Minor League Baseball team has caught Obama fever


While I try to keep this blog related to the Blue Jays or Baseball Canada as much as possible, from time to time a story unrelated to either will catch my attention and I feel compelled to post it on here.  Of course, this story is related to minor league baseball, so the subject matter is fairly consistant.

It looks like the Brooklyn Cyclones (a class A minor league baseball team in the New York Penn League), have caught Obama fever and are launching what could be the funniest promotion in minor league baseball this season, and possibly this decade.  The Brooklyn Cyclones will change their name to the “Baracklyn Cyclones” for June 23 and give away Barack Obama bobbleheads to the first 2,500 fans in honor of the new president.

Special red-white-and-blue jerseys will be worn by players and auctioned during the game… [and] the team…will have an “Economic Stimulus Package”… selling tickets at $5-$10, matching the levels of its inaugural season in 2001. Regular prices are $8-15.

In addition, the first 1,000 fans get free Band-Aids as part of “Universal Health Care,” all fans named Barack get in for free, fans named McCain or Palin get free bleacher seats (“a bipartisan consolation prize”) and any plumber named Joe gets two free tickets.

Fans will also receive American flags when they leave, in what the Cyclones called “a clear-cut exit strategy.”

You can read the full story here.

My only question, shouldn’t bandaids be given to all fans if they’re supposed to represent Universal Health Care?

Once again, minor league baseball impresses me with their over-the-top promotions.


Orlando Cabrera? Say it ain’t so!

MLB hotstove is reporting that both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins have interest in free agent short stop Orlando Cabrera.  While the article notes that the Jays have a “hole” at short, it also notes that J.P. Ricciardi has indicated that the Jays don’t have the money to add a “big name” free agent this offseason.  Let’s remember that we’re talking about Orlando Cabrera, so the term “big name” should be used loosely.  However, with the market coming down and players signing for less than what many expected (ie/ Giambi at just over $5 million, Burrell at $8 million), one has to wonder if J.P. is thinking twice about signing Cabrera.  Remember that the Jays were in hot pursuit of short stop Rafael Furcal (an actualy big name free agent) back in December.

Let’s hope that the Jays’ interest in Cabrera is just rumour.  As Bluebird Banter has already pointed out, the Jays signing Orlando Cabrera would be a mistake.  Let’s take a look at the reasons why the Jays shouldn’t  sign Cabrera.

1) Cabrera is a type-A free agent, meaning that the Jays would have to give up their first round pick to the White Sox if they sign Cabrera.  With an average-at-best farm system, the Jays can’t afford to give away a prospect who would likely be in their top-ten prospects by season’s end.  As ESPN’s Buster Olney has noted, teams are simply not willing to sign a type-A player at this point in time.

2) The Jays don’t have the money to sign Cabrera.  Even with the market driving down the prices of free agents, Cabrera is still likely to fetch around $7 million per season, too rich for the Jays blood.  Allocating that much to Cabrera would be a mistake, especially with what Giambi and Burrell have recently signed for.  The latter two would have been a much better signing than Cabrera.  At the same time, there are currently free agents that would help the Jays more than Cabrera who would likely sign for a similar price (Garland, Byrd) or much lower price (Hinske, Griffey). 

3) The Jays already have starting short stop (Marco Scutaro) and two capable backups (McDonald and Inglett).  For all the talk of a “hole” at short, signing Cabrera doesn’t really fill the so-called hole.  Last year, Cabrera hit .281/.334/.371 (.705) and committed 16 errors in 161 games while Scutaro hit .267/.341/.356 (.697) while committing only 8 errors in 145 games at five positions.  Granted, Cabrera does have two gold gloves to his name and sports better career average numbers than Scutaro, but on the whole, those offensive numbers aren’t much better.  Averaged over a 500 at-bat season, Cabrera’s .281 from last year would amount to only 8 additional base hits than Scutaro’s .267.  At this point in his career, Cabrera might be good for only an additional 3 HRs and, at best, 15 RBIs.  While Scutaro is hardly all-star material, he’s a quality short stop and good enough to start in 2009.  Furthermore, while Cabrera, is, at most, a minimal improvement over Scutaro, he’s certainly not worth about $5 million more in salary.

