Thursday, December 17, 2015

Super Bowl Bizaro Style

It is interesting when you think of past champions and Dynasties in sports. How different would thinks look if you flipped the outcomes of say the NFL’s Super Bowl results? All those Iconic teams now relegated to runners up and also-rans. Suddenly legacy’s have changed and how we view teams and players would have changed dramatically.
Not to look into every Super Bowl but a few of the notable changes are interesting to look at.

Take for example the San Francisco 49’ers. One of the greatest franchises in NFL history. Now, in bizzaro world would only have 1 victory on their record and that win would come on the legs of Colin Kapernik…not Joe Montana. Montana would likely not be held in such high regard as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.

The Dallas Cowboys and especially Troy Aikman would also be a team with a lot less shine on their star. America’s team would still have 3 championships but they would have come very early on in the first 15 years of the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer a Dynasty and Terry Bradshaw is likely not on the Fox broadcasts each Sunday morning.

The New York Giants now have only 1 title, and it is not with Eli or Tom Coughlin.

Now lets look at some of the teams that have a much more favorable history now. Take a team like Minnesota.. 4 titles in the first 11 Super Bowls looks a lot more impressive now.

The next 3 teams would have made the biggest u-turn and greatly changed peoples perception of greatness.

The Denver Bronco’s and John Elway would now be 4-2 in the Super Bowl and Elway is probably heralded as the greatest QB in the history of the league.

The Buffalo Bills are now probably the greatest Dynasty in the NFL winning the Super Bowl 4 straight years. Jim Kelly is now probably pushing Elway for top spot on the QB list.

 The Miami Dolphins are interesting to look at now too. All of a sudden Dan Marino has his 1 championship and is elevated in the minds of fans and media alike. What is even more interesting to think about is that there would now not be an undefeated Miami team and all that narrative of them popping Champaign after the last undefeated teams takes a loss

Strangely .  it is in the New England Patriots that this flip may actually be a benefit to their legacy.  As strange as it sounds based on Tom Brady’s record/legacy and how the Patriots are perceived throughout the league they may actually come out even more impressive.  Brady would now be 2 and 4 respectable but not great. But now he also becomes the QB of the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, He beats Eli and the Giants twice. Is his legacy even more impressive despite losing 4 Super Bowls? Keeping in mind he gets to keep everything else that makes Tom Brady great.

It is an interesting debate to have not only for football but all sports. How much worse are the Toronto Maple Leafs now? 8-13 and no cups since 1960.
Montreal Canadians now 6-24 not such an impressive championship record either.

It is interesting to think about and some interesting debates could be had at the local sports bar. Both team and personal legacies would be greatly impacted. For those who value championships when evaluating players and their careers might be forced to change their tune. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scorched Earth - The Rebuild of the Braves in Atlanta

The Cubs may have ‘Take me out to the ball-game’ during the 7th inning stretch and the Red Sox may play ‘Sweet Caroline’ In Atlanta they will be playing the Roof is on Fire and instead of the tomahawk Chop and the War Chant fans will be belting out “We don’t need no water let the mother#$%&*r burn, Burn mother#$%&*r burn!!”

It is interesting to listen to a lot of Braves followers and fans were all up in arms when all the trades began last season when the Braves moved Jason Heyward. Then after that Justin Upton was moved, then Evan Gattis and finally the apparent crushing blow when fan favorite Craig Kimbrel was moved on the day before the beginning of the season. Most everyone figured that this team was going to be a train wreck in 2015. I was not one of those people. I actually was not so pessimistic on how the on field product was going to be. A lot of power went out the door and the fireballer Kimbrel was gone but even so the players that were left were not bottom of the barrel. The 2014 season was a very frustrating one as a fan as it seemed like every game the team was trailing every game until at least the 7th and if there was not a home run hit, the team was going to lose something to 2 or 3. The team struck out at near historic amount that season and that is just not a fun style to watch and clearly not a successful style to play. Like they say ‘good pitching will beat good hitting’ most of the time. The days of ‘Chicks digging the long ball’ seem to have passed. You need to be able to generate offense in other ways with a couple of legit power threats.

Fast forward to mid 2015, the team managed to be at or near the .500 mark with a much improved farm system. Now with that said the end of the season went off the tracks right after Jason Grilli was injured and then all the trades moved a lot of the players that were keeping the team afloat (Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Jim Johnson and Alex Woods being the main ones).  Add to that Freddie Freeman’s wrist trouble, it was just too much to overcome. Fans began to get very vocal and unhappy. They reverted back to questioning the front office and whether the plan was worth the poor product on the field.

What it did was put the Braves in a position to truly position themselves to start from the ground and build almost from the real bottom of the barrel. They created payroll flexibility for the future and based on the dismal finish ‘earned’ a top 3 position in the 2016 draft. Also, not the worst thing in the world. They say that you can’t be a little bit pregnant and middle of the pack is the worst place to be. Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get real cornerstone players.

