December 10, 2007

A Change Of Heart

After some reflection and reconsideration, and some advice from my man Jeff Blair at The Globe, maybe Toronto trading Alex Rios for pitcher Tim Lincecum isn’t so bad after all. I’ve had what is called a change of heart. Let’s do the damn thing.

I’m an emotional guy. When I heard JPeezy was dangling Rios in front of the Giants I acted, well, emotionally. No shit. It’s what I do. Rios is the man, the future, the latino heat. My initial reaction was: “What the $#@!? Rios, one-for-one for a pitcher? Can’t be done. No way. Abort mission.”

In my emotional state, I shot off an email to Blairsy at The Globe. Turns out, the email made his mail bag. Here it is, in all its glory:

Loyal reader, who is extremely nervous after reading your blog that says Ricciardi is willing to trade Rios for Lincecum. Please tell me this isn't going to happen. Say it ain't so. Tell me you think the Jays should keep Rios. Don't you? Don't you?!

I needed to be told it was all going to be ok. I needed a shoulder to lean on. I was distraught, damn it! Blairsy, Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected, was there for me. He laid it down, straight:

Eyebleaf: Each night after MacLeod and I wrapped up our work here, I'd head down to the lobby bar to corner Blue Jays types or executives from other teams or agents with whom I have any kind of rapport. The deal was all we'd talk about and I have to admit I'm still going back and forth on it, because I think Rios is an uncommonly talented offensive player and when I hear a former manager I trust tell me Rios reminds him of Dave Winfield, I kind of pay attention. But considering how this market's going, I'm beginning to wonder if the Blue Jays don't think Rios is on the verge of just about putting himself out of their price range, considering how much money they owe Vernon Wells. And I also think they've taken a peak ahead to post-Roy Halladay, and view Lincecum and Dustin McGowan as front-of-the-rotation guys. Based on what I've seen teams do here - yeah, I make the deal if I'm the Blue Jays.

Blair’s right. Blair’s keeping it real. Cue the reflection and the reconsideration. I took a look at Lincecum’s stats from last year as a fresh-faced rookie with the Giants. Pretty impressive, man. Here’s the line:

Games Started: 24
Innings Pitched: 146.1
Hits Allowed: 122
Earned Runs Allowed: 65
Walks: 65
Strikeouts: 150
Earned Run Average.: 4.00
WHIP: 1.28
Batting Average Against: .226

For shits and giggles, let’s take a look at the line of one A.J. Burnett:

Games Started: 25
Innings Pitched: 165.2
Hits Allowed: 131
Earned Runs Allowed: 69
Walks: 66
Strikeouts: 176
Earned Run Average: 3.75
WHIP: 1.19
Batting Average Against: .214

Well slap me in the face and call me Sally Fields, because those numbers are mighty similar! Burnett pitched 20 more innings, but they all came in September when the Jays were, as usual, playing out the bloody stretch. Lincecum, a 2006 draft pick, was on a tight pitch count all season.

Blair hit the nail right on the head: Lincecum has A.J. Burnett-type nasty stuff, without the A.J. Burnett bullshit-attitude. Lincecum can pitch, pure and simple, and he’s only 23 years old.

This is, without a doubt, Burnett’s final year in Toronto. He’s got an opt-out after his third-season and you’re about as smart as George Dubya if you think he’s not going to use it. Hell, I’d use it too. Buh-bye, Burnett, don’t let the door injure your shoulder or your elbow on the way out. He should change his name to D.L. Burnett. Like Peterman told Elaine when he came back to the catalogue: “Kudos, Elaine, on a job……………..done.”

A lot of people are taking the opportunity to roast JPeezy on Burnett. Whatever. We took a chance on his arm, and it didn’t work out because the man can’t stay healthy, or pitch through pain. The opt-out lets us cut our losses. We can use the money elsewhere folks, so don’t get your panties tied up in bunches.

I’m going to give JPeezy and the Jays credit because they’re looking to the future. Lincecum has five years on his contract before he becomes elegible for restricted free agency, and he’s not exactly breaking the bank right now. Speaking of the bank, Blair is right, Rios is going to become one of those cash-money-millionaires, with all the bling, the ice, the rims, the hoes, and all those expensive liquors. You get the point. The market is crazy. Andruw Jones parlayed one of his worst seasons in to a two-year deal worth over $36 million. It defies logic. If Jones is making that type of money while on the downside of his career, imagine the loot Rios is going to demand?

The more I think about it, the more this deal needs to be done. I’ve gone from hopping mad and praying that the Giants would reject, to eagerly anticipating an announcement of the deal. Word is that it might not happen until the new year, if it happens at all.

Imagine a rotation (with Burnett still around in ’08) of Halladay, Lincecum, Burnett, McGowan and Marcum. That’s money, right there. I’m positive JPeezy is doing everything he can to trade Burnett, but I doubt there will be many takers when it’s no secret he’ll be hitting the market again next summer.

And the post-Halladay years, as difficult as they are to think about, are approaching. Doc’s not getting any younger. He’s going to have to pass the torch on eventually, so who better than to mould this stud Lincecum than the Doctor?

Hitters, they say, are a dime a dozen. Great pitchers aren’t. The outfield, without Rios, consists of Wells in centre, Adam Lind in left, and a platoon of Reed Johnson and Matt Stairs in right. With the exception of Lind, we know what those boys can do. Once Lind learns not to swing at every god damn pitch, he’ll be more effective. In the meanwhile, he’s got power, and if he plays everyday I think he can jack 20 home runs. And Toronto’s 2006 draft pick, Travis Snider, is supposedly going to be the real deal in the outfield as well. He’s on his way and scheduled for arrival in 2009. Bottom line is that the offense, even with Rios in the lineup last season, was useless. The only way the Jays compete is if they get quality pitching and everyone in the lineup pulls his weight (Wells, Overbay and Glaus – I’m looking at you, fools).

Pitching wins championships. Just ask all the drunken hooligans down in Boston. The Red Sox won because they had the arms. Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew, two of their starting outfielders, could have put up similar numbers if they batted with toothpicks all of last season, but it didn’t matter, because, say it with me now: pitching wins championships. JPeezy is figuring that out. The Jays had a great staff last year, and in order to keep up with these fools in the American League East, we’ve got to join the arms race. That’s why getting Lincecum is so important, even if it costs us Alex Rios, God bless his heart.

Both Blair and Tom Verducci over at SI gave one example of a trade where a team sent over a great young hitter for a young pitching prospect. It was November of 1993, the Jays were coming off back-to-back World Series championships, and everything was right in the world. That November, The Montreal Expos traded Delino DeShields, one of the best young hitters in the game at the time (that’s disturbing in its own right), for a young pitching pup named Pedro Martinez.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Expos won that trade.

One can’t assume that Rios is going to turn out like DeShields (a bust) and Lincecum like Pedro (a special, special arm). But I think in both the long term and the short term, this is one trade that benefits the Jays, even though Rios is well on his way to superstardom. So come on, San Fran. Pull the trigger. The anticipation is killing me.

At the end of the day, it comes down to wins and losses. The only way the Jays are going to make the playoffs, if they ever do again, is on the strength of their arms. The Jays’ staff was ranked second in the league last year. Lincecum can hopefully make it number one.

Tom Verducci, in his column about the Jays on November 20th, delivered some statistics that have haunted me since the day I read them:

No team has won more games over the past two seasons (170) without making the playoffs. No team has won more games over the entire wild-card era (1,022) without making the playoffs. Such is life competing against both of baseball’s evil empires in the American League East.

Breaks your heart, don’t it?