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Say What Jays Talk

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly from Blue Jays Nation. Follow us on twitter! @saywhatjaystalk

Looking for a Lefty: how Rowdy Tellez could fix Jays' off-season

Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair was on the Fan the other night discussing the Jays off-season moves. Among his grievances were the team’s botched negotiations with Encarnacion and over-paying Morales, but his main complaint was that management has yet to address the need to get younger, more left-handed and more defensively versatile. This off season the Jays have signed a 33 year old, switch-hitting DH and a 33 year old platoon first baseman that bats right. Seems safe to say that so far, this off-season has been a bust.

Now that most of the big names are off the free agent board (especially ones that fit any of those three criteria), Jays’ fans are left wondering – is this it? The team is not younger, leftier or better defensively, and they’ve lost 88 homeruns in Bautista, Edwin and Saunders. So it might be time we start really looking inside for some answers - inside the farm that is.

What if I told you there is a 21-year old lefty with a Big Papi-like build, with power potential and solid contact numbers? Now that might be over-hyping the Blue Jays #9 prospect, Rowdy Tellez a bit, but even so, there are more than enough reasons to be excited about this kid.

Reason number one - look at his 2016 AA numbers. In 514 plate appearances Tellez had 23 homeruns, 81 RBIs, a .297 average and a .387 OBP. Tellez offers not only power from the left side but as his numbers suggest, strong plate discipline.

Obviously all minor league numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. One clear example is Dalton Pompey. He looked ready to explode in 2015 based on his minor league stats, but clearly he wasn’t ready. On the opposite end, some suggested that Francisco Lindor would come crashing down to earth in 2016 because of his minor league numbers. So we can never truly predict how players will react to the Big Leagues.

Blue Jays’ beat reporter, Gregor Chisholm, believes that Tellez is the most likely Jays’ prospect to break out in 2017. Chisholm suggests that the Smoak/Pearce platoon might not work out. If Pearce is injured (as he often is) or Smoak is inconsistent at the plate (as he always is) Tellez might get an early shot. He believes Tellez will start in Buffalo but may get a call up sooner rather than later in 2017.

Over the last two seasons the Blue Jays have received unexpected production from minor league sources. With Osuna, Travis and Pillar in 2015, and Sanchez and Biagini last year, the team will again need help from the farm. Tellez may just be that 2017 piece.

Second reason to like this kid - he’s got moxie. Tellez has let it be known that he is planning to win the first baseman job out of spring training. Danny Gallagher reported that Tellez said, “I’m ready to go into Spring Training and open some eyes. I’m confident.” He also reported that Tellez has already left for pre-Spring Training training in Dunedin.

Actions speak louder than words, but obviously Tellez thinks there’s a shot at an MLB job and is ready to work for it. I seem to remember that last spring another 20-something who spent all winter working out, and spent all spring trying to convince management to give him a shot. And although it took Shatkins (Shapiro/Atkins) far too long to see the full potential of Aaron Sanchez, he did force their hand with hard work and raw skills. Tellez has a clear role model.

Tellez’s path is anything but clear. In a perfect world he would have another season in the minors and be ready for 2018, but this off-season has been anything but perfect. Would management be willing to use him in a platoon with Pearce, limiting his ABs? If he won the job straight up would the team shift Pearce to the outfield?

There appears to be about $25 million left on the budget table and not a lot of logical places to spend it. A reunion with Jose Bautista would certainly help to fill the offensive void left by Eddy, but as a 36 year old, right-hander with rapidly deteriorating defense, resigning him would seem to go completely against the new philosophy (and would eat up the majority of that $25 million). If Tellez could help fill the power gap at a fraction of the cost of an aging, right hander, why not?

My hope for Tellez is based on both fear and faith. The fear comes from the prospect of Justin Smoak getting regular at bats as the lefty side of a Pearce/Smoak platoon. Platoons only make sense when both players are especially productive at one one-side of the plate. Smoak was indeed better against righties this season, but still only managed a .221 average, hardly acceptable numbers even in a platoon.