Then the end of the season comes around and outta nowhere, the best defensive player in baseball today…maybe ever and yet another fan favorite in Andralton Simmons gets shipped to the Angles. Just like the feeling was when Kimbrel was traded fans were shocked and not pleased. Simmons was still young and signed and looked to be part of the core in the rebuild. The knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘what the hell’? but then, when you take a moment to think about it it does make sense. Move him now while his value is high and his range is still there. His offense has dropped of late but his glove is still elite. Moving him before his defensive prowess begins to decline flip him for a good package. They got back a solid stopgap shortstop in Erick Aybar and more prospect arms to added to the ever improving farm system. That brings us to the real deal, the Winter Meetings Blockbuster!

Nothing will help a fan base jump back to your side like a good trade. A trade that just about every ‘expert’ and team executive agree was a huge win for the Braves. When those people who know the game and are major decision makes agree that it was a steal what the Braves got in return for Shelby Miller (SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair) and comments like ‘incredible haul’ and ‘that is the worst trade I have ever seen’ has got to make both management and Braves fans alike fell much better about themselves and where thy are positioned now going forward during this rebuild. A lot of people are focusing on the 2 top prospects the Braves got in return but one could argue that Inciarte may be near as valuable as Miller is and to add anything above that is just icing on the cake.

Inciarte fills the right now need for a center fielder and helps field a much more complete MLB lineup for 2016 and going forward.

I will look at the prospects and farm system later but for now lets just look at the on field makeup as it stands right now. Now no one is going to claim that they are a potential playoff or wild card team but maybe they are not going to be the embarrassment that people thought they might be going into 2016. There is reason to believe that the lineup that they can roll out may be able to keep them from being a true bottom feeder and actually show some resemblance of a major league club.

If 1B Freddie Freeman can come back healthy from last years wrist injury he will be a good backbone of the lineup. Erick Aybar is a veteran SS and should prove to be a good placeholder for the short term, Nik Markakis is a great glove and if he can continue to get stronger from last years neck surgery his contributions should be felt. Having a good young CF like Inciarte fills a big hole while waiting for prospects to develop. The final big piece of the starting lineup is the duo, or tandem from catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers. A.J. is coming off a revitalizing year and Tyler Flowers is a low risk high reward guy. Both should prove to have decent bats in the lineup wile offering great mentoring and development to a very young staff and having both veterans and strong defensive catchers that know how to call games and frame pitches should be a huge asset to the large crop of developing young arms. Where things may get interesting are some of the wild cards that are in Left, 3B and 2B. Hector Olivera season will be interesting to watch and if he is able to adjust and produce like the Braves hope he could be a welcome addition but no one knows how he is going to progress in his first full MLB season after coming over from the Dodgers. Then there is the revolving door that will be 2nd and 3rd . There are a slough of guys that will likely split time at both positions at any given time you could see Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Adonis Garcia, Daniel Castro and Jace Peterson at either of the 2 positions respectively. No one knows what any of these guys are going to do so maybe these guys may surprise and be moderately effective but nothing you can bank on just yet. Also there are the 2 ‘Mentors’ with the huge

The way that Braves GM John Coppolella wheels and deals it is unlikely that this is how things will look on day 1 but for now the 8 positions doesn’t appear to be as dismal as some people may have may think. There will no doubt be more movement and tweaking as the days and weeks go by.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Off Season Guessing Game

The baseball Hot Stove Season is now upon us and the rumour mill is already in effect as it relates to Free Agency. What I would like to do is start writing blogs on what the Atlanta Braves might do, what they have done and  what the team may look like on opening day. Yeah, that isn’t happening, and nor will it for now and for the foreseeable future.

Trying to guess what Braves GM John Coppolella  and the Braves front office is thinking is like trying to understand why cats do the things that they do. Trying to predict what will be the next shoe to fall as it relates to the rebuilding process and then the other side of that coin of fielding a somewhat competitive team in 2016.

Just when you think the Braves are done their wheeling and dealing for young controllable arms they make another deal. Then you think all the roster players that may go are gone, another deal is made to free up money.

Trying to predict the next big splash is anyone’s guess and maybe even those same decision makers don’t even know right now. The one (or two) whispers that are a little confusing is the bantering about of names like Shelby Miller and Julio Tehran. With all the arms that the Braves have and are acquiring, they have not yet began to flip some of that pitching into some legitimate bats but that is likely bound to happen at some point. The question is from what pool are the Braves going to draw from. Miller was the Braves Ace last year. A lot of fans may not know that by looking at his 6-17 record but he was the victim of VERY POOR offence and a VERY SHAKEY bullpen. If they can flip him for a really good young player under club control for at lest as much as Miller or more the Braves would seriously have to look at making that move. Tehran can be all world or struggle mightily. He was up and down last year but began to seemingly figure things out the last 2 months of the season.

The one adage in baseball has always been, “when you think you have enough pitching, go out and get some more.” But those people have never seen just how anemic the Braves offence was at the end of the 2015 season.

If the team wants to be good going into SunTrust Field in 2017 there needs to be some core pieces in place sometime during the 2016 season. At some point some of those pieces have to come to town at some point.

So without getting into specific names, what we can do is ask questions about what the team might do in the Rule 5 Draft and also what they may do on the international free agent market next year with the flexibility they attempted to gain as part of previous deals that has also procured that plethora of good young prospect arms. Is there someone out there that the Braves are looking at that could provide a big bat that they so sorely need.

