The World Baseball Classic is anything but classic

The World Baseball Classic returns Mar. 6, and runs through Mar. 22. Unfortunately for the people behind the tournament, very few people actually care.

When the WBC was first announced in 2005, baseball fans finally received the international baseball tournament they had been asking for. Unfortunately, what they received is not what they wanted. The WBC is a watered down event that does not bring the best players from the best baseball world together for one tournament. Instead, it’s a tournament where the best players willing to play compete. The WBC leaves a lot to be desired when the majority of major league stars decide that they are better off preparing for the upcoming major league season in their spring training camp. That means a lot of the WBC rosters are filled with minor league and independent league players. Instead of criticizing top players for not playing, players such as former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay were celebrated for not playing.

The WBC is a 16 team tournament with prestigious baseball powerhouses such as Israel, Australia and Chinese Taipei. The Israel team has just one player born in the country. The rest of the roster is made up of Americans. Chinese Taipei, China and Cuba have zero major leaguer players           on their rosters, while South Korea and Australia have one major league player. Cuba’s roster excludes any major league player who was forced to defect in order to play in the MLB. That means no seeing sluggers Jose Abreau, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig or flame throwing Aroldis Chapman.

In case you were wondering about Canada’s roster, don’t worry. Their best player is American born Freddie Freeman, whose parents are both Canadian. The two biggest name pitchers on the rosters are both retired. Eric Gagne has not pitched in the majors since 2008. While Ryan Dempster has not pitched since 2013. Utility infielder Pete Orr is currently a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers. Canada has five major leaguers on the roster. In other words, Canada joins the approximately 11 other teams with zero chance of winning this tournament.

The unappealing rosters are just the start of problems that makes the WBC an unappealing event. Games are played in three countries and three different time zones making it difficult for fans to watch. How is anyone supposed to follow the tournament when games are played in Tokyo, Miami and Los Angeles. Having games played in multiple countries makes it extremely difficult to watch on television and learn who in the world these players are on other countries rosters.

Until the tournament best players in the world start playing and the tournament is played in one time zone, the WBC is destiny to fail. Maybe in four years, the tournament organizers will fix the problems. But I would not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

 

 

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Management shuts Blue Jays championship window

The Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series window has prematurely closed after years of bad management, and spring training has not even started yet.

The past two seasons, the Blue Jays made the playoffs and advanced to the ALCS, but that is where their playoff run ended. Enjoy the memories of walk off home runs and bat flips Toronto sports fans. It will be a while before you see another playoff game inside the dome.

After winning the American League East two years ago, the Blue Jays elected to move on from General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. New president Mark Shapiro hired his former apprentice Ross Atkins, but the decision to move on from Anthopoulos was the correct decision.

In the last year of his contract, Anthopoulos traded away the future to save himself. Anthopoulos figured if he could make the playoffs he would get a new contract, he guessed wrong. Despite making the playoffs, the Blue Jays moved on and so has the rest of the Major Leagues. Two years later, Anthopoulos has not landed another general manager job.

In the summer of 2014, Anthopoulos gambled with every chip he had hoping to hit the jackpot of a championship. Ultimately Anthopoulos made it to the final table, but when he pushed his stack of chips to the middle of the table, he was sent home with nothing.

In separate deadline deals, Anthopoulos unloaded highly touted pitching prospects Jeff Hoffman and Daniel Norris, along with others. Initially the gamble proved worth it and the Jays won the AL East for the first time since 1993.

Two years later, the Jays are paying the price for trading away prospects. Instead of having young talented players on relatively cheap contracts, the Jays are stuck paying inflated prices for past-their-prime veterans. Today, all the Jays have to show for in those deadline trades is the albatross contract, and declining ability, of Troy Tulowitzki on the roster.

Anthopoulos’ biggest blunder came in 2012 when he traded for 38-year-old R.A. Dickey. In return, Anthopoulos gave up top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard. If the Blue Jays had Syndergaard right now, the window would still be open. It would be wide open because a rotation that features Aaron Sanchez and Syndergaard has two potential pitchers capable of winning a Cy Young award. Instead the Blue Jays received four mediocre seasons from Dickey, who the team left off their post-season roster.

