Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
In the second season of J.P. Ricciardi's tenure as Toronto's GM, the team improved by six games to finish with an 86-76 record, their best mark since 1998 and the second best record for the franchise since their back-to-back World Series' wins in 1992 and 1993. Ricciardi accomplished this task despite shedding payroll and dealing with a SARS scare in Toronto that left the stadium largely empty at the beginning of summer. Dealing Shannon Stewart to Minnesota, a deal nearly completed at the 2001 trade deadline, in exchange for Bobby Kielty, even netted Toronto an very promising on-base machine for an injury-prone player that wasn't going to return.
Perhaps the best news for Blue Jays' fans is that most of the team's offensive core is under the Jays' control for the next few years. Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske, who should rebound in 2004 if he remains healthy are signed through 2006 at a total of $25.75M. Josh Phelps, Bobby Kielty, Orlando Hudson, Reed Johnson, Kevin Cash, Aquilino Lopez, and Jason Kershner all are a year or more away from arbitration.
Carlos Delgado's $18.5M deal expires after next season, however if he isn't amenable to returning to Toronto at a lesser price after his MVP-caliber season this year, Toronto likely can snag a couple of top young players for him now. Although Delgado is a great player, he isn't consistently awesome, his value might never be higher, Toronto possesses several impressive young hitters at 1B/DH/OF, and the biggest organizational weakness is major league-ready pitching prospects. He possesses a complete no-trade clause, but he should be amenable to moving to a likely contender like the Dodgers, Braves, Diamondbacks, Cubs, or even the Athletics, all clubs with young pitching to trade for a top bat. While Richie Sexson's contract makes him more appealing on the trade market, Delgado would be a great consolation prize for the Dodgers or Diamondbacks in particular.
Looking at the Jays' finances, the recent or pending departures of Shannon Stewart, Cory Lidle, Kelvim Escobar, Tanyon Sturtze, Frank Catalanotto, Mike Bordick, Greg Myers, Doug Creek, and Jeff Tam free $21.2M in payroll. Even if the team re-signs Escobar and maybe Myers or Catalanotto, they possess enough payroll room to add one decent veteran starter.
Roy Halladay's likely Cy Young creates the biggest problem for the Blue Jays in that he made $3.825M in 2003 and simply must be signed to a long-term deal. Halladay isn't only one of the skilled pitchers in the majors, his pitch efficiency makes him one of the most valuable players in the game to the number of innings he can pitch. The salaries of Lidle and others will go towards keeping Halladay in Toronto for a long-time. As long as Ricciardi nails a Halladay contract that lasts at least three years, this off-season will be a success for Toronto.
The bad news is that the Blue Jays simply doesn't appear in a good position to contend for a playoff spot in 2004 given the expected personnel and accompanying payrolls of the Yankees and Red Sox. Toronto's next wave of minor league talent, which includes catcher Guillermo Quiroz, shortstop Russ Adams, outfielders Gabe Gross, Alexis Rios, and John-Ford Griffin, and pitchers Jason Arnold and David Bush, simply isn't ready to contribute in the majors.
Yet these players can be phased into significant roles during 2004. Kevin Cash is an excellent defender and can man catcher until Quiroz debuts at the end of the year. Adams should push Chris Woodward into a permanent platoon role, and as I don't view either Reed Johnson or Jayson Werth as long-term corner outfield solutions, Gross and Rios should assume positions around Vernon Wells by September. While Kielty's offensive upside should keep him in Toronto indefinitely, the defensive upside of Rios, Wells, and Gross should relegate Kielty, Griffin, and Phelps to sharing 1B and DH if Delgado departs. I'm not impressed with Toronto's pitching depth, however if they keep Halladay, Escobar, and Hendrickson while adding one veteran and promoting Arnold, I think they at least can push 90 wins.
While I don't envision anyone winning the AL East with less than 95 wins for the next few years, the Blue Jays, possibly aided by a Delgado trade as soon as the winter meetings, possess the talent and financial flexibility necessary to reach that level by no later than 2006. Although 2004 looks like another year of restructuring, I expect Toronto to begin competing for a playoff spot in 2005.
Jason Arnold, 24, RH Starter
Although Arnold's dominance definitely decreased once he joined Syracuse, he maintained solid overall stats, as well as an acceptable 3.4 BB/9. Giving him another year of development time probably is a good idea, however even if the Jays re-sign Escobar and replace Lidle with another free agent, Arnold should compete for the last rotation slot. He appears ready to pitch at least effectively if not especially successfully given his increasing hittability, but Toronto's prolific offense also should guarantee him double-digit wins if he holds a starting job all season. While drafting him is a mildly risky proposition, I see no reason Arnold shouldn't develop into a solid starter over the next couple of seasons.