At 30 years old, with a .223 career average, the Jays' know what to expect (and what not to expect) from Justin Smoak

With Smoak, the Jays know what to expect, 10-15 homeruns with a deplorable average, but with Tellez the sky is the limit. Much like the Gavin Floyd versus Aaron Sanchez debate of last spring, the question is whether to go with the devil you know. Tellez checks off two of the three boxes and that’s my reason for faith. A big, lefty, with tons of team control, that is the devil you don’t know. If the Jays are going to be competitive in 2017 there is still much work to be done. If all goes well in spring, why not roll the dice on Tellez. 

Moving On! Guide to buying new Jays' gear

It’s looking more and more likely that longtime Blue Jays’ cornerstones Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will be donning new team colours in 2017. Both these Dominican sluggers will leave behind a great legacy in Toronto, as well as a mass of fans with out-of-date jerseys. Losing these two will clearly have an impact on the Jays’ 2017 hopes, but what about the fans? Countless supporters (myself included) throughout BJ Nation will have to consider buying a new jersey, as their Eddy and Joey Bats gear becomes too painful to wear. And as Christmas and Chanukah draw ever closer many must be thinking who would they want on the back of their new Jays’ gear moving forward.

As the official departure of Edwin and Bautista draws ever closer, many will be looking for new Blue Jays gear this holiday season.

So here is a guide to picking new gear.

1. The best player

The easiest choice is always a club’s best player. My go-to jersey over the last few seasons has been Jose Bautista’s #19. Before Josh Donaldson showed up Joey Bats was the clear leader and the face of the franchise. The homers, the swagger, the bat flip, I never felt regret about wearing Bautista blue. With the current roster there seems to be little question that JD is the best all around, proven commodity on the team. But other intriguing options for “best player” could include Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Roberto Osuna or Russell Martin. The problem here is that, like with Bautista and Encarnacion, you may get burnt by Rogers’ scrimping when their contracts run out.

Josh Donaldson is clearly the Blue Jays best player moving forward but there is no certanty he will be in TO beyond his current contract.

2. Originality

A friend of mine puts great thought into whom he commits to (jersey wise) and one of his biggest issues is having a player before “he was big.” For this friend, going and getting a Donaldson jersey is just not acceptable. Although my friend is not a self-identifying hipster, this obsession with finding something (or someone, in this case) that is hip before it is considered “hip” is essential.

This is not to get confused with novelty jerseys, like the dozens of Kawasaki ones you see throughout the season or the Matt Stairs one I have buried away. No, he wants to pick a long lasting superstar and have the satisfaction of saying “I’ve had this jersey for years.” The down side to this approach is you could easily bet on the wrong horse. Committing to a player that is on the brink of stardom can be exciting, but if they never get it together you could end up with a Ricky Romero jersey, a Colby Rasmus jersey, or as I did a Scott Richmond jersey (to be fair it was 50% off). Current stars on the brink could include Sanchez, Osuna, Marcus Stroman, Joe Biagini and Devon Travis and longer shots Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Dalton Pompey.

3. Contract/longevity of tenure

Now if you went out on August 1st, 2015 and bought a David Price jersey I get it but realistically it was a horrible short-term investment. And if you had waited till November, when he signed with Boston you could have got it for half off at the Jays Shop. When investing in a jersey one of the things you must consider is, how long will the player stay a Jay. When I bought my Stairs jersey I thought a solid Canadian hitter, who is going to retire in Toronto – why not? Well he wasn’t all that great in Toronto and he retired a National but that was part of my reasoning.

Josh Donaldson is a star – yes. But he has only two years left till free agency and one can only imagine whether Rogers will be willing to pay him after 2018. Estrada is an ace, but could be gone after 2017 and JA Happ may be gone after 2018. In this case young controllable stars like Sanchez, Osuna and Stroman seem the safest bet. On the other side, picking a player that could retire a Jay would also be a safe bet. Russell Martin will be 36 years old when his contract expires and he might just retire in Toronto. Troy Tulowitzki will be 37 when his contract expires as well. 40-year old Jason Grilli may also hang them up as a Jay and if he has another big year in 2016, this may be an option. The main benefit here is a jersey that you can wear with pride as long as possible (Mark Buehrle seems the best recent example).

Although Price's tenure in Toronto was extremely short, there still remains many jerseys that commemerate his time here.