So instead of answering questions I guess I will just have to ask a bunch. How much money is available. What is more of a priority, fixing the offence or building a bullpen that is not going to go into critical meltdown 80% of the time they are called upon. With all the potential good young arms waiting in the wings you are going to need to have catchers that can work and help bring along some of the young guys that may make the big league roster. That is why signing AJ Prizinski was a smart move, sure he swung a decent bat last season but also seemed to work well with the young pitchers he handled last season. He is worth the investment if he can help bring along the young arms.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The 'Arms' Race Continues in Atlanta

Well if there was any doubt on the direction that the Atlanta Braves were headed in 2016 the answer became very clear last night. Andrelton Simmons, the best overall defensive player in baseball, was dealt from Atlanta to the Los Angeles Angles. That is likely the last big piece that the Braves had to get a hefty and/or impactful return. Coming from Los Angeles is veteran SS Erick Aybar who is essentially a placeholder for now and will be a free agent at the end of 2016. He is a player that will either be flipped in another deal or play SS and possibly be moved at next years trade deadline. He may be the veteran but not the key piece to the trade. The Braves also picked up 2 pitching prospects that were the real centerpieces for the Braves. As was the case in most of the other big deals that were made during lat years off-season the Braves have shipped out top end major league talent for top end pitching prospects. The first is Chris Ellis, a right handed mid rotation type prospect that helps deepen an already pitching rich farm system. He is not deemed to be an ace but a solid 3-4 type guy should he continue to progress. The main piece is Sean Newcombe, a big left handed power arm with 2 above average breaking balls. He looks like he could be a young Jon Lester type that can throw in the mid 90’s and top out at 96-97mph. If he continues on his current arc he cold become the teams #1 in the next few years. Projecting pitching is not an easy thing to do but the Braves are hoping that with the depth they are accumulating hope that 2 or 3 will reach their potential.

It is more then likely that some of these young arms are going to be used as currency in other moves to boost the extremely weak lineup that they are currently going to have to trot out onto the fields next season.

Braves fans are going to hope that a couple of these guys pan out because if they plan on winning any games they may need to do so 1-0 or 2-1.

Now it looks like the focus is going to have to be how best to thin out the logjam in the outfield. There are a lot of bodies and a lot of money tied up in the outfield. Any trades are not going to garner much of a return but right now it is probably more important to clear some money and create some roster spots for other younger players. There are 3 outfielders that the Braves would like to move out of town, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Cameron Maybin. Those 3 guys are due in the neighborhood of $37M and only Maybin may be a player that may be ok to roam Center field, at least until the trade deadline. Regardless of the return it would be a prime example of addition by subtraction.

That is where we stand right now, but we must take note that it is sill just mid November and we haven’t hit the Winter Meetings where it is more likely that there will be more moves that will be made, either by trade or free agency.

Let the funny season continue, should be interesting.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Blue Jays GM Flies The Coop

In my last blog I talked about the issues that were going to need to be attended to by the Toronto Blue Jays. Most of that revolved around the pitching rotation and the free agents and trades that may be required to fill out the depth of this roster in hopes of putting the 2016 season over the top. When talking about the free agents I obviously did not put enough emphasis in getting now former GM Alex Anthopoulos locked up.

The day after I posted my blog I awoke to the news that AA had informed Rogers that he was declining the 5 year deal that was offered to him. That was, I don’t want to say a disappointment but it came as a shock and then the ensuing speculation on the reason for that he was not re-upping in Toronto was rampant.

As of now we don’t know why he chose to leave.  It seems like it was likely a philosophical difference with incoming President and CEO Mark Shariro. I guess until he signs on with another club we won’t fully understand what his mindset was, and even then, knowing how AA operates it still won’t be clear as he has a great talent in not directly answering questions posed to him. He seemed to, for the most part be honest but at the same time be able to be vague and evasive depending on the questions.

So the AA era is over but he has left a very good on field with team friendly contracts and not a lot of  ‘bad money’ on the books going forward. The one good thing for both Mark Shapiro and interim GM Tony La Cava is the flexibility the club has. That is also where the concern from the fans and media come from. There a re a lot of questions on what direction the new management/ front office are going to decide to do. As of Saturday Free Agents are available to start signing. Now it is not like hockey and day 1 a ton of players get locked up but this team are going to have to hit the ground running and derive a plan on how to best fill out the roster and re-build a pitching staff that is full of question marks. The team has already exercised options on Edwin, Bautista and R.A Dickey. Now they need to turn their attention to what they plan on doing with Marco Estrada, do they qualify or not and should or should they not look to get him signed to a multi year deal. Then there is the decision on the young arms from this past year Hutchinson, Osuzna and Sanchez.

It will be interesting to see over the next few months how things shake down.

What Free Agents do they target, what positions are the focal points and then what trades are available and does a big right handed bat get moved for either a young established controllable arm or a left handed power hitter to fill that roster spot or position on the field.  

