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Thank you, Vernon …

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I think as a special tribute, the Vernon Wells Hatred Advisory System should be permanently set to “Low.” - @BlueJayHunter

Brilliant idea.

To the Toronto Blue Jays: Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

To the Anaheim Angels: The untradeable; Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his contract. Along with no cash to pay for some of that $86 million, and the Vernon Wells Hatred  Advisory System. We won’t be needing it anymore.

I spent a lot of time over the past couple of years arguing, and writing lengthy blog posts, about  Wells. He was my guy. He was never going to live up to his contract, and I hated, absolutely hated, that he was booed so mercilessly at the Rogers Centre.

It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss Vernon Wells. I wish him nothing but success out in SoCal. By every single account, he is a fantastic human being. And I’ll argue until the end that he’s a damn good baseball player. Like me, like all of us, Wells was a lifer. But for Alex Anthopoulos, a living Greek God, to rid the Blue Jays of his contract, well, it’s nothing short of a celebration.

I’ll remember Wells as an ambassador for the Toronto Blue Jays. As an all-star. I’ll remember his home runs to left field, and the professional way in which he always rounded the bases. I’ll remember the Gold Gloves; all the incredible catches in centre field.  The grab that comes to mind right now is the one that at the time saved, albeit only briefly, Brandon Morrow’s no-hitter against Tampa Bay. I’ll remember Wells as a leader. And I’ll never, ever forget his 11th inning, walk-off home run against Mariano Rivera, only the greatest closer in baseball history.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll remember the infuriating middle-infield fly balls, the cursing that followed, and all the injuries, too. And I’m truly excited for the post-Wells Blue Jays era, and the — wait for it — financial flexibility it brings.

But one more time, for the road: I believe in Vernon Wells.

Image courtesy of my man Ian. Read and bookmark The Blue Jay Hunter. And buy a Meats Don’t Clash t-shirt.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 21st, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Running Rajai

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Rajai Davis is fast. Compared to his new Toronto Blue Jays teammates, Rajai Davis can fly. He stole 50 bases for the Oakland A’s in 2010. The Toronto Blue Jays, as a team, stole 58.

On the surface, Davis’ 2010 .320 on-base percentage, for a Blue Jays team looking to improve their OBP as a unit, is nothing to go upstairs and tell mom about. But as R.J. Anderson points out over at FanGraphs, “Davis’ career .330 on-base percentage would’ve ranked as the fifth-highest on the 2010 Blue Jays.” Which is pretty goddamn sad.

As for where Davis fits into the Jays’ lineup, your guess is as good as mine. He could be John Farrell’s new leadoff hitter, although, again, Davis’ .332 career OBP in 133 career games, in 538 at-bats, from the top of the order doesn’t exactly get me all hot and bothered. If Davis is Farrell’s new fourth outfielder, and pinch-runner, he’s certainly an upgrade over the departed DeWayne Wise. And because the newest Blue Jay can play all three outfield positions, he probably leaps Fred Lewis on the depth chart, too.

There’s more to Rajai Davis than just his speed, though. Where he’s going to come in handy for the Blue Jays is against left-handed pitching. Because, as you know, the Jays can’t hit left-handed pitching. At least they didn’t in 2010. Davis’ slash line versus LHP this past season: .304/.349/.435/.784. A .323 BABIP, along with a .344 wOBA. For his career, Davis has hit southpaws to the tune of .292/.347/.402/.750. Good enough for a .329 BABIP, and .331 wOBA. The numbers aren’t spectacular by any means, but considering how the Blue Jays fared against lefties in 2010, they’re going to help.

How bad were the Jays this summer? Bloody awful. They scored 139 runs versus LHP; nobody scored fewer. Their AL East brethren, the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, scored 264, 263 and 239 runs against LHP, respectively. Good for first, second and fourth in the Majors. Toronto’s .215 team batting average against LHP? Last in baseball. Toronto’s .286 team OBP against LHP? Last in baseball. Their .379 slugging percentage against LHP wasn’t thirtieth out of 30; it ranked twenty-first. Home runs will do that for you. Only Baltimore, Houston and Seattle registered a team OPS lower than Toronto’s .665 versus LHP.

Only two regulars from Cito Gaston’s infamous final lineups put up OPS’s of greater than .900 against LHP: John Buck (1.116), and Edwin Encarnion (.914). John’s Buck-ed off down to Florida, while Edwin is Encarnaci-gone. Yunel Escobar’s line of .275/.396/.425/.821 was none too shabby, but came in only 40 at-bats. You’d think guys like Vernon Wells, Jose Bautista, and Aaron Hill would feast on LHP. Instead, they were feasted upon. Hide your kids, your wife, and your husbands, too:

Wells (113 ABs): .195/.289/.354/.643

Bautista (108 ABs): .222/.333/.509/.843

Hill (120 ABs): .125/.226/.225/.451

Adam Lind (137 ABs): .117/.159/.182/.341

If there’s a silver lining in those bawdy numbers, it’s that Hill and Lind can’t possibly be that bad again. Hill’s BABIP against LHP last season was .124; Lind’s: .167.

