Is it time for the Blue Jays to panic?

Having not contributed to my own blog in almost a year, I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things. My last post was, quintessentially, focused on Frank Ocean and how he probably doesn’t care about people clamoring for him to release his album after a lengthy period of enigmatic and puzzling inactivity.

Interestingly enough, he did eventually release “Blonde/Blond” – his best piece of work that has been a staple in my music shuffling ever since “Channel Orange” in 2012. He’s also released two singles since then (“Chanel” and “Biking”) and was featured on a Calvin Harris track along with Migos called “Slide” that, much to my dismay, has been featured regularly on the radio despite being a total banger.

This post isn’t about Mr. Ocean, surprisingly. It’s about the Toronto Blue Jays and the team’s worst start to the season in franchise history. The Blue Jays have gotten off to a 1-6 1-7 record and managed to look rather uninspired in the process but before I continue, it should be noted and made very clear that Toronto struggling seven games into the season isn’t cause for abandoning ship quite yet.

The fan base and organization should be worried, yes. Is it time to panic? Despite many players confidently proclaiming against it, perhaps they should be. There is a bevy of reasons as to why the Blue Jays window to win and compete has closed already and a 1-7 start only amplifies that possibility. A fun stat courtesy of Jon Morosi of MLB Network caught my eye last night and after tweeting it out, Morosi subsequently took to his column to let everyone know he’s very concerned about the team’s start.

I haven’t read his post because I want to keep other members of the media and their influential opinions out of my own. Here is why the Blue Jays should be concerned about the team’s start and what it could mean for the remainder of the season:

The Blue Jays aren’t getting any younger

In case you didn’t know, the Blue Jays aren’t a juvenile bunch by any means. Among the club’s position players, the team has only four players under 30 (Ezequiel Carrera and Ryan Goins are 29, Kevin Pillar is 28, and Devon Travis is 26). Of that group, Travis and Pillar are regulars and both of those guys aren’t exactly franchise cornerstones no matter how many diving plays Pillar makes in the outfield.

Of its pitching staff, it’s a little more promising. Aaron Sanchez (24 but soon to be 25), Marcus Stroman (25 but soon to be 26) and Roberto Osuna (22) are staples in the team’s rotation and bullpen and it’s also worth noting these three are the team’s most talented pitchers by a wide margin. Joe Biagini, a Rule-5 draft pick that emerged as one of the team’s go-to pitchers, is 26 and by all accounts, another nice piece. Other than these few, the Blue Jays lack youth. They’re getting older by the day.

What does this mean? Well, a few things. For starters, it’s not fair to assume their bodies are going to hold up forever. Josh Donaldson, the team’s most important offensive contributor, is already dealing with a calf injury after being shut down in the spring with a similar ailment. Jose Bautista, a 36-year-old who returned on a one-year deal after struggling to stay healthy last season, has three hits in 25 at-bats. Russell Martin, an aging catcher with close to 1,500 games under his belt, has no hits in 18 at-bats. Justin Smoak, a below replacement level first baseman that was awarded an underserved extension last year, has five hits in 22 at-bats. Steve Pearce, an often-injured 33-year-old platoon player with decent offensive pedigree has three hits in 19 at-bats. A combined 11-for-84 (.131) isn’t very good and while this can all be fixed and will eventually lead to better results, it’s not promising early on.

If these guys figure it out, which is entirely plausible, Donaldson gets healthy and Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales – the only two guys producing in the team’s lineup thus far – maintain their production, the Jays will be fine. If it continues to be an issue, questions will arise wondering if the Blue Jays are still fit to be threats in a competitive AL East that, unlike Toronto, features a few teams with a talented blend of youth and experience.

The players and their contracts

Here’s where things get interesting. I failed to mention starters Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano and J.A. Happ. Those three are important because not only do they carry decent value, all three are on short-term deals with reasonable salaries. Estrada (a free-agent at season’s end) earns $14.5-million while Liriano, also a free-agent at the end of the year, earns $13.6-million. Happ, who is coming off a 20-win season, is the cheapest pitcher of the three with a salary of $13-million but unlike the other two, has an added year left on his contract.

While not overly cheap, these are the kinds of guys that buyers target at the trade deadline. If the Blue Jays fail to match last year’s production, come July you should expect good teams to come calling; especially if Estrada, Happ and Liriano pitch anywhere from O.K. to good. Pitching wins championships, and the Blue Jays have three guys on short-term contracts that would likely be coveted if the team doesn’t turn it around.

As for position players, you can expect the Blue Jays to get a few calls on the 2015 MVP if the team struggles. Donaldson, one of baseball’s most productive all-around players, currently carries a $17-million salary but unlike many other franchise cornerstones, isn’t signed long-term. He’s arbitration eligible at the end of the year and would be a free-agent in 2019 if he’s not extended past that. It goes without saying that teams would have an interest in Donaldson and one can only imagine what teams would be willing to part with in order to acquire him.

I haven’t touched on Bautista yet either, who as I mentioned before, rejoined the Blue Jays on a one-year, $18-million deal. Many expect Bautista to bounce back and have a terrific season. If he does this and Toronto doesn’t reap the rewards of his production, considering he and the team have a mutual option for 2018 worth $17-million, he too could be moved to an AL team looking for offence. Donaldson and Bautista being shipped out of town would be heartbreaking for fans but would also be necessary, especially if the team wants to reload its prospect pool.

Going back to pitching, the Blue Jays have three relievers (Joe Smith, J.P. Howell and Grilli) all under contract for next year earning identical salaries at $3-million each. If any of them provide good value in the bullpen, they would, presumably, also be dealt quickly.

A thin group of prospects

If you’re asking why this should be a reason to panic, you should look around the league at team’s that have an abundance of top prospects. The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres all possess a large number of the game’s best young players. While some of these teams are focused on lengthy rebuilds and won’t compete for years, it’s not surprising to see the Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs here. While Boston dealt away some key prospects to get Chris Sale, the team has seen a few key players graduate from the minors to make a big impact; specifically, Gold Glove winning outfielder and MVP candidate Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi – the favorite to win this year’s Rookie of the Year.

The Dodgers groomed 22-year-old shortstop Corey Seager, last year’s anonymous ROY and a franchise talent. The team also has left-handed starter Julio Urias – one of baseball’s best pitching prospects and first baseman Cody Bellinger; currently ranked by MLB as the league’s 10th best of 100 prospects.

Comparatively, the Cubs won the World Series thanks to a developmental approach in which the club loaded up on prospects, patiently waited and saw them graduate only to help guide the team to its first World Series in 108 years. Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Carl Edwards are all terrific players 25-and-under that will be part of the team’s plans for the foreseeable future. Bryant, as you know, is the reigning NL MVP.

Then there’s the Blue Jays. Of most teams in the league considered to be contenders, Toronto has a very weak prospect pool in comparison. There are no top position players waiting in the wings maybe other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who is 18-years-old and many years away from the majors and first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who, because of the front office, is blocked by Smoak and his brutal contract. Tellez, a nice prospect by most standards, will be with the team this season whether they struggle or not, but it wouldn’t be fair to think he’s going to have a substantial impact in his first few seasons. Anthony Alford, a 22-year-old football player turned outfielder, is another guy to keep an eye on.

Other than these three, don’t expect to see any Blue Jays prospect come up from the minors and have great success. Unlike the Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers, the Blue Jays don’t have the luxury of many youthful talents ready to contribute right now. There are a few decent pitching prospects that could eventually make the team (specifically Sean Reid-Foley and Jon Harris) but neither are viewed as game-changing talents. At best, they’re viewed as middle of the rotation types which could slot in nicely behind Sanchez and Stroman eventually, but they’re no sure thing and are at least a year or two away.

Going off my previous point, this is why I believe the Blue Jays front office will target prospects through trade if the team fails to recapture last year’s magic. They can’t risk waiting it out for a long period of time and undoubtedly know that making most of their veteran players available through trade will bring in some good assets which would go a long way in improving a middle of the pack prospect pool.

The Blue Jays have some decisions to be made and most of them aren’t expected to be done anytime soon. While there is some time to turn it around, win some games and battle for a postseason berth, the team’s worst start in franchise history has come at a very bad time and it remains to be seen if the same group of players will be around to ride it out.

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Why Frank Ocean simply doesn’t care what you think

If you follow my blog, you know I don’t always write about sports.

In fact, I am pretty sure every single time I write a non-sports related post, I start it off with something almost identical to this. Regardless, I need to get the point across because my domain after all is “My Sports Discussion” and it would be odd if I didn’t at least specify what I’ll be discussing at length in the opening paragraph. The headline obviously gives it away.

I am going to talk to you all about Frank Ocean, the man who captured my attention musically a long time ago and a man who doesn’t give a crap that everyone and their grandmother are whining and complaining about his album drop or lack thereof.

I got the idea to write about this because the other night in my kitchen I was with a friend of mine who doesn’t follow Ocean like I do, but was made aware (just like every single person out there, it seems) that his highly anticipated album drop was supposed to come on Friday, August 5. It didn’t, obviously, and he also happened to be with me on that very day. He asked me if I had heard Ocean’s new album reportedly titled “Boys Don’t Cry“.

“No,” I said calmly. And the conversation ended there. You would think at this point I would elaborate more on the status of my favorite artists’ first album since 2012, right?

“No.”

A few days later we hung out again and after watching Suicide Squad – which is a goddamn awful movie by the way, please save your money even though it’s probably too late – we had typical friend conversations that drift from topic to topic. Ocean, as he has been, came back as a starting piece and he asked me why it wasn’t dropped and how I felt about it. Keep in mind, for the past oh, I don’t know, three years, I’ve been pretty quiet regarding his M.I.A. status (that isn’t entirely true. There have been times I’ve expressed well warranted frustration. My Twitter bio currently includes ‘Patiently waiting for Frank Ocean’s new album’ so you know right there it’s been a focal point to me personally).

 

largeThe point is, I’ve been pretty held back when it comes to discussing Ocean in person. I’ll get angry for about five seconds but it was the other night my rant truly brought this current post to light. When my friend asked me what I thought about the situation and the four years Ocean’s been totally off the map, I expressed how I truly felt.

Ocean doesn’t give a shit about what any of you think. He doesn’t care about what die hard fans think because at the end of the day, if they are truly fans, they’ll stick it through no matter what. He’s depending on your naivety and dedication and if you decide to give up, he still won’t care. From 2012 to now, I can’t count the number of times I’ve checked to see when the album was being released. I also cannot count the amount of times I’ve seen stupid people type or say the exact same thing.