Stay tuned during the Hot Stove season to see a rundown and instant evaluation of moves as they are made here at 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Thanks Blue Jays! Now the hard work begins

 The World Series is about to begin and I do not have a horse left in  this race.  The Royals beat out the Blue Jays so it is a little hard to start rooting for them now, even if they may well have the most balanced team and are probably the favorites going in. The Mets have some great young arms but that KC lineup is very dangerous and can strike at any time. The Mets order is probably not as intimidating and  after a lengthy layoff may well have cooled down.

The dream match up I was hoping for was a Cubs vs Blue Jays World  Series. The Jays are my favorite AL team and the Cubs, well they are the Cubs, the lovable losers.

So now more focus goes to the off field game of baseball and there is  always. Much speculation on how teams will look to improve during the off-season.  Free agents, claims and trades come to the forefront during this time become topic of conversation and discussion. Who should stay, who should go and what upgrades can be made at a  reasonable cost (both in money and talent).

Normally this would be the time where I would start looking at The Atlanta Braves and begin feeling out what I think they need, where to get it and how they should go about it. This year is different.This year there are some extenuating circumstances that  very few could  have foreseen given the landscape of baseball in Toronto for the past 20 some odd years.

The Toronto Blue Jays had a great season, a winning season., a season  that saw them go 93-69. They won a divisional round series and just  came up a little short in a comeback that could have sent them to the World Series. How could focus go anywhere else?

The one good thing with this club is that there is a good chunk of the team that remains under club control.  The majority of those players will likely be back to for what proved to be a formidable offense and  provide stellar defense.  Turns out depth and a shaky bullpen proved  to be the team’s ultimate undoing.

With a relatively potent offense still intact the focus this off- season will be arms, both in the rotation as well as the bullpen. Well that and likely some bunting practice from some of the top of the  order guys.

The big question right now is what will the rotation look like going into next season. There will almost surely be an overhaul and what parts are left standing is anyone’s guess. The Jay’s have some good  young arms that could vie for a job as a starter but as for those who ended the season there will not likely be returning.

The club has an option on RA Dickey at a relatively team friendly salary. Not a top of the line guy anymore but an innings eater with a history of decent health so he is probably in the back end of the rotation. Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada and David Price are all free agents. 2 of those guys will be looking to cash in this off-season and  1 may just retire. That leaves a lot of options and flexibility for the Jays to go in any number of directions.

Right now the only 2 Aces that the Jays
have is Marcus Stroman and this guy 
Here is the big thing on the pitching front, and this is where things  get murky. David Price will likely want somewhere in the ballpark of  7 years and near $200 some Million he is over 30 and as history will
show you are paying for about 4 maybe 5 good years before that  contract looks terrible and he is unable to throw to near that value. Marco Estrada has had 7/8 of a full year as a top end starter and entering the season was not even in the rotation. Giving him a big free agent contract based on 1 good season and one VERY good post season is a very risky proposition. The question now is Do You Feel  Lucky? Well do you, punk? The third member of this triad is Mark Buehrle. The decision may well be made by him and not by the club. He may want to return (but would have to do so at a very reduced rate) he may opt to retire or maybe he is just interested in moving on from the Jays altogether.

Oh, there is one other issue when looking at who or how this rotation  will be built. The GM, Alex Anthopoulos himself is going to become a  free agent on or near the completion of the World Series. So the current head decision maker and architect of this club may not be part of this club. Or, maybe he will be. Or, maybe there will be a sharing  of power in baseball operations with incoming Mark Shapiro as  President and CEO.  These are the most crucial decisions the Jays face  at the beginning of the off-season. After that it is all the easy  stuff like: Who is your second baseman Ryan Goings or Devin Travis who  will be returning from injury. What are you going to do at 1st base Smoke, Colabello or another? Do you need to trade a bat for an arm and  who can or are they willing to move? What young arm is ready to make the jump into the rotation? How and who are you going to set your bullpen and where are you going to find the ‘power arms’ that seem to  be a necessity?

And not unlike the Conservative Party of Canada attack ads.."and the budget will balance itself”. So too for the Blue Jays "the roster will fill out itself ’ right?

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Introduction to Baseball

My little buddy keeping a close
eye on the little girl on the GO Train
wearing a BoSox shirt and Hat.
I didn't trust her either buddy. 
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a Blue Jays game at the now ‘Rogers Centre’ versus the Boston Red Sox. For the first time since  1993 the Jays are playing meaningful games in September. At that time they had  strong hopes of making it into the playoffs and now possibly even a  Division Championship. That in itself makes for a great atmosphere and  reason to attend a game. What made this even more special was the  opportunity to expose 2 new ‘fans’ to live baseball.  Also in  attendance for the game was my father and little second cousin who is 2 years old. For both of these budding super fans it was their first  experience in watching a Major League game live.  It is a much easier  sell to a toddler… make it sound like it is a treat and the most fun  thing since Thomas the Train or TruckTown. Before the game when watching highlights from the day before he would see the ballgame on TV and tell everyone in the room that he was going to the baseball game! He said it with such pride you would have to be made of stone not to get jacked up yourself. I figured that it would be next to impossible to get my dad to go but to my surprise he was very  enthusiastic about this adventure to Toronto, riding the train and  hanging out with 48,000 new friends! To attend with two newbies was great and added to the gameday experience.

