This week, we examine what is expected to be a two-horse battle for the LF job between Travis Snider and Eric Thames. First, however, a few scattered thoughts on the week that was for the once again “Blue” Jays:
1 – Jays Go Retro with Uni’s
There are plenty of blogs that will offer detailed thoughts on how they feel about the team’s “new” look. Here? Don’t really care. If that’s the most exciting news the club produces this off-season, then they may well be the best-looking mediocre team in the majors. If, however, the team continues to grow, add new parts and improve, I won’t care what the hell they’re wearing if they’re developing into contenders and playing meaningful games late in the summer.
2 – 40-Man Roster Additions Highlight Next Wave of Prospects
Now that J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Henderson Alvarez (and, to a lesser extent, Kyle Drabek) have all moved on to the majors, there is some question as to how the club perceives its next wave of top prospects. Toronto’s recent 40-man roster additions, meant as a protection against players being left open to the Rule 5 Draft, shed some light on those who the Jays have high hopes for. RH Nestor Molina, 1B Mike McDade, C Travis d’Arnaud and LF Evan Crawford were added to the 40-man on Friday, with Crawford being the only even slight surprise. However, the 25-year old holds plenty of value as a lefty reliever who boasted a high K-rate (62 strikeouts in 51 innings) for the Eastern League champion New Hampshire Fisher Cats last season. Other prospects who had already been added to the 40-man include Danny Farquhar, Trystan Magnuson, Alan Farina, Adeiny Hechavarria, Darrin Mastroianni and Moises Sierra. *Note: players like Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Aaron Sanchez, Deck McGuire and other recent draftees are exempt due to Rule 5 rules regarding prior service time in pro ball.
3 – FA Compensation Overhaul Favours Johnson
Labor negotiations went fairly smoothly for Major League Baseball, as players and owners recently signed off on a new CBA (take that, NBA). Among the notable changes are a new HGH-testing agreement and a complete overhaul to the previous free agent compensation model. Type-B status, which compensated teams for the loss of a middle-tier player with a lesser draft pick, is out the window, leaving only teams losing out on a star eligible for compensation (the player must have declined an offer of at least $12.4 million in order for their old team to receive anything back). While not great news for Toronto, this does represent a positive development for Kelly Johnson, whose market would have potentially narrowed slightly over the reluctance of teams to part with a draft pick if they were to sign him. Johnson had already been enjoying fruitful beginnings to free agency thanks to the big contracts handed out to lesser free agent second basemen like Jamey Carroll and Clint Barmes. Also potentially benefitting from the new system are a big crop of middle relievers, including former Jays Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel.
The 2011 Guy(s)
Starter: Eric Thames / Travis Snider
Back-Up: Corey Patterson, Mike McCoy, Rajai Davis
Waiting in the Wings: Jacob Marisnick, Anthony Gose
How Did The Jays Fare?
The age-old debate of potential vs. performance was firmly established in 2011 within the left field battle between the 25-year old Thames and the still-just-23 Snider. While Thames had enjoyed some offensive success at AA New Hampshire, it was Snider who was the former first rounder who had shown flashes of his potential to crush major league pitching and transform into an all-field, heart-of-the-order offensive threat.
Snider was the unquestioned guy coming into the season, but just didn’t produce. Over 187 at-bats prior to his demotion, Snider hit just .225 with a .269 OBP and only three long balls. In fact, you could – quite reasonably – argue that the lefty has regressed during each of his first four seasons playing at the major league level. To suggest that his numbers don’t look all that different from Adam Lind’s (.251 / .295) would be both snarky and on-point, but a) Lind had the 26 homers, b) Lind is long since out of options and c) Lind doesn’t have any real threat to his 1B job (David Cooper doesn’t count).
That threat wasn’t seen as such at the beginning of the season, but then Thames showed the bat speed and power needed to at least appear suited for major league duty. His .262/.313 batting line wasn’t sensational, but his was certainly better than anything Snider was producing. Plus, his 12 home runs (some of which were the tape measure variety) added a solid power threat outside the middle of the order and offered added protection for Jose Bautista when Thames was moved into the No. 2 slot.
Where Are They Headed?
For the 2012 starter’s job, the Snider-Thames battle will be waged during Spring Training (provided there’s no trade earlier). Like the soon-to-be-forged Arencibia/d’Arnaud clash behind the plate, it’s difficult to conceive of both men sticking with the organization over the long term, particularly with a new crop of outfield prospects (Marisnick, Gose) on their way up.
Now, that’s not to say that the Dunedin showdown will be do-or-die. Both men will likely see some time in Toronto during the upcoming season, with injuries, under-performance and a lack of a 600-at-bat DH all likely to play a role. Still, being an every-day player heading into the season will be an awfully big feather in the cap of whoever takes the job. If anything, this positional battle could be a means by which Snider will be pushed to realize his potential.
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Written by Ben Fisher