The point is, while Toronto can certainly use Davis’ speed, they need his bat, too. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about the two prospects — Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar, both relievers — Alex Anthopoulos sent to Oakland. But that the Blue Jays chose to trade two guys from an area of organizational strength for someone who fills two needs, and who is under team control until 2014, makes the deal a good one. All the more so when I read in the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis was “among the most popular players on [Oakland], always cheerful and respected by his teammates for his deep faith and work with his church,” and that he called the trade “a new adventure.”  Hustle, heart, and God. And, you know what, maybe the guy upstairs can help.

The more you look at the Davis acquisition, and all the numbers, the more a Fred Lewis/Rajai Davis platoon at the top of the lineup, and in the outfield, makes sense. But make no mistake about it, Davis becoming a Blue Jay is about more than just his speed.

The best part of the transaction: Anthopoulos is just getting started. Of all the offseasons in professional sports, none are better than baseball’s.

Credit to Getty Images’ Jed Jacobsohn for the photo.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 17th, 2010 at 11:15 pm

It’s getting Uggla

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Every armchair general manager believes they’re the smartest cat in the room. Until Dan Uggla gets traded for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn. Then it’s the Florida Marlins who’ve lost their damn minds. Again.

The market for Uggla, at least on the friendly internet, was ridiculously over-valued. Frankly, there was no market. And I can’t understand why the trade shocked as many people as it did. Think about it: Uggla refused to sign a contract extension with Florida worth $48 million over four years. He reportedly wouldn’t budge from five years and $71 million. That’s a lot of bloody money. Wouldn’t that information, out in the open, lead you to pull a few chips off the table? Uggla’s a year away from free agency, will be 31 in March 2011, is coming off a career season, and has, in five years, shown a tendency to follow up a monster year with an above-average, but not so, well, monster-ish season.

2006: .347 wOBA, .309 BABIP

2007: .345 wOBA, .279 BABIP

2008: .372 wOBA, .320 BABIP

2009: .354 wOBA, .274 BABIP

2010: .381 wOBA, .330 BABIP

Don’t get me wrong, Uggla’s a tremendous hitter. I take nothing away from a man who’s hit more home runs as a middle infielder in his first five years in the league than anyone before him, ever. Uggla can mash. No, he can’t play defence, any defence at all, but he can hit.

In the end, the trade proved that most everyone in baseball thought acquiring Uggla was too risky. Atlanta took that risk, and good on them. I can’t say I’m upset that Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays didn’t, because I’m not. Had the Jays acquired Uggla, I don’t think he signs long-term in Toronto. And even if Uggla’s “likely Type A haul is more valuable than his 2011 contract/production,” the risk would have been in Uggla producing, which, yes, I think he would have, even in the AL East. But say he got injured. Then what?

Names like J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil and Shaun Marcum were being bandied about in the Toronto blogosphere. Even precious Zach Stewart! Marlins bloggers were thinking Cecil, Marcum, Marc Rzepczynski, maybe even Travis d’Arnaud. Everyone was wrong. Not by a little, by a lot. Too much risk, especially when we’re talking about guys who make little money, and are under team control. And, with respect to Marcum and Cecil, have proven their ability. I don’t believe Anthopoulos is out to create a window from which the Jays can contend. I don’t think his plan involves seizing an opportunity. It’s about building a foundation from which the Jays, with a payroll of $100 million, can consistently contend.

I don’t for a second believe that the Marlins didn’t do their due diligence. Sure, they’re run by that clown Jeffrey Loria, but they may have figured out a system by which they develop prospects, win a World Series, sell said prospects, and do it all over again. (The system is still being tested.) While Omar Infante is no Dan Uggla, he does bring some skills to the table. According to ESPN, since 2007, nobody in baseball has been better with runners in scoring position, with at least 250 plate appearances, than Infante. Yep, better than Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, Kevin Youkilis, and Joey Votto. Obviously trading Uggla to a division rival wasn’t the optimal scenario for Florida, but you play the cards you’re dealt. Had Anthopoulos dealt Roy Halladay to the Yankees or Red Sox, as long as it was the best deal to be made, I’d have lived.

According to living legend Ken Rosenthal, the Blue Jays were certainly in on Uggla. Toronto “had most early interest in Uggla. Jays’ offer: RHP J. Roenicke, RHP D. Farquhar and either SS R. Goins or OF D. Mastroianni.” Considering what it took Atlanta to get the deal done, I think Anthopoulos’ offer was more than fair. It just wasn’t enough. And that’s fine. Between Uggla and Manny Ramirez, I was hoping, and still am, for Manny. All he costs is money. But the offer as it stands proves, once again, that Anthopoulos is a lot smarter than you and I.

Happy hot stoving.

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Written by Navin Vaswani

November 17th, 2010 at 1:29 pm