Jose Bautista

Running down the rosters: Toronto Blue Jays

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Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos has made a bunch of smart moves since taking over after the 2009 season and he was presented with one of the greatest gifts in major league history when the Angels took Vernon Wells’ contract off his hands and sent back Mike Napoli in return, yet his Blue Jays are still a fourth place team. This winter has to be regarded as a disappointment, as the Jays simply wouldn’t go the extra mile to land a star. In time, they may be better off for it — Prince Fielder wasn’t worth a nine-year deal and Yu Darvish certainly came with some risk — but right now, fans have to be wondering what good that new-found financial flexibility is actually doing.

At least the future is promising. All of the Jays’ best players are under control beyond 2012, and there’s quite a bit more talent on the way.

Rotation
Ricky Romero – L
Brandon Morrow – R
Brett Cecil – L
Henderson Alvarez – R
Dustin McGowan – R

Bullpen
Sergio Santos – R
Francisco Cordero – R
Jason Frasor – R
Darren Oliver – L
Casey Janssen – R
Carlos Villanueva – R
Jesse Litsch – R

SP next in line: Aaron Laffey (L), Kyle Drabek (R), Nelson Figueroa (R)
RP next in line: Luis Perez (L), Joel Carreno (R), Trystan Magnuson (R), Jesse Chavez (R)

It’s the rotation that figures to prevent the Jays from making a run at the AL East. Romero may be one of the game’s most underrated hurlers, but there are no sure things beyond him. Morrow ended up with a 4.72 ERA last season, while Cecil came in at 4.73. Since the Jays were unable to add anyone through free agency, the 21-year-old Alvarez appears to be nearly guaranteed a place, with McGowan, Laffey and Drabek competing for the fifth spot.

The guess here is that McGowan is the fifth starter, even though it might make more sense to stash him in the pen initially to manage his innings. The problem there is that the bullpen is simply too crowded after the late additions of Cordero and Oliver. Villanueva and Litsch seem redundant now that both are being viewed strictly as relievers, so perhaps one will be traded this spring. That’d open up a place for Perez as a second lefty.

Lineup
SS Yunel Escobar – R
2B Kelly Johnson – L
RF Jose Bautista – R
1B Adam Lind – L
DH Edwin Encarnacion – R
3B Brett Lawrie – R
CF Colby Rasmus – L
C J.P. Arencibia – R
LF Eric Thames – L

Bench
C Jeff Mathis – R
INF Omar Vizquel – S
OF Rajai Davis – R
OF Ben Francisco – R

Next in line: 1B David Cooper (L), INF Mike McCoy (R), INF Luis Valbuena (L), INF Chris Woodward (R), OF Travis Snider (L), OF Moises Sierra (R)

The only real question of the Jays here is left field. Either Thames or Snider will win the job as a starter against right-handers, with the other returning to Triple-A. Francisco figures to play against lefties regardless, with Davis also available off the bench.

There’s also some chance that McCoy or Valbuena could beat out Vizquel for a bench spot, but it seems unlikely.

The lineup has a great deal of upside, and I’m pretty optimistic about the group as a whole. Lind drove in 114 runs in 2009 and is still just 28. Encarnacion may have finally put it together when he hit .291/.382/.504 in the second half of last season. Lawrie looks like one of the game’s best young talents. Rasmus had an .859 OPS as a 23-year-old for the Cardinals in 2010. If two of those guys play up to their potential, then the Jays should be able to win a bunch of 7-5 games. If the Jays instead end up with Bautista and a cast of .700-.750 OPS guys, then even matching last year’s 81-81 record will be difficult.

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.

Yordano Ventura killed in an auto accident

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 2:  Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals jokes with teammates as he walks off the field after the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on June 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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UPDATE, 12:07 p.m. EDT: The Royals have confirmed reports of Yordano Ventura’s death with an official statement. No further details pertaining to the accident have been divulged.

Terrible, terrible news: Christian Moreno of ESPN reports that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura has been killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. His death has been confirmed by police. He was only 25 years-old. There are as of yet no details about the accident.

Ventura was a four-year veteran, having debuted in 2013 but truly bursting onto the scene for the Royals in 2014. That year he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings, ascending to the national stage along with the entire Royals team with some key performances in that year’s ALDS and World Series. The following year Ventura won 13 games for the World Champion Royals and again appeared in the playoffs and World Series.

Ventura was often in the middle of controversy — he found himself in several controversies arising out of his habit of hitting and brushing back hitters — but he was an undeniably electric young talent who was poised to anchor the Royals rotation for years to come. His loss, like that of Jose Fernandez just this past September, is incalculable to both his team, his fans and to Major League Baseball as a whole.

Our thoughts go out to his family, his friends, his teammates and his fans.