mvn
Posted August 22nd, 2009 by mvn
Tags: Baseball, Toronto Blue Jays
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A Really Bad Day

I couldn’t help but follow up on the whole Unsigned Three issue having had time not only to digest a lot of fan conversation but also to hear more discussion by commentators and team officials. Of course it must be said that all of us outside the team have insufficient data to state anything definitively. One of the most frustrating things about all this discussion is the absolutist declarations from those who have gone beyond cynicism into full blown fatalism. I do not KNOW any of they following conclusions to be true, beyond those soundly reported in the media.

I’ll also qualify these remarks by saying that I am NOT saying no criticism is warranted. There are several points on which one could raise a valid complaint. I address here only the persistent assumption that the Jays “went cheap” on there draft and thus screwed up for the sake of a relatively small amount of money.

So, why did the Jays manage to come to the point where they failed to sign three of their top four picks? Well, here’s my thesis:

It’s a fluke.

I’m going to have to expand on that, aren’t I?

Okay.

Basically, I would suggest, there are three separate issues here which coincidentally and unfortunately happened all at the same time. Any one of the three, in isolation, is a non-issue. Any two of the three you write off as crappy luck and still no one can draw too much inference. But three? Three smells funny. But the thing about unusual events is that they are rare (thus the “unusual” part) but they DO happen (thus the “events” part). What we have here was an unusual event - three unfortunate circumstances which HAPPENED to occur at once.

Let me address them individually.

Drafting James Paxton was , in my view,  a “Hail Mary Pass.” They knew going in, I suspect,  that this pick might be a write off pick but they gambled on the long shot anyway, probably because of the “Canadian talent” factor. I suggest they were prepared to quite possibly lose out there and that if it had been the only one, only the most passing notice would have been taken.

Jake Barrett, so the reports are now indicating, had a physical problem that they didn’t know about before the draft. Keith Law, in an interview on the FAN590, affirmed some of what had been hinted at and did so in rather direct terms. It seems clear that the Jays evaluation of Barrett’s health (and thus his value) changed after they drafted him. Now, certainly one can criticize them for drafting a guy they hadn’t fully checked out (likely because they never thought he’d fall to them) BUT having to drop out on a guy because of an injury you were unaware of is NOT the same thing as “cheaping out”. Again, if this had been the only one unsigned no one would have batted an eye.

Jake Eliopoulos is much more of a mystery. I think they really thought they were in good with him and are probably as surprised as anyone he didn’t sign. I don’t know the specifics of the negotiations, of course,  but the implications of various interviews make me think that maybe they expected him to negotiate and he said, basically, “this is my price and I’m not budging.” Which is to say that in any negotiations, both parties start with a figure that’s NOT the figure they are really going to move to - so the Jays would have assumed “yeah, he’s asking for a million as a starting figure but we can get him to $700K” or whatever, and he just didn’t move.

Of course, that’s much more speculative than what may be said of Paxton and Barrett. All we really have had reported on Eliopoulos is that the Jays offered more than half a million and he wanted at least a million. Law said it was an “insignificant amount” in his view so we are talking about probably a few hundred thousand.

So, the obvious question becomes, how come the Jays didn’t use the money from Barrett and/or Paxton to sign Eliopoulos? That is, of course, uncertain, but let me propose one possible scenario.

The Jays negotiating team comes to the office Monday morning with six players they want still unsigned. Barrett, they conclude, isn’t going to sign for a price they are comfortable with and they drop him. According to Law, and I had not heard this before the interview this afternoon, Scott Boras (Paxton’s agent) has a set strategy in these situations. He will not negotiate AT ALL until the last day and then he won’t give you a definitive number until very late. The idea is to trap the team into a rash decision, without the time to consult, check what other teams or doing, or “over-think” the choice before them.

So assuming this is true, the Jays are moving through the day Monday without a clear idea of what is going to happen with Paxton. His money is not yet “in play” but Barrett’s is. The team surveys the landscape and decides they can sign Jake Marisnick OR Eliopuols if they want to sign K.C. Hobson and Daniel Webb - but not both. They decide that if they are going to spend a million dollar bonus on one of these guys, it will be Marisnick.

Then there’s only Paxton and Eliopoulos left. At this point, one of two things are possible. Either Boras strung out the Paxton possibilities long enough that the Jays were not SURE that they couldn’t land him until it was too late to re-evaluate their position on Eliopoulos; or the Jays simply made an internal decision that they wouldn’t let the Eliopoulos signing escalate the future pay scale for draft signing (as Alex Anthopoulos implied in an interview). I think either of these are passable and I chose to dismiss the reports from Friday afternoon that Paxton wouldn’t sign as speculative. The point here is that not signing Eliopoulos is obviously money-related but quite possibly more complex than a simple “they didn’t have the money” conclusion.

To be clear, I am not absolving the team of all blame. One can validly grumble they shouldn’t have taken Barrett at all if they were uncertain of  his health. One can validly argue they should have written either Paxton of Eliopoulos off early Monday and pooled their resources to sign the other. In point of fact, if it had been me, I would have immediately tapped into the “found money” from the Paxton budget in order to meet Eliopoulos’ demands rather than face the blowback of not signing all three.  But the Jays, so they claim, chose not to pay a player more than the value they had assigned to him. So criticize that if you want.

But the point remains, that what you have here is not so much a team with an insufficient budget trying to “bring a knife to a gun fight” as much as three unrelated bad turn of events. It’s sort of like the cliche of the guy who get’s laid off, get’s in an accident on the way home then finds out when he gets there his wife left him. A really really bad day, but a coincidence of three unrelated crappy events.

Now, I’ll go to this degree of analysis and the Jays will go out this winter and have a fire sale and make a fool of me (See, I’m not above cynicism myself) - but for now, I don’t think you can conclusively prove that what we saw Monday was a team without enough money. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.

*     *     *     *     *

Two other unrelated points before I close:

First: The title of this article could also apply to the game played in Toronto tonight. tonight’s lineup (August 20) was frankly disgusting on a level that the language fails me to describe. If I were in the wild card race against the Red Sox I would consider filing a grievance. There is no circumstance which justifies that lineup. Cito might as well called up Terry Francona and said “Screw it, you win” and saved the cab fare. I look forward to some game in September where he can top himself by starting Brian Burress, benching Hill and Scutaro in favor of McDonald and Howie Clark and playing Jason Lane in right and Brian Butterfield at third. Geez Louise.

Second: I call the attention of the discriminating to the wonderful idea for replacing the hopelessly screwed up amateur draft described by Fangraph’s Dave Cameron. Some smart cookie get a copy of this on Selig’s desk by morning before he makes things worse.

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