The Jays hired Atkins who, in his first year running the franchise, has misjudged the market every step of the way. As Atkins was hired, sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion entered the final years of their contracts. Every move Atkins made had to be made thinking about improving the club and counting his pennies. Atkins needed to have the money required to resign two of the team’s most important offensive players, but he did not do that

Instead Atkins looked for alternative solutions. Calling them solutions is generous, calling them stopgaps would be friendly. They are just mistakes, and ultimately they lead to Encarnacion signing with Cleveland.

Currently the Blue Jays have 11 players under contract for $126.5 million. Including $20 million each for the .254 hitting Tulowitzki and for Russell Martin who Anthopoulos overpaid, and hit .231 a season ago. For the Jays, both of those players will continue to decline as they get older but both will continue to be paid $20 million until the end of the 2019 season.

Atkins is responsible for acquiring Melvin Upton Jr., Francisco Liriano, Steve Pearce, Kendrys Morales and extending Justin Smoak. Combined, those four players are making over $39 million. Trading for Lirano can be defended because the Jays got prospects in return for absorbing Lirano’s $13.67 million salary. Down the stretch with the Jays, Liriano was one of their best pitchers. But in the first half of the season with Pittsburgh, the 32-year old was awful and no one can be sure which version the Jays will get in 2017.

Upton and Smoak were midseason decisions by Atkins. Upton and his contract were acquired from San Diego for very little. The Padres are paying $11.45 million of Upton’s $16.45 million salary, but 32-year old Upton has been on the decline for four seasons since signing his contract. Upton’s batting averages over the past four seasons have been: .184, .208, .259 and .238, use whatever advanced metric you want, the player formerly known as B.J. is a replacement level player. At the $5 million the Jays are paying him, it’s a bad decision.

The decision to extend Smoak is just awful. Smoak owns a career .223/.308/.392 batting line. Like Upton, Smoak is a replacement level player, but a player Atkins is paying $4.125 million dollars for each of the next two seasons.

34-year old Steve Pearce has never been a major league regular. Pearce has been a fourth outfielder for his career. Last season he hit .217. For his career Pearce has an average of .254, but Atkins figuring you can never have enough replacement level players, gave Pearce $12.5 million for the next two seasons.

Combine the contracts the Blue Jays gave to Pearce, Smoak and Upton and the Blue Jays have committed $21.625 million. The Blue Jays gave Morales a 3-year $33 million dollar contract. Morales solves one problem for the Jays, batting left handed. Morales averages 25 home runs and a .273 average, but he is a downgrade from Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays tendered Encarnacion and Bautista $17.8 million contracts. Both players could accept the one year deal, but it also gave the Jays a first round pick when Encarnacion signed with Cleveland. It also means the team was willing to commit over $36 million to the two players.

Would 42 home run hitter Encarnacion have resigned for a 5-year $110 million dollar contract? We will never know. Reports said the Blue Jays offered $80 million over four seasons. If they had not signed Pearce they could have given that money to Encarnacion. If the Blue Jays resign Edwin, their window is still open.

If the Jays had not extended Smoak they could have potentially signed Morales for the same contract and signed Bautista. It is not unreasonable to think that the 36-year old Bautista would have accepted a one year contract for $20 million and attempt to rebuild his value and be a free agent next season. The Jays could have potentially had a lineup as they had a season ago, with Upton replacing Michael Saunders in leftfield and Morales replacing Smoak.

TSN reported the Blue Jays were willing to spend $165 million. According to Baseball Reference the Toronto Blue Jays will have a $141.8 million payroll once all arbitration and pre-arbitration contracts are signed. If you subtract Pearce and Smoak’s $10.375 and add $42 million the Jays sit at $173.425. Still over the reported $165 million, but that includes contracts for Aaron Loup, Ezequiel Carrera and Darwin Barney. If you subtract the $4 million those replacement level players make, and you are closing in on that $165 million payroll. Instead the Blue Jays will be paying over $140 million for a third of fourth place team in the AL East.

Toronto sports fans are the worst

Toronto sports fans are the worst. Throwing cans of beer, racial and homophobic insults are just the beginning of why Toronto sports fans are some of the worst behaved fans in North America.

