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What to make of Mark Shapiro’s “reset” comments

Dec 16, 2017
Mark Shapiro

Mark Shapiro

Earlier this week Mark Shapiro was quoted as saying “I’ve said it all along, if we were just running our team without fans and it was an intellectual exercise, we probably would’ve hit the reset over a year ago.”

Instead of hitting the reset button, they went out and overpaid for both Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, and in so doing added yet another two aging players to an already old roster.  I admire that Shapiro is listening to the fans, but the truth is, he was hired for this job because he’s the expert with the adequate experience to run a big league franchise.  Someone probably needs to reiterate to Shapiro another quote, “if you listen to the fans, you’ll be up there sitting with them.”  Every fan is opinionated, and because there are so many fans, with so many differing opinions, if you try to appease them all, you’ll find yourself being pulled in a hundred different directions and wouldn’t make any progress.

In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in 21 years, the Blue Jays were a post-season team and Shapiro obviously wanted that run of good fortune to continue.  The problem is, even though Toronto still has many of the same players from those playoff teams, they’re most certainly not the same dominant ball club they once were.  Considering that Toronto’s front office made an effort to continue their winning ways last season and failed, why is it then they believe they’re still a legitimate contender heading into 2018?

It’s important to listen to your fan base, but at the same time, as the President of this team it’s important to do what you feel is best for this franchise.  Shapiro needs to have a better understanding of this.  Many fans have a tendency to think with their heart, and because of that, sometimes their opinions aren’t exactly what’s best for this team.  As difficult as it might be, Shapiro and Ross Atkins need to start doing what they think is best for the Blue Jays.  Even if that means making unpopular decisions (e.g. trading Josh Donaldson).

Toronto still has a decent team, with a solid starting rotation, but even with that they’ll be lucky to contend next year.  What the Blue Jays need to understand is that 2-3 years from now they can be right back to where they were in 2015.  To do so however, they have to stop playing things so safe and start making the extremely difficult decisions that will make them plenty of enemies at the moment, but in time will have been the right calls to have made.

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MLB Winter Meetings signings: Teams continue to load up on free agent relievers

Dec 14, 2017

Through the first few weeks of the offseason, the free agent market has been very kind to relievers and no so kind to everyone else. Teams are stocking up on bullpen help and not so much on anything else right now. In fact, the only free agent position players to sign guaranteed major-league contracts this offseason are two catchers (Welington Castillo, Chris Iannetta) and one outfielder (Leonys Martin). All other signings have been pitchers.

So then, it is not surprising the Winter Meetings came to an end Thursday with another flurry of reliever signings. It seems teams are building their rosters from the ninth inning forward. Beef up the bullpen first, figure out everything else later. Here is our MLB Free Agent Tracker and here are the latest bullpen signings:

Chicago Cubs sign Steve Cishek

Former Marlins closer Steve Cishek was a popular second tier free agent target for many teams this winter after throwing 44 2/3 innings with a 2.01 ERA for the Mariners and Rays in 2017. The Cubs landed him with a two-year contract.

The side-winding Cishek continued to post strong strikeout (8.4 K/9) and ground ball (56.1 percent) rates this past season, and it should be noted he absolutely crushes right-handed batters. He held righties to a .147/.218/.194 batting line in 2017 and it is .200/.267/.286 for his career.

It is worth noting the Cardinals, possibly Chicago’s biggest NL Central challenger in 2018, have a predominantly right-handed lineup. Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong are lefties, and Dexter Fowler is a switch-hitter, and that’s it. Everyone else is a righty, including new pickup Marcell Ozuna. Cishek could gave St. Louis some matchup headaches next year.

Houston Astros sign Joe Smith

The Astros bullpen was truly a mess in the postseason — their best relievers were starters in October (Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton) — after being one of the top relief units in baseball during the regular season. Seeing room for improvement, the club has signed veteran righty Joe Smith to a two-year deal.

Smith was one of my top bargain free agents this winter because this past season he added strikeouts to his usual ground ball heavy approach. He added those strikeouts by elevating his fastball up in the zone — that is not easy to do from the sidearm slot Smith uses — to get more swings and misses. Smith posted an 11.8 K/9 in 2017. He had a career 7.5 K/9 prior to last season.

For all intents and purposes, Smith takes the place of the departed Luke Gregerson, who signed a two-year contract of his own with the Cardinals a week ago. Ken Giles figures to remain at closer, postseason struggles notwithstanding, which puts Smith in the setup mix alongside Will Harris and Chris Devenski.

