Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Rivera Conundrum

No, this isn’t the title of a recently discovered thriller by Robert Ludlum. It’s a situation in which the Blue Jays find themselves.

First, the background: In a brilliant bit of general managering, Alex Anthopoulos of the Jays managed to unload what was arguably baseball’s worst contract (Vernon Wells’ long-term deal). Many in baseball felt that there was no way any team would take on Wells unless he completely returned to his 2006 form (.303, 106 RBIs, 32 HRs) in a convincing way. (Sidebar: Or maybe the trade happened because the Angels management simply felt that Wells was the missing piece that would allow them to assemble the most expensive outfield in human history.)

Lo and behold, everyone was amazed when Anthopoulos worked a deal, sending Wells and $5 million to the Angels in return catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Napoli was promptly dispatched to the Rangers in return for pitcher Frank Francisco. (Sidebar: Or maybe it’s simply that Wells was the missing piece in allowing the Angels to assemble the most expensive outfield in human history.)

Amazing trade, right? The Jays got rid of $80 million of contract, got what could be a closing pitcher from the subsequent deal. The only remaining piece was Juan Rivera, a dubious outfielder whose offensive output has been suspect for a few years. Still, there was some pop in his bat and his lifetime average is still .282. Many baseball pundits felt that the Jays would try to move him to another team, perhaps for a young prospect or two, because the team really didn’t need Rivera, especially with all the prospects down on the farm.

And Rivera appeared to be cooperating when he swung a hot stick during Spring Training and didn’t play badly in right field, either. This was especially important when Brett Lawrie played so well at third base and at the plate. Many thought he’d break with the team and come north. That wasn’t to happen, as it turned out, but it’s only a matter of time.

That brings us to the conundrum: With Rivera hitting really poorly as the Jays’ DH, it’s likely no team is interested in him at the moment. Third base is still up in the air: Jason Nix is not the team’s answer long term, I’d have to say. Sooner or later, the Jays won’t be able to keep Lawrie down on the farm any longer.

So what do the Jays do? I can’t see them keeping Rivera as a bench player. I’d say that Encarnacion is a better choice for DH. I’ll put on my prognosticator’s hat here and say that before the season reaches its midpoint, the Jays will be forced to release Rivera and eat the $5 million they owe him.

But even with that, the deal Anthopoulos swung was worth it. The Jays would still have gotten rid of $75 million worth of salary — and that will be a good thing when they go shopping for those few pieces the team is still missing.

The Professor


Larry Toman said...

Hi Rick,I'd like to argue with you on this, but I can't as you're bang on. Rivera is gone maybe sooner than later. With the shocking way the AL East is lining up, the Jays can ill afford to plug a spot with dead lumber, or as you so aptly said "dubious outfielder". Nix for now... can live with that. Edwin at DH for now...can live with that. Flat-footed outfielder with mediocre arm...can't live with that. Plug the holes and pounce while the "supposed" big boys flounder.

Nice stats from last night: Beantowners worse start in franchise history, and the Bronx Bombers go in the record books for all the wrong reasons by hitting into six double plays. Don't you love it. Cheers.

Rick Blechta said...

Does anyone know how Lawrie is doing down on the farm? I don't think it will take much for the Jays to call on him if he shows well at Triple A. He has the right make-up to be a huge asset for this team.

I would be really happy if the Jays finished second in the AL East this season and they could hold their heads high.

I sure hope Hill keeps it up. All of a sudden, he's caught fire. I believe Lind will come around again and if either Arencibia or Snider gets hot — then look out!

The Yankees will really need to find another starter and pray for few or no injuries. They're vulnerable.

As for Boston, what the heck is going on with them? It's really very puzzling. I'm sure they'll get hot, but at the moment, they look more like bums than winners.

Thanks for weighing in, Larry!

Larry Toman said...

Hi Rick...Lawrie was batting a lofty 462 avg. but he has committed 5 errors, and that seems to be an area of concern. I think the Jays brain trust is in a wait and see situation.

Rick Blechta said...

Larry, I also see that they have him playing 2nd base. Hmmm... I wonder if this means that the thinking is to move Hill to third and bring in Lawrie at 2nd. That could be interesting.

Rick Blechta said...

An update: So far on this road trip, Rivera has proven to be even more of a liability. There's no hustle, he does stupid things on the basepaths (and he was already known for that) and recently didn't run out an infield hit, where if he had hustled, he would have gotten on base through an error.

It's time to cut him loose and eat his salary. It must be very disheartening to the rest of the team to watch this happening. And that's never a good thing.