“Oh my God, his album is dropping apparently. I can’t wait, this is amazing. It’s been so long I am so excited! He definitely delayed it far too long, but it’s going to be worth it.”

*A day or so later*

“Wow Frank Ocean is such an asshole. Does he not care like I do? This is ridiculous, I can’t believe I was hopeful. I’ll never listen to him again.”

The same cycle comes back when that person hears that his album is going to drop. That’s the beauty of publicity today. Whether or not Ocean is using this to his advantage (he totally is. This is a beautiful and excruciating marketing ploy to get people to flock to his album if and when it’s ever released) remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is no matter how many times he delays it, messes with all of you, says he’s going to drop it but doesn’t, posts cryptic videos and sounds to his website, has his brother tweet out or post a fake release date or goes off the grid for another three months, people are always going to come back for more. It’s what we do.

It also doesn’t help matters that Ocean is arguably one of the most talented artists out there (he is, I don’t care if you say otherwise) and he probably knows how amazing this album is, cocky or not. Notable people like James Blake, Chance the Rapper and other music producers have publicly come out to say this album is going to be amazing and that it is. I believe them, and apparently so does everyone else, because we all keep coming back despite the torture.

In a nutshell, that’s what I told my friend. I am not Ocean’s most rational fan. I too have been frustrated and disappointed that my go-too artist hasn’t done anything solo since Channel Orange, which also happens to be one of, if not my all-time favorite album. I’m not kidding either, there have been days where I truly wish I could immerse myself into the musical world that is Ocean’s new album, but that hasn’t happened and my point is, when it does, no one is going to care how long it took because their focus is going to be on the product, not the wait.

I’ve seen people rhetorically pose the question “Does Ocean care about his fans!?” and I don’t know the answer. What I do know is whether or not they are true fans, people have been talking about this a whole lot and that can only mean one thing: They care enough to want to complain about it meaning they’ll want to be the ones breaking the news when anything relevant pops up. Ocean knows this, or he wouldn’t be going through all of this trouble.

When someone (an artist, athlete or celebrity) play with the public to this extent, it garners attention be it good or bad. Whether or not you say you hate or love him, Ocean doesn’t give a damn. All he cares about (I don’t truly know what he cares about) is doing his own thing and proving that people are dependent on the source, whatever that source may be, because it gives them excitement and emotional attachment. Its literally turned into the “Frank Ocean Watch”; a wild series that has been extended for almost five-years now and has been renewed because despite any negative reviews, people love this shit. They love to want more and more and more and only be left with something they know is coming which is utter disappointment. The crazy thing is, they don’t truly consider it disappointment, just something else to talk about.

When the dust settles and Ocean releases his album, everyone is going to say they knew the whole time he would release it on that date. It’s about pride, not the album drop. Instead, it’s turned into a game of cat and mouse. The publication who drop the juiciest Ocean news are going to be heralded and when the music comes, no one is going to care it took him almost five full years to do it.

All that’s going to matter is the finishing product – not the time it took to be delivered – and I think Ocean is proving something remarkable here. It doesn’t faze him at all that people are discussing at length how much of a douche he is because he’ll know that same douche is going to be critically acclaimed when the music comes, not labelled as being a horrible man.

At the end of the day, I too want to listen to his music, but I learned a long time ago that it will come when it comes. Maybe I am naive and maybe I have way too much hope in a guy who hasn’t delivered anything relevant since 2012. The point is, the only ones who truly care are the ones who want to be recognized for the drama, not the excitement of new music. Sure they’ll touch on it when the album is released, but it’s going to be more about who can get the best Ocean gossip and news coverage on this current charade of a situation. He’s turned it into a circus but Ocean isn’t part of the act, he’s simply on the sidelines admiring what he’s created while holding the key to it all.

An album.

 

The Blue Jays were buyers without having to sell

When you think of a team buying and others selling, you typically have a good idea which ones fall into the separate categories.

In sports you always have buyers and sellers: teams that will pursue a handful of talented players and others who will sell because there is no realistic shot at them competing.

The Toronto Blue Jays found themselves in a predictable yet promising spot. Before the deadline they were considered legitimate threats in the American League with room to grow – particularly in their bullpen. They added some good pieces albeit minor ones in the form of Melvin Upton Jr. who, while not flashy, is a good piece to have in the outfield moving forward. They acquired Upton in a deal that many considered positive since Toronto sent a lower tier prospect in Hansel Rodriguez and also got San Diego to take all but $5-million dollars of Upton’s current salary.

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 22: Joaquin Benoit #56 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the bottom of the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 22, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joaquin Benoit

MILWAUKEE, WI – APRIL 22: Joaquin Benoit #56 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the bottom of the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 22, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joaquin Benoit

On the same day Toronto went out and traded the struggling Drew Storen to Seattle for Joaquin Benoit; another reliever whose struggles were well known. Once again many praised the deal because Storen had been abnormally bad and while Benoit hadn’t been great either, he was slowly starting to turn things around in Seattle while Storen was not in Toronto. By all accounts another good trade for the Jays.

As the deadline approached many linked Toronto to a few starters – Rich Hill, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Hellickson  – and to some relievers since their bullpen has been average. The Jays were going to be buyers and the talk around town was generally positive.

The deadline is over and the Jays managed to do something not many buying teams typically achieve. They got a handful of assets without giving up any top prospects. This, by the way, was in a sellers market considering the New York Yankees literally rebuilt their farm system trading Aroldis Chapman (whom they can still sign in the off-season if they want), Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran all for enormous returns. We’ll get to specifics later.

The San Francisco Giants (another team considered legitimate contenders) bought at the deadline but also gave up a ton of youthful assets including top prospect Phil Bickford (Will Smith deal), steady third baseman Matt Duffy and respectable minor leaguers Miguel Santos and Lucius Fox (Matt Moore deal). They also sent youngster Adalberto Mejia to Minnesota for Eduardo Nunez which was received a little better. When the dust all settled, the Giants acquired three average to slightly above Major Leaguers for five younger guys who could all turn out, at best, to be adequate players some day. Five assets for three players is good depending how you look at it.

The Texas Rangers, also buyers, did a fantastic job on deadline day acquiring Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. While these acquisitions are impressive and better than what Toronto accomplished, they also gave up five prospects to do it including the heavily touted Lewis Brinson and Dillon Tate. While these moves will no doubt improve the Rangers, they still gave up the same amount of assets as the Giants but got much better guys in return.

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Jason Grilli as a member of the Jays. Grilli has been a force in the Jays bullpen since coming over from Atlanta.

Let’s go back to the Jays. Toronto had yet to give up anything eye opening in terms of young talent though they only acquired Upton and Benoit. Before that they got Jason Grilli from Atlanta for a minor leaguer which has significantly helped stabilize their bullpen. That’s when news broke the Jays got pitcher Scott Feldman from Houston for prospect Guadalupe Chavez, a 19 year-old starter with a long, long way to go before he reaches the highest level. Feldman isn’t flashy but is a proven and fairly reliable arm that can either start or come out of the pen.

The Jays needed Feldman because immediately after, news broke they shipped Jesse Chavez to the LA Dodgers for Mike Bolsinger, a starter who will report to AAA Buffalo for now. He then replaced Drew Hutchison who turned out to be part of one of the biggest acquisitions in the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins era. It was reported the Jays acquired Francisco Liriano and two prospects (what… a buying team receiving prospects?) for Hutchison and Hutchison alone. Can’t be right, refresh Twitter.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what the deal was. Liriano and two fairly decent young assets (Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire were ranked as Pittsburgh’s number eight and nine prospects’) for Hutchison, a pitcher who couldn’t crack Toronto’s rotation and who struggled mightily last season. So at the end of it all the Jays ended up getting Grilli, Upton, Benoit, Feldman, Bolsinger, Liriano and two prospects for Storen, Chavez, Hutchison and two prospects (Rodriguez and Guadalupe Chavez as mentioned). That is definitely worth noting.

Now, a lot still needs to happen. The Jays have to hope that Liriano can offer steady production from the rotation considering their best pitcher Aaron Sanchez is heading to the bullpen and like any team need, some luck in the health department. It makes things interesting though because last season the Jays traded away a ton of top talent for Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere. They managed to turn those guys into J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada who replaced Price for less term and money and also turned Benoit into Storen, another plus. They did all of this without sacrificing any of their top young talent including Anthony Alford, Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris and Rowdy Tellez to name a few. That, my friends, should be considered a huge win and sigh of relief especially if you look at what other buyers gave up.

The Jays now have a ton of options at their disposal. With Sanchez returning to the bullpen, they now possess a ton of depth there with room to grow. A group consisting of Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini, Sanchez, Grilli, Benoit and the newly acquired Feldman is very good especially if they all click and remain consistent. It’s up there with one of the best bullpens in the AL (on paper, mind you). They also have Bo Schultz, Ryan Tepera, Chad Girodo, Pat Venditte and now Bolsinger as call ups if needed. Depth my friends, depth.

Marcus Stroman will be leaned on even more now that Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen.

Marcus Stroman will be leaned on even more now that Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen.

Their rotation is now more of a question mark but still have what it takes to be good. Happ and Estrada are enjoying terrific seasons and if the Jays offence stay healthy and continue to do what they do, it’ll stay that way. They will need Liriano to be better than he has been this year and they’ll have to count on Marcus Stroman to be more consistent. R.A. Dickey just needs to do what he does and hope the team scores a lot of runs when he starts. The point is, a rotation without Sanchez may not sound better right now but could be if Liriano and Stroman improve. A five man set of Stroman, Liriano, Happ, Estrada and Dickey is by no means bad especially if you consider Hutchison would have been our fifth guy.

Toronto should be handed out a ton of praise for the work they have done this season in terms of assessing their current talent and acquiring it outside of the organization. They did what many buyers fail to do which is get good players but not have to pay an insane price to do so. While it’s evident the Rangers got better and the Red Sox are still very much in play to be competitive, the Jays bought without having to sell and did so in a very impressive way.

Toronto has what it takes now to continue the ride and make the playoffs. They have been unique buyers and that is going to go a long way in helping them succeed now and in the future.

 

The significance of the Melvin Upton Jr. trade

The Toronto Blue Jays made a deal early Tuesday morning that saw them acquire not a starter or reliever, but an outfielder who used to haunt them in their own division.

