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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I'm an avid sports and movie fan, and I love statistical analysis of almost anything.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blue Jays Kidnap Snowflake


This is a MASSIVE deal! Finally, I can be legitimately excited about a local sports team other than the Shamrocks (my Men's league hockey team that has lost in the finals a billion years in a row, and that I won't be playing for any time soon thanks to a torn everything in my left shoulder).

Anyway, the Toronto Blue Jays executed a monster deal with the Miami Marlins on November 13, 2012 (or the 14th, depending on when it all goes through).

At the risk of not having all the details while making this post, I'm making this post. From what I know so far, thanks to Fox Sports and Ken Rosenthal and my friends calling/texting me, the Jays have acquired Jose Reyes (stud SS), Josh Johnson (stud SP), Mark Buehrle (wily vet undercover stud SP), John Buck (meh C and former Blue Jay), and Emilio Bonifacio (surprisingly useful 3B/OF) in exchange for Yunel Escobar (homophobe SS), Adeiny Hechavarria (overrated prospect SS), Henderson Alvarez (overrated upside starter SP), Justin Nicolino (meh minor league SP), Jeff Mathis (grocery store clerk C), Jake Marisnick (overrated minor league OF), and Anthony Desciafani (who? minor league SP).

If my strikethroughs haven't given it away yet, I am in favour of this trade. I have written some less-than flattering things about Alex Anthopolous before, but I've also given him credit for a few trades that he's made (especially the Vernon Wells deal), and now he's proven again that he has a knack for sussing out vulnerable GMs. In this case, Miami (formerly Florida) wanted to get back to it's payroll-slashing ways, and AA was eager to swoop in and relieve them of 3 of their 4 best players (Reyes, Johnson, Buehrle).

I will reference player salaries in this piece, because it's necessary, but the Jays are willingly adding payroll and it's not like they're trying to win under the same salary structure as before, so my evaluation will be less focused on the monetary aspects of the deal and more focused on player performance in the coming years, specifically 2013.

Let's first break down the guys who will no longer be with "us."

1) Yunel Escobar: he's an average-to-above-average SS with apparent insensitivity issues on a team-friendly contract. Homophobia-incident and alleged locker room problems aside, he's a solid player making less than he probably deserves (comparatively speaking). He wouldn't be my first choice to go from a strictly on-field standpoint, however if his "maracon" incident truly is indicative of some deep-seeded hatred for homosexuals, then he has no place plying his trade in Toronto (I don't want to turn my blog into a social commentary, but I'll gladly say that blatant anti-gay slurs are unacceptable regardless of your station in society). Anyway, he's a good ball player who wears out his welcome quickly, and not a guy who will be sorely missed on or off the field.
2) Adeiny Hechavarria: He has a good glove, and maybe it'll be great, but his bat is awful and has so far to go that it's difficult for me to believe that he'll ever be anything more than a decent all-round shortstop or second baseman.
3) Henderson Alvarez: He has the makings of a good starting MLB pitcher, but he hasn't put it together consistently and his lack of swing-and-miss stuff makes me think that he's destined to be a back-end of the rotation innings-eater who never quite fulfills his potential. Young, cost-controlled pitchers who can give you 180+ innings are valuable, but they aren't irreplaceable.
4) Justin Nicolino: fangraphs.com called him the Jays' #5 prospect, and in a good farm system that's nothing to sneeze at. Mind you, his upside is as a #2/#3 starter, and he's a few years away from contributing. The Jays, with Bautista and others nearing the end of their prime, are more in win-now mode and are primed to cash in on prospects like Nicolino. He's only 21 years old, and will likely open 2013 in AA, maybe AAA, but I'm fine seeing him go.
5) Jeff Mathis: Good riddance. I cannot believe someone would accept him on their team full-time. Maybe I'm missing something. Who cares?
6) Jake Marisnick: He'll be 23 in 2013, and has good speed and defensive skills, but a wonky swing that has been re-tooled a few times already and little pop (if any). He'll begin 2013 in AA or AAA, and his upside is as a good OF, but greatness is not in his future.
7) Anthony Desclafani: I don't know much about him, and he wasn't a top-15 prospect for the Jays. He had a good year in A-ball and is only turning 23 in 2013, but a 22-year-old succeeding in A-ball isn't overly remarkable, and his strikeout rate doesn't bode well for future dominance. He might make the majors, but it almost certainly won't be as a top-end starter, and it won't be in 2013.

And now onto the new Blue Jays, starting with the best addition and working down.

