The Jays’ Middle Infield Situation

Russ Adams

Much like my Gregg Zaun/Bengie Molina column, I am going to play GM with the Jays’ middle infield.

There are 2 things we know for sure. The first is that Aaron Hill is a solid second baseman. He is no O-dog (who is really?) but he fields well, he is capable of hitting .300 and scoring a bunch of runs. He began to show signs of some pop at the end of the season, posting a .523 slugging % in the month of September. Most importantly, he is cheap.

The second thing we know is that Russ Adams can not be the Jays starting SS come opening day. Why you ask? At some point this year Adams became haunted by the ghost of Chuck Knoblauch. As I see it, Adams had started to become afraid of making a mistake and I can see it every time he double clutches a throw before he air-mails it above Lyle Overbay’s head. He looks like he’s thinking more about the ramifications of what he’s doing, rather than simply playing with competitive arrogance that most stars (or at least competant shortstops) possess – the assumption that he will succeed. Not only that, he has let his defensive misgivings affect his hitting, barely batting above the Mendoza line and posting an OPS a hair over .600. Miserable stats to say the least. He needs to be buried in the minors until he can figure himself out. Will he make it back to the big leagues? Who is to say but I wish him the best, I just don’t want to see him in Toronto.

Russ Adams

First things first, let’s be clear that there is no solution from within. Luis Figueroa and Sergio Santos are marginal players at best, and Ryan Roberts proved he is not near ready to play in the show.

So what we have is a gaping hole at SS. There has been talk about filling it with Julio Lugo of the Dodgers, a player the Jays were rumoured to have tried to acquire at the trade deadline. Apparently the 30 year old Lugo is seeking a 5 year $40 million dollar contract. This for a guy with a career line of 277/340/348 and he had a terrible second half for the Dodgers. For a team like the “small market” Jays with budgetary constraints (and an uncertain budget going into next season) and with multiple needs, I don’t think so.

As this year’s playoffs are reminding us, it is pitching and defense that wins championships. The New York Yankees drop $200mil on a payroll, sending the most fearsome lineup perhaps ever 1 through 9 and don’t make it out of the first round. Why? Because great pitching trumps great hitting almost every time. The Jays need to sign at least 2 starting pitchers with the likely departure of Ted Lilly and the realization that Josh Towers/Marcum/Janssen/Taubenheim etc. are all trash. They also need to keep Speier because, again, the teams in the playoffs that are winning have solid bullpens (Tigers what?). A couple of the mid-level free agent starters that could be had include Vicente Padilla, Gil Meche, Randy Wolf, Woody Williams. Maybe the Jays could land a Zito!!

So, as GM of the Jays, I would sign those 2 starters and Speier and pick up some guy off the scrap heap who can play defense behind the ground-ball inducing Roy Halladay and just get on base at a reasonable clip (Sorry John McDonald, you are a stud and I love you but… no). Perhaps Alex Gonzalez could be had for a bargain? It doesn’t matter really, the rest of the lineup can mash and if the Jays can solidify their pitching… they will be a force.

Am I crazy? Do the Jays need to make a run at A-Rod to play shortstop to win? What would you do?

P.S. Aaron Hill is a stud (with the ladies at least)

Written By

has written for Mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Callum on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram (@callumhughson)

  • I thought you were going to have some weird proclamations but this is a pretty sound idea. I think staying with Hill is a good idea, although his september slugging was .484, not .523. One thing that Hill needs to do is show more consistancy. But he’s young and he was, like almost every Jay, rushed to the majors, so I’d at least give him another year to prove his worth.

    Hill OPS by Month;

    .483
    .827
    .787
    .858
    .515
    .884

    I think Adams needs to be sent down and given some full playing time. He only played about 180 games between AA + AAA. He also needs to be allowed to run. In his final year of college he swipped 45 bags. With the Jays in 2005 he stole 11 and was only thrown out twice. I don’t see the point in drafting a player that can steal, and then sticking him in a “lay and pray” type system.

    Your right when you say Lugo isn’t worth the money, and when looking at the payroll article here at the mopupduty, the last thing the Jays need is another $40+ million long term deal. Nice write up. I love Hill pulling the sunglasses look, as I’ll assume this pic is on the road after a night game!