Melvin Upton Jr. – formally known as B.J. for those who remember his days with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays – was acquired by the Blue Jays for Class A pitching prospect Hansel Rodriguez according to FOX Sports Ken Rosenthal and FanRag Sports writer Jon Heyman. In addition to this, San Diego will take back a large part of Upton’s salary but we’ll get more into that in a minute. The Upton sweepstakes were well known as the Padres have been shopping some key players the last few weeks and Upton’s name was linked to the Jays during that time.

Though it’s obvious the Jays need significant bullpen help and possibly a starter if and when Aaron Sanchez gets demoted, the addition of Upton still makes a ton of sense for a few reasons. This season Upton is being paid slightly over $16 million dollars and has one year left on said deal which will pay him $17 million in 2017. The 31 year-old outfielder was drafted second overall by Tampa Bay back in 2002 and many around baseball labeled Upton has a potential star with solid tools across the board. Though that star status wasn’t fully met, Upton had eight solid seasons with Tampa Bay slashing .255/.336/.422 swiping 232 bases. Upton signed with Atlanta in the off-season of 2012-13 on a hefty five-year, $75.5 million dollar deal joining his brother Justin. He only lasted two years in Atlanta due to various injuries and significant struggles at the plate hitting a combined .198/.279/.314 and was added as a salary dump in the Craig Kimbrel trade which saw him and others go to San Diego. Though his last four years in the National League leave much to be desired, Upton has been better in 2016 which is why the Jays – and other teams including the Baltimore Orioles – showed interest. Upton’s best years came when he was a member of the Rays and in the American League East division so the Jays weren’t alone in thinking his numbers could get even better with a change of scenery back to his original stomping grounds.

Upton Jr. as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Upton Jr. as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Some more numbers tell me this trade could be beneficial for the Jays now and into next season. Hitting at the Rogers Centre, Upton’s career numbers are promising at .277/.354/.437 with six home runs and 23 runs batted in. He also has solid value against left handed pitching (a trend for the Blue Jays who demolish left handers) as Upton has managed a career .357 OBP% and this season alone has been hitting .282/.337/.576 all versus lefties. Upton is also making the best contact of his career hitting the ball at a hard rate of 33.8% as his soft batted ball rate is a career low 18.7% respectively. With that said, there are some red flags as well. Upton is by no means a consistent baseball player and has struggled at times in alarming fashion the last three or four years playing in the National League. While his stop in Atlanta can possibly be considered a bump in the road, Upton still has a lot more to prove before this trade is considered a win for the Jays. Here’s the thing that fans may need to come to terms with: Upton may very well be Jose Bautista’s replacement in the outfield not only this year but in general. Before people start to panic, consider this.

The Jays front office has done an admirable job assessing the team and where they stand. They didn’t offer a contract to David Price and instead used the available money to sign both Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ who – let me remind you – have been equally good and at times even better than Price in 2016. For less term and money I take those deals every day of the week. The same is going to happen and already is happening with both Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. While it’s still possible Toronto entertain the idea of re-signing one of the two sluggers, the likelihood of both leaving to sign big contracts for even larger amounts of money is very high. It’s part of the business and it’s the players right to test the market and that’s exactly what will happen. Does that mean Toronto is better off being left out in the dark? No. Much like the Jay Bruce deal that didn’t happen earlier in the season, both Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro are looking at options for now and the future. It isn’t a coincidence both Bruce and Upton have two years left on their deals (Bruce has a very team friendly $13 million dollar option for 2017) while Upton will earn more for Toronto next season but definitely far less than both Bautista and Encarnacion. Comparing Upton to Bautista is useless but there’s no denying that Joey Bats is no longer fit for the outfield and that Upton is an upgrade defensively. It also happens to be that Upton is five-years younger than Bautista and offers up good speed on the base paths.

With all that said, the focus for Toronto should be right now though mentioning and at least being aware of the future is also important. Right now this trade means the Jays got better. The prospect they sent in the deal is replaceable and the fact that San Diego is paying a large amount of Upton’s current deal is very important. The Jays will now likely shift their focus to the pitching market in hopes of landing a good reliever though acquiring a starter isn’t out of the question either. For fans this trade helps the Jays right now but the potential significance down the road is also worth noting.

SIDENOTE:

This news was released following the completion of my post but according to Heyman, the Padres will pay all but $5 million of Upton’s remaining salary meaning the Jays did extremely well in this area of the deal and by well I mean fantastic. If Toronto pays Upton only $5 million dollars of his current salary not only does it give them financial flexibility in hopes of retaining Bautista, Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, it may allow them to pursue another player before the trade deadline.

Blue Jays trade deadline watch: 10 players Toronto should target

Because baseball is the sport of the summer, you’ll likely find me blogging about it constantly. It helps when the Blue Jays are competitive despite finding themselves in an interesting transition which I have touched on in my previous posts.

That is all going to be tossed under the rug today and instead we are going to discuss who Toronto should target from now until the trade deadline. I put together a list consisting of 10 players you probably won’t find on the rumour mill and who I believe would be terrific fits with the club. Most of them are pitchers and relievers as I think the Jays will and should focus on their rotation and bullpen. For the sake of going off the board, the guys you’re about to see listed may come as a surprise but thanks to some research and common sense, all of them are currently on teams that are likely going to be sellers. In no particular order, let’s take a look at who I have.

 

SP Anthony DeSclafani, Cincinnati Reds

DeSclafani pitching for the Reds in 2015. The 26 year-old has been one of the bright spots on a struggling team this season.

DeSclafani pitching for the Reds in 2015. The 26 year-old has been one of the bright spots on a struggling team this season.

DeSclafani is an intriguing name that hasn’t been talked about much because he just returned from injury. The 26 year-old Reds starter hasn’t missed a beat since rejoining the rotation putting together a 4-0 record with a 2.55 ERA amassing 37 strikeouts and only nine walks in seven starts. He’s been very good.

With that said the Reds will probably be open to moving anyone on the roster particularly in their rotation (maybe other than 23 year-old starter Brandin Finnegan). DeSclafani has Blue Jays ties too as he was drafted by them back in 2011 as a sixth rounder and was traded as part of the Jose Reyes trade from Miami back in 2012. While he has only started in 43 games in his career, his numbers are promising as he’s posted a FIP below 4.00 during that span and according to FanGraphs’ batted ball percentages is limiting hitters to a career best 28.2 hard ball mark which measures how fast the ball leaves an opposing players bat. He’s under club control until 2021 and would fit nicely in a Jays rotation that hasn’t decided what to do with Aaron Sanchez.

 

 

LHP Will Smith and SP Junior Guerra, Milwaukee Brewers

Smith has been one of the better left handed relievers the last two years.

Smith has been one of the better left handed relievers the last two years.

 

Guerra would be an under the radar move that could pay off for Toronto.

Guerra would be an under the radar move that could pay off for Toronto.

We begin with Smith who is likely going to be sought after by teams looking for relief help. While I did say I had a lot of guys you wouldn’t expect to be on a list such as this one, Smith is a well known commodity at the moment.

The 27 year-old, 6’5 left hander has been lights out this season coming off a terrific 2015 campaign and has appeared in 154 games since 2014. He’s one of the more reliable arms on the market and would look terrific in a Jays bullpen seeking immediate stability; especially considering both left handers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup have failed to leave any impact. The Jays need help here and Smith would fill that void.

Guerra meanwhile is a late bloomer and carries a bit more risk. He’s been around the Minors for most of his career and at 31 years-old doesn’t have much upside. With that said, Guerra has been one of the more consistent Brewers starters this season going 6-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 72 strikeouts including a 1.07 WHIP. The 13 games he’s started are a career high so that’s somewhat alarming but his ground ball rate is also very good at 43% according to FanGraphs. The Jays could pursue Guerra as a cheaper option and either insert him at the back end of their rotation or simply move him to the bullpen as another reliable arm.

 

 

SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

Teheran has quietly been one of the better starters in the NL this season posting elite numbers.

Teheran has quietly been one of the better starters in the NL this season posting elite numbers.

 

Teheran has been one of the more intriguing stories this year pitching on one of the worst teams in baseball. When he’s on Teheran is one of the better young pitchers in the game but he’s struggled with consistency at times. That hasn’t been the case this year as he’s posted fantastic numbers as the Braves ace limiting hitters to a .203 batting average, a ridiculously good 0.95 WHIP and has improved his command and control drastically with only 26 walks to date. His run support is also at second worst in the league coming in at 2.9 which goes to show how little help he’s had.

Teheran is signed until 2021 and will earn $11 million in 2019 as his salary increases each year. Because he’s young, under contract and is having a terrific season his cost will be high so that may limit Toronto’s interest. This would make a lot of sense though considering Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins covet a strong starting rotation and it isn’t hard to imagine Marcus Stroman, Sanchez and Teheran as cornerstones of their starting group for years to come.

It would be a fantastic move that would make Toronto’s rotation that much better. If Sanchez were moved to the bullpen Teheran could take his place. If they intend to keep him, the three along with Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ would be one of the better rotations in baseball. R.A. Dickey would be the wildcard there which is why it would be a tough move to make. Still, Teheran would offer up a lot of potential for the Jays.

 

 

LHP Fernando Abad and C Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins

Abad would give the Jays another situational lefty in their pen and he's been successful in that role in the past.

Abad would give the Jays another situational lefty in their pen and he’s been successful in that role in the past.

 

Suzuki is a good hitting catcher who could slide into Toronto's backup position nicely.

Suzuki is a good hitting catcher who could slide into Toronto’s backup position nicely.

 

One of these two names likely come as a surprise so let’s begin with the more logical target in Abad. The 31 year-old lefty reliever had been successful out of the pen this year for the lowly Twins. Notice the minor trend here with lefty relievers? The Jays have Cecil hitting free agency this coming off-season and Abad is signed to a very cheap deal worth over $500,000 until 2018. Much like Smith he would be a welcomed addition to a struggling Jays pen who lack a good left handed reliever.

Suzuki meanwhile would give the Jays a legitimate backup catcher to spell Russell Martin on some nights. There are some issues and risk here that wouldn’t make this deal happen such as Dickey’s lovable yet useless personal backup Josh Thole and the fact that Suzuki is still regarded as a capable starter under contract until 2018. If the Jays were able to shed Martin’s contract in the off-season this move would make more sense as Suzuki is a better all around hitter though he lacks the defence Martin brings. I still think this is something that could work if the right offer was made by the Jays.