During the seventh inning of the Toronto Blue Jays American League Wild Card game, Baltimore Orioles left fielder Hyun-son Kim made a routine catch on a warning track fly ball. Or at least it should have been a routine play, except for a Toronto fan throwing a beer can at the Orioles’ outfielder.

This was not the first incident of Toronto fans throwing cans of beer onto the field. In the prior season’s playoff series against Texas, Toronto fans littered the field with everything they could throw onto the field after the fan base disagreed with the umpires call on the field. In previous years’ home openers, fans have stolen rolls of toilet paper out of the bathroom and thrown them from the upper deck onto the field. Sit in the lower level outfield for a game and you will hear and chances are you will a few comments yelled at the opposing outfielders that are offensive.

But what can you expect; the Blue Jays have made going to the game more about getting drunk than baseball. By removing a restaurant and replacing it with a beer garden it’s more about drinking than enjoying the game. The Blue Jays should be taking more accountability for their fans bad behaviour. But the fans need to behave like responsible adults and not toddlers who throw toys when they get upset.

But Blue Jays fans are not the only bad sports fans in the Ontario capital. Earlier this summer Toronto FC fans brought a sign to Montreal that depicted a Montreal Impact fan performing oral sex on a Toronto FC fan. The team had to apologize for the sign, but it’s not the first instance of the fan base has behaved poorly. In 2008, approximately 2000 TFC fans travelled to Columbus for a game. But prior to the game, fights broke out between the two fan bases in the parking lot.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans, besides being delusional in their expectations of Stanley Cup parades, are known for running players out of town and again throwing stuff on the ice. With the Leafs finishing near the bottom of the NHL standings for the past few seasons, fans threw jerseys on the ice. The fans were charged with trespassing, forced to pay a fine and banned from the Air Canada Centre for a year.

Scarborough native and Hockey Hall of Famer, Larry Murphy was traded for virtually nothing after the fans constant harassment became too much for management to ignore.  In 151 games, Murphy produced 19 goals, 100 points and just a minus one rating. It wasn’t enough for the delusional fan base, and Murphy traded away to Detroit and won two cups with the Red Wings.

Want a more recent reference see Kessel, Phil; who was ripped by the fan base before being trading to Pittsburgh where he would go on to win the cup. Toronto fans complained that Kessel was fat, lazy and consumed too many hot dogs. Oh and let’s not forget, that Maple Leaf fans threw waffles on the ice and at the aforementioned Kessel.

The Toronto Argonauts and Toronto Rock are the two most successful teams in the city. But the city fails to support them. For years, the city’s sport fans made excuses as to why they would not go to an Argos game inside of the Skydome. First it was the sight lines, and then it was the fact that there was no tailgating. But when they moved outdoors to BMO field and introduced tailgating, attendance was expected to improve. Spoiler alert, attendance has not improved. With the exception of the home opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (and their fans who made the trip), the Argos have not exceeded 18,000 fans in any of their other seven home games.  The Argos current average attendance is 16,550 fans per game. The team ranks dead last in the league, averaging over 3,500 fewer than second last British Columbia.

The Toronto Rock won championships in 2012-13 and 2015. But attendance has been on the decline since their 2005 championship when attendance peaked at over 17,000. In 2015, attendance was hovering around 10000, an all-time low for the franchise.

Maybe the best behaved fan base within the city is for the Toronto Raptors. The fans travel well to opposing cities, and sell out home games. The fans don’t just sell out home games, they jam pack the plaza outside of the arena to watch the games. If there is one complaint, it is the bandwagon nature of the fan base. A few years ago when the Raptors found themselves near the bottom of the NBA standings, the arena was not coming close to selling out, and it was incredibly easy to find tickets on the secondary market for significantly less than face value.

Declining Canadian Dollar Shutting the Blue Jays Window

With the Canadian dollar continues to decline, the Toronto Blue Jays window of opportunity inches that much closer to closing.

On December 18, the dollar closed under 71 cents for the first time since spring 2004. For Canadian baseball fans, that could spell disappointment as the Blue Jays looked to build upon last season’s run to the American League Championship Series.

In 2004, the Blue Jays were in year three of the J.P. Ricciardi era. Four years early Ted Rogers purchased the Blue Jays for $160M. A year later Ricciardi was hired following the “Moneyball” success of the Oakland Athletics. Unfortunately for Montreal Expos fans, 2004 would mark the last year for the team before moving to Washington. The team struggled due in large part to a poor dollar, weak attendance and owner instability.

