Phillips: On the Jays' future, the Tigers' slide and more

Steve Phillips,
8/29/2014 8:59:01 AM
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TSN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips answers several questions surrounding the game each week. This week's topics include the Blue Jays future plans, the slumping Detroit Tigers, the greatness of Mike Trout and Major League teams expanding their rosters.

1) With the Toronto Blue Jays chances of making the post-season looking bleak for this season, given the limited contractual time remaining on their core – most have either one or two years left, should the club look to rebuild in the off-season by trading away key players like Jose Bautista?
Absolutely not.  I have said all season long that this was a season to go for it because the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays (the Big Three) were all less than what was expected.  Plus I don't believe the Orioles have the kind of pitching to win in the playoffs. 
I know that the Big Three will aggressively try to improve for next season.  The Red Sox have already started the reconfiguration.  But I am not convinced that any of the three will be able to dramatically improve.  That means that the division will be up for grabs again. 
The Jays still have two years left in their window to win.  They have Bautista, Reyes, Lind, Encarnacion, Lawrie and Dickey all under control through 2016.  Plus they have their bevy of good young arms to support this core. 
The Jays have an enough offense. If they had added a pitcher or two at any point this year they may have been able to win.  It is not time to rebuild.  Just because the Jays have young pitchers doesn't mean they need young position players. 
It seems like everyone thinks trading Jose Bautista is an key to rebuilding the Jays.  He is the key to winning now.  He is a major power bat who is still very productive.  He has two years left on his deal at $14M/year.  That is a steal.  He is a bargain.  The Jays have one of the most club favorable contracts in baseball with his deal.  Power costs big bucks in the free agent market.  Power arms and power bats make the most money.  Bautista is worth close to $20M/year.  The Jays may be able to get a few players for him but because he his contract is so favorable he allows the Jays to afford multiple other players. 
Rebuilding will set the Jays back for a decade.  The Red Sox and Yankees will never really rebuild.  They will retool and reconfigure but they won't go all young like the Rays.  The best teams have a combination of youth and experience.  The Jays have that now.  They just need to add a few pitchers and they can compete NOW!!!!!!
2) Despite adding David Price at the non-waiver trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers have struggled in August, losing the division lead and now in a dog-fight for a Wild Card.  Do you think the Tigers will right the ship and make the post-season?
What a difference a month makes.  We were celebrating the Tigers and their acquisitions of Joakim Soria and David Price.  They had added protection at the closer role in Soria and an ace in Price.
Joe Nathan has struggled as the closer most of the year.  Soria gave Detroit a veteran set-up man who could take over ninth inning duties if Nathan continued to struggle.  Price gave the Tigers the deepest rotation in baseball.  It was an aggressive move by GM Dave Dombrowski and a strong response to the A's acquisition of John Lester from the Red Sox.  In fact we had the A's and Tigers all set to meet in the ALCS. 
Baseball is a funny game.  It rarely goes exactly as planned.  Soria went on the DL with a left oblique strain.  He is still working to return.  Anibel Sanchez went on the DL as well with a pectoral strain.  There is no plan for him to return to the starting rotation any time soon.   Justin Verlander has struggled most of he season and recently missed a start with a sore shoulder.  What looked like the best rotation in baseball has guys named Buck Farmer and Robbie Ray making starts during this critical stretch. 
The Royals are playing great baseball this month as are the Seattle Mariners.  I think both of them peaked abit early and have struggles coming their way.  I think the veteran leadership of the Tigers will find their way.  Verlander will be better.  Price will bounce back after his horrific last start and rattle off several straight wins. Nathan and Soria will stabalize the end of the game in the final month.  Scerzer and Porcello have been remarkably good and that will continue.  The Tigers' big boppers are due to get hot.  Miguel Cabrera will start to drive the ball over the wall in September.  Victor Martinez will continue to hit like an MVP candidate and Ian Kinsler will be the clutch player he is.  I believe in the Tigers' talent and their experience. 
The Royals are going to run out of gas.  Their offense is just not consistent enough to support their pitching.  They don't have power and they don't earn base on balls.  The just don't give themselves enough opportunities to score. 
The Mariners are not the most consistent offensive team either but their starting pitching is phenomenal.  Felix Hernandez, Hisashi iwakuma and Chris Young have been amazing all season long.   Their starting pitching gives them a chance to win every night. 
The Tigers will win the AL Central and the Mariners will edge the Royals for the second Wild Card spot. 
3)  Mike Trout recently became the fifth ever American League player to have two 30-home run seasons through age 22.  While he's not leading any single offensive category, he should be the American League MVP this season right?
The good news for Mike Trout is that Miguel Cabrera isn't having as good a season as he has over the past couple of years when he edged Trout out of the AL MVP Award.  The bad news is that Trout isn't having his best year either.  Don't get me wrong, Trout is absolutely a leading candidate for the MVP Award but this is his third best major league season.  It certainly helps Trout's case that the Angels are playing so well and will likely make the playoffs. 
Trout will only be challenged by Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Victor Martinez of the Tigers for the MVP Award.  Abreu has more home runs (33/30) and RBI (97/94) than Trout and is hitting for a higher average (.312/.291).  Yet, Trout has outscored Abreu by 21 runs. (91/70).  Trout plays a more important defensive role and excels in centerfield.  Trout is  second in the league in WAR (6.5 wins above replacement) and is 2 wins better than Abreu in the category.
I give the edge to Trout over Abreu.  Abreu will be the AL Rookie of the Year. 
Victor Martinez has a better batting average (.327/.291) than Trout but trails him in runs, RBI, home runs and WAR.  Plus Martinez is a designated hitter which means he doesn't impact the game at all defensively. 
Trout definitely has the edge over Martinez.
We are seeing the beginning of what will be one of the best careers ever.  This will be the first of multiple MVP Awards for the young man.  He will become the face of baseball and one of its most celebrated stars ever. 
He will certainly be in Cooperstown when it is all said and done.
4) On September 1, major league rosters expand from 25 active players to a maximum of 40.  That's right, teams can have 40 players active on their roster if they choose to do so.  No team will expand to the full 40 players but each team will add at least a few extra players.  Some will add more than others. 
Typically large market teams in the playoff hunt will add the most players.  Smaller market teams in the playoff hunt and large market teams that won't be playing in October will add the next highest number, followed by small market teams not going to the playoffs. 
There is good reason for why rosters expand in September.  Clubs need to have depth in the major leagues to protect against injuries for the month of September (and October).