Let’s hope that the Jays interest in Cabrera is non-existant or if they are interested, that they won’t act on that interest.  Olney adds that a high ranking Jays executive has stated that “I like Cabrera, and think he could help us…But I cannot justify giving up a pick for a 34-year-old shortstop on a one- or two-year deal. It makes absolutely no sense for us. None.”  Well, I disagree that there is a lot to like about Cabrera in the first place, but at least this executive realizes that signing him, even if he is liked by the organization, isn’t a smart move.

Signing Cabrera to any deal, even an affordable one, is a mistake.  Quite simply, he’s not worth the first round draft pick we’d have to give up.


Rickey Henderson: Hall of Fame


Congratulations are in order for former Blue Jay Rickey Henderson, who was recently elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.  Henderson, a member of the 1993 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays, becomes only the fourth  Jay elected to Cooperstown, joining Phil Neikro, Dave Winfield, and his 1993 teammate Paul Molitor.

Henderson holds the all-time MLB records for career stolen bases (1 406), runs scored (2 295), and home runs to lead off a game (81), and holds the all-time single season records for stolen bases (131).  Henderson was also a career .279 hitter who retired with over 3 000 career hits.  Henderson was also a four-decade player, who was a rookie in 1979 and retired after 2003.  He will be remembered as the greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer of all time.

In 44 regular season games with the Jays, Henderson hit only .215, but did score an impressive 37 runs and 22 stolen bases.  And hey, we won the World Series that year!!!!

Congratulations are also in order for former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice, who was also elected into the Hall of Fame.

Articles on Barrett and Maroth

While it has been a relatively quiet off-season for the cost-cutting Toronto Blue Jays, they have signed a few former quality big leaguers to minor league deals and in so doing, hope to fighting lightning in a bottle.  These deals come with little risk and have the potential to offer medium reward in the event that the ‘reclaimation project’ can find his former self.  Jay beat reporter Jordan Bastian has written great articles on two of the Jays reclaimation projects, catcher Michael Barrett and pitcher Mike Maroth.  Both players are looking to revive their careers in Toronto after struggling with injuries and poor play over the past two seasons.

The signing of Barrett has the greatest likelihood of paying dividends for the Jays.  From 2004-06, the catcher averaged 16 home runs and nearly 60 RBIs each season with Chicago.  While he’ll have to compete for the backup job behind Rod Barajas, he should have the inside track to winning the job.  The minor league deal also includes an option for 2010 (a rarity for a reclaimation deal), so the Jays definately see something in Barrett.  As a catcher, even if he can hit .250 with 10 HR it’s not a bad deal, as long as he can mentor the picthers, which shouldn’t be a problem.  “One of the reputations that I have,” Barrett said, “…is I’ve been around a lot of young pitchers. I have that going for me — I’m good at helping pitchers develop. … I’m definitely excited about [Toronto’s] young arms. When I look at the young arms there, I think about some of the success that Tampa Bay has had with some of their young pitchers.  I think that’s very realistic with the guys that I’ve seen pitch for Toronto. And, when you look at them on paper, you realize that there are a lot of great things that can happen this year.” 

Maroth will be competing for one of the two open spots in Toronto’s rotation and faces some stiff competition, including Scott Richmond,  Casey Janssen, youngsters Brad Mills, Ricky Romero, Davis Romero and Brett Cecil, and fellow reclaimation project Matt Clement.  It will definately be an uphill battle for the southpaw, but like most minor league deals, it can’t hurt.  Worst case, Maroth will be assigned to Las Vegas (AAA) and will provide some depth in the Jays organization. 

At this point, I would say that Richmond has the inside track on the 4th spot and that Clement and Janssen have the inside track on winning the last starting job.  The youngsters all need a full season in triple A, though giving them a long look in Spring Training won’t hurt.  It might be an uphill battle for Maroth, but having him in the mix during the spring will give the Jays the opportunity to see what he can offer to the club.

Top 10 Draft Picks- Toronto Blue Jays

Each offseason, baseball analysts look to the farm system and rank each team’s top prospects.  In baseball, more so than any other professional sport, prospects in the farm system play a crucial role in the development of future major league teams.  Instead of making my own ranking system, which, like virtually all ranking systems, would somewhat arbitrary, I’ve averaged out ranks from five other lists that have been previously complied (the links can be found on the right side of my page in the favorites section).  While the rankings used in each individual list are, I would argue, arbitrary at some level (even if a formula was used), I believe that by using multiple top prospect lists, the ranking becomes more accurate. 