  • Early

    Do you think Adams decides, “since they won’t let me run, I am only going to get an OBP of .282 and strike out 16% of my at-bats”. Along with running, he was also an excellent line-drive contact hitter in college. Adams doesn’t fit in with the Jays or the Major Leagues for that matter. Time to fall back on that degree Russy, hopefully he remembers something, seeing he forgot how to hit, thrown and catch. Maybe he forgot how to run too, but he isn’t on base enough to find out. He is a dick. He runined the 2006 season. Hill on the other hand should be a mainstay up the middle, hopefully he can stick with fringe babes and move to his natural second base and then work on hot girls. Instead of being a streaky fringe major leaguer and party with hot girls like Garth Snow. As for the other Baby Jays in Syaracuse, how can you say that Ryan Roberts and Figeroa doesn’t belong, R-squared had 13 ABs. The Jays seemed to beleive the same as he wasn’t brought up when most of their minor leaguers were on the bench in Sept. I don’t expect much from him and he will probably be falling back on his degree with Russy but giving up after 17ABs?? If they are going to get a SS it should be A-Rod, ehehehee.

  • Personally, I’d rather have them spend the cash on Lugo than throw millions at mid-rotation pitchers who are much more risky (ie Matt Clement, Sidney Ponson, Jeff Weaver, ad nauseum)

    The success, I’ve found, is teams who succeed pitching-wise do so with catching the preverbial ‘lightning in a bottle’ with one of their prospect arms blossoming early in the season and providing the team with an unexpected bonus of another wicked, cheap arm. The Jays already have Burnett, Halladay and Chacin locked in 3 rotation spots, so at best, I’d rather them land just one ‘established’ pitcher via free agency, hope someone like Romero, McGowan or Janssen can be a 10-12 game winning 5th starter, then blow the budget on shoring up their MI with Lugo rather than an all glove no bat guy like Alex Gonzalez.

  • Early, that is the funniest thing I have read in a long time. I didn’t know you were so clever.

    D.A. I would rather have Lugo than Clement, Ponson or Weaver too. That’s why I didn’t mention them. Chacin worries me with his inconsistency. You can almost guarantee one of the starters going down with an injury, which is why you need to have 6-7 SP instead of just 5. I feel the same money ($8 million) would be better spent on a front line starter + set up man rather than a MI like Lugo. I don’t see Janssen as having the type of stuff/makeup to be that kind of starter, McGowan has the potential and I haven’t seen enough of Romero to make a judgement. If the Jays do land Lugo however, you won’t see me crying about it 🙂

  • Early

    DA you are right on the ball. Have to hope that these young guys can atleast get to .500 and eat up starts and innings. Let Doc and AJ run away with gaudy W-L records. Look at the Padres, A’s and Cardinals, they all had a group of starters that logged innings and didn’t win a tonne of games and they got into the playoffs. And it is nice when a surprising young arm falls into your lap ie Papelbon, Jenks, Rodriguez in LAA. They need a veteran starter in the $5mil range to back up their starting 3 but the hole at SS for the Jays has to be filled, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the system who wants it for next year…let’s look elsewhere.

  • Well, with Adams he needs more time. He was rushed and it showed. I’m going to do a study comparing the usefullness of OBP with runners that have speed vs slow-ass 1st base types.

    The jays problem wasn’t the lack of one more bat, it was the lack of depth at SP and in the bullpen. I’m personally not sold on Chacin at all. He had some success his first time around the league in 2005 but in August 2005 he had a 5.30 ERA + a 4.34 in September. He had a 5+ ERA in 2006.

    Whether it’s Roy’s fault or not, he’s worth a trip to the DL. Same goes with AJ. Instead of the usual 70 starts from your 1-2, the Jays have to realistically hope for 60 at best. In 2006 the Jays got 53.

    Another bat isn’t going to change these facts. Earl, the young arms that the Jays have are not the caliber of the Cards, Padres, and A’s. Not even close. Guys like Reyes & Papelbon, and K-Rod were considered top notch arms. The only Jay close to this was thought to be Romero but he fell flat on his face in AA. He’s going to need another year at least, so rushing him isn’t the answer. Nether are Jensen, McGowan or the rest of that bunch. With that said, there’s no reason why one of these guys can’t become an innings eating 5 starter. But with the inevitable injuries to the top 2, & inconsistant Chacin work, the Jays need something more.

