“I can’t imagine I’ve ever had an at-bat longer than that,” Travis said. “By the time you get that deep in the at-bat, you’ve seen all his pitches. There’s not a certain pitch you’re looking for anymore. You just have to get down there and battle. That’s the biggest thing. Foul off the tough pitches, and if he makes a mistake, try to take advantage of it.”
It goes down as a walk in the box score, but Travis’ at-bat was crucial as it loaded the bases for Jose Bautista, who walked as well to bring a run in and Josh Donaldson to the plate. Donaldson worked a full count against Paul Clemens before skipping a two-seamer to second base where the Padres could only make one out as the Blue Jays tied the game.
Edwin Encarnacion was next, and when Clemens bounced a curveball to the Blue Jays slugger that skidded away from Padres catcher Derek Norris, Travis took off, diving headfirst into home on the wild pitch to give the Blue Jays a hard-fought, walk-off victory, 7-6.
“That’s as good as it gets, that Travis at-bat,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It was a crazy game. But a big, big win for us late after falling behind. We’re proud of the guys and the way they came back. They kept gutting it out and competing. That’s all you ask for.”
The Toronto Blue Jays won a wild one Tuesday night, on a wild pitch.
A low pitch from Paul Clemens that got away from catcher Derek Norris allowed Devon Travis to score the winning run as the Blue Jays defeated the San Diego Padres 7-6.
Carlos Villanueva came on for the Padres in the bottom of the 12th with a 6-4 lead and gave up a hit to Russell Martin. After Kevin Pillar beat out a double-play ball, Darwin Barney doubled to move Pillar to third with one out. Travis then had a 14-pitch at-bat highlighted by a well-hit ball to left field that just went foul, ending with a walk to load the bases.
“That’s as good as it gets,” manager John Gibbons said. “He almost beat him too.”
Devon Travis went to a full count, and then fouled off a bunch of pitches. The 13th pitch he hit a ton. I was sure he won the game, but it was just foul. Just barely foul. Foul by inches. Travis ended up walking to load the bases. That was the at bat of the game.
Bases loaded with Bautista and Donaldson coming up. Couldn’t ask for better.
Bautista went to a 3-1 count and then took ball 4 to move the tying run to third. Another great at bat.
Then it was up to Josh Donaldson. When he went to a 3 and 1 count, life was good. Next pitch off the plate inside. Josh takes it….called a strike. I swore loudly. Then he ground to second, but thankfully, not hard enough for a double play and the game was tied again.
Edwin up. And a wild pitch walks us off!
The roll did not continue Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres, a start that was a microcosm of Stroman’s up-and-down season. He mostly cruised through the first five innings, seeing just three batters above the minimum, while earning 12 of his 15 outs either on the ground or via strikeout. But in the sixth as he tried to turn the Padres’ lineup over a third time, San Diego’s hitters started to make louder and louder contact. You could almost feel it coming as Alex Dickerson — who crushed an upper-deck moonshot on Monday night — cranked a three-run homer into the 200-level seats.
In one swing, the Jays’ two-run lead was a one-run deficit.
The Jays let Stroman off the hook in the next inning when they tied it up on a bases-loaded wild pitch by Padres’ lefty Brad Hand. That sent the game to extras, where the Jays’ hitters bailed out another pitcher, Jesse Chavez, who allowed a 12th-inning homer to Matt Kemp that seemed to seal the deal for a Padres’ victory.
But the Jays’ disciplined hitters rallied back in the bottom half, scoring three runs on a bases-loaded walk by Jose Bautista, productive groundout by Josh Donaldson and a wild pitch. But the most important at-bat of the game was a 14-pitch base on balls by Devon Travis, who came within a few feet of ending the game himself but settled for passing the baton for the eventual win.
Travis would score on a wild pitch by Padres reliever Paul Clemens to clinch a 7-6 victory.
The Jays refused to say die however as they would come right back swinging. Martin would start the inning off with a single, advanced by a Darwin Barney pinch hit double. With 1 out, Devon Travis would put together a masterpiece of an at bat working a walk to load the bases and bring up Jose Bautista. Bautista would then work a walk of his own, scoring Martin from third to come within one. The MVP would ground into a fielder’s choice scoring another run and tying the game up at 6. Edwin Encarnacion was up next with runners at first and third, and he wouldn’t even have to make contact with the ball. A wild pitch would score Travis from third and the Jays would walk it off 7-6.
