29 November 2005

B.J. Needs the Blue Jays More Than They Need Him

B.J. Ryan was signed to a $47 million, 5-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, who may not blue so hard in the near future. As a Yankee fan, this news was a little disappointng to read, but all the talk about Ryan coming to the Yankees as a setup man was never more than wishful thinking on the part of bored New York sports writers looking for fodder in a slow baseball news month.

Ryan, the erstwhile closer and setup man for the 0rioles (who blue pretty hard in their own right for much of the last decade), saved 36 games for the 4th place Baltimore club in 2005, striking out 100 batters in 70 innings. Jays' G.M. J.P. Riccardi cited the team's 2005 record of 16-31 in one-run games and indicated that he hoped Ryan would help win some of those games.

Ironically, relief pitching was not one of Toronto's major problems last year. Their bullpen was only 20-25, but had a respectable 3.81 ERA, and 35 saves. Their 21 blown saves were among the most in the majors, but many of those came in earlier innings, before a closer would normally have been used. Miguel Batista, Toronto's closer for most of the year, blew 8 saves in 39 chances, seven of which contributed to that 16-31 record, including one which Batista actually held on to win. Ryan blew 5 saves in 39 chances, so even if he cuts the closer's blown save rate in half, all other things remaining equal (which they never do) the Jays only improve from 80-82 to 84-80, hardly playoff contenders, unless Toronto suddenly and mysteriously gets placed in the NL West.

The Jays' real problem was their poor late-inning offense and the lack of a bench. Their .699 OPS in "Close & Late" situations ranked the team 11th in the 14-team AL, and their .710 OPS from the 7th inning on was 10th. Their pinch hitters were the best in the AL, but were also the most-often used, as their starting lineup left a lot to be desired. No regular player hit higher than .291, and nobody had 30 homers, 100 runs or 100 RBI on the entire team. The team as a whole hit only 136 homers, good for 11th in the AL, and they were closer to last than to 10th.

Toronto's not done spending this off-season, supposedly still trying to woo starting pitcher A.J. Burnett north of the border as well. In an effort to turn the Jays into as many J's as possible, Toronto is also thought to be pursuing trades for D.J. Carrasco, A.J. Hinch, D.J. Houlton, J.J. Davis, and J.J. Hardy, and are expected to pick up P.J. Forbes when the Phillies put him on waivers. T.J Mathews and C.J Nitkowski will be signed to minor league deals. P.J. Carlesimo is being brought in as a special assistant to the GM, B.J. Thomas will sing the National Anthem on Opening Day, and O.J. Simpson will throw out the first pitch, after which he will go look for the Real Killers in his SkyBox.

But if you ask me (and if you're still reading, then I guess you did), this is the wrong approach for them. (Not the "J" thing, that was a "J"oke.) They've already got Roy Halladay, 2005 Rookie of the Year candidate Gustavo Chacin, plus Josh Towers, who seems to be coming into his own. The Ryan signing allows Batista to go back to the rotation if they want him to, which gies the team a solid #4 starter, and the fifth spot in the rotation can be comprised of some cobmo of Ted Lilly, Dave Bush, or someone else. What they really need to do is get some hitters, preferably a few who are likely to jog around the bases every once in a while, ifyougetmydrift. No, not B.J. Surhoff, though that would be funny. Taking a chance on a Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmiero or Erubiel Durazo might not be the worst bet in the world. Russ Adams is still young, but bringing in Nomar Garciaparra to play short has a lot of upside. Even outfielders like Preston Wilson and Jeromy Burnitz, though flawed, at least threaten to hit one out occasionally. The risks aren't much greater than that of throwing almost fifty million dollars at a pitcher with two good years on his resume, especially when it's done to address an imagined need rather than a real one.

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