The arbitrariness of ranking and, more importantly, comparing prospects is especially true when one looks at the minor leagues as a whole, as players can be competing anywhere from short season low-A to triple-AAA and have varying levels of experience.  Sure, the stat categories in these leagues are the same, but the meaning of these stats are very different, to the point where a meaningful comparison becomes rather difficult.  For example, can a player who hits .270 in short season A in his first season of professional ball be compared to a player who hits .285 is AAA in his fourth year of professional ball?  How would we compare a pitcher whose ERA is 2.90 in advanced A to a picther whose ERA is 3.10 in AAA?  Can we?  I would argue it is very difficult to do on paper, at least in any meaningful way.

Anyways, for what it is worth, here is my top ten list.  The first number is the order in which I have ranked the prospect and the bracketed number at the end represents the average rank from the five lists I have used.

1) Travis Snider OF (1st round, 2006)-  No real suprise here.  Snider was recently ranked the seventh best prospect in all of baseball and will hopefully a mainstay in the Jays outfield for sometime.  Jays fans saw Snider last September an in 73 at-bats, the 20 year old hit .301/.338/.466 with two home runs.  Snider is a legitimate power hitter (23 minor league home runs in 2008) and has consistantly hit for a decent average since arriving in the Jays system. (average ranking- 1)

2) Brett Cecil LHP (Supp. round, 2007)-  We’re already hearing rumours of Cecil competing for a spot in Toronto’s rotation this year, but it’s more realistic that he begins 2009 in Las Vegas (AAA).  He began last year in Dunedin (high A), but ended the year in Syracuse (AAA).  Over three levels of minor league ball, he pitched to a 2.88 ERA, averaged at least 9.10 Ks per 9 innings, a decent strikeout to walk ratio, and totaled a groundball to flyball ratio of over 2:1. (average ranking- 2)

3) J.P. Arencibia C (1st round, 2007)- Between Dunedin and New Hampshire (AA), Arencibia hit a combined .298/.322/.527 with 27 HR and 105 RBI.  A pretty impressive total for a minor leaguer, especially a catcher.  As you may have guessed, Arencibia is more of an offensive catcher (a la Mike Piazza) than a defensive catcher (a la Brad Ausmus).  That said, his defensive play has improved tremedously, and he has a cannon of an arm.  He should spend 2009 in Las Vegas, where he can hopefully learn how to take a free pass; he walked only 18 times in over 500 at-bats last season. Either way, he is poised to become Toronto’s starting catcher in 2010.  (average ranking- 3).

4) David Cooper 1B (1st round, 2008)- In his first year of professional baseball, Cooper hit .333/.399/.502 for an OPS of over .900 in three levels of A ball.  His home run total of 5 in 273 at bats may be low, but his SLG of .502 suggests that there is considerable power in his bat.  Although his offensive game is great, scouts indicate that his defense could use some work.  Therefore, while he could be the Jays first baseman of the future, he could also fit into a designated hitters spot as well.  Cooper should begin the year at Dunedin. (average rank- 4)

5) Justin Jackson SS (1st round, 2007)- Jackson is considered to be the Jays best SS prospect and thus far, is seen as a flashy defensive player, despite making 26 errors in 121 games.  His hitting, however, is something to be desired.  After hitting a mere .187 in rookie ball in 2007, his average spike to .238 at Lansing (A) in 2008, which is still worrisome.  Jackson’s plate discipline may explain, in part, his low average.  He struck out 154 times in 454 at bats, which is just unacceptable.  He does appear to have a bit of pop in his bat- 7 HR in 2008- but will need to address his average and plate discipline first. (average rank- 5.2)

6) Kevin Ahrens 3B (1st round, 2007)- Ahrens is, in many respects, a carbon copy of Jackson.  Both were 1st rounders in 2007, both play error-filled defense (Ahrens committed 27 in 2008), both strike out far too often (Ahrens struck out 135 times in 460 at bats) which leads to a sub-par average (.259 for Ahrens).  That said, Ahrens was only 19 in 2008; a very young player for the mid-west league.  He may not be ready for the majors in 2011 when Rolen’s contract is up, but he is the Jays most promising 3rd base prospect in some time. (average rank- 6.4)

