Jays offense to suffer in wake of Gonzalez signing

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alex gonzalez.jpgThe Blue Jays are being aggressive early in their bid to hold on to fourth place in the AL East.
One day after re-signing backup John McDonald for $3 milion over two years, GM Alex Anthopoulos nabbed Alex Gonzalez to start at shortstop, guaranteeing him $2.75 million.
It’s a very, very good start for my free agent predictions, but less so for the Jays, who have simply locked themselves into mediocrity.
Gonzalez is a legitimate starting shortstop with his still above average defense and 15-homer ability. He’d have been a decent enough stopgap for a contender, which is why the Red Sox were considering bringing him back. The Blue Jays, though, could have waited and seen whether a trade might be able to bring someone better. They have Roy Halladay and Lyle Overbay up for bids, and they can also afford to move a reliever or two from a group that includes Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Brandon League, Jesse Carlson and Jeremy Accardo.
Instead of looking for upside, the Jays have just decided to go with defense and hope that it pays dividends with their pitching. Meanwhile, their OBP just got a whole lot worse, as Gonzalez might struggle to come within 100 points of Marco Scutaro’s 379 mark from last year. Overbay’s .372 is also expected to disappear from the lineup.
If the Jays go defense first at catcher as well, they could well contend for the AL’s worst OBP next year and have one of the weakest offenses as a whole. Vernon Wells and Edwin Encarnacion should bounce back somewhat, but Adam Lind and Aaron Hill probably aren’t going to combine for 71 homers again and Travis Snider is more likely to strike out 175 times than hit 30 homers as a 22-year-old.
The pitching could surprise, even without Halladay. They’ll definitely get a quality arm or two back if they do move their ace, and Shaun Marcum should be in the rotation to start the year. It’s just hard to see it being good enough to elevate the Jays past the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays. They may struggle to stay ahead of what should be an improved Orioles team.
Last winter, practically every team that moved early came to regret it, while the patient ones were rewarded with bargains later. Now, signing Gonzalez for $2.75 million and McDonald for $3 million doesn’t compare to throwing $18.5 million at Edgar Renteria. Still, the Jays could well have done better had they waited.

The Nats are sniffing around for relief pitching help

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The Nationals began the year with Blake Treinen as their closer. That didn’t last long, and now Koda Glover seems to be Dusty Baker’s man in the ninth inning. He earned a save for the second consecutive game yesterday. Glover has been pretty darn good in the early going, posting a 2.35 ERA and striking out six batters and walking only one in seven and two-thirds. That obviously a small sample size, and anything can happen. If it does, Baker has Shawn Kelley as an option.

Not many household names there, which is probably why the Nationals are reported to be interested in the White Sox’ David Robertson and Alex Colome of the Rays. That report comes from Jim Bowden of ESPN, who also notes that the A’s have a number of guys with closing experience on staff and are likely to be sellers too. The David Robertson thing may have more legs, though, given that Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn pulled off a pretty major trade in the offseason. If you know a guy well, you call that guy first, right?

As far as problems go this isn’t a huge one. The Nats sit at 13-5 and, as expected by most prognosticators, are in first place in the National League East. The Cubs had some questions in the pen this time last year too. They had the luxury of trying to figure it out before making a massive trade for a closer. The Nats do too, and likely will. But expect them to be a part of any trade rumor conversation for the next couple of months.

 

The big flaw in modern ballparks

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Travis Sawchik writes about the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks over at FanGraphs. The ones everyone loves because they’re nice and clean and friendly and are full of amenities. And that’s true! They are nice! But they all have a huge flaw: unless you’re in expensive seats, you’re too far away from the action.

Sawchik uses cross sections of ballparks — available at Andrew Clem’s website — to show that fans sitting in the upper decks of ballparks are way higher and way farther back than they used to be at many old ballparks such as Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field.

A lot of this has to do with an admirable impulse: to eliminate the beams which obstructed the view of many seats in those old parks. If you want to move that upper deck closer to the field, you have to have the beams because one can only achieve so much via cantilever effect. But that’s not the only impulse and probably not the primary one. More expansive lower bowls — which feature more expensive tickets — push the upper deck back and up. As do the luxury suites and club level amenities in between the lower and upper decks. Exacerbating this is the fact that most newer parks are built on vast tracts of land with few architectural constraints. If you can sprawl, you will, which leaves the most affordable seats in the land of binoculars.

I don’t agree with everything Sawchik writes here. He spends a lot of time talking about how much better neighborhood parks like Wrigley Field are and how it’d be better if newer parks were built in neighborhoods. I agree, neighborhood parks are ideal, but the fact is, most places don’t have mass transit like Chicago does. In most cities you have to have a place for 40,000 people to park.

That’s a quibble, though. Mostly, it’s a good look at an important thing most folks overlook when they praise the new parks. Important because, if you don’t have an enjoyable experience at the ballpark, you’re not likely to come back. And if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to buy expensive tickets, you may not have a great experience at the ballpark.