 

 

SP Matt Shoemaker and RF Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels

Under the surface Shoemaker has been one of the more effective pitchers as of late.

Under the surface Shoemaker has been one of the more effective pitchers as of late.

 

Calhoun manning right field for Toronto would be a welcomed addition now and in the future.

Calhoun manning right field for Toronto would be a welcomed addition now and in the future.

I am going off the board again with these two but that’s the point of this post. While the focus will be on both Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson – who are slated to hit the open market this off-season – Shoemaker is definitely someone I would love the Jays to target through trade. The Angels are 11 games under .500 and should be poised to sell and even though luring Shoemaker away would be difficult, he would be a huge upgrade in their rotation.

His strikeouts per nine innings is at a career high (9.34) while his walks per nine innings is also at the lowest it’s ever been (1.87). Don’t put too much stock in his record (5-9 and 4.04 ERA) because he’s been a whole lot better than that as his FIP currently sits at 3.35 which paints a clearer picture of his effectiveness on the mound. It’s also important to keep in mind Shoemaker’s run support is seventh lowest in the Majors with the Angels generating only 3.4 runs when he starts. His contract is extremely valuable as well considering he has four more years of arbitration; something former Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos coveted. The Angels probably opt to keep Shoemaker but if the Jays can somehow convince them to trade him, it would arguably be the best move they could make this season.

Calhoun meanwhile is another guy the Angels would have a hard time parting with but considering the Jays are looking into outfielders, why not try and grab someone who could potentially take Jose Bautista’s place if he leaves? Much like Shoemaker, Calhoun will have three more years of arbitration eligibility and is one of the better hitting outfielders in the league this year with the sixth highest OBP% for right fielders. His WAR the past three years is 9.8 which is right up there with Bautista’s (11.1) despite Calhoun being seven years younger and under contract for the next little while.

Again, it would take some interesting negotiations to lure any of these two guys away from Los Angeles despite both being huge upgrades.

 

 

SP Matt Andriese, Tampa Bay Rays

Andriese has been quietly putting up good numbers for a struggling Rays team looking to sell.

Andriese has been quietly putting up good numbers for a struggling Rays team looking to sell.

 

Trading in the division is hard but something can always work out especially if the Rays focus on trading other big names such as Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly. Andriese doesn’t fall under the highly sought after category but could be a solid bullpen arm or spot starter for the Jays if they decide to look at him.

The 26 year-old lacks experience as he’s only appeared in 40 career games and 18 starts but this year has been one of the better arms for the Rays in limited action. In 15 games this season (eight starts) he’s posted a 6-2 record and a very, very good FIP (2.86) and his LOB% (Left on base percentage) is second best for Rays starters at 71.9%.

Andriese wouldn’t be the sexiest addition ever but if the Jays can work in their division and manage a trade, he would offer better production than all of Odorizzi, Moore and Smyly. Plug him in the bullpen and add depth there or let him start at the bottom end of the rotation and it’s a win win.

 

 

RF Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox

If the White Sox decide to sell, Eaton would quickly become one of the more sought after players.

If the White Sox decide to sell, Eaton would quickly become one of the more sought after players.

 

Guess what I am going off the board again with this one. Eaton is one of my favourite players in the league due to his play and extreme acts of kindness off the field. He also happens to be one of the most valuable yet underrated outfielders in all of baseball though at first glance it may not seem like it.

Eaton isn’t a power hitter and is listed at 5’8 but gets on base a whole lot, is a very good defensive player, can steal bags and hits for average. The past three seasons his OBP% has been almost the exact same at .360 which is very good and how’s this for an eye opening stat: Of all White Sox position players, Eaton’s WAR is 3.4 and second to him is Brett Lawrie at 0.9. That’s pretty crazy.

The big question here is if the White Sox value Eaton as highly as I do. My guess would be they do but if they sell – which they should considering they’ve been one of the worst teams record wise as of late – Eaton could be a guy many teams look at. It would make a ton of sense for Toronto as Eaton could immediately slot in as their lead-off man and right fielder with Bautista shifting to DH duties to rest his ailing foot. Like other names in this post, the chances of Chicago parting with Eaton are slim as they signed him to a five year extension in 2015 but that doesn’t always mean as much. That is where I pose this question.

Would the Jays be willing to move Bautista for a player like Eaton? That’s where things get complicated. Bautista has 10/5 rights (10 years in the league and five with Toronto) meaning he can veto any deal. His injury obviously limits any trade talk at the moment but the White Sox do have Melky Cabrera and Dioner Navarro; two players Bautista was close with during their time in Toronto. Obviously any trade involving Bautista would be extremely difficult for fans to come to terms with and the White Sox would be the ones taking on all the risk considering he’s a free agent at season’s end. In my opinion though, Eaton offers up everything you want in a replacement other than high power numbers which brings me to a bonus edition of this post… an added name in the list.

 

 

OF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers (Bonus edition)

The risk of trading for Puig is high but the reward would be huge if he got back to his old ways.

The risk of trading for Puig is high but the reward would be huge if he got back to his old ways.

 

What a move this would be. Puig has as much talent as any player in the league but it’s his decision making and lack-luster effort that gets him into trouble. In 2013 and 2014 Puig looked like a player on the rise and a franchise talent for the Dodgers but since then he’s fallen way down the ranks with some questioning his ability to ever get back to that level again.

That’s where the Jays could come in. Anthopoulos works in LA now and is familiar with Bautista. While there is no DH in the National League, Bautista’s arrival and surprisingly calmer demeanor in comparison to Puig would likely be welcomed with open arms. Considering the Dodgers are one of the most valuable franchises in sports today, you can bet they would have enough cash to flash in front of him this off-season. The Dodgers would have all the leverage here as Puig will earn $6.5 million in 2017 and $7.5 million in 2018 before hitting arbitration in 2019 and eventually having the chance to become a free agent in 2020 when he turns 29 years-old. Compare that to the hefty contract Bautista will covet this off-season and you have a big difference in salaries.

With that said, from the Jays perspective would it be smart to trade Bautista for Puig straight up? It would make for an interesting swap. Bautista is 35 going on 36 and many believe his best years are behind him. In Puig’s case he still has untapped potential at age 25 and has flashed brilliance despite his mental lapses, clashes with coaches and teammates and alarming inconsistencies. Puig’s numbers have also taken a serious dip since he burst onto the scene in 2013 and 2014 as his OBP% and batting average the first two seasons were .391/.319 and .382/.296 respectively. Though he has struggled with injuries the last two years, Puig’s OBP% and batting average dipped to .322/.255 and .321/.257 this year which are almost identical. He’s also been making increasingly softer contact since he entered the league and according to FanGraphs it’s seen a substantial dip (37.5% in his rookie year and it’s gone down to 30.7% this season). With all this brought to the surface would it make sense for both sides?

I don’t think current Jays management would be willing to take the risk on Puig. It’s a very interesting debate as Puig is one of the more intriguing names in baseball strictly based on talent and potential but trading a figure like Bautista for a ticking time bomb likely trumps any idea of it happening.

There you have it everyone.

The Toronto Blue Jays future outlook: Part two

Believing in psychics is crazy.

If you’re one of those people who get their fortune read I apologize in advance for sounding obnoxious but I don’t believe for a second they hold any value or legitimacy whatsoever. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try and predict certain things.

In sports the future outlook of a team or player is always a topic of conversation that can last a long time. Talking about the present is nice but when you start to dive into the complexity of what a team may or may not do that’s when you either start to sound crazy or stumble upon something that makes sense.

I touched on something similar not long ago when I wrote about the future of the Blue Jays and how it’s going to be moulded by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins; the Blue Jays newly appointed president and general manager. We can talk about the future all we want and that is why I am going to do somewhat of a part two to my previous post because I have more to say and some ideas worth discussing.

Smoak will return to the Blue Jays next season thanks to a new two year extension.

Smoak will return to the Blue Jays next season thanks to a new two year extension.

First off let’s start with fresh news. Toronto extended first baseman Justin Smoak the other day for $8.25 million over two years which is fine by me. Many people who know a thing or two about baseball have told me they don’t love Smoak because of his below average plate discipline and the lack of a wow factor to his game. With that said, I don’t necessarily agree that Smoak is a useless player. His career on base percentage (OBP%) is only .310 which leaves a lot to be desired so it could be a fluke this next number is higher than usual but it’s worth noting its gone up to an above average .335 so far this season. Even still the fact Smoak is walking more seems to tell me his plate discipline has improved especially since he already has 31 walks in 222 at bats which is more than the past two seasons (only 29 walks in 296 at bats last year and 24 the year before with Seattle). Not tremendously great statistics by any means but the Jays could do worse at first base.

Smoak’s defence at the position happens to be extremely important. At 29 years-old it’s safe to assume Smoak has little to no more upside but the fact his fielding percentage at the position is a career .995 shows that he’s more than capable there. Two fellow first baseman who are highly regarded defensively – Brandon Belt and Mark Teixeira – have career .994 and .996 fielding percentages (keep in mind Belt is a better comparison because Teixeira has played far more games at first base).

With all that said, Smoak being extended for two more years is by no means a terrible move. With so many upcoming free agents on their current roster, signing a defensively capable first baseman with decent power and slightly improved plate discipline is a good decision. With Edwin Encarnacion likely heading to free agency, the risk of losing not one but two starting first baseman is pretty substantial.

With Smoak back in the fold that pushes the Blue Jays’ payroll guarantees to $88.625 million for seven players next year. Depending on where that number ends up – their attendance is already on pace to exceed three million for the first time since 1993 – it should be higher than the $140 million it’s at this year which means there won’t be a lot of free cash to plug their remaining holes. As far as position players go the Jays have all of Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins and now Smoak signed past next year. That isn’t a bad core by any means especially since Donaldson is still hitting at an MVP rate and both Pillar and Travis still have a lot of good baseball left in them. The questions will begin immediately this off-season.

Saunders is currently slashing a career best .289/.336/.533 and will be a free agent at season's end.

Saunders is currently slashing a career best .289/.336/.533 and will be a free agent at season’s end.