I was as shocked as anyone that he sat on my knee for
as long as he did. I guess we can add Cheese Puffs to
 'Take me out to the Ballgame'
I remember the first time that I went to a Blue Jays baseball game. In  fact  it was the first Major League game that I had ever attended. It was at the SkyDome back on June 23, 1990 (531 R19 Seat 10 and was a 1:35 start). The Blue Jays were  taking on the hated New York Yankees. They had been bad for much of  the 80s so they were far less hated then they have become.

I remember taking the trip to my aunt and uncles in Mississauga for  the weekend to take in the game. I was so excited! At that time I would have been 10 so I had played and followed  baseball for a little while and had a pretty good grasp of the game  and the players on the team. We were going to the Saturday game. I recall hoping that they would  sit both Fred McGriff and Kelly Gruber the Friday night before the  game we were going to. Those were my two favorite players on the team  at the time so I wanted to assured they would be in the lineup when I was there. Fred McGriff because he was the “Crime Dog” and had that  cool looking extended bow of a  follow through after his swing. The first  pack of O-Pee-Chee baseball cards that I bought (yep the ones with the  rock hard and sharp piece of pink gum in them) had a Kelly Gruber card  in it. My first pack, and it had a Blue Jay in it! Not only that but  that Blue Jay was sporting one sweet flowing blond mullet. How can  anyone compete with that, it was everything a young Blue Jays/baseball  fan could ask for!

I remember We were on the third base line, just about even with the  bag I believe and up in the 500 Level. Since none of us knew any  better these were great seats! You could see everything. The game was  exciting as I recall but as a kid at his first ball game it was going  to be exciting no matter what. There were 2 distinct events that  happened that game that I recall very well. Glenallen Hill leaping up  over the fence to try to bring back a home run that was traveling over  the wall for a home run and his glove falling off over the fence. The other was hearing the music play when  the closer, Tom Henke, was entering the game.

This time around I was the more veteran ballgame go-er, even if it was  only by a few games but I had the privilege of helping introduce live  baseball to an older non-sports fan and at the same time hopefully help  expose a new youngster to the fun and enjoyment of attending live sports events, even though the little  guy that I was with was probably too young to retain much from the game itself, how it was played or what the rules are.

Boston BP prior to the game

We got to the game during the Red Sox batting practice so this was a good time to venture around the concourse and see some sights and take in the overall baseball experience. As one might imagine with a toddler nap time is key so before the game started and a couple of innings into the ballgame my little buddy enjoyed a quick power nap. The 4:07pm first pitch  was both good and bad. It gave plenty of time to get to the stadium and see some things but it also meant that the game would not end until after 7:30pm. As anyone who has been around children for any amount of time ever, they tend to be up pretty early and that makes for a long day for everyone involved.

Me and my second favorite management person at Rogers Centre next to Alex Anthopoulos.
Great for a friend to take a minute to stop by and say hi
Jamie Campbell and a very subdued suit that Greg Zaun  was sporting on Blue Jays Central before the game. 
The only regret I have from the game was my lack of the traditional 'Ballpark Food' exploration. I like to try different ballpark goodies when I am at games. Each stadium has some sort of signature food that they are known for. I was just so caught up in everything that I didn't get a chance to explore the options. I know my buddy who runs would not be pleased at this over site but rest assured I will make up for it next time! I regret to say that I also dropped the ball after the game when we stopped at the HWY 55 Burgers Shakes and Fries. It is a new franchise in Oakville and appears to be the only one in Canada at the moment as it is not even listed as a location yet on the website. They offered a Shrimp Po' Boy and I did not order it...rookie mistake. I opted for a regular shrimp burger but I feel I should have splurged and gone Po' Boy style. Guess I will have to schedule another trip soon and make up for this miscue.

Not the same as the
old style tickets you used
to get at sporting events
 Not only was it a Red Sox day but also it  was a Jr. Jays day. A welcome distraction for a youngster who may get restless just sitting and watching a baseball game. Heck, a lot of adults have trouble sitting through a full game. He got to participate in some of the kids games and  activities they had and came away with some cool souvenirs from the game. He got a neat Blue Jays  airbrushed "tattoo" , a few Jays stickers and a Jays lunch bag. He was also spoiled with a swirled soft serve ice cream in a Blue Jays batting helmet. I was jealous of this and figured I needed to treat myself to one as well. What can I say I am a sucker for hats at baseball games.  He also left with a snazzy Blue Jays stitched toddler’s jersey that was purchased to commemorate his first game. Maybe it will end up on the wall in his room someday.

Because of his age there was a bit of an issue with the volume in the stadium. Music and sound effects may have been a bit overwhelming at times. There was also the semi-unexpected presence of Toronto fans actually cheering a home team and actually being engaged with that team. Success is not something that a lot of Toronto sports fans are familiar with so to be in a stadium that was so engaged was a bit foreign. Other then that there were no major problems.