Minnesota Twins sign Fernando Rodney

As you may remember, the Twins traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals at the trade deadline this year because they were falling out of the race, but a strong August and September allowed them to reach the postseason as the second wild-card team. 

The Twins needed a closer this offseason — veteran Matt Belisle handled the ninth inning after the Kintzler trade — and the club has inked Fernando Rodney to assume ninth inning duty. It’s a one-year contract.

Rodney, who turns 41 in March, went 39 for 45 in save chances with the Diamondbacks last season, and finished with a 4.23 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings. He still walks too many batters (4.2 BB/9) and will make things interesting more often than not, but it should be noted Rodney was dominant after April this year, throwing 45 1/3 innings with a 2.38 ERA. He held opponents to a .154/.250/.192 batting line in those 45 1/3 innings.

Given his age, it’s no surprise Rodney received a one-year contract. It’s also not a surprise the Twins limited their reliever search to a one-year contract. They’ve never signed a free agent reliever to a contract longer than one year. Seriously.

It remains to be seen whether the Twins will look to add more bullpen help throughout the offseason, or hand the setup reins over to youngsters like Trevor Hildenberger and Alan Busenitz

Washington Nationals sign Brandon Kintzler

Although other clubs likely would’ve given him a chance to close, Kintzler opted to return to the Nationals, where he’ll presumably be behind Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in the bullpen pecking order. His one-year contract comes with a unique set of options for 2019.

That’s an interesting little contract. If the Twins want Kintzler back in 2019, they’ll have to pay him a hefty $10 million to pick up the option. If they pass, Kintzler still has a nice little $5 million safety net in there in case things go wrong.

This season the 33-year-old Kintzler went 28 for 34 in save opportunities, with 27 of those 28 saves coming with the Twins, before he was traded to Washington at the deadline. He had a 3.03 ERA in 71 1/3 innings overall in 2017, and what he lacked in strikeouts (4.9 K/9) he made up for with ground balls (54.9 percent). Given some of the other reliever contracts handed out this winter, getting Kintzler at that price seems like a real nice move for the Nationals.


The Blue Jays being patient this off-season isn’t a terrible thing

Dec 14, 2017
Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins

Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins

Sure, its been a boring and uneventful off-season so far when it comes to Blue Jays related news.  Obviously its more fun when things are happening and trades are being made and free agents signed.  The thing is, last off-season, the Blue Jays did rush things.  They were one of the most proactive teams in the winter of 2016/2017, and look how things turned out.

Instead of waiting to see how the market would play out for Edwin Encarnacion, they put their best foot forward and offered him a deal worth $20 million more compared to what he received from any other ball club.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d be more than happy having Encarnacion playing for the Blue Jays on that 4-year/$80 million deal.  Where the Blue Jays screwed-up wasn’t so much that they came out and immediately offered Encarnacion such an offer.  It had more to do with how quickly they went out and spent $45.5 million on Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce when they felt Encarnacion had taken too long to make a decision on whether or not to accept their offer.

There are a lot of people out there who seem to be a little frustrated by the inactivity of Toronto’s front office of late.  To that I say, give it time, because if they do rush things, chances are they’ll just end up making poor decisions like they did last year at this time.

Based on what’s been happening so far in free agency this past month, it’s obvious teams are desperate for relievers and are willing to pay outrageous prices for them.  Just look at some of these massive deals for relievers that were signed since the end of the season…Mike Minor 3 yrs/$28 million, Jake McGee 3 yrs/$27 million, Bryan Shaw 3 yrs/$27 million, Brandon Morrow 2 yrs/$21 million, Tommy Hunter 2 yrs/$18 million, Pat Neshek 2 yrs/$16 million, Joe Smith 2 yrs/$15 million, Anthony Swarzak 2 yrs/$14 million, and Luke Gregorson 2 yrs/$11 million.  Nine of the ten biggest free agent contracts signed this off-season have been for relievers.  It’s the new trend in what is a copycat league, where teams are trying to build the most dominant bullpen they can and totally overspending to do so.

If teams want to blow their wad on one or two relievers, they can have at it.  Despite Toronto’s impatience last year when it came to signing Morales and Pearce, what they ended up doing right was how they went about beefing up their bullpen.  When it came to signing a reliever, they waited until February, then scooped-up Joe Smith to a very team friendly 1-year/$3 million contract.  When it comes to free agency this off-season, I’d rather the Blue Jays take the patient approach.  Yeah it might be boring, and they might miss out on some decent players, but by biding their time, at least they won’t overpay anyone and end up having buyers remorse.  Which by the way, is what most of these teams spending big money on relievers will be feeling nine months from now.

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