4. Canadiana

Admittedly I have a huge bias for Canadian Blue Jays (I don’t know if anyone else in this world owns both a Scott Richmond and Matt Stairs Blue Jays jersey). But I don’t think I’m alone in rooting for the hometown (or home country) boys. Toronto sports fans seem to love rooting for Canucks playing at home - Corey Joseph for the Raptors, the obsession with bringing Steven Stamkos home to the Leafs, or Russell Martin with the Jays. Don Cherry seems to have infused in all of us a love of “good Canadian boys.”

Recently in BJ Nation we have seen many Canadians, the most notable Russell Martin, Michael Saunders, Dalton Pompey and Brett Lawrie. Although I wouldn’t endorse a Richmond, Shawn Hill, Scott Diamond or Simon Pond jersey, for the sake of them being Canadian, a solid canuck on your back never seems a bad idea.

Although Russ Martin got ejected from this year's Canada game, he is the best Canadian the Jays have ever had.

5. Bang for your buck

Now an odd fact about buying a jersey is that you don’t pay per letter/number. If you really want a deal and don’t really care about the name on the back, there are a few decent options. On the current Blue Jays’ 40-man roster Troy Tulowitzki leads the pack with ten letters but only one number (for a total of eleven); Josh Donaldson and Mike Bolsinger both have nine letters and two numbers (for a total of eleven); and Darrell Ceciliani has nine letters, one number (for a total of ten).

I wouldn’t really endorse this method, but it’s a thought and if you need a tiebreaker.

So who should be your/my next jersey? Here’s my short-list:

1. Aaron Sanchez – he’s going to be a Blue Jay for a really long time and it appears (*knock on wood) that he will be a star for years to come. He could realistically check off the first three boxes, and although not at all Canadian, he is a homegrown star (which has got to be worth something). Sure he may leave once he’s a free agent super star but that’ll be after a four-year Trump presidency, so who’s to say any of us will still be alive to see it.

Aaron Sanchez looks poised to become Toronto's first genuine ace since Roy Halladay (I'm not counting Price's 2.5 layover here).Should be in Blue and White for years to come.

2. Russell Martin – Gold Gloves, All-Star games, Silver Sluggers, an insane playoff streak and a ginger beard to boot (yes, I’m sure I’m part of a small minority of fans who cares about that) – what’s not to like? Martin is the embodiment of the perfect Canadian, multicultural, bilingual and has a foot in both Canada’s major cities (both population and baseball wise). And he was the first MLB star to commit to wearing the red and white in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. On the field he may not be as flashy as he once was, but his superb defense and ability to call a game still have a huge impact on this team. Hopefully when he hangs his cleats up they will be Blue Jays’ blue.       

Russell Martin will surely go down as one of the greatest Canadian baseball players and his Blue Jay career has been all that bad either.

3. Josh Donaldson – although my faith in Rogers spending money is at an all time low, JD may not get the hundreds of millions of dollar contract that some would expect. After arbitration Donaldson (a clear late bloomer) will be 33 years old, and if this off-season has taught us anything it is that the market doesn’t seem to look too kindly on 33 year olds, despite how productive they are. And like this off-season Donaldson will be, potentially, surrounded by stars that could drive his market value down. If JD becomes a lifer in Toronto he would the first of his kind, as Toronto tends to let its stars stray. If a physic told me he would stay, he’d probably be number one on this list.

If the Bringer of Rain remains in Toronto, this jersey seems a must buy.

As the number of chocolates in my advent calendar dwindles I’m starting to ponder about which Jay I want under the tree. The departure of Eddy and Bautista may still sting but it is time to move on. And if their departure has helped me realize anything, it’s the real meaning of Christmas…buying new things.

Lessons for Leafs from Loveable Losers? Chicago Cubs rebuild and what Maple Leafs can learn

Should the Toronto Maple Leafs be looking to Chicago for guidance on how to build a Stanley Cup champion? Yes, but not from those perennial contenders that play hockey, but from the World Series Champions. The Chicago Cubs serve as a clear and positive role model for hockey’s “loveable losers” and could offer the Leafs a road map to sustained glory.