Upton certainly makes the Blue Jays better, providing a strong defender at all three outfield spots with power, base-stealing speed, thump against left-handed pitching and, for good measure, an extra season of control. That part is likely to come in very handy given that both Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders are pending free agents.
The way the money’s structured, a slight majority of the $5 million they’ll pay Upton comes this season, meaning his impact on the 2017 payroll will make barely a ripple. If his performance reverts to the black-hole seasons he delivered with the Atlanta Braves in 2013 and ’14, cutting ties won’t be a problem.
“It got to the point that the acquisition cost was right,” is how Atkins put it. “The bulk of the acquisition for us in this was actually finances. You never like to part ways with a player, but we have some financial flexibility and we were able to take on a little bit of money in the deal and now still have some players to deal from in our system. If there’s a way to improve our pitching, we feel as flexible as we were yesterday.”
Worth keeping in mind is that this type of deal doesn’t happen when a player has much industry value. Upton clearly didn’t, which is why the Blue Jays were able to buy so low on him. A similar kind of trade earlier this season for set-up man Jason Grilli has worked out brilliantly for them. If Upton can continue to produce the way he has so far in a bounce-back campaign while in a complementary role, and Benoit can straighten himself out, those trades might, as well.
Once considered a potential perennial all-star, Upton has never reached the lofty promise of his rare combination of speed and power. But after two disastrous seasons with the Atlanta Braves following a five-year, $75-million contract, he has bounced back this season and is performing more like the above-average outfielder he was earlier in his career.
He still strikes out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances and has a sub-par on-base percentage, but he hits for decent power, while adding base-running and defensive value.
Atkins said the club is still looking to add pitching ahead of Monday’s deadline, but conceded the market is thin in terms of starters and may present more options in relief.
The “big question,” he said, is around Aaron Sanchez and how long he remains in the rotation.
“There’s not one team we haven’t contacted on several occasions. We’ve contacted all 29 on several occasions, in some way, and there’s five to 10 teams that we’re talking to on a regular basis,” Atkins sadi. “Now it’s mostly focused on pitching.”
Upton, who was already in Toronto with the Padres, had to travel to Buffalo on Tuesday to obtain a new work visa, but is expected to be back at Rogers Centre and in uniform for Tuesday night’s game.
While Jays GM Ross Atkins was unwilling to discuss the financials, if the $17-million figure is accurate, it means that after they pay him for the rest of this season, the Jays get Upton virtually free for 2017.
How Upton fits into the Toronto scheme remains to be seen. Atkins made it clear that the vision from the front office is that Upton will be in a support role unless circumstances change.
“I would say that we have a very good outfield right now,” said Atkins. “It would likely take an injury for him to turn into an everyday outfielder with us. He could possibly play every day but that would mean coming in in the seventh inning and that would be up to Gibby. Having someone who can spell all three of the outfielders and complement Zeke (Carrera) very well from a right-handed standpoint works well.”
Jays general manager Ross Atkins — who said he was attracted by Upton’s ability to play all three outfield positions, his base-stealing prowess and his power — said Upton will “complement” the Jays’ lineup rather than serve as an everyday player. He will be used primarily against left-handed pitchers — against whom he has fared much better this season — when Michael Saunders or Jose Bautista will serve as designated hitter and Justin Smoak will move to the bench. He could also be used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Saunders or Bautista.
Upton said that was fine with him.
“I’m here to help this team win and in whatever capacity that might be, I’m ready for it. I’ve been around for a little while and I think the main goal, especially at this point in my career, is to try to win a ring.”
Upton made his debut for the Jays in the seventh inning Tuesday night, pinch-hitting for Smoak with two on, none out and the Jays trailing 4-3. He hit into a fielder’s choice, but ensured there was no double play. The Jays tied the game two batters later on a wild pitch.
Upton said he was looking forward to joining a competitive team after three straight losing seasons.
“That’s why you come to spring training,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody comes to spring training to lose. You prepare yourself to win every year. To be back in that and to have that intensity level and to play games that matter day in and day out, that’s why you play the game.”
What to like about the trade:
Now that the details are out, things look a lot better for the Blue Jays on this trade and it looks like a much more worthwhile risk. The Padres have agreed to eat all but 5 million (!) of Upton’s remaining salary. Typically, when a team is willing to eat that much salary in a trade they are looking for an elite prospect in return. While Rodriguez is a solid prospect, he’s not among any Top 100 lists, and seems like a more than reasonable return for someone who has performed as well as Upton this season.