Gross rebounded superbly from a very unimpressive 2002 season to excel at New Haven before continuing to produce solid stats at Syracuse. His dropped contact rate suggests he needs at least another half-season in the minors to refine his skills, but he easily could take over in right field for Toronto by mid-season and he certainly should be starting by September. Of course, while can't expect him to hit for significant power right away, he should post a decent batting average and will manage respectable RBI and run totals in the Jays' loaded lineup. Even though he lacks the upside of most of the future Toronto starters, his overall offensive profile makes Gross a very safe gamble in any league.
Neither a .84 contact rate nor a .08 walk rate are particularly strong marks, yet they also won't prohibit Rios from developing into a superstar, especially given his seven-skill potential. I believe he needs a full season at AAA given his evolving plate discipline and Toronto's need to extend his arbitration and free agent clocks as long as possible, however given Rios' progress through the system thus far, a year at Syracuse makes sense. Rios still should start for the Jays in September, and given his five-category upside, only B.J. Upton is an obviously superior rookie to draft on fantasy teams next spring. Any owner who rosters Rios will own a potential $40 player who at least should reach double-digit value as soon as he earns a starting job in the majors.
Russ Adams, 23, SS-L
Although Adams should spend several seasons besides Aaron Hill, selected one year and one pick after Toronto chose Adams with the 13th pick in the 2002 draft, his defensive profile suggests Adams will shift to second base while Hill remains at shortstop. I realize Jays' management isn't enamored of Orlando Hudson, but unless he prices himself out of their range when he reaches arbitration or they deal him sooner, Adams will need to develop much more power to push Hudson aside. Of course, Adams' solid plate discipline and good speed skills will make him useful at the bottom of the lineup and he could approach $20 if Toronto lets him run. However, his unimpressive power numbers mean you shouldn't target him as more than a relatively low round pick in spring drafts even though he might reach the majors by mid-2004.
Although Alvarez performed decently in his first AAA season, he has no chance to reach the majors with a franchise loaded in upper-level middle infield prospects. He might offer some SB upside depending on where he signs as a minor league free agent, but he isn't a viable fantasy selection at this time.
While Baker has posted two strong AA seasons, his difficulties at Syracuse in two seasons at Syracuse, combined with his unimpressive strikeout rates lower in the system, lead me to believe he needs to switch to the bullpen to succeed at higher levels. Until he can leverage his command into greater effectiveness above AA, he won't belong anywhere near the majors.
Despite decent performances in Toronto over the last few years, I expect the team to let Bowles depart as a minor league free agent since his weak minor league skills suggest little upside. I don't expect him to contribute to successful fantasy teams in the near future.
In one of the gutsier movies by the organization in recent memory, Toronto converted Bush, a college closer and the Jays' 2nd round pick in 2002, to a starting pitcher. He hadn't even pitched until college, and he pitched a total of 95 innings in 2002, so the additional workload doesn't concern me considering his absolute dominance. Bush compiled a 148:28 K:BB in 158 IP last year while managing low hit and walk rates, giving him as much immediate potential as all save a handful of the game's best pitching prospects. My only hesitation in recommending him lies in the fact we don't know how his arm adapted to starting, however Bush's fantasy potential still merits a pick in any league where you can't get Dustin McGowan first.
Toronto's catching situation right now reminds me of the Indians' set-up a year ago, however Josh Bard at least received a couple months to audition for other teams before Victor Martinez pushed him aside. The decision to re-sign Greg Myers means that Cash will compete for at-bats in the spring with Myers, Tom Wilson, and Guillermo Quiroz, the Jays' likely eventual starter. Although Cash certainly owns the skills, particularly behind the plate, to enjoy a long big league career, Quiroz's offensive potential, in addition to above average fielding consistency, makes him much more valuable. Considering Cash's struggles with Toronto this season, he only will open the year in the majors since Quiroz will start at Syracuse. By August, I expect Cash will take a sub-.700 OPS back to the minors until September, and Quiroz will assume the Jays' primary catching duties, leading to Cash's departure in trade next winter. Without a secure place in the organization, Cash simply isn't a good fantasy selection in spring drafts.
Despite a superficially weak ERA, Chulk maintained decent command, however given the other starting prospects in the system, he probably fits better in the Jays' bullpen. Wait to see if he regains his former dominance before considering him for your team.
Fagan compiled 102 walks a year ago, yet his terrible performance at Syracuse suggests he may peak as a AAAA hitter. Former New Haven teammates Simon Pond owns very similar skills to Fagan, however Pond's success at Syracuse, coupled with his left-handed bat and power potential, could keep Fagan from advancing to Toronto. Of course, unless Fagan manages to conquer AAA within the next few years, we might never see him in the majors, so stay away from him in every fantasy league for the moment.