Now, I should start by addressing the obvious - hockey and baseball are different sports, very different sports (I have no ambition of convincing you otherwise). I will not be comparing and contrasting Auston Matthews stats with that of Kris Bryant. The Cubs’ drafting strategy of hitters over pitchers has no relevance to the Maple Leafs or hockey in general. Also the NHL has a strict salary cap, the MLB does not. So please don’t take this as literally as that. I’m here to argue that the Cubs have demonstrated how a sports franchise can hit rock bottom, regroup, and come out a champion (and break a league leading drought to boot). The Buds should be taking notes.

The Cubs celebrate victory after 108 years of disappointment.

Culture of losing

Let’s first look at the history. Before beating the Cleveland Indians in game seven on November 2nd, the Chicago Cubs held the most shameful championship drought in professional sports. They had gone 108 years without a World Series title and from this emerged a romanticized culture of losing. The Cubs century-plus of losing featured a goat, a curse, a black cat, an oblivious fan on the third base line and, of course, enough heartbreak to fill 108 seasons.

The Cubs "Billy Goat Curse" involves a Cubs fan who was asked to leave Wrigley because his goat was making a mess, so the man put a curse on the team. Sounds ridiculous but this became entrenched in Cubs folklore.

The Maple Leafs “curse” is not nearly as long or interesting as the Cubs. But at 54 years and counting Toronto holds the distinction of the longest current NHL drought without a Cup. The Leafs curse involves a contract negotiation gone awry (a $500 discrepancy) for a second rate Leafs defenceman. The Leafs’ GM Punch Imlach

low- balled Larry Hillman by $1,000 and ended up fining him another $2,400 for holding out (an unimaginable penalty in the era of the union). Hillman vowed the Leafs would never win again and so far it appears to be holding up.

Now the “Hillman Hex” isn’t as culturally relevant in Toronto as the Billy Goat Curse is in Chicago, but both cities have these dark clouds lingering over their franchise. In both cities there has emerged almost a religious like devotion to their clubs. Like many religions, fans of these two teams have remained devoted even in the bleakest of times and are willing to suffer in the here and now in exchange for being rewarded in the sweet hereafter.

The Cubs’ management found a way to shake this culture of losing, ignoring such conspiracy theories and focused on putting the best team together on and off the field. The Leafs may still be a ways from lifting Lord Stanley’s mug but they have taken several progressive steps in acquiring the best hockey people available on and off the ice. And by doing so they may be rebuilding the self-esteem of this fan base as well.

Leafs fans know all too much about heartbreak as they hold the longest Stanley Cup-less streak (50 years if they don't win this season).

Winners in suits

The Cubs finally shattered their loser mentality this season, but the process really started five years ago. In 2011, Chicago turned to one of baseball’s greatest minds, Theo Epstein, who was best known for breaking Boston’s “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. Now some superstitious people may not give Epstein credit, portraying him simply as an antidote to a curse or an appeasement to the baseball gods. But ultimately it was his meticulous planning and reorganizing of the Cubs franchise that made the club relevant once more. Epstein did not fall ass backwards into another World Series title. In 2011 he left a cushy job at Fenway and took over a team that had just lost 91 games, finished 19 games out of a playoff spot and had the one curse in baseball that outlasted the Bambino’s. To put things in perspective, from the 2011 club that Epstein took over, not a single player remains on the 2016 Champion edition.

Epstein realized this team would need a total rebuild. And through smart and somewhat unconventional drafting, timely free agent signings and brilliant trades, Epstein and company created a perennial contender. Starting in 2015, the Cubs went out and acquired one of the best managers in baseball, Joe Maddon, to push them into contention. Sound familiar?

Two of the brightest men in baseball (Theo Epstein left, Joe Maddon right). Both played major parts in the Cubs' World Series win.