7) Brad Mills LHP (4th round, 2007)- Yet another young southpaw who will be competing for a spot in the rotation this spring, it is far more likely that Mills ends up starting the year in New Hampshire (AA) before being promoted to triple-A.  Mills is coming off a terrific 2008 season, posting a combined 13-5 record with a 1.95 ERA and an opposing batter’s average of .222 between three levels of baseball (A- to AA).  In fact, as Mills advanced to higher leagues, his ERA and opposing average decreased.  He also averaged over a strikeout per inning, though his flyball to groundball ratio was 1:1. (average rank- 6.8)

8) Ricky Romero LHP (1st round, 2006)- The 6th overall pick from the 2006 draft, Romero should start the 2009 season in Las Vegas.  There’s no doubt that Romero has great stuff, it’s just a matter of finding control of that stuff that has eluded Romero.  Of course, finding control is always easier said than done.  The young lefty struggled in AA in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but seemed to find his game after his promotion to AAA late in 2008.  Over 42.2 innings, Romero’s ERA was 3.38 (over a point lower than his AA ERA in 2008) and he averaged over 8 strikeouts per 9 innings.  His 2:1 groundball to flyball ratio was impressive, but his WHIP was too high as a result of issuing ovr 4 walks per nine innings and allowing opposing hitters to bat .264 of him.  There is no doubt, however, that Romero is full of promise.  2009 will be an important year to gauge his development. (average rank- 8)

9) Scott Campbell 2B (10th round, 2006)- The New Zealand native has been an impressive addition to the Jays system and has shown promise with both the bat and the glove.  Campbell has quickly moved up the Jays system, skipping class A Dunedin in the process.  He’s hit .292 (2006, A-), .279 (2007, A) and .302 (2008, AA) in his three season in the Jays system, and hit 9 HR in 417 at bats in 2008 with an OPS of .825.  Defensively, Campbell is also strong, commiting only 7 errors in 112 games in 2008.  However, with Aaron Hill under contract until at least 2011, and team options through 2014, Campbell’s advancement to the majors is unclear. It’s possible that either or Hill are forced to make the move to short (average rank- 8.5)

10) Marc Rzepczynski (5th round, 2007)- The fourth lefty on the Jays top ten list, Rzepczynski (a.k.a. Zip) has put up two great seasons on the farm.  In 2007 at Auburn (A-), Zip went 5-0 in 45.2 innings, striking out 49, holding batters to a .201 average, and inducing 2.36 groundballs for every fly ball.  In 2008 at Lansing, he put up another impressive season, spotting a 2.83 ERA, striking out 124 in 121 innings, bettered his groundball to flyball ratio to 3:1, and held opposing batters to a .230 average.  Zip should start 2009 in Dunedin, but a quick promotion to New Hampshire is not out of the question. (average rank- 9.5).

In total, the top ten is well rounded and features a catcher, a first baseman, a second baseman, a third baseman, a short stop, an outfielder, and four pitchers (all leftys).  Two other players received a single top ten vote: 2B John Tolisano and 2B Bradley Emaus.

Of course, prospects are always crap-shoots, even the good ones, and there is no such thing as a ‘blue-chip prospect,’ regardless of how good someone is.  Remeber Todd Van Poppel?  How about Russ Adams?  See what I mean.

The rest will come later…..

A trade market for B.J. Ryan

In a recent article, Jays general manager J.P, Ricciardi maintained that “I don’t see us trading (closer) B.J. (Ryan),”adding that “He’s good at what he does, and it’s tough to fill that spot.”  J.P. is correct on the second point, Ryan is good at what he does. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Ryan saved 32 games last season, and despite being shaky on a few occassions, finished the year with an ERA of 2.95, a WHIP of 1.28, and picked up 58 strikeouts in 58 innings of work.  Riccardi is also correct on the third point, the closer’s spot is a tough one to fill.  As a result, the Jays should look to trade Ryan.  Let me explain further.