These were our seats for the game...Just at the edge of the "B" in
the Budweiser sign out in Left Center. No view of the video board
but had 2 TV screens to view the game on.
Perhaps next season, after a little more 'seasoning' we can try for another game or two. I would love to attend another jays game with him but maybe we can fit in an Independent League game in Ottawa (The Ottawa Champions). I think exposing a potential new and young fan to a high level of baseball at a stadium that is not packed to the brim and offers a chance to be outside and get right up close to the action can only build on future interest and an understanding of the game.

Despite her best efforts to gain entry, just because your last name is Holder does not
mean you can gain access to the stadium through the Season Holders entrance.

Hopefully he is able to take away the excitement from the fans in the  stands, the music that was played throughout the game and just the overall atmosphere of being with a group of people gathered together with one common goal…To ROOT ROOT ROOT for the home team! Because as  we all know, if they don’t win it’s a shame!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Trade Deadline Is Near - Braves looking to make moves

What is the right fit? What do the Braves have that teams want and do those teams have the depth to make it happen?

The Braves have some nice chips that they could move if an interested party were to offer up a package that fits what the Braves are trying to do. Based on being 7 games out at the break, one would think that John Hart and Co. would continue to look to the ultimate end game of being good in 2017 when they move into SunTrust Park. All the moves thus far have had an eye on that being the end game. Even more recent moves involving older players are now solid trade chips to bolster the farm, create a pipeline of talent and create depth so future trades for proven players is available when the time is appropriate. All the arms they are gathering is great but as we saw with the big 3 throughout the 90's and early 2000s great pitching can cover up a lot of offensive warts but at some point you need to have a consistent offense and an increase of power, one capable of putting up some runs to aid these good young arms and lessen the amount of stressful innings they have from night to night. It is hard for young arms to pitch in 2-1 games all the time. Being last in baseball with under 60 Home Runs this season thus far needs to be addressed. It would be nice if Hart can be creative enough to get some young power in the ATL.

When the season began there were a lot of “experts” that had written off the Braves this season and gave them no chance of finishing higher then last place in the East. Thankfully the Phillies look to be tough to wrestle that position away from. Going into the All Star Break the Braves are 7 games behind Washington for the East lead. Sure it is well within reach but fans should not be fooled. The team is not in a position to contend this year. They are a competitive team but not ready to be a playoff team yet.

After an off season that saw guys like Jason Heyward Justin and Melvin Upton Jr. Evan Gatis, and Craig Kimbrel shipped out for prospects and more controllable contracted players. The Braves were not expected to field anything near a competitive team. Thankfully for the players that were left and the fans that still wanted to see some decent baseball the Braves have played just under .500 ball.

Last year the team was an all or nothing squad. It was, for the most part and Home Run or bust team that were victims of the strike out more often then not. This year most of those guys are gone and replaced with contact hitters and play a more traditional National League style of ball. Contact and speed seem to be more the focus. This “small ball” mentality makes for much more enjoyable to watch. Sure it is nice to see the Home Runs hit, but when the power dries up it is a very painful game to watch. It is hard to watch the starters trow a good game and not get any support. As stated before. it difficult on pitchers both mentally and physically. Those bright young arms can throw much more freely when they get some help and take some of the pressure off.
To continue on with the plan the Braves need to look to move some guys that are not going to fit into the long term plan and are nice trade chips should the Braves manage to find a suitable dance partner with the right combination of players or prospects. Guys like Cameron Maybin, Juan Uribe and Jim Johnson and maybe Chris Johnson's contract. If the Braves can use these guys to further increase the depth at the minor league level or pick up a young controllable bat that could be very beneficial to the club going forward. What is also nice is a extra bit of money that will be freed up when the cash owed to Dan Uggla is off the books. Money+ Prospects = Flexability

John Hart has shown he is not afraid to deal and if he can take these players and sell high he needs to do so. Even by moving some or all of these players they are still going to be able to field a competitive team. If you can still supply watchable baseball and strengthen your organization at the same time, it is a no brainer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

E:6-The Jose Reyes Story

Is this Reyes forgetting he is not throwing grounders during
infield practice with 2 hoppers to first ? 
The Toronto Blue Jays are in an interesting position as they head into the unofficial halfway point of the season known as the All Star Break. Hovering  around the .500 mark, the Jays are still in decent shape in the standings and have a good shot at both the Eastern Division crown or a wild card bid. That is provided that they manage to do something on or before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. The Jays have bats that can put up crooked numbers in a hurry but that can only take them so far. They just recently rallied back from being down 7-0 in the 6th to taking the lead 8-7 going into the bottom half of the inning.....then surrendering the lead immediately and eventually losing 11-10. There are 3 things to take away from this. The jays need at least 1 more, or more realistically 2 more top end arms in the starting rotation, they need to shore up the bullpen so when the offense manages to get them back into games they have no right being in they can hold the lead and not choke it away and third, which is probably the most difficult to do...figure out what to do with Jose Reyes. 