Minor league seasons conclude around September 1 and the players head home.  If the big league team has an injury on September 8th there would be no active minor leaguers to call up to replace the injured player. 
There are other important reasons that rosters expand in September.  Teams take advantage of the opportunity to fortify their rosters to satisfy needs for particular situations that come up during the games.  They may add an additional lefty reliever or right-handed submarine pitcher.  They may add speed to get an important stolen base in a critical game down the stretch.  It is necessary to have a pinch hitter who is good at leading off an inning and it is just as necessary to have a guy who can hit one out of the park coming off the bench.  Ideally you need a left-handed hitting and right-handed hitting version of each guy.

The other area where managers want to feel protected is having enough pitching to cover an 18-inning game.  This inventory will also allow the manager to use less important pitchers in games that are blowouts and to save their better arms for closer games. Every team adds a catcher or two for the month of September in case of injuries.  Plus they are helpful because they need to catch all of the extra pitchers on the roster. 
This all sounds appropriate right?  Here is the problem with it.  Baseball plays with one set of rules for 5 months and then the rules change in the 6th month.  Why?  It is ridiculous?  No other sport expands its rosters in the regular season.  Why should some teams have 35 players available to the manager in a game and the other team only 30.
I understand and support the need to protect against injuries in September but managers should still only have 25 players to choose from for each game.  The manager should have to stipulate which 25 players he is making active on for each game.  That way the playing field is level.  Small market teams aren't undermanned going in to the game. 
I think this is a rule that new Commissioner Rob Manfred should install for next season.  I wouldn't mind if he would like to call it the Phillips Rule. 


Jose Bautista (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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