While Gassner's unimpressive strikeout rate suggests he might benefit from a move to the bullpen, any left-hander that possesses control this good needs to remain in the rotation as long as possible. Gassner might struggle at AAA over a full season or he could develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. Only his uncertain role prevents me from recommending him at this time.
Griffin looks like the odd man out of Toronto's outfield mix since Vernon Wells, Alexis Rios, and Gabe Gross all possess higher ceilings and better defensive skills. If Josh Phelps replaces Delgado at first, Griffin could DH for a few years, but I'm not sure he'll see much playing time with Toronto. Of course, he owns good power and plate discipline, and I expect he'll enjoy a reasonably lengthy big league career, yet don't draft him due to his uncertain immediate future.
The unbelievable homer rate caught my eye right after McGowan's excellent command, and after examining the rest of his numbers, I see nothing at all to worry about here aside from the slightly troubling AA hit rate. McGowan's skills have improved after each of his four promotions over the last four seasons. With his dominance increasing, no obvious health problems, and obvious vacancies in the Toronto rotation, he ranks with the best starting prospects in the minors. That great homer rate also should negate the worst aspects of pitching home games in the SkyDome, making McGowan an easy early-round pick in any minor league draft even if he shouldn't see the majors until next September.
Peterson's control problems in the Sally League worry me a little, but considering he dominated opponents at two higher levels this year, I see no reason he couldn't join the Toronto bullpen in the very near future. The Jays view him as a potential closer, so while you shouldn't draft him in the spring since he could spend 2004 in the minors, he might merit consideration as a free agent once he reaches the majors.
Although deterioration of his place discipline at Syracuse likely reduces Pond's chances of making an impact in the majors, he still might earn a roster spot in team to punish the Expos during interleague play for dumping him several years ago. His AA numbers depict a potentially very useful bench player who can handle third, first and the corner outfield positions, so Pond might merit fantasy consideration as soon as he joins Toronto. Of course, he also turns 27 tomorrow, and his limited upside means that you need to make sure he's holding decent contact and walk rates since the only category on which he should impact your team to any significant extent is batting average.
Despite the apparent organizational fascination with Kevin Cash, Quiroz is the catcher of the future in Toronto after this breakout season. He owns power, plate discipline, and excellent catching skills, giving him as much upside as any backstop prospect aside from Joe Mauer. Quiroz merits a relatively high pick in any league since he could reach double-digit roto value as soon as 2005.
Grabbed from Detroit in the Rule 5 minor league draft, his MLEs indicate he actually performed better at the plate than Ramon Santiago and Omar Infante. Of course, the Tigers' duo each possess much better defensive skills than Sequea, but ignoring a solid backup infielder and potential starter is a bad move for any organization. Now, Sequea's limited quantitative upside may keep him from developing into a great roto player, however he fits nicely between Orlando Hudson and Chris Woodward in the majors and Russ Adams and Aaron Hill lower in the system.
Posting these fairly brutal numbers after an unimpressive 2002 campaign might force Smith out of Toronto's plans completely. Yet he owns decent control, so despite his two-year failure at Syracuse, the Jays should send him back to New Haven as a reliever, watch him dominate for a couple months, and then see if he can conquer Syracuse in his third try. Obviously Smith doesn't belong on any fantasy team right now.
After watching Thomas' development stagnate in three straight seasons at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with Philadelphia, we hoped moving to Toronto at least would enable him to earn a deserved cup-of-coffee. Unfortunately, an inconsistent Syracuse defense led to qualitative problems, and now he likely will head elsewhere as a minor league free agent. At this point, I hope he moves to the bullpen since that might be his best hope for reaching the majors. Don't give up on Thomas, however also don't roster him at this time.
Zuniga posted the best season of his career despite leaving the hitter-friendly parks of the southwest for the first extend period since 1997. Despite limited overall upside, his plate discipline and power potential should earn him spring training invites on a regular basis, yet I suspect only an injury will open a path for him to consistent playing time in the majors. Of course, since I don't envision him dominating even in a limited platoon role, wait until he finds regular at-bats before considering him for your team.
Aside from players listed above, no other Toronto prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
Led by two of baseball's top outfield prospects, a couple of impressive young pitchers, and maybe the best short-term target among catcher prospects, Toronto's system ranks among the best in the game. They can't quite break into the top three since the best prospects on Minnesota, Oakland, and Chicago all appear ready to contribute in the majors. However, Kevin Cash merits a couple bucks in any league, and the five prospects rated above him merit consideration in almost any minor league draft. I also wouldn't rush to target any pitcher except for McGowan thanks to the hitter-friendly Skydome, but the park also makes the position players particularly tempting targets.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
We hope everyone enjoyed the season as much as we did even if your MLB or fantasy team didn't win it all in 2003. Please remain with us throughout the winter as Rotohelp.com will continue bringing you new baseball news and fantasy baseball analysis on a daily basis.
1. Gabe Gross, OF
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