  • Early

    I agree Adams was rushed. I am not saying the Jays young guns are top-notch arms, but, when you look at the production that the Cards, Padres, A’s and Twins for that matter are getting from the 3rd-5th starters that type of production is not out of the question for someone like Marcum to do. Chacin had a terrible August, yes, he was coming back off an injury and he was probably rushed back to stop the bleeding that was going on in Toronto at the end of July into mid-August. Chacin had terrible starts at rehab in AA and was still brought up. He is an arm explosion waiting to happen I beleive, it might break in mid-pitch ala Tom Browning but until then I have my fingers crossed. So, K man, what would you reccomend for the Jays? Is it as hopelss as it seems? Get Lugo and let the pitchers fight it out. If they sign two $5mil free agent starters or even go after Zito with big money what do they do with Marcum, Janssen and co? Let them rot or wait for Doc and AJ and Chacin to break down and throw them into the 1,2,3, starting spots? Maybe it is hopeless.

  • You are grouping teams together that shouldn’t be grouped together. The Cards didn’t have top notch arms because they didn’t need to – they got into the playoffs with 83 wins. Same with the Pads with 88 wins in the sick joke that is the National League (although starters 1-4 had 11+ wins each). As far as the Twins go, they got to where they are due to 2 of the most dominating starting pitchers in recent history compounded with a solid bullpen, the best in baseball ERA-wise. The A’s top 3 have 16,16 and 14 wins a piece compounded with the 5th best bullpen in all of baseball. If you want to get into the playoffs from the AL-East, Marcum isn’t going to get your there. So if you get your starters or Zito, that is exactly what you do with Janssen and Marcum – let them “rot and wait”. That is what the Twins did with Liriano, putting him in the pen until they needed him and it seemed to work out alright for them.

  • so is it gonna be Lugo and Accardo? Or Woody Williams and J-Spei?

  • Early

    If I am worried about my middle infield I would take Option 1. Who plays SS if Jays sign Williams and Speier? Neither of those pitchers can play SS. To get back to the topic of the article, is Alex Gonazalez the savoir for the Jays middle infield? There isn’t alot of SS on the FA market this year. He should get $3-4mil but he sub is .300 OBP. Over 600 at bats, Gonzalez at .300 OBP will get on base about 15 more times than JohnnyMac at .275, that equates to one extra base runner every 11 games! Gozalez has shown some power in his career but not recently and Jays don’t need power. Jays maybe should be looking at Adam Kennedy or Lugo at middle infield even if they can’t be had for “scrap heap prices”. Kennedy should get on base 45 times more than John MacD and Lugo about 40 times more than John MacD. That shores up the middle infield alot more and improves the offense from that positon than having Alex Gonzalez who can expect to have about as many strikeouts as hits next year.

  • Early

    And wins from the top 3 winning starters of +500 teams in the AL…
    NYY 51
    CWS 48
    Det 47
    Oak 46
    LAA 42
    Minn 42
    Jays 41
    Bos 38

  • I won’t give away my GM plan till a later post but if you want to sign a Kennedy at 2nd, it kinda screws up some plans. Hill was downright awful at SS this last year, with a low fielding percentage and he was way below average in terms of range factor. Also, by the numbers, McDonald was also below average in range factor. Now I’m with Cal in shoring up the pitching but let’s discuss the infield for a second.

    Right off the start, Lugo is about the only decent thing available at SS in the FA market, but he wants way to much $$$. There is far more talent available at 2nd, but you would have to play Hill at SS, with his vastly supbar D.

    How high of a prioriety should the Jays place on infield
    defense? Maybe someone can look into this, but what is the staff’s overall ground ball to fly ball ratio? This is where having big time K pitchers helps (Burnett, Halladay, Ryan, League, but what about the rest of the staff?). They eliminate the chances in the field, giving you a better chance of success with a below average D. (ie Oakland, Minnesota)

  • What does Daperman think? If he watches/listens to 80%+ of the games, he should have a decent handle on what’s going on.

  • Earl, your point about none of the pitchers being able to play SS is superfluous, since none of the MI can pitch. You are a lunatic if you think A-Gon is gonna make $3-4 mil. The offense doesn’t need improving but pitching does.

    K, as far as big time K pitchers, Halladay is no longer among those pitchers. He pitches to contact and struck out 132 in his 220IP. He will strike out a hitter when there is a runner on 3rd with less than 2 outs, but he is all about trying to keep his pitch count low. Chacin needs all the defense he can get since he gets batted all over the yard when he is not walking people.