The deal adds depth to the outfield, and allows the Blue Jays to ease Jose Bautista back into action in right field as his toe allows. They could also choose to work out Bautista more at first, using him at DH and move Edwin Encarnacion as the first baseman, and/or rotate Upton through to give all of the above more time off prior to the playoffs.
Upton has been a productive player in 2016 and could potentially add a weapon to an already potent offence. He’s already hit 16 home runs, and moves to a hitter’s haven in Toronto, especially compared to the spacious Petco Park in San Diego. As mentioned above, he’s also stolen 20 bases this season and could be a late inning runner/defensive replacement when he’s not in the starting lineup.
The deal in principle as it was initially reported by Ken Rosenthal was pretty reasonable; the Blue Jays would send a Class A prospect in exchange for Melvin Upton Jr. That prospect ended up being 19 year-old Hansel Rodriguez; the Blue Jays 18th ranked prospect and a name that wasn’t very well-known or touted to many.
But then the deal got even sweeter; it turns out the Padres are reportedly kicking in a lot of cash, which will leave the Blue Jays paying only $5 million dollars total for Upton’s services in 2016 and 2017. At that price, Upton is an absolute steal.
Now, he may not even be an everyday outfielder for a contenting team like the Blue Jays; Upton will more than likely get the starting assignment against left-handers, and may be a late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner. But at a mere $5 million dollars, it’s totally worth it for the Blue Jays.
I really don’t buy into this notion that the Padres were willing to dump Upton for a nominal fee because he was a “bad apple”. Admittedly, this is almost a deal that seems too good to be true for the Blue Jays, but maybe the Padres held Hansel Rodriguez in high regard, and the only negotiating came in the form of how the cash would be exchanged.
The immediate impact of the trade for the Jays is positive. It allows the team to rest any of their three regular outfielders – Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar, Jose Bautista – and it affords them the luxury of deploying Bautista at first base or as the designated hitter without emptying the power output of right field. The obvious loser here, for better or worse, is Ezequiel Carrera. It’s not clear where he fits in the team’s short-term plans.
Carrera is hitting .261 on the season with a .351 on-base percentage. He has five stolen bases in eight attempts; 35 runs and 14 RBI on 48 hits (four home runs) in 216 plate appearances (70 games); and a .990 fielding percentage with one error in 439 innings split between left field, centre field, and right field.
This compares favourably against a .256 batting average and .304 on-base percentage for Upton, but that’s really where it ends. Upton has 20 stolen bases on 25 attempts; 46 runs and 45 RBI on 88 hits (16 home runs) in 374 plate appearances (92 games); and an only slightly less impressive .989 fielding percentage with two errors in 776.1 innings split between the same three positions.
This season, with San Diego (playing in notoriously bad hitter’s ballpark) Upton is hitting .256/.304/.439 with 16 home runs and 20 steals in 92 games, providing exactly league average offense with a 100 OPS+ and 100 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR (Fangraphs’ WAR) and 1.9 rWAR (Baseball Reference’s WAR). Upton is hitting for a higher average and slugging percentage on the road with a .262/.299/.464 slash line while hitting for a .248/.309/.410 line at home in Petco Park (in almost the same number of plate appearances). In addition, Upton is dominating lefties to the tune of a .282/.337/.576 slash line while hitting only .247/.293/.394 against righties. This bodes well for the Blue Jays who play in a much more hitter-friendly park and can shelter Upton a bit against righties with the depth of Saunders/Bautista/Pillar already in the outfield. Reports are that the Padres are sending a fair amount of cash to cover some of Upton’s remaining $22 million (approximately) for this year and next.
Whether that price is high depends on your perspective. Upton Jr is 31 yrs old and having a fairly good season at the plate. In 92 games, he has 16 HR and 45 RBI to go with 20 stolen bases. He’s slashing .256/.304/.439 and putting up a wRC+ of 100. He’s been worth 1.5 WAR according to Fangraphs.com. Upton Jr is walking at a rate of just 6% and whiffing at 28%. His groundball rate has increased to the highest level since 2008 (46.2%). He’s not hitting the ball harder, but is seeing nearly 20% HR/FB. Defensively, as an outfielder, he’s been worth 8 DRS, which is good.
The issue for a lot of people is trying to figure out exactly where Upton Jr fits into the plans for the Blue Jays. With an All Star, Michael Saunders in LF, Superman, Kevin Pillar in CF and Jose Bautista clinging to RF, it would appear that Upton Jr is an expensive 4th outfielder.