Ricciardi ‘s first order on the job from Rogers was to cut payroll. The decision to cut payroll was made large part because of the state of the Canadian, which sat in a similar position to today. Ricciardi proceeded to trade off nearly every good player on the roster not named Carlos Delgado. Delgado would eventually left as a free agent following the 2004 season. However, in the eyes of Rogers, Ricciardi had succeeded and was granted an extension after cutting payroll to $50 million (USD). For several years the Blue Jays sat comfortably in the lowest third of major league payrolls.

The low Canadian dollar has already presented itself early on this off-season as the Blue Jays were unable to match the contract free agent pitcher David Price received from division rival Boston. Price left the Blue Jays for $217M USD for the next 7 years. Given the current state of the dollar, it would have costed the Jays roughly $300M Canadian to resign the former Cy Young winner.

Even with the massive increase in baseball revenues over the past decade, Rogers was unwilling to commit that much money to one player. In addition to the state of the Canadian dollar, the problem of being corporately owned has presented its ugly head again. Unlike other teams whose owners freely spend their money with no one to answer too. The Blue Jays are not that fortunate. Every single dollar must be accounted for and is budgeted each season as Rogers must answer to its corporate stockholders.

‎What does the state of the dollar mean for the rest of the Jays’ off-season, shopping at bargain prices. Interim General Manager Tony LaCava first move was bringing back pitcher J.A. Happ. Happ is best suited for the National League where he can face a pitcher every nine batters. In the American League East, he is a fourth starter at best and is a significant drop off from Price. With the state of the dollar, new General Manager Ross Atkins is unlikely to be spending the money necessary to improve the roster.

For fans of star sluggers of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, both could be playing their last season in Toronto. Both Bautista and Encarnacion enter the last year of their contracts and are in line for a raise and long-term contract. If the dollar continues to drop, an extension could be made even more difficult. If the team gets off to a slow start, it could be the Blue Jays for are sellers at the trade deadline this season.

For the first year this decade, every Blue Jays move is being made with the Canadian dollar in mind, as the deep pockets of Rogers may have reached their limits. The financial limitations have all but ended the Blue Jays chances of winning their elusive third World Series.

 

2015 World Series

This is a story, I wrote for the student paper over a month ago. My predictions are terrible.

As the seasons change from summer to fall, the search for baseball’s Mr. October begins, as the players seek immortality through their play in baseball’s Fall Classic the World Series.

October 18th 1977, Reggie Jackson stepped to the plate at Yankees Stadium in the bottom of the fourth inning. After hitting homeruns in game four and five, the Yankees were looking to win the series in front of 56,000 screaming fans. After walking on four consecutive pitches in the first inning, Jackson came to the plate with a runner on. Los Angeles Dodgers starter Burt Hooton threw the first pitch to Jackson who smashed the pitch over the outfield fence to give the Yankees their first lead of the game. Jackson came up for his third at bat in the fifth inning with a runner on again. Jackson would see just one pitch, as he sent the pitch into the bleachers. By the time Jackson came to the plate again in the eighth inning, chants of “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” could be heard audibly from the Bronx faithful throughout the stadium. Knuckleballer, Charlie Hough readied and threw the first pitch to Jackson. With a loud crack of the bat, the ball rocketed off the bat of Jackson and landed 475 feet from the plate. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series behind the MVP performance of Jackson, whose legend was created as “Mr. October.”

The 2015 Major League Baseball playoffs are searching for one player to lay claim to the title of Mr. October and carry their team to postseason glory in the same manor Jackson did in 1977.

Following 162 games, there is no denying that each team is tremendously talented, but each team also carries a potentially fatal flaw. The question will be which team will protect their flaws and expose another team’s fatal flaw.

In the American League it’s a three team race. The Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas Royals clinched the division and avoid the one game wild card playoff. While the third team in the race, the Yankees must first win the one game elimination playoff before moving on. In the National League it is a wide open race among the five teams, with no clear favourite.

