week scraping arms off the free agent wire left right and centre.

First up was John Parrish, who I remember as a decent southpaw arm when he was with the O's a couple years ago. Then Lance Carter, who I never remember being good at all. And again today signing Shawn "This One Time at Band" Camp to another minor league deal.

Perhaps there is nothing to make of this string of signings. Probably it's just merely the team loading up on some insurance arms for their pen. Arms are always questionable, and it's never a bad idea to throw as many into the barn ready to be plucked from the farm when the major league guys show trouble.

But maybe the Jays are looking to see that if Ryan returns to his former self, they'll be able to use some of these pen arms, make them expendable, and start looking to address other needs (ie. catcher). It'd be hard for the team to improve in their backstop position. The Mets showed everyone that even an average catcher (Brian Schneider) came at a really big price. And all of a sudden, Bengie Molina and his fat contract are attractive to some squads. But one would think a trade within the division must have at least crossed the minds of Jays brass. The Orioles have Ramon Hernandez just waiting for his ticket out. The Orioles have a horrible bullpen. It seems a perfect fit. It seems a perfect storm is brewing.

But maybe it's just been this quiet month that's had strange visions coming to my mind.

The Future is Cloudy

So I think I've got an official list of Baseball America's top ten Jays prospects a bit before they release it on their website. Apparently, they've already distributed their magazine which has the lists in there, and someone sent it to me yesterday, and the list looks pretty legit so I'm going to run with it, and pick it a part as best as I can.

Now, I'm not about to suggest that I will be able to pass better judgement on these rankings than Baseball America. They actually see these players on a regular basis, and are pretty astute at figuring out who projects as major leaguers and who doesn't. My basic research skills essentially pertain to reading a bunch of stuff about these players online, and finding pictures of these guys on their facebook accounts that resemble 13 year old Asian girl poses (see Arencibia, Cecil and Litsch pictured top right as an example).

Alright. Here's the list:

1. Travis Snider
2. Brett Cecil
3. Kevin Ahrens
4. J.P. Arencibia
5. Ricky Romero
6. Justin Jackson
7. John Tolisano
8. Curtis Thigpen
9. David Purcey
10. Ryan Patterson

One thing that's slightly depressing is the fact that Curtis Thigpen actually makes the list of top ten prospects in the system, which seems to indicate that the farm is much thinner than I had first thought. I mean, no offense to Thigpen, but he's really not a guy who projects any thing better than, at best, a really below average starting infielder or a really below average starting catcher, or an average back up backstop. And if this guy is the 8th best guy in the system, that's not a good thing to say about the system as a whole.

Of course, a significant amount of talent has already passed through the system in the past couple of years exhausting their eligibility for prospect qualifications, so that's something, but really, aside from Travis Snider, there doesn't seem, at the surface to be much here to have faith for the next decade in Toronto.

But there are a few glimmer of hope guys that I would consider to be underrated by the likes of Baseball America, and I guess generally scouts in general: Justin Jackson (pictured above left with some guy going after his ear) and Eric Eiland. Both have been said to be really athletic guys with a tonne of potential in their blood. I am hoping this scouting report is based on more than just the scout visually reacting to the fact that both players are black. I am assuming that these scouts have seen these guys making strides on the diamond defensively and offensively. But of all the reports I've read on the upper tier of Jay prospects, both of these guys' profiles definitely seemed the most encouraging. There are flaws in their games, both have trouble making consistant contact, which is troublesome considering they are hitting low A ball pitchers, but both are young as hell, both have wheels, and both are considered to be tremendous with the glove... which makes one think that Ricciardi's scouting mantra has twitched a bit for this year's draft class.

The other guy that seemed to have a lot of splooge-worthy scouting reports was the Jays #1 pick of '07, Kevin Ahrens (the dapper youngster pictured on the right). He's a switch hitting third baseman, who has good power from both side, which immediately leads to comparisons to Chipper Jones, which is really unfair, because Chipper Jones was pretty much a top ranked prospect in all of baseball since he was drafted. Ahrens is far from that. Nevertheless, he seems like a guy who could be a possible mainstay in about five years.

Baseball America's rankings seem pretty spot on. Unfortunately, they also seem to indicate the Jays minor league system isn't quite as strong as I had thought prior to investigating it a little more further.

Broken Hearts Club

Not only will Eckstein be playing on the same field as Reeder, but they both will be on the left side of the field. With little David at short, and plugger Johnson in left field, any bloop between them will undoubtedly stir the hearts of the Jays faithful, wondering whose heart... whose grit... whose will to win, will grab that ball, and steal a hit away from the opposition.

Unfortunately, due to moderate talent, mediocre defense, suspect wheels, and a string of serious past injury problems, one would have to believe that despite the unquantifiably, but undoubtedly huge hearts of both Eck and Reeder, the majority of these balls will fall in.

I suspect there will be an initial endorsement from the fans with the play of Eckstein and Johnson during the first few weeks of the season, but that should end soon. With the probability of the entire left side of the infield going on the shelf by June, fans will have had their fill of appreciating grit and hussle, and steroid induced Glaus power, and then ride out the rest of the summer watching Scutaro, Johnny Mac, and Matt Stairs, three perfectly below average baseball players, ride the team to the sunset... how depressing.

Such doom and gloom this post... however, Baseball America will be revealing their top 10 prospects for the Jays this week, and we're going to be all over that, cause we love the Jays' system. Well, love is a strong word, but we certainly like it! We'll see what BA says, and then post our opinions shortly thereafter.