Friday, March 25, 2011

Random Thoughts on Spring Training

Remember when Sil Campusano was the Jays
Opening Day centerfielder, forcing George Bell
to DH?  That has nothing to do with this article.

Yes, I know it’s been a while.  Life has been getting in the way, blah, blah, blah.  I’ll try to do better.  Let’s move on.

Some random thoughts about the Jays, one week away from opening night…

Brandon Morrow
I’m sure I’m not the only one whose heart skipped a beat or two upon learning that Morrow would start the year on the DL.  Although Romero has been named the opening day starter (and the nominal #1 in the rotation), it’s Brandon Morrow that many believe will be the anchor of the rotation this year and into the future (myself included). 

On further reflection though, I think there’s probably nothing to worry about.  Morrow himself has indicated he feels plenty capable to start the season and was disappointed that he was placed on the disabled list, even if the retroactive placement will allow him to miss only one start.  And while I generally wouldn’t trust what a player says for public consumption, particularly about their own injury, all the external factors suggest this "injury" is truly insignificant.

In the short term, starting Morrow on the DL allows the Jays to break camp with both Jesse Litsch and Jo-Jo Reyes in the starting rotation.  Litsch has shown no ill-effects from his Tommy John surgery two years ago and his hip surgery last autumn, and seems poised to recapture the form that allowed him to pitch very effectively for the better part of two seasons.  Reyes (obtained with Yunel in the Alex Gonzalez deal) has loads of ability but has never been able to put it together at the major league level – at least until this spring.  While the usual spring training caveats apply (Gabe Gross, Eddie Zosky…Jerry Schunk!), Jo-Jo was lights out against the Yankees earlier this week.  With Reyes out of options, the Jays must keep him on the roster or risk losing him through waivers.  With the bullpen already overcrowded (and more so now that R-Zep has been relegated to LOOGY duty), the Jays were in a bind with 6 guys for 5 slots.  Putting Morrow on the DL allows them to delay making a decision about their rotation for an extra week.  Maybe that just delays the inevitable, but if one of the other five pulls up lame out of the gate, this will be seen as a very savvy move.

In the long term, and perhaps more subtly, the Jays may simply view this as a way to redistribute Morrow’s innings for greater effect.  Remember, Morrow was bounced around between the bullpen and rotation for a few years while with Seattle, and was limited to under 150 innings last season.  In all likelihood, the Jays won’t allow him to pitch even 200 innings this year, so assuming he stays healthy, he will almost certainly be shut down again before the end of the season.  If this is indeed the situation, then if Morrow only misses one start at the beginning of the season, it gives him one extra start at the end before he’s shut down.  And maybe I’m overanalyzing this a bit, but the start he’s missing would have either been Minnesota (presuming he’s slotted 1-3) or Oakland (if he would have been slotted 4 or 5 in the rotation).  Presuming an innings limit of 190-200, he likely would be shut down in early-mid September.  From September 1-18, the Jays play 16 games, of which 12 pit them against New York and Boston.  It seems to me this a better use of a limited asset.

Juan Rivera
It’s kind of odd how little has been written about Rivera since he became Blue Jays property in the Wells trade.  Certainly, he wasn’t very effective in 2010, but he’s had some very good years in the not-so-distant-past, and based solely on the numbers, has hit very well this spring. To the extent anything has been written about him, it has almost always made reference to his likely impending departure just as soon as AA can find a trading partner. 

I’m certainly not about to suggest that he’s going to become the centerpiece of the Jays future, or that he should ever block the progress of Brett Lawrie when he’s ready, but I think Rivera is being seriously undervalued and might put up some very good numbers. 

Brett Lawrie
The kid looks like the real deal.  Don’t be fooled by his seemingly pedestrian minor league numbers.  He’s 1.5-2 years younger than his competition and every scouting report I’ve read on him suggests he’s going to be a monster at the dish.  The real concern has always been his defense. 

Lawrie was drafted as a catcher and was immediately moved to 2nd base in the Brewers system.  Most scouting reports were in agreement that although he is athletic, he had difficulty with his footwork and with a lot of improvement might one day be an average to slightly below average secondbaseman, but in all likelihood, a corner outfielder. 

All of which is to say that the biggest issue with Lawrie was finding a spot for him to stand whilst holding a glove.  From the limited glimpses I’ve had of him on television this month, he’s appeared quite comfortable at his new position – 3rd base.  But those that have watched him more closely this spring have been universal in their praise for how quickly Lawrie has adapted to the hot corner. 

As well as he played this spring, sending him down to AAA was the certainly the right move.  No need to start the service clock yet, and having a few months to work through growing pains at his new position, while (hopefully) crushing the ball in the thin air of Las Vegas.  Even if he doesn’t make an appearance until next season, he’ll only be 22 years old – still exceptionally young for the major leagues.

John Farrell Taking Over
I’ve taken as an article of faith the (now) conventional wisdom that a manager can really only impact a team’s record on the margins, not amounting to much more than two wins either way, if that.

But what if that’s not the case?  For all the analysis I’ve read on the subject, and notwithstanding any simulations that support that conclusion, without a parallel universe, we can’t really know if that is actually true.

I don’t want to make this a Cito-bitch-fest – for all his faults, he had strengths as well, not the least of which is the fact that he had enough faith in Jose Bautista to play him as a regular at the beginning of last season, and I doubt anyone else employed as a manager in the major leagues would have done the same (I’m operating on the assumption that Cito had full control of making the line-up card, which always seemed to be the case).

But Cito DID have many faults.  I suspect if you’re not familiar with them, you’re probably not reading this, but suffice it to say that Cito was a man set in his ways, and his ways frequently defied logic (whether you define “logic” as being the domain of the statheads or old school baseball men, I assure you, Cito still offended the concept of logic).

I’ve watched approximately 13 innings of spring training baseball this year, and even if I’d seen plenty more, I would never even begin to judge a manager for his decisions in Grapefruit League action.  All of which is to say, I really can’t say with any degree of certainty what kind of decisions John Farrell will make when the season starts. 

But the man certainly talks a good game.  Listen to him for 5 minutes and you can’t deny that he at least sounds like a guy that gets it.  He’s educated, has experience as an executive, as a coach and with player development, not to mention significant experience playing at the major league level.  If you were to build the ideal manager from scratch, I suspect, at least on the surface, he would like John Farrell (or at least, his resume would like John Farrell’s). 

None of this means he actually will be a good manager, but the potential is there.  And if you’ll permit me to dream, just for a moment, IF he becomes the great manager his CV portends, and IF the role of the manager is somehow more significant than we’ve come to believe, might a contending team be on the very near horizon?

1 comment:

  1. I share the good vibes about Rivera. He could easily be this year's answer to Alex Gonzalez, a player who could rack up a nice homerun total and be flipped at the deadline.