The Blue Jays have relied on a heavy hitting offense that features three potential Mr. October candidates in homerun sluggers Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and likely AL MVP Josh Donaldson. If the Jays are to make a deep run this year, it will be based off the strength of their offense that scored over 800 runs. The fatal flaw will be the starting pitchers not named David Price. Former Cy Young winner, Price is the one known quantity in the Jays’ rotation. The Blue Jays’ are depending on three of Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada. Buehrle’s shoulder has been a question mark for his late season starts as he has had starts pushed back and struggled to log innings. While Stroman has made only a handful of starts following March ACL surgeries is far from a guarantee. Dickey is in his early 40s and prone to giving up big innings and long balls. Estrada has the lowest upside of the three and relies on generating weak contact to gets outs. If the pitching staff can win two games each series on days that Price does not pitch, the Jays are poised for a deep run.

The Royals’ have led the AL Central from start to finish, but have faded near the end of the season. The biggest strength of the Royals was their bullpen that was able to turn games into six inning affairs by shutting down opponents from the seventh inning onward. However, injury to closer Greg Holland turns the Royals’ biggest strength into a question mark as depth will now be an issue as everyone is pushed up an inning. The offense scored over 700 runs, despite getting below average offensive contributions from catcher, second base, shortstop and right field. With a shaky starting rotation lead by Edinson Volquez, pitching will ultimately prove to be the fatal flaw for the Royals. If the Royals are to make a deep run it will be on the shoulders of homegrown talent such as Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain who all have on base plus slugging percentages over 800.

The Yankees must overcome a one game playoff before advancing, but there is a strong possibility the Yankees make a deep run into October. The Yankees’ Mr. October could prove to be a player they wanted nothing to do with for the past two years, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod has turned from hated cheater to cheered anti-hero for his ability to hit the ball out of the park. The Yankees offer perhaps the most balanced team, a dependable, but not spectacular pitching staff and a similarly described offense. The biggest flaw the Yankees have is their age and the negative consequences related to injury that come with starting an everyday lineup with only one regular starter younger than 31.

In the National League wildcard game, the Chicago Cubs travel to Pittsburgh for one game showdown. The Chicago Cubs have succeeding based on the strength of their pitching staff lead by Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta. But the flaw the Cubs have is their inexperience and dependence on young talent. If the bright lights and national spotlight get to the rookie tandem of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber the title draught will continue in the windy city. If the 107 year Curse of the Billy Goat is to be broken it will be behind one of Bryant or Schwarber’s Mr. October performance.

The Pirates are built in a similar pitching first model of the Cubs. The Pirates rotation starts with former top pick Gerrit Cole, but backend of the rotation of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano must overcome past postseason failures. The Pirates candidate for Mr. October is former MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates offense will go as far as McCutchen carries it.

While the Cubs offer young talented bats, the New York Mets offer young talented starting pitching which will determine their postseason fate. If Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom pitch well the Mets postseason stay could be prolonged. The problem for the Mets is their offense. It was a tale of two halves for the Mets, who struggled in the first half, before coming alive in the second half to over take the Washington Nationals for the NL East title. Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes was a revelation when he was traded to the Mets at the trade deadline. If the power surge Cespedes provided in the second half continues, the Mets Mr. October candidate will be the reason why.

The Dodgers are built around perennial Cy Young candidates and past winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. However, for all of his regular season success, Kershaw has struggled in past playoff appearances. If the Dodgers are to advance they need Kershaw to play the role of Mr. October. The Dodgers highly paid lineup only surpassed the 600 run total this season, but if Kershaw and Greinke dominate like they can, offense will be less of an issue.

If there is a favourite in the National League, it is the St. Louis Cardinals, who from the lowest levels in the minor leagues to the majors are baseballs best run team. Built around a strong pitching staff the Cardinals had the best record in the majors from start to finish. The flaw of the Cardinals is their offense which only averaged four runs a game. The offense and pitching staffs could both take a hit if catcher Yadier Molina’s late season injury prevents him from playing. If Molina is healthy he could be the Cardinals’ Mr. October.

Predictions:

Wild Card Winners: Yankees and Cubs

ALDS Winners: Yankees and Blue Jays

NLDS Winners: Dodgers and Cubs

ALCS Winner: Yankees         MVP: Alex Rodriguez

NLCS Winner: Cubs               MVP: Jake Arrieta

World Series: Yankees            MVP: Masahiro Tanaka