We all know the uncertainty behind Jose Bautista and Encarnacion’s future. Like I said earlier it’s impossible to predict what happens as I myself have gone back and fourth trying to assume who I think will be back. One day it’s Bautista leaving and the next it’s both of them but we won’t know until later. Let’s assume for a second that both of them sign elsewhere and Toronto management bite the bullet. In that case the Jays would opt to send qualifying offers to both Encarnacion and Bautista meaning if they go, Toronto receives two first round draft picks no matter what. Taking that into consideration it wouldn’t be shocking to see them go that route opting to maximize their draft strategies leading to more prospects in the system (something Shapiro and Atkins covet). In addition to this possibility, the Jays will need to decide what to do with Michael Saunders who, you guessed it, is also a free agent at season’s end. While he would come cheaper, because of the career year he’s had to date, it wouldn’t be crazy to think he could command a hefty contract if he were to test the market. The Jays almost sent him to Cincinnati for Jay Bruce before the season even began despite it working out for both teams. According to reports the Jays still have interest in adding an outfielder which isn’t too surprising considering they’re buyers looking to add and the Reds are in sell mode with Bruce holding the most value. What the Jays could do is trade for Bruce or another outfielder with contract control (Bruce has a team friendly $8.5 million dollar option for next season for example) and let Bautista and Encarnacion walk while retaining Saunders. That would leave them with an outfield consisting of Saunders, Pillar and Bruce and no real loss of power from the middle of the lineup considering Bruce has hit 158 home runs since 2011 while Bautista has 185. We won’t begin to compare Bautista to Bruce because I do believe that Bautista offers a lot more at the dish (lower strikeout totals and better plate discipline) but it still leaves the Jays with options even though some fans would consider Bautista departing a travesty.

That’s just one scenario. Sticking with the same idea let’s say Saunders returns, the Jays promote someone like Dalton Pompey or eventually top prospect Anthony Alford if and when he’s ready to take Bautista’s place and grant Smoak with every day first base duties. That would leave a spot open for someone to play DH and one would assume the Jays would give it to someone who can hit. Whether or not they keep one of Encarnacion or Bautista and say “Ok you’re our permanent DH but you can see time at first base as well if you want” remains to be seen but it would make a ton of sense to see something like that happen especially for Bautista who at age 35 is becoming a very erratic player in the field with increasing injury problems. Give one of the sluggers every day DH duties and occasional spot starts or just re-sign Encarnacion, have him play first base more often than not and have Smoak as your DH. See what I mean here? The Jays have options though there are risks with any future decision.

Sanchez, 24, and Stroman, 25, are both staples in the Jays rotation and will likely grow together as starters.

Sanchez, 24, and Stroman, 25, are both staples in the Jays rotation and will likely grow together as starters.

Moving on to their starting pitching, the Jays seem to be in fairly decent shape now and in the long term. Aaron Sanchez looks like he has what it takes to be a number one starter and if Marcus Stroman gets back to pitching more consistently, the Jays have two young pitchers under contract for a while who can grow together. With R.A. Dickey likely gone at season’s end, the Jays could dip into the free agent market for a cheap starter to take his place. Considering both J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada will be back for 2017, that leaves only one spot available if and when Dickey departs (assuming of course the Jays don’t do something stupid and make Sanchez a permanent reliever in 2017). But looking even further along down the road, Toronto’s starting pitching looks like it’s going to be in good shape.

Remember those two first round picks I mentioned? If the Jays let their two big free agents go and get attached draft picks thanks to their qualifying offers, it gives them three and maybe more first round selections in the next draft. Pitching is always a top priority so it’s safe to assume them targeting a few starters early on is logical adding even more depth to a somewhat thinner system. While their prospect pool lost some quality arms last season, the Jays have a few guys exceeding expectations and even though it’s early, they could have a few future gems on their hands. Both Jon Harris and Sean Reid-Foley have gone a combined 16-4 in the minors this season pitching primarily in Single A. While it’s true they still have a long way to go and not much stock should be put into Single A stats, the Jays do have a good track record of drafting and developing their pitchers (Sanchez, Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Noah Syndergaard to name a few). Add that to Harris and Reid-Foley’s draft position (Harris was a first round pick while Reid-Foley was taken in round two) they have all of this on their side. Both of these young pitchers have good size standing over 6’2 and if all goes well could advance to Double A by season’s end. Barring any crazy trades from now until the deadline both Harris and Reid-Foley will be valued by Shapiro allowing them the chance to develop steadily in their system. At best Toronto could find themselves with two middle of the rotation guys and if you take into account both of them have a shot to make the Majors in a few years, that would mean both Sanchez and Stroman will be in their prime at age 26, 27 or 28 while still likely under contract.

Danny Salazar of Cleveland is one of the driving forces behind one of the best rotations in all of baseball.

Danny Salazar of Cleveland is one of the driving forces behind one of the best rotations in all of baseball.

I mention this because the Cleveland Indians – Shapiro and Atkins’ former team – followed a similar approach with their starting pitching allowing all of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco (both of them were traded for early on in their careers) Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin the chance to stick in the rotation. Cleveland possesses what is considered one of the deepest and most consistent rotations in baseball and all of that is thanks to Shapiro and Atkins who were involved to help Cleveland acquire/sign them. With a track record like that, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Toronto follow a similar path meaning the rotation will likely be a top priority for the Jays moving forward. If both Sanchez and Stroman remain successful and Harris, Reid-Foley and other prospects take similar steps forward, Toronto’s rotation will be in very good shape in the long run.

Though it’s not hard to envision a scenario that see’s the Jays change their landscape heading into next season, they still have a lot of options at their disposal to make the team better for the future. Their window to win is still open – specifically this year if and when the right additions are made – but it’s still possible for them to retool and maybe even rebuild the team while still being competitive. They will probably try and go for it this season by making minor adds from now until the deadline without risking losing assets that can help them in the future. It’s when the off-season arrives where things will start to get very interesting and that is when we will get a better idea of their outlook moving forward.

It may be extremely difficult to predict what is going to happen but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

 

 

The future of the Toronto Blue Jays is in Mark Shapiro’s hands

When Mark Shapiro was hired to be the new president of the Toronto Blue Jays on August 21, 2015 many weren’t too sure how to react. Most people who indulge themselves in the game of baseball were familiar with Shapiro mostly due to his time spent in the Cleveland Indians organization as their general manager and more recently their former team president.

Shapiro had spent his entire career in Cleveland (1991 to 2015) and was recognized by many as a well respected figure in the baseball world. Many though were quick to point out how inconsistent Cleveland had been on the baseball field ranging from contenders one year to falling out of playoff contention the next. During his tenure in their front office Cleveland made the playoffs eight times reaching the World Series twice but also failed to remain a force in the American League due to their smaller payroll. A promising sign however for Cleveland fans is how their team has played this season only a year after Shapiro and former player development director and current Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins departed. Cleveland is currently 51-34 and possess what is one of the best starting rotations in baseball with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. In addition they have one of the best young shortstops in the game with Francisco Lindor manning the position and one of the most respected managers in baseball in Terry Francona. What Blue Jays fans can take from this is more positive than negative but the future of the team still remains very much in the air.

While a handful of Blue Jays fans criticized the Shapiro and Atkins hires, the team still has a lot of the same guys that saw them make the playoffs for the first time since 1993. This past off-season is proving their front office made a number of good moves that are currently paying off. The first two that come to mind were the signings of starting pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. When Shapiro opted not to offer then free agent David Price a contract, many around the league were quick to judge and fans took that as a sign of things to come. How could the Jays not offer their ace and golden boy acquisition of the year that was an extension? Price ended up leaving to sign in Boston signing a deal that will pay him $31 million dollars until 2023. Instead the Jays brought back Estrada and signed Happ both for $12 and $13 million respectively. That’s two pitchers for the price of one while both of them have had similar – if not better – success than Price has this season.

While those signings were good ones, the Jays have also done some other positive things since Shapiro’s arrival. They extended 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson for two more years, added Joe Biagini, Jesse Chavez and Jason Grilli to an under achieving bullpen and more importantly allowed Aaron Sanchez the chance to prove himself in the starting rotation. On the outside looking in the Jays seem poised to contend this year and potentially beyond if they continue to make smart front office decisions. The “beyond” is where I’ll tread cautiously.

Shapiro inherited this team on a winning note. Former general manager Alex Anthopoulos went for it all in 2015 acquiring Donaldson, Price and Troy Tulowitzki but it was also reported that Shapiro didn’t necessarily think sending a lot of their prospects for said players was smart. While it’s evident a lot of the guys Anthopoulos got helped the team immensely, Toronto does find themselves in a tricky position more in the long-term than the short, which is why I’m very interested to see what direction Shapiro decides to go in.

Encarnacion is due for a big raise heading into next season and it remains to be seen if he and Toronto see eye to eye.

Encarnacion is due for a big raise heading into next season and it remains to be seen if he and Toronto see eye to eye.

The Jays have enormous decisions to make on 2016 free agents Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The former has had a tremendous season to date while Bautista is currently on the mend with a toe injury. It remains to be seen what Shapiro and company will do but if I had to guess I wouldn’t bet heavily on Encarnacion returning. It’s been rumoured the Jays and the 33 year-old slugger are at an impasse in contract talks despite Encarnacion’s camp stating they wouldn’t negotiate throughout the season meaning the chances he goes to free agency is extremely high. Bautista meanwhile has expressed more of a desire to return but all has been quiet on that front as well. There are reasons why opting to let Encarnacion go makes sense for Toronto though it’s still hard to envision them getting better or remaining the same if and when he leaves. He’s 33 years-old but will turn 34 next winter and is fairly injury prone though that’s expected for a player of his age. His weighted runs plus (wRC+) the past three seasons is exceptional at 150, 151 and currently 135. He’s one of the best sluggers in baseball and will likely command a huge contract this off-season and someone is going to pay him. While it’s stupid to say the Jays should let him walk, I do think the same approach they took with Price could be beneficial; especially if they look at adding one or two other guys to replace him either internally or on the market. The same question will come up this summer for Toronto and it will come down to if they’re willing to pay a soon to be 34 year-old hitter a contract of at least four years ranging anywhere from $20 to $25 million dollars a year. It’s a risk they likely won’t be willing to take especially if you look into account Shapiro’s past decisions.

If the Jays were struggling and didn’t find themselves in a good position, you could bet both Bautista and Encarnacion would be huge trade candidates due to their status as elite hitters. They both would fetch enormous returns but because the team is winning more consistently as of late and are currently second in their division a few games back of the struggling Baltimore Orioles, the general consensus is they are going to try and maintain this success and attempt to make a playoff run. That is all fine and good but the Jays future still is very much up in the air as they have a mix of youth and older players who are being paid significant money.