The Jays depth at the reliever position allows them to trade their closer more easily than would be the case with most teams.  Despite injuries to both Jeremy Accardo and Casey Janssen, the Jays had one of the best bullpens in baseball last year.  With Accardo and Janssen expected to be ready by spring, an already good bullpen from last year becomes even better and more crowded, necessitating at least one roster move, and likely more.  While Janssen is expected to compete for a role in the starting rotation, the bullpen will feature set-up man Scott Downs, Accardo, Brian Tallet, Jesse Carlson, Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Shaun Camp, Brian Wolfe and Ryan.  Even without Ryan, the Jays would feature one of MLB’s best bullpens.  Accardo could close (and did during Ryan’s injury in 2007), League has ‘closer’s stuff’, and Downs- arguably the best set-up man in baseball- could close if necessary.

Since Ryan is good at what he does and since the closer’s spot is hard to fill, Riccardi may be correct on his first point, that he doesn’t plan on trading Ryan, but failing to do this is making a mistake.  In fact, trading Ryan should be high on Ricciardi’s priority list.  There are more reasons to trade Ryan than the fact that the Jays have a talented and over-crowded bullpen.  The Jays are also in a cost cutting mode, and dumping Ryan’s remaining salary ($10 million in each of 2009 and 2010), would be a smart move.  This would allow the Jays to pocket the savings, or would provide them additional money to target free agents (such as a quality number two starter of a designate hitter).  A trade would also bring in prospects to help fill an average-at-best farm system.

The last reason to trade Ryan is that there is a market for a quality closer: there are few options left on the free agent market and many teams still in need of a closer.  Top closers Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, and Kerry Wood have all signed, leaving only the 41 year old Trevor Hoffman (554 career saves) and Juan Cruz, “This year’s version of gonna-try-to-make-him-a-closer” according to Jeff Passan.  In short, the pickings are slim.

And who’s in the market for a closer?  A number of teams could use a boost at the back-end of their bullpen.  The following list includes the teams- including a number of playoff contenders- who could use a closer.  The career saves of their current closer are in brackets.

Detriot: The Tigers currently have Joel Zumaya (3) and Francisco Rodney (33) at the back of their pen.  Both have talent, but Zumaya is coming off a shoulder injury and Rodney is coming of an 0-6 season in which he experienced major control problems and an ERA of 4.91.  Raw talent?  Yes.  Should Tigers fans be confident in these two?  No.

Texas: Frank Francisco (5) won the closer’s role last year over Joaquin Benoit (8) and C.J. Wilson (38).  Wilson’s 6.02 ERA is just scary, and while Francisco is the best of the bunch, there are still question marks around him.

Seattle: The Mariners traded J.J. Putz to the Mets, leaving them with the once promising Aaron Heilman (8) as the closer.  Coming off a season in which his ERA was 5.21 and his WHIP was 1.59, the Mariners would be wise to have a plan B, and ideally, a new closer.

Atlanta: The Braves have handed the reins over to Mike Gonlazez (44).  He was good in 2006 (24 SV, 2.17 ERA, 1.35 WHIP), but last year (14 SV, 4.28 ERA), not so much.  Rafael Soriano (16) could step in if required.

Milwaukee: Will Dave Riske (22) do the job?  He’s probably better suited as a middle innings guy, and his 5.31 ERA from last year doesn’t bode well.  This team is a legitmate playoff contender, and could use a solid closer.

St. Louis: After a disaster of a season in the closer’s spot last year, the Cardinals could use some stability in the bullpen.  Starter turned closer Ryan Franklin (18) will start the season as the closer, but there aren’t any guarantees he ends the season as closer.  Franklin went 17 for 25 in save opportunities last season, slightly better than Jason Isringhausen’s 12 for 19, Kyle McLellan’s 1 for 6, and Chris Perez’s 7 for 11.  Yikes!

In short, there are plenty of potential destinations for Ryan.  It would be wise for J.P. to agressively dangle Ryan and see if there are any takers.  Without Ryan, the Jays will have more money, more prospects and still have a terrific bullpen.


New Links Added

I’ve come across a few excellent Blue Jays blogs and have promptly added them to my links list.  Both Bluebird Banter, Batter’s Box and the Southpaw offer routine updates, gret insight and provide in-depth analysis of all things Blue Jays (as well as other MLB news).

Chances are if you have stumbled across my up-and-coming blog, you’re already familiar with Bluebird Banter, Batter’s Box and the Southpaw.  If not, they are definately worth checking out.