Jose Reyes is a threat at the plate and threat on the bases. No one is going to argue with the numbers that he can give you when healthy. Big problem is, he is also a huge threat to the team defensively. Figuring out what to do about that is no small task. Well the answer is easy, but pull him late in games in place of someone who can catch and throw the ball consistently. Problem with that is, if you choose to do that you are going to loose him and most likely going to loose a bunch of the Dominican players. it is hard to understand how it seems that whenever a Latin or Dominican player has an issue with something ALL the Latin/Dominican players have an issue. Sure Canadian’s and American’s will have respect for one another but rarely do you see them stand up and side with another teammate just because of nationality. It seems island pride runs deeper. That is not necessarily a bad thing, it is good to have pride in your nationality. We as Canadians take true pride in our country. The USA as we know wave the flag as much ore more then anyone but when it come down to a personal level it seems like the Latin players will side with their brethren in spite of what may be best for business. 

The Jays are in a position to make a healthy run at the playoffs and I can't believe that when other Jays like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and especially the other Latin guys that see that Reyes’ glove and arm are costing them games that that doesn't make them mad, because it should. When they see balls going and Reyes’ glove or between his legs or he double skips a throw to first base how can they not acknowledge that he is potentially costing them games. They, more then anyone, needs to realize that something needs to be done at shortstop, especially late in tight games. OlĂ©-ing balls that should be routine is costing the team runs, innings, pitch count, bullpen arms and surely overall moral and confidence in the team's ability to make a real run towards the playoffs. 

When it gets to the point where you figure the team is more confident with Munenori Kawasaki at shortstop in the 8th and 9th instead of your $22M guy there has to be some unrest in the clubhouse. Reyes is such a table-setter and important offensive catalyst you don't want to rock the boat and loose him. But if you are Alex Anthopoulos and it is your neck on the line and needing a good finish for your ball club to secure your employment and position as GM it is hard to let things go on as they currently are. Sure it might be nice to package him in a deal, but that is not something easily done. His salary is prohibitive and it is also a deal that is more likely to happen in the off season not at the trade deadline at best.

Hopefully Jose can refocus during the second half and really shore things up defensively. If the Jays do manage to make a move to get some arms, the new additions will need to be supported by solid defence. It doesn't even need to be spectacular defence, just make the plays you are supposed to make and that will help everyone up and down the roster.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Atlanta Braves look to surprise with re-vamped team

Former Braves closer Kimbrel a bad contract casualty as well as an unnecessary luxury on a team that is in re-tooling mode

There are a lot of people out thre that are upset with the timing of the Atlanta Braves most recent trade of Melvin Upton Jr. (formerly B.J.) and All Star and probably the best closer in the majors Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres on the eve of the season opener. Had the deal been done when the Braves were clearly in ‘trade mode’ and appearing as if they were just re-tooling but clearly such a deal was not available at the time or it would have been made.

The Braves made it clear that they are re-stocking for the near future and the corresponding move to the new SunTrust Field in 2017 but it looked like they still thought they could be a top runner in the Eastern Division. Because of the previous trades that were made with Gattis, Upton and Heyward having an all star closer like Kimbrel was more of a luxury then a necessity. After the acquisition of former closers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson there was some flexibility in terms of the closers roll in the Braves pen. GM John Hart made it clear that the team was not shopping Kimbrell but that the team had been approached by a number of teams about his availability. He appears to be the casualty of an albatross of a contract by the wildly under performing and overpayment of Upton JR. San Diego is going to take on all of Upton’s salary in order to get Kimbrel. When you can shed that contract and roster spot from the books you almost have to make that deal. They acquired Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, two highly regarded prospects -- right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck -- and the 41st overall selection in this year’s First-Year Player Draft. Maybin will stay with the team but Quintin has been designated for assignment and will either be traded or released and was just involved in the deal for salary reasons and will not play for the team.

Some Braves fans may have more of an issue with this then others, but in the short term and the long term the moves seem to be done within the parameters of a master plan. Many are concerned in the short term about the direction of the club. At the moment I am not as worried. After the last few seasons of being the 27th or so ranked team in terms of  sacrifice flies, and having innings that were some combination of rally killing strikeouts and inability to move runners over and in, it will be a welcome change to watch a team that can manufacture some runs.

So many times last year the pitching was so good throughout the game but the club just seemed to be trailing more often then not until the 7th or 8th. Combine that with only having 0-2 runs at that time became frustrating for fans and likely and more importantly the starters that were being taxed with high pressure innings every outing just to keep game in reach in hopes of a home run that often never came. Free swinging and hero-ball mentality did not work very often and that caught up with the team late in the season taking them right out of contention in both games and the divisional standings.

With all the off season moves there seems to be a concerted effort to play ball the right way, a more traditional National League style with an emphasis on speed and defence. The lineup flexibility and the ability to manage different situations and not rely on inconsistent and dwindling power production. A team that can manufacture runs is a more enjoyable style to watch for sure. Speed is fun and seldom slumps...the only downside is you can’t steal 1st base so walks and singles carry even more emphasis.

To all those people who are worried about the on field product this season, maybe reserve judgement for a bit. Lets see what we got here. The rotation, especially when Minor returns from the DL looks to be respectable and the re-vamped lineup looks like it could be sneaky decent. The addition of former closers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson as set up man and closer should help offset the loss of Kimbrel and provide a solid 1-2 punch on the back end.