Tulowitzki and Martin look on.

Tulowitzki and Martin look on.

Both Russell Martin and Tulowitzki are the highest paid players and are under contract until 2020 and 2022. As mentioned before if Toronto weren’t playing well you can bet Atkins would be looking at some potential trades to shed one of those two contracts, particularly Martin’s as catchers regress at a quicker rate than shortstops. While Martin’s value is far more important defensively and in the clubhouse, his performance as a player is declining and figures to only go down from here. The Jays do have catcher Max Pentecost in their system but due to a number of shoulder surgeries is likely going to transition to the outfield or even as a designated hitter.

Tulowitzki meanwhile is a polarizing player. In Colorado he was viewed as one of the best shortstops in baseball but since being traded to the Jays he’s struggled to hit above .240 and has an on base percentage right around .320 since his arrival. With the Rockies his career OBP% was .371 and his weighted runs were significantly higher in Colorado than it has been in Toronto. His batted ball statistics are also down as Tulowitzki’s hard contact percentage has dipped from 42% in 2014 to 37.5% and 34.7% the past two years. Does this mean he’s a bad player? Certainly not but it does prove that hitting in the friendly surroundings of Coors Field – which is considered the most hitter friendly ballpark in the Majors – inflated his stats and made him look a little better than he actually is. So what does this mean moving forward?

The Jays have two highly paid players under contract over the age of 30 who are likely going to regress and two upcoming free agents in Encarnacion and Bautista with very uncertain futures. Estrada, Happ and R.A. Dickey are all over the age of 33 despite good pitching from all of them more often than not (I am not the biggest Dickey fan but he’s been fine I suppose). All of Drew Storen, Brett Cecil, Chavez and Grilli will be free agents in 2017 which puts their bullpen in an interesting position and Michael Saunders – who has been a revelation this season – is also set to become a free agent at season’s end. That leaves Toronto with more pressing questions than answers especially since Saunders is having a career year.

What Shapiro could do is retain Saunders as their starting left fielder and sign him to a reasonable contract sooner rather than later and bring back Bautista who could then shift over to DH or first base. With Happ and Estrada likely back in 2017 and both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez under contract for the foreseeable future, the rotation likely remains in tact for at least another full season while Dickey will likely be let go in the off-season opening the door for a replacement. In the summer if they can find a taker for Martin I wouldn’t be surprised they look at some options there in order to open the door for additional space. While it’s true Toronto’s prospect pool is a bit more thin after the handful of trades last year, they do have a number of intriguing players – particularly pitchers – who have made strides this season. Jon Harris, Sean Reid-Foley and Angel Perdomo are all names to keep an eye on. Harris and Reid-Foley are a little further along than Perdomo and if they end their season’s on a high note, both of them could potentially get called up next year. Anthony Alford remains their best position prospect despite a below average year to date. You can bet he’s granted additional development time to get back up to speed but he could be a staple in Toronto’s outfield if Bautista is either let go or shifted elsewhere.

All in all if I had to guess, the Jays are going to go for it this year in hopes of advancing as far as they possibly can. They aren’t going to trade any of their impending free agents because that wouldn’t make sense given their current state so all they can do is keep the group together and go from there. This off-season though I think a lot of Jays fans should brace for a ton of change as their landscape is likely going to be altered moving forward. It remains to be seen if Shapiro intends to blow up the team completely but given his previous track record I do believe the Blue Jays roster is going to be very different in 2017 paving the way for a possible rebuild. If you don’t like that word you should probably get used to it because the way the current Jays team is shaped, I wouldn’t be surprised the front office decide to go younger far more quickly.

 

 

Thoughts on the NBA Draft and why you should trust Masai Ujiri

For as long as I care to remember the NBA draft has always been one of my favourite events. In general I tend to get pretty involved in studying the large number of prospects that surround every major sport including hockey, football and baseball. Not everyone agrees with this but I find drafts particularly exciting because it means a ton of young prospects are making their way to the highest level in sports and certain selections can easily make or break the direction of your franchise in some – and most – cases.

For the past few years the NBA draft has left me incredibly excited in part because the Toronto Raptors – the team I cheer for – have a quality general manager who doesn’t make bone head decisions (looking at you Rob Babcock). I also love taking the time to read mock drafts to see who slots where and in contrast to previous years, I observed most of these young players during NCAA tournaments to get a better idea of their styles of play.

Utah's Jakob Poeltl going up for a slam dunk. The Raptors chose the Austrian born centre 9th overall.

Utah’s Jakob Poeltl going up for a slam dunk. The Raptors chose the Austrian born centre 9th overall.

As I wrote previously, I had a decent idea of who the Raptors were going to target come draft day with their ninth overall pick and the end result didn’t surprise me at all. Jakob Poeltl – the seven foot centre out of Utah – was their choice and by all accounts was a very solid selection that should help the Raptors now and down the road. Admittedly I was quite high on Gonzaga’s Damontas Sabonis and slightly intrigued with fellow big men Henry Ellenson, Brice Johnson and Skal Labissiere but am still very happy with Poeltl becoming the newest Raptors draft pick. Their second selection surprised many including myself as Ujiri opted to pass on guys who dropped down the board significantly including the aforementioned Labissiere, Deyonta Davis, Cheick Diallo to name a few. Because of some big names that had fallen, many believed the Raptors had a chance to draft a high upside prospect with pick number 27. Instead they selected Pascal Saikam, a 6’9 forward from New Mexico, who was projected to go anywhere from 46th to 57th overall. Eerily similar to what Ujiri has done in the past he chose to go slightly off the board and grab a guy he thinks has what it takes to turn into a solid rotational player down the road.

Poeltl I believe is a perfect addition due to the uncertain future of Bismack Biyombo. He was rated as one of the best pure centres of the draft and has tremendous size and athletic ability. He runs the floor very well for a big man and also has a soft shooting touch that many feel can improve with time. Along with Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira, the Raptors have three young and fairly promising centres who can all shoot decently well from the field and from the free throw line. Barring anything drastic from Ujiri this off-season I anticipate a rotation that includes Valanciunas as their starting five with Poeltl and Nogueira battling out for backup duties. I know this may be a stretch but I firmly believe Poeltl can develop into a more efficient backup than Biyombo is right now. He has underrated post skills as well as a very good offensive game and is also taller than Biyombo (6’9 compared to 7’0). It should be viewed as a win for Toronto considering the enormous pay raise Biyombo is going to receive as a free agent. Immediate flexibility.

Siakam meanwhile is more of an unknown. He’s the first player drafted out of New Mexico since 1991 but has some intriguing skills. He’s a great hustler and improving defensive player who can post-up and block. He’ll need some development time so a trip to the D-League next year is likely. At best Siakam can turn into a good big man off the bench and considering the Raptors have a bevy of pure centres his 6’9 frame would fit in well at the three our four spot. I would say it was a bit of a reach but I trust Ujiri and so should you.

Moving away from just the Raptors, there were a number of teams who made some good and not so good selections including one trade that left me shaking my head. Here’s a short list of some winners and losers of the night that was.

Winners:

The Oklahoma City Thunder

I have no idea if the NBA rigged this trade but when I saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Thunder were rumored to be shopping 26 year-old big man Serge Ibaka who is entering the final year of his contract. The Raptors actually made a push offering the ninth overall pick but the Thunder wisely declined. Instead they took Orlando’s ridiculously insane offer consisting of up and coming guard Victor Oladipo, the 11th overall pick which turned into Damontas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova. Where do I begin?

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 10: Victor Oladipo #5 of the Orlando Magic in a game against the Sacramento Kings on January 10, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Victor Oladipo #5 of the Orlando Magic in a game against the Sacramento Kings on January 10, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.

Why the Magic gave up on not one but two promising young players is beyond me. They selected Oladipo second overall back in 2013 and the young guard had been progressing steadily each season (player efficiency rating of 14, 16 and 18 this past year). As if that wasn’t bad enough they drafted and sent Sabonis – a player that many believe can turn into a very good big man off the bench – as part of the trade along with Ilyasova, another underrated big who can shoot, rebound and defend all fairly well. The Magic get Ibaka for one year in hopes of convincing him to stay when he hits free agency next summer. Makes sense!

This is a huge win for the Thunder who improved their back court immensely by getting Oladipo who will slot in beside Russ Westbrook as well as two good big men to replace Ibaka. If they were trying to help convince Kevin Durant to stay put, they couldn’t have done a better job. I mean seriously think about it for a second Westbrook, Oladipo and Durant along with Enes Kanter and Steven Adams plus Ilyasova and Sabonis. Wow.

Minnesota Timberwolves 

The Timberwolves are on the path to becoming a very good team. With Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins set to gradually improve, the T-Wolves selected arguably one of the best pure players in this draft in Kris Dunn. It was widely rumoured they were talking with the Chicago Bulls about sending Dunn and Zach LaVine over for Jimmy Butler but as of now that hasn’t happened. Either way if the T-Wolves keep or trade Dunn for Butler they are winners regardless.

Dunn is one of the best defending guards in the draft and has very good upside. Add him to their mix and it creates more options for Minnesota who can feed Towns and Wiggins the ball more often than not. If they somehow get Butler it makes them that much better with a very promising big three. The opportunities are endless and the Timberwolves are looking good.

 

Philadelphia 76ers 

Ben Simmons was considered the best prospect by many heading into the draft.

Ben Simmons was considered the best prospect by many heading into the draft.

A lot of other teams did very well for the most part but I thought Bryan Colangelo’s first draft as GM of the 76ers was positive. They were in the middle of trade rumours all day leading up to their pick but nothing happened and they ended up selecting Ben Simmons first overall. While they still could move one of Nerlens Noel and Jhalil Okafor for a point guard, the 76ers have to be happy with Simmons immediately turning into their franchise player behind Joel Embiid. Say what you will about the tank first 76ers but they do have a very promising young core and options at their disposal.

I also liked their 24th overall selection of France forward Timothe Luwawu who is regarded as a solid defensive prospect.

 

San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors

I added them together because both were in similar situations but made out very well considering how low they picked and how good they are already.

The Spurs grabbed yet another good player who fell to them in DeJounte Murray, a guard who does everything well. Greg Popovich will do what he does best and let him develop in an elite system; much like they have done with other late picks.

