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Where the Jays Stand – Centre Field

Posted By Ben Fisher On Nov 28 2011 @ 12:36 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | 5 Comments

Centre field is clearly Colby Rasmus’ position to lose as of now, but what happens if his game is still stuck in St. Louis, as it appeared last season? But first, some “this week in Jays’ news” business:

1 – Johnson/Francisco/Molina/Rauch Arbitrated; Camp Not

The only surprising move out of the group is Jon Rauch, but I guess Alex Anthopoulos felt that the reward of a draft pick between the first and second rounds was worth the risk of the big righty accepting arbitration and the club being on the hook for $3.5 – 4 million. Plus, he couldn’t possibly be as bad as he was last year, could he? Ironically, Rauch may now be the likeliest to return considering he won’t find a better offer on the open market, whereas Kelly Johnson, Frank Francisco and Jose Molina all may be able to (Shawn Camp might still come back, but at a significantly discounted rate from the $2.2 million he made last year). From my perspective, I’d like to see Francisco and, ideally, Johnson back, but none of the arbitration guys are must-haves.

2 – Jays Acquire Valbuena from Indians for Cash

So many classic AA elements here – Valbuena’s versatility as a defence-first middle infielder who can shift over to 3B in a pinch; buying low on a 25-year old with horrific offensive numbers; protecting team assets by strictly dealing cash. The versatility will help ease the pressure on Mike McCoy to back up just about every position on the field, while the major league numbers (.226 average/.286 OBP/.344 slugging) belie some solid contributions at the minor league level (.302 average and .372 OBP with 17 home runs). I’m still not sure there’s an awful lot to be excited about, as Valbuena’s 735 major league at-bats over four seasons represent plenty of opportunities that he has yet to cash in on and it’s not like the Cleveland braintrust of Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti don’t know what they’re doing. That being said, at worst, Anthopoulos has added a young, glove-only utility infielder making close to the major league minimum for a few bucks.

The 2011 Guys

Starters: Rajai Davis / Colby Rasmus

Back-Ups: Corey Patterson, Mike McCoy, Rajai Davis

Waiting in the Wings: Anthony Gose, Darin Mastroianni

How Did The Jays Fare?

Hard to recall a recent trade so widely celebrated which then backfired so immediately. Now, remember, this section is only a discussion of the results which have already transpired (we’ll get into Rasmus’ future projections momentarily).

So yeah, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson infused the Cardinals with the pitching depth that set them up for their unlikely World Series run (including the postseason, Albert Pujols and co. went 46-30 following the deal), while Zach Stewart offered a taste of what he could produce with a complete game one-hitter in just his fifth start with the White Sox. As for Rasmus, the “star” of the trade, the Jays got a .173 hitter (.201 on-base) who showed no signs of the attitude issues that plagued him in St. Louis but didn’t demonstrate the talent, either.

Those who raved about Toronto’s end of the deal immediately after the July 27th trade clearly believed the Jays were getting more than a plus fielder with no bat. They also probably didn’t anticipate Rzepczynski, Dotel and Jackson as being the missing links to a World Series champion.

Where Are They Headed?

The early portion of the 2012 season will tell us a lot about Rasmus. Whatever attitude problems existed in St. Louis have yet to cause any evident distractions in Toronto, but the 25-year old also has yet to show the willingness to work hard and improve himself. From Spring Training into the first few months of next season, we will see if Rasmus has dedicated himself to making the necessary adjustments to AL pitching and is actively listening to Jays’ coaches, a contentious issue that put him at odds with Tony La Russa before the deal.

The talent is there. Not only was Rasmus ranked as high as No. 3 by Baseball America as a prospect, but he has produced at the major league level, too. As recently as 2010, he hit .276 with a .361 OBP and an .859 OPS, connecting on 26 home runs in just 464 at-bats to rise up the batting order as protection to Pujols. Hell, even in the 2009 NLDS, the lefty tore up Dodgers’ pitching to the tune of a .444 average and 1.323 OPS. Even in light of the early results, ask AA if he’d surrender a marginal pitching prospect (Stewart), a veteran fourth outfielder (Patterson) and a bunch of relievers for lesser veteran relievers (Brian Tallet, Trever Miller and PJ Walters) and a talent like Rasmus and he’d do it again in a heartbeat.

That being said, the question of what happens should Rasmus continue to falter is an interesting one. The Jays have enough young outfield talent to shorten his rope at least somewhat. A reader last week suggested that only Jose Bautista’s RF spot was secure and a three-way fight between Rasmus, Travis Snider and Eric Thames would take place for the remaining two outfield slots. While I think that may be a little premature, it demonstrates the level of pressure being applied in the outfield and the impact of Rasmus’ underwhelming early returns. The Georgia native is arbitration-eligible after this season and, as a young, defensively-sound player at a premium position with some established track record of being able to hit, he could be reasonably expecting a plum deal. The question will be whether he warrants it.

Would still love a Twitter follow: @RealBenFisher.

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