For a team that clearly has a goal of re-stocking their minor league clubs and adding young controllable assets the on field product looks competitive and that bodes well for when all the young prospects they managed to get via all the off season trades and transactions are ready to take the next step.
So lets not judge the direction of decisions too soon there is a lot of ball to be played and if you play it the right way an play hard there might be some good value on this squad.

Just look at center field, the bar is not set too high for Eric Young Jr. - hit .204, strike out less then half the time and have 30+ stolen bases and your already almost better then Melvin ‘don’t call me BJ’ Upton and his $46.3 Mil still owed to him.

Kimbrel was the casualty of former GM Frank Wren’s miscue in signing Upton, the then free agent to an unworthy amount and length of term contract. They are all now gone and it is time for the team to move on.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Commish

The introduction of the New Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred has already been met with some questions, and some interesting answers.

The first was in regards to the DH in the AL and pitcher batting in the NL. As it stands now the World Series is played under 2 different rules. DH is enforced in AL parks and traditional rules are used in NL venues. Is this fair? Maybe, maybe not. I am not a huge fan of the DH but I understand its usefulness and why players would want it. Sure it gives more jobs and more money to aging players or ones that just can't cut it defensively.  I think that if you are going to play baseball you should have to be able to contribute in all aspects of the game. You don't see designated putters on the PGA or a player that gets to stand in the offensive end or get to take all free throws and be a designated shooter. The good news is the new Commish does not look like he is interested in adding the DH to the National League.

One that caught many peoples ears and eyes that people seemed to take more issue with was his comments about defensive player shifts.  In one of his first interviews after officially taking over he talked about defensive shifts. At first it sounded like he would like to have that part of the game taken away from teams. It sounds similar to when the NBA adopted the Illegal Defense rule, which was essentially a zone defense.  The idea there was to aid offence and free up the skilled 1-on1 guys. Thankfully they smartened up and got rid of that rules.

Who knows what Manford's motivation of that idea was. Maybe he thought that it slowed down play having guys moving around the field and taking too much time. If that were the issue then save time somewhere else. Make the batters stay half in the box and back ready to hit. If there is no one on base it should not take long to flash signs and then get back in. Same with the pitchers, grab the ball get the sign and throw. There is no need to walk around back of the mound, take your glove off, and rub the ball then stroll back up to the rubber. Pitcher-catchers conferences with a pitcher should count as a mound meeting not just when a coach comes out. All those are much better alternatives if you are looking to shed a few minutes off the overall game time.

Whatever the motivation is or was at the time has not met well with much of the baseball world, and who could blame them?

Why should teams get penalized for making pro active and making in-game adjustments? With all the data and statistics that baseball people are now using (which, at times seems a little much, with WaR and all the other sabermetrics out there), why not let them used the data that is available and set the defense according to trends. IF you put on a right field shift to a leftie power hitter and that forces the batter to have to decide weather to hit through a shift or disrupt his regular rhythm and try and hit away from the defense.

A lot of people are not huge fans of the shift but having the right to do it should be up to the individual managers and ball clubs.

I recall calling for a defensive shift while playing shortstop at the Bantam and Midget levels. At the time I had the center fielder move in from the outfield and play behind the 2nd base bag. At the time any hit to the outfield would have resulted in the winning run to come in, and the batter I had noted liked to go back up the middle.  We clogged up the infield and forced the batter to beat us with either a hit to the outfield or earn it with a hit threw our drawn infield. The pitch was hit right back threw the box right at the center fielder who was now directly behind 2nd, thus starting a double play. Sometimes playing the percentages works.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Kimbrel A Luxury Asset?

What is his value to a revamped Braves team and is it greater then what they can get for him now or at the trade deadline?

With all the moves the Atlanta Braves have done this off-season there is still one very important question left to be answered, what should they do with Craig Kimbrel? Do you keep a closer that may not have as many opportunities on a team that you don’t know what they are yet or if they will be able to compete in enough games to make it worth keeping Kimbrel around.

Kimbrel is a fan favorite, is locked up for the next few years and is one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. With that said, does it make a lot of sense to hang onto a closer that may not get the chance to save as many games. Maybe now is not the best time to move him as typically moving a reliever closer to the deadline will garner a more bountiful return. By waiting, you can also see how the team is handling the newly re-vamped roster. Maybe they ride a good starting rotation and are able to manufacture more runs then anticipated and surprise a lot of people. If not then having the unnecessary luxury of a closer does not make as much sense.

The Braves are trying to gear up for their move to SunTrust Park in 2017, and likely by that time Kimbrel’s value would not likely be as high as it would be now. If some of the new arms that were acquired this off season look like they have rebounded from down years then maybe there is a capable guy there that can step into that role in the interim.

A possible return that could be retrieved might just be enough for GM John Hart to part with his golden armed closer and get some more assets in his quest to prepare the Braves for their move to SunTrust.

Recent deals that have included the likes of Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis have brought back many top prospects, most of them young arms. On a team that also has many questions on offence some quality bats could be a nice and welcomed addition.

There is still time before the season for Hart to address that, especially in left field. There are still some free agents still available as well so that could also affect the teams willingness and/or need to move Kimbrel anytime soon.