The Warriors meanwhile got a pretty good player in Damian Jones 30th overall. Interestingly enough some had him higher than Jakob Poeltl, the Raptors pick. Jones makes sense for Golden State with Marreese Speights, Anderson Varejao and Festus Ezeli hitting free agency.

 

Losers:

Milwaukee Bucks

Thon Maker, who moved to Canada at age 17, goes to the Bucks 10th overall.

Thon Maker, who moved to Canada at age 17, goes to the Bucks 10th overall.

I didn’t understand their 10th overall selection of Thon Maker whatsoever. The dude has upside but hasn’t played high school basketball and is extremely raw in almost every area of his game. He’s a mystery at this point which is why I don’t get this pick especially since he was projected to go much later. Who knows? Maybe the Bucks got a steal. Wouldn’t be the first time (see Giannis Antetokounmpo) but I personally didn’t like this decision.

 

Orlando Magic

See previous rant above. They got robbed in a trade with the Thunder that saw them send two promising players away for Ibaka; not to mention they traded away forward Tobias Harris away mid-season which is another reason why this makes no sense.

Boston Celtics* 

They had an abundance of picks and were insanely desperate to package them for an impact player. That didn’t happen and they find themselves in a bit of a pickle. I liked some of their picks – specifically Jaylen Brown third overall – but I am higher on Dunn, Minnesota’s selection. Some are praising the Celtics saying they got great value with these picks and it’s still uncertain if they’ll land a star either through trade or free agency but as of right now, I think they missed out. Teams weren’t biting and whenever you have a crazy amount of picks you assume you’ll be able to package them for assets. It didn’t happen, at least not yet and for that reason I have them labeled as temporary losers.

 

Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks 

The Nets have it worse than the Knicks here but both teams hailing from New York had it rough last night. Neither owned or traded for a first round pick despite the Knicks doing a pretty good job at acquiring Derrick Rose from Chicago the other day. The struggling and deflated Nets did send Thaddeus Young to Indiana for their first round pick and turned it into guard Chris LaVert so that’s a start!? Maybe not. LaVert has serious injury concerns at the moment which some think may hurt his NBA career. Yikes.

 

Sacramento Kings 

The Kings apparently haven’t learned the most important rule: Don’t piss off or annoy DeMarcus Cousins. They did it again on draft night drafting a bunch of bigs with no real strategy. They did trade Marco Belinelli to Charlotte for the 22nd overall pick and turned it into Malachi Richardson which was a pretty decent move but them trading for and drafting Skal Labissiere was odd to me. The weirdness continued when the Kings dealt the 8th overall pick to Phoenix for the 13th selection only to pick centre Georgios Papagiannis which also made little sense.

Who knows what they’re doing but it didn’t impress Boogie Cousins very much.

 

 

LeBron James wins one for Cleveland

It’s still hard to put into words what took place in the game seven that saw the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 series deficit to win their first NBA championship in franchise history.

Not only did the Golden State Warriors have three separate opportunities to close it out – including two games on their home court – no team in NBA history had ever come back from being down 3-1 in a series to win it all. In addition to everything the Cavaliers did to overcome the odds stacked up against them, the Warriors were coming off the best regular season in league history thanks to their 73-9 record. As it turns out, the Lebron James led Cavaliers showed everyone none of that stuff matters until you finish it off with a championship; much like last year when the Warriors beat them despite not having Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving due to injuries.

LeBron's emotions run high after winning his third championship but first in Cleveland.

LeBron’s emotions run high after winning his third championship but first in Cleveland.

 

If you want to talk about cementing a legacy look no further than James. Since he left Cleveland in 2009, James was often viewed as the antagonist of the NBA; especially from Cleveland’s point of view. His infamous decision to take his talents to south beach and join the Miami Heat led to many fans dubbing him as a traitor betraying the place he had called home for so many years. The King managed to win two championships during his time in Miami defeating the OKC Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs in back to back Finals appearances. Despite playing at an elite level more often than not, LeBron was often chastised regardless of his performance due to the idea that championships define a player. When he won it was more about the big three and how they did it. When he lost though, much of the blame was put completely on him. After all LeBron has lost four times in the finals – twice with Miami and Cleveland – even though he has gradually improved in each championship appearance.

This past year however, it felt different. LeBron’s decision in 2014 to return home to Cleveland re-ignited a fan base that hadn’t seen a championship since 1964 and one who, for the most part, continuously supported their sports teams through thick and thin. A fanbase that once burned James’ jerseys and booed him during his time in Miami welcomed him back with open arms and forgave him thanks to the open letter he wrote the day he decided to sign back in his hometown.

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.

He wrote those words in July of 2014. He promised and vowed to make the city of Cleveland winners again despite failing to do so in the six years he dawned the jersey. With his announcement to come back, everyone knew this team was going to be his much like it was in Miami. LeBron, many said, had earned the right to dictate who he gets to play with, who coaches him and how the team is structured. The year he returned to Cleveland they added Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and longtime friend James Jones. On top of that they sent first overall pick Andrew Wiggins packing to bring in Kevin Love from Minnesota who many felt was the missing piece. Both Love and Irving got hurt and the Cavaliers failed to win in the Finals thanks to the Warriors superior play.

David Blatt (right) was fired mid-season and replaced by Tyronn Lue despite his 30-11 record at the time.

David Blatt (right) was fired mid-season and replaced by Tyronn Lue despite his 30-11 record at the time.

 

LeBron knew they could do better. He knew something wasn’t right and midway through the season head coach David Blatt was fired despite his 83-40 record in two and a half seasons in charge. Reports confirmed that James had tuned out Blatt on more than one occasion and his teammates followed suit leading to assistant coach Tyronn Lue getting the call to replace him. A lot of NBA people knew this and also knew that Lue was the preferred option over many other candidates. Im simpler terms, he was LeBron’s guy. Their new coach helped guide the Cavaliers to a 27-14 record the rest of the way including a 12-2 record in the playoffs leading to a rematch of the 2014/15 NBA finals. There was zero doubt Cleveland was the best team in the East and many felt because Irving and Love were back healthy they had a legitimate chance against the history making Warriors.

The Cavs were down 2-0 quickly as James failed to surpass the 25 point mark on both occasions. His true shooting percentage was identical in the first two losses coming in at 51% including 10 turnovers. While James bounced back in games three and four, the Cavs only managed to win one of the two leading to many counting them out. After all they were down 3-1 and needed to win not one but two games on the road if they had any hopes of securing their first championship.

In games five and six LeBron literally put the team on his back shooting a combined 64% scoring 82 combined points in the process. He turned the ball over only three times in those two games while shooting 50% from three. He got some much needed help from Irving who shot a ridiculous 71% from the field in game five. After all of his heroics, the Cavaliers had won two straight including one on the road and were heading back to Oakland to play in a game seven. Still many critics doubted them due to the fact that Golden State had only lost two home games all year and hadn’t lost three straight since 2014.

In what might be one of the most memorable moments in NBA history, James blocks Andre Iguodala late in the fourth quarter.

In what might be one of the most memorable moments in NBA history, James blocks Andre Iguodala late in the fourth quarter.

 

The rest as we now know is history. Despite seeing his true shooting percentage go down to 48% in game seven, LeBron had his second best defensive rating along with yet another tripe double helping lead his team to a championship victory for the first time in over 18,000 calendar days. No team had ever won after being down 3-1 and they were the first team to win one on the road since 1978 when the Washington Bullets defeated the Seattle SuperSonics. A third championship and Finals MVP to his name, praise must also be given to the entire team. Irving hit one of the most significant shots of the game – a three pointer with less than a minute left in the fourth – and all of Smith, Love, Shumpert; veteran Richard Jefferson and Canadian Tristan Thompson did their part and played their roles perfectly.

Speaking on behalf of myself, I’ll admit I had a hard time cheering for James in the past. Whether it was his decision to join Miami and play with three stars (which was abnormal many years ago) or the way he came across against the Dallas Mavericks when he mocked Dirk Nowitzki, I never really wanted to see him win unless he did so in a way that proved and showcased his greatness. He gradually began to display a more level headed style which helped lead his team to two championships in Miami. He aided his scrutinized image with the open letter and his decision to return to Cleveland but still struggled to be adored by a lot of neutral NBA fans due to his urge to constantly be in control. Yes there were times when I wish he didn’t write cryptic messages on Twitter and Instagram or travel miles away mid-season to practice with Miami and his good friend Dwyane Wade. And yes at the time I didn’t fully understand why it was necessary for him to come out publicly and admit he wanted to eventually play with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Wade on one super team. Like any other athlete in the spotlight 24/7, LeBron hasn’t always said or done the right things in every single one of those moments but it’s very rare not to succumb to the media making a big deal of it. At the end of the day, what he does on the court matters most which is why by the end of it all I found myself truly wanting James to win and bring a championship home to Cleveland. It was their fans that deserved it most and the man who was once despised by a city is now going to be viewed as one of the greatest NBA players in history. It’s a beautiful thing to see man, and by no means should anyone say otherwise.

While it’s true I think the Warriors buried themselves more often than not late in the series, the fact that Cleveland overcame such gruelling odds should be applauded. James wanted to surpass Curry on the current greatness depth chart and there is zero doubt in my mind he proved all the doubters wrong (maybe other than Skip Bayless). Not only did he make history, he cemented his legacy. With his third championship and first in Cleveland, no one will discredit his accomplishments anymore. Instead they will cherish this moment forever. He wrote close to two years ago “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

He embraced the challenge and made history. He’s bringing one home to Cleveland.

My current Blue Jays top 10 prospects list

As the MLB draft ended just over a week ago, the Blue Jays did a good job replenishing their prospect pool with some intriguing selections in the first few rounds. They took right hander T.J. Zeuch 21st overall and many scouts believe he has what it takes to eventually become a solid pitcher with three pitches that are considered above average. 

In addition to him the Jays took some young guys with high pedigree fathers. Shortstop Bo Bichette was taken in round two and is the son of former All-Star Dante Bichette. He’s regarded as being one of the most intriguing position players taken due to his power and hitting ability. The Jays also snagged Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who is also regarded as being a fairly solid all around player. If either turn out to be anything like their dads, the Jays got some steals. 

All in all Toronto’s new management team did a good job with this year’s draft picks though we won’t truly know what the future holds until they make an impact down the road. Despite seeing their prospect cupboards get a little more bare in the last year, Toronto’s current group of 2016 young guns are doing a solid job developing in the system. Some have put together impressive years while others have been so-so. I’ve put together a top 10 list of players I think are worthy of being labeled as Toronto’s best. Let’s start from 10-1. 