  • Alex Gonzalez was just a random name thrown out for discussion. If you want to get serious about it, what about Craig Counsell? He made less than $2mil and is a 34 year old man who plays a stellar SS defensively. With the emergence of Steven Drew, his days in Zona are numbered. He gets on base 35% of the time.

    You get the added bonus of getting to see Counsell and Zaun hug it out in the dugout.

  • Counsell has very good fielding stats, with a 4.81 range factor (lg avg 4.00). This is $$$ but it may be an anomoly, as his past SS RF’s were below league average.
    His obp over the past few years is pretty bad. Here’s 2006 to 2003

    .327 (2006)
    .350
    .330
    .328 (2003)

    Not very good. One would have to assume that Adams can muster up a .315 OBP next season. One thing about Counsell is the age. His speed is starting to go too, as his sb% has declined in each of the past three seasons. But if he’s cheap, I could live with it. Overall, his D will most likely be average, which is an upgrade over Hill at SS.

    You are correct about Halladay, I thought he had more K’s. I should have known though, as I was watching a game in september and he had something like 7 K’s and it matched his season high. Chacin is what he is, a WHIP machine.

    According to Park Factors, the Roger Centre is a hitters park, so it’s interesting to see if a bat (Lugo) outweighs an arm or two. I don’t think it does. For the $$$ that Lugo is going to command, I can get a middle of the line starter, resign Speier (or something similar), and maybe have a few dollars for a happy meal left over.

  • Arbitration Help:

    Who’s up for arbitration this off-season (not sure on any of these, I’m just guessing)?

    Overbay
    Johnson
    Downs
    Frasor

    Also, some bad payroll news. When Towers wins the 2007 CY Young, he gets a $50,000 bonus.

  • Uh oh. Overbay is a stud.

  • daperman

    This is not about getting a “great” infielder for short or second. It is about getting a player who can make the “routine” play. There were numerous times during the season that the infield could not make the second part of the double play. They did not cover the base for a double play or cover second on steals.

    As Warren “the gushing Blue Jay can do no wrong announcer” Sawkiew says, Hill and Adams are the best of friends off the field and you can see as the season goes on that great rapport (sic, sic, gag, gag) between the two continues to grow. What I believe the problem is that they need some good coaching to make sure that these things become second nature although these should be second nature at this point. Either that or some tunnel time for the two.

    Is Lugo the one who gets them into the playoffs? Hill offensively mathces Lugo at shortstop. Defensively not enough evidence in on Hill as yet. Solid but unspectacular at the moment. The same can be said for Hill at second.

    The question mark in this whole equation is Adams. Can tunnel time straighten him out. But I can’t see the $40 million for Lugo. There are enough 5 HR hitters around in the minors or majors that make Lugo unattractive fill in the name. But if I have the money spend it, because its not mine its Uncle Ted’s. I am not a GM I am a fan. Do what you have to do and I don’t care how much it costs.

  • The problem with the spending is that, sooner or later, ownership isn’t going to want to lose money year after year. With the long term contracts already to the big 4, the Jays have to be wary about handing out any more long term deals. Adams is .25 points below league fielding percentage. I assume that he’s out of the plans, due to his lack of playing time in 2006. Maybe it’s time to look at trade options for the SS position.

  • Am I wrong to assume that there will be more value placed this offseason on these mid-rotation arms, than there will on the shortstops? I mean, there are probably about 6-8 “decent” mid-rotation arms available in the market, with probably over 20 teams, at least, looking to improve their rotations.

    Despite the fact there are few decent shortstops available (Lugo and then what? Counsell? Gonzalez? Yuck…) I don’t see that many franchises that will be in the market other than the Jays that will target a shortstop as one of their teams’ main priorities, which would drive the asking price up.

    Anyone know which teams have glaring needs at short who could be a part of the “Lugo sweepstakes”?

  • Just move Troy Glaus over to SS, problem solved 😉

  • Oh No!

    League Average Range Factor: 4.03
    Glaus as SS Range Factor: 2.88

    That would not be pretty! I think DA brings up a good point about scarcity. I might throw together something on Lugo, and the FA market up the middle.

  • Early

    Overbay is not up for arbitration.
    He has 2 more years on his dealio.

  • Overbay signed a 1 year extension at the start of 06 for $2.5. I can’t find anything about him ever getting a three year deal. Could you post a link?