1) Jose Reyes: Hear that? That's the sound of Reyes stealing second. And that? That's the sound of him touching home plate on a hit by Brett Lawrie or Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. Barring injury (all analysis is "barring injury"), this guy should touch home plate 110 times or more in 2012. If he doesn't, I'll be surprised. He's a stud. His defense at SS is roughly average, but his base-running is elite, and his bat is for real. Owed another $92million in the next 5 years with a team option for $22million in year 6 ($4million buyout), he's almost definitely worth it. His 2012 4.5WAR is reasonable to expect in 2013, and with a realistic annual decline afterwards he'll be very good or merely good for a few more years. Finally, the Jays have a legit leadoff hitter to set the table for the big(ger) boys. And he's a big name for jersey sales, if that matters.
2) Josh Johnson: He may not be an ace like Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez, but he's a bona fide number 1. Also, he's only owed $13.75 million next season and then he's a free agent. If he has a strong first half, look for the team to try to extend his contract for ~5 years and ~$90million. Per 180IP in his career, he's been worth 4.3789WAR, or about $21.9million in 2012 salary. In 2012 his WAR was 3.8, and that was after missing significant time due to injury in 2011. If he puts up 2.75 WAR or so, meaning he's a good (but not great) starter in 2013, he'll have "earned" his money. The Jays are hoping for much more though, and so am I. Again assuming he stays healthy-ish and throws 180 innings or so, it's reasonable to expect 15+ wins, 150+ strikeouts, and a 3.5 ERA (this is the AL East, where a 3.5 ERA means you're really good). Of course, with a healthy Jays batting lineup and reasonable output from the current roster, a 3.5 ERA over 180+ innings might net you 20 wins.
3) Mark Buehrle: I like him. He was barely above-average in 2012, but he's average about 3.2WAR per 180IP in his career, and he didn't look or pitch THAT differently last season. In fact, his true-production WAR was more like 3.5, and if he can put up something in the middle (say 3WAR in 2013) then he'd be "worth" about $15 million or so. General falloff would have him being valued at something like $39million over the next 3 seasons, which is less than the $48million he's owed (he only made $10million last season, so the Marlins have pretty much used up all of his surplus "value"), but it's close enough that it wouldn't cripple the Jays or anything. He's been able to avoid injury, and pitchers who don't throw smoke and have a propensity to stay healthy tend to age pretty well. He'll be 34 in 2013, which isn't a spring chicken but also isn't Gandolph-esque, and a 13th straight 200+IP season is a reasonable expectation. Look for him to be a reliable #3 in the rotation (behind Johnson and Morrow), unless the Jays can add another stud starter (just because they pulled off this deal doesn't mean I'm done dreaming about another deal or free agent acquisition, however unlikely)!
4) John Buck: with 1 more season to go at $6million more, Buck is probably worth less than that. Assuming he can catch around 1/3 of the games and pinch hit or DH when necessary, and he'll likely come in around 0.5WAR or so. His glove work is sub par but not terrible, and his base running is good enough for a catcher. His bat hasn't been good since he left Toronto, but he's a home run guy and Florida's parks weren't nice to guys like that (unless their last name is Stanton). Look for his bat to rebound to almost league-average in Toronto, while he gives the team 200-300 useful plate appearances and some ok work behind the plate.
5) Emilio Bonifacio: Assuming the Jays settle with the soon-to-be-28 year old for around $2million, he'll make a nice utility OF or once-in-a-while backup at 3B. He isn't a good defender, but he's passable, and he's a very good base runner who would almost definitely challange Rajai Davis for team leader in that department if given enough opportunities. He has basically zero power in his bat, but he has a good enough eye at the plate and an ability to generate line drives (not in 2012, but in the years before that for sure) that should lead to him being a bearable hitter as the team's 4th or 5th OF. I think half a win above replacement is a reasonable expectation for him, and his career average is in the 1.5WAR per 600 plate appearances range. That's almost average, but most of that value came in a BABIP-fueled 2011. So again, 300PA and 0.5WAR is my expectation of him (assuming the Jays retain his services in arbitration), and for $2million or less that's a decent deal.

I am very much pro this deal. I think the Jays just went from an expected 77 win team to an expected 86 win team. I think that Johnson and Buehrle will provide 5 wins more than Alvarez and pitcher X, I think that Reyes is worth 3 wins more than Yunel, and I think that Buck and Bonifacio are worth 1 more win than Mathis and some other OF from the farm team. Of course, 86 wins doesn't get you into the playoffs in the AL East. The team would need some Orioles-esque breaks and "clutch" performance to squeak into the playoffs, but no doubt they're closer to the promised land today than they were a couple of days ago.

Hats off to AA and company for giving the fans (me) something to look forward to, and I pray that this is a sign(ing) of more good things (trades and signings) to come.

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