10. Roemon Fields, CF, AA New Hampshire 

Fields doesn't have the most upside but should eventually be able to reach the Majors thanks to his elite speed.

Fields doesn’t have the most upside but should eventually be able to reach the Majors thanks to his elite speed.

 

Fields is a great story. He played two seasons of junior college ball at Yakima Valley (Wash.) CC before transferring and finishing his career at Bethany College in Kansas. He went undrafted in 2013 and returned home to Seattle, where he was set to work for the U.S Postal Service

Fields did not expect to play baseball again until he was invited to play in an amateur tournament in Prince George, British Columbia, and it was there that he was seen by a Blue Jays scout and subsequently signed.

Since being signed he’s put together a fairly solid minor league career. Fields best attributes are his speed and low strikeout rate. At 25 years of age, Fields is by no means an up and coming youngster meaning he could make the Jays roster sooner rather than later. Thanks to improved plate discipline and his ridiculous speed, he has what it takes to be considered as a fourth outfielder with starting potential. 

9. Connor Greene, RHP, Dunedin Single-A

Greene has intriguing upside if he's able to command his pitches more consistently.

Greene has intriguing upside if he’s able to command his pitches more consistently.

 

I am not as high on Greene as others, but I do think he’s made enough progress to be one of their better prospects. He garnered all the attention last season when he went a combined 12-7 with a 3.54 ERA and 115 strikeouts with only 35 walks pitching for three different minor league teams. 

This year Greene was rewarded as Toronto’s second best prospect according to MLB.com though he’s clearly further down my list at the moment. He’s had issues with his command this year in single A though he ERA is a solid 2.97 overall. Scouts believe Greene can move quickly through the system much like Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna while some believe he could be just realizing his potential. I hope to see that come to light soon. 

8. Richard Urena, SS, Dunedin Single-A

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Richard Urena (78) throws to first base during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium.

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Richard Urena (78) throws to first base during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium.

 

Urena is the highest and only ranked shortstop in the Jays system which is why it wasn’t surprising to see them draft a few infielders in 2016. Internationally signed in 2012, Urena has progressed steadily during his time in the Minors and if all goes well could eventually be a starting SS in the Majors. 

Urena can hit and hit well as he knocked 16 home runs along with 66 RBI’s in 2015 while hitting .262 combined. He still needs to improve on his plate discipline as he only walked 13 times in 2015 while his OBP% was a measly .289. He’s shown gradual improvements this year however as he’s already walked 14 times in fewer plate appearances while upping his OBP% to .308, respectively. 

On the field he’s also gotten better and has what it takes to stick at SS. Overall Urena is a well rounded prospect with room to grow as he’s only 20 years-old. If he continues to get better in the Minors, Urena could eventually become a good hitting and very capable SS down the road. 

7. Max Pentecost, C/DH/LF, Single-A Lansing 

 Max Pentecost (3) gets ready to bat in the eighth inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against Alabama on Friday, May 30, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Kennesaw State won 1-0.

Max Pentecost (3) gets ready to bat in the eighth inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against Alabama on Friday, May 30, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Kennesaw State won 1-0.

 

Pentecost was drafted 11th overall by the Jays in 2014 and was regarded as being one of the better catching prospects of the draft. He was also named MVP of the Cost League becoming the highest drafted player in school history. Unfortunately two shoulder surgeries later Pentecost’ stock has dropped a bit though he’s finally starting to regain steam. 

After missing all of 2015, he recently returned to action and has been seeing time strictly as a hitter to get back up to speed. Pentecost wasn’t known as a great defender behind the plate and it seems as if his future is going to be at 1B or possibly the outfield. Whatever the case if he remains healthy, Pentecost can move quickly and help out the Jays thanks to his good hitting skills. While he may not turn into a catcher at the highest level, the 23 year-old still has time to get back on track and eventually make an impact in some form. 

6. Rowdy Tellez, 1B, AA New Hampshire 

Rowdy Tellez seen playing a game for the Blue Jays in spring training.

Rowdy Tellez seen playing a game for the Blue Jays in spring training.

 

One player I am particularly high on is Tellez who is arguably the Jays most advanced hitting prospect at the moment. He was drafted in the 30th round back in 2013 and as is the case for many Jays current players, Tellez has what it takes to overcome those odds and become a very good player. 

While his defence at first base is somewhat limited, many Jays coaches have admired his work ethic and willingness to stay in shape. Throughout his five year minor league career, he’s managed a .353 OBP% which is very impressive for a young player. Though known for his power stroke, it’s come along slowly and Tellez’ overall plate discipline and high batting average is what has garnered the most attention so far. A first base prospect getting on base a lot while showing the discipline to take a walk is rare at this stage and that’s evident as he’s walked 37 times in 2016 compared to only 50 strikeouts. 

I personally really like Tellez and think he can be a good player if things continue to go well for him. His bat will take him a long way if this continues. 

5. Angel Perdomo, LHP, Single-A Lansing 

Angel Perdomo pitching an extended spring training game in 2016.

Angel Perdomo pitching an extended spring training game in 2016.

 

Though not necessarily on the radar of many Blue Jays fans, I urge you to get excited about Perdomo. 

He’s currently ranked as the Jays 23rd best prospect on MLB.com which is a mistake in my opinion. Though they have brought him along slowly, Perdomo has been one of the most consistent and dominant Jays pitching prospects despite his limited action. 

He only made nine starts in 2015 but went 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. This year he’s made 11 starts and has looked very good with a 2.45 ERA, and only 27 walks compared to 75 strikeouts. His WHIP is outstanding with a 1.06 mark and has limited hitters to a .170 average while only giving up one home run to date. Yes, I like Perdomo can you tell? 

The 6’6 lefty is still figuring it all out but the end product could be substantial. Much like Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna, Perdomo has that type of potential if it’s all realized. Some scouts think his future is the bullpen as an elite setup man but it’s not hard to envision him as a very good starter. 

4. Vladimir Guerrero JR, 3B, N/A 

Vlad Guerrero Jr. has been worked out at third base but it's his bat that will get him to the Majors if all falls into place.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. has been worked out at third base but it’s his bat that will get him to the Majors if all falls into place.

 

The son of Vlad Guerrero Sr, Vlad junior is definitely the most exciting Jays prospect who has yet to play meaningful minor league games. He was signed when he was 15 years-old and the Jays used a lot of money to get him. While he has yet to play in the Jays system, Vlad Jr. has the pedigree to be an elite hitter. 

Though a bit bigger than his dad at the same age, Vlad’s hitting style is almost identical to Vlad Sr. as his swing is compact and he gets the barrel around easily. He won’t be anywhere close to as good a defensive player as his father but his bat is his calling card and can carry him a long way. The Jays have tried him at third base for now though he may not last there too long before he shifts over the 1B or even DH. 

He’s rated this high because of his ceiling and it will be very interesting to see how he fares when he starts to play.

3. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Dunedin Single-A 

Sean Reid-Foley has emerged as a top pitching prospect for the Jays thanks to a very good 2016 performance to date.

Sean Reid-Foley has emerged as a top pitching prospect for the Jays thanks to a very good 2016 performance to date.

 

Reid-Foley fell to the Jays in the 2nd round of the draft in 2014 and though consistency has been a bit of a problem he has looked very good in 2016. 

His WHIP in 2015 was fairly high at 1.55 and so far he’s lowered it significantly with a current mark of 1.12 in 11 starts. Reid-Foley has good size at 6’3 and a good fastball which sits anywhere from 92 to 95 MPH. Another promising sign is he’s limited batters to a .208 average and has only issued six home runs in his entire minor league career (42 combined starts). Just the other day Reid-Foley was promoted from Lansing to Dunedin A and performed admirably going seven innings allowing only two hits and striking out 12 for his first win. 

Reid-Foley continues to improve which is nothing but promising for a Jays organization who traded a lot of their top pitching talent last season. If he ends 2016 on a good note and puts together a solid campaign, the Jays could have a future middle of the rotation starter on their hands. 

2. Jon Harris, RHP, Single-A Lansing 

Missouri State pitcher Jon Harris throws against Arkansas during the second inning in a super regional of the NCAA college baseball tournament in Fayetteville, Ark.

Missouri State pitcher Jon Harris throws against Arkansas during the second inning in a super regional of the NCAA college baseball tournament in Fayetteville, Ark.

 

Another starter who fell to Toronto, Harris was drafted 29th overall last year after pitching very well for Missouri. At 22 years-old he’s a little more polished than other Jays pitching prospects and despite a tough start to his minor league career in 2015, Harris has taken huge strides so far this season. 

In 11 starts Harris has put together a 6-1 record with a 2.36 ERA along with a good WHIP of 1.24. His command and control need improving but his past six starts have seen him issue only 11 walks and 40 strikeouts which is promising. He isn’t going to overpower hitters but many scouts think he’ll see more velocity once he gets more physical on the mound. 

Harris has what it takes to move steadily in the system if he continues to pitch well and limit walk totals, he could be a very good starter if he realizes his potential. 

1. Anthony Alford, OF, Single-A Dunedin 

Anthony Alford was once a promising football player but since focusing on baseball has evolved into Toronto's most promising prospect.

Anthony Alford was once a promising football player but since focusing on baseball has evolved into Toronto’s most promising prospect.

 

If there’s one player who has taken a step back this year it’s Alford but that isn’t all his fault. He missed a lot of time with a knee injury and just recently suffered a concussion on a scary collision. After bursting onto the scene last year due to a bevy of impressive statistics across the board, Alford hasn’t looked the same this year.

With that said, he’s still the most talented player in their system. Once a star football player Alford shifted his focus to baseball permanently and is regarded as being a plus athlete. His plate discipline is terrific as he walked 67 times in 2015 managing a fantastic .398 OBP. His plus speed is also an attribute as he swiped 27 bases last year and is aided in CF thanks to his range. He lacks power but many believe that will come with time. 

In limited action this year, Alford appeared in 32 games before getting hurt putting together a low batting average of .205 and a significantly worse OBP% sitting at .277. His strikeout totals have also spiked significantly but I am not ready to say he’s regressed as a prospect. That’s impossible due to his injury riddled year to date. 

Overall Alford needs time to recuperate and get healthy. A knee injury alone is tough to rebound from and the concussion makes matters increasingly difficult. He’s still ultra talented with a promising future if he can get back on track later this year.