If 2011 was the start of Chicago’s five-year plan to win a championship then the Leafs might be circling 2019 for their Stanley Cup victory. In April 2014 the Leafs announced Brendan Shanahan as their team president. And although Shanahan took over a respectable 84-point club it was clear that he was set on tearing the roster down. In his first two full seasons in Toronto, Shanahan has put out a 68 and 69-point club and has traded away marquee players like Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer in the process. Although the losses hurt, the Leafs did manage to snag William Nylander (8th overall in 2014 draft), Mitch Marner (4th overall in 2015 draft) and Auston Matthews (1st overall in 2016). All three look to be cornerstones of the Leafs franchise moving forward. If you look at the 2016 Champion Cubs, top draft picks from the dark years like Javier Baez (9th overall 2011), Kris Bryant (2nd overall 2013) and Kyle Schwarber (4th overall 2014) all played integral parts in their regular and post-season success.

Like the Cubs, the Leafs have gone out and acquired champion calibre leadership, in GM Lou Lamoriello (three Stanley Cups) and Coach Mike Babcock (one Stanley Cup). With both these clubs, there has been a clear plan to rebuild after decades of failure and heartbreak - five years in the Chicago Cubs are Champions. A season and a half into the Shanahan era and the Leafs have done the tearing down, but we’ll have to wait to find out how the rebuilding goes.

Maple Leafs ownership decided to bring in some proven winners with coach Mike Babcock (right), GM Lou Lamoriello (centre) and President Brendqn Shanahan (left).

On the ice/field

In Chicago, Epstein came in and let big ticket players walk and traded the others, acquiring the likes of Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta in the process. In Toronto, it appears to be a bit early to determine whether Shanahan was successful with his trades of Kessel, Phaneuf, Reimer but like Epstein he managed to take veterans that were not helping and turn them into prospects. The salary cap in the NHL makes trades a little trickier. When trading a useful vet like Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs had to take what they could get, due to their Captain’s robust salary. So it waits to be seen whether the Leafs acquired any Tyler Seguin’s or Tuukka Rask’s in those trades.

But what Leafs’ fans will need to keep an eye on is how their club manages the free-agent market. In recent history Toronto has done poorly in free agency. The likes of Mike Komisarek, David Clarkson and John Michael Liles, stand out as disappointing off-season signings. When the Cubs saw their competitive window opening they went out and filled their holes with some major contracts. After the 2014 season they signed ace Jon Lester to a 6 year/$155 million contract and last off-season they signed veteran starter John Lackey for 2 years/$32 million, utility man Ben Zobrist for 4 years/$56 million and outfielder Jayson Heyward for 8 years/$184 million. Although Heyward struggled in year one of his contract, all these signings were meant to plug holes not addressed by their solid young core.

The Cubs had 7 All Stars this year. Zobrist, Fowler and Lester were free agent signs; Russell, Arrieta and Rizzo were trades; Bryant was drafted.

Much was made this summer about whether the Leafs should acquire Steven Stamkos via free agency. The argument against it was that the Leafs were not in their competitive window. Adding one of the best forwards in the NHL would’ve been nice but not knowing how the rest of the team would look - it just wasn’t the time. After Epstein’s first full season in Chicago, his new club had lost 101 games. But it was not till three years later in 2014 that Cubs management saw their opportunity to dive into the free agent market. Like Epstein, Shanahan isn’t panicking about losing and seems to be playing the long game.

Leafs have acquired a young core during the Shanahan era.

The Maple Leafs have made several steps in the right direction since the start of the Shanahan era but still have a ways to go till they are again a serious contender. The 2016-17 season has been an exciting/frustrating campaign so far for this young Maple Leaf club. And although Toronto is still in the playoff picture, the general consensus seems to be that this season will be yet another lost cause.

The rebuilding process can be a painful ordeal and is not always a guaranteed thing. But the Toronto Maple Leafs have been taking some steps in the right direction. Much like the Cubs the Leafs have recognized that they needed a culture change. From 2004-2014 the Cubs made the playoffs only twice, with their 97-win 2008 campaign being the only noteworthy season. The Leafs have made the playoffs only once in 12 seasons, making a brief appearance in the strike-shortened 2012-13 season. Epstein came in to Chicago and burnt the Cubs’ roster to the ground and took the Billy Goat Curse head on. Rebuilding is always tricky and unpleasant but with an unwavering commitment to acquiring as much young talent as possible, the Cubs showed us there is hope. Now we can only sit back and watch to see if Shanahan and Co. remain committed to the long-term objective.