His velocity remains unchanged from last year – his fastball averages 94.1 mph – and his splits this year are relatively platoon neutral (.716 OPS for righties, .669 for lefties). The Blue Jays have some ideas to help him sort through his command issues. His walks-per-nine rate was 3.2 and over his 15-year career it’s 3.7.
“I like it, he can fill a late-inning role, he’s a veteran guy, he’s still got a good arm,” said manager John Gibbons. “This time of year, with some of the struggles we’ve had down there, throw a veteran in there that knows what he’s doing and knows how to survive, that kind of thing. Hopefully he’ll end up doing just what Grilli’s done.”
“Obviously, this has not been Drew’s best season, but he is closely linked to a run of great success pitching in the back end of very good bullpens,” Mariners GM Gerry Dipoto said. “Hopefully this serves as a change of scenery and over the next two months we can get him back on track.”
Although Benoit has struggled this season, he continues to strike out hitters at a terrific rate. Through 26 appearances this season, Benoit owns a 5.18 ERA, which is largely due to major issues with his command. There is plenty of potential here if he can find the strike zone once again, as the veteran right-hander posted a 2.35 ERA from 2010-2015. Benoit turned 39 today, so his birthday present will be a Blue Jays jersey.
Storen, 28, was acquired in the offseason from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere. He was brought over to be a shutdown reliever in high-leverage situations, but struggled with a 6.21 ERA in 38 appearances. A drop in velocity may have cost him, as he clearly did not perform to his usual standard.
The Blue Jays acquired a very similar pitcher in Jason Grilli earlier this season, a move that looks terrific thus far. Just like Grilli, Benoit still offers an impressive arsenal, but his command got away from him in the early going. Let’s hope the Blue Jays front office is on to something here.
Benoit, the 39-year-old Dominican right-hander, is having a similar 16 months to Storen as he’s struggled in 2016 after a much stronger 2015 season.
In 26 appearances for the Mariners, Benoit has a 5.18 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched. A former member of the Padres, Tigers, Rays, and Rangers, Benoit was quietly dominant from 2013 to 2015.
Across those three seasons, he posted a 1.98 ERA in 186 games with 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. While he and Storen have paralleled one another in terms of performance this season, it is worth noting that Benoit has maintained his velocity around 94 MPH on his fastball. That was an issue for Storen, who lost some speed across his arsenal.
Although he rarely plays centre field these days, he remains one of the most athletic corner outfielders in all of baseball. Expect plenty of power, speed, and strikeouts, which should provide a suitable skill set for the bottom of the order.
Upton Jr.’s offensive production is right around league average this season. His power numbers will likely decline, but a move to the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre will help offset this. He is stronger against left-handed pitchers, and will likely draw out of the lineup against tough righties. When he isn’t starting, he can be an asset as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner.
And honestly, as weird as it is to be in any way pleased about the acquisition of a reliever who has walked 15 batters over 24 innings this year (or something), and looked nothing like himself, I was preparing myself to hear that the deal for Benoit was for some sort of low level prospect with at least a slight chance of coming back to bite the club! But for Storen?? Why, that’s just found money!
Er… in a roundabout way.
Plus, Benoit is a bit Grilli-like in the fact that he has a good track record, still strikes guys out, and sucked in large part because of his troubles with the walk — which have gone away a little bit in his last few outings (only 2 walks over his last 4.2 innings!) — and the fact that he’s simply been a little unlucky.
Benoit has been oddly homer-prone (a 15.4% HR/FB this season, compared to 9.9% for his career), and has an ugly strand rate (65.8%), but isn’t struggling in terms of hard contact rate or velocity, when compared with his most recent seasons. And since Grilli seems to have worked out exceptionally well, uh… let’s just assume Benoit will also!
The Upton trade provides such a financial bonus for the Jays going into next year that it could have an effect on other trades the Jays make this week.
“That was part of it,” said Atkins. “The bulk of the acquisition in this was actually financial. We never like to part ways with a player, but we now have some financial flexibility and we were able to take on a little bit of money in the deal.”
It is believed the Padres will send the Blue Jays $17 million to cover the bulk of the guaranteed $23 million still outstanding on Upton’s contract, which expires after the 2017 season.
Conceivably, the cash winfall could have a minor bearing on whether the Blue Jays make a long-term offer to either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista.
Honorable Mention – Marcus Stroman 12.2IP, 17H, 7ER, 1BB, 11SO
Stroman certainly has had an up and down year, and this week perfectly summed almost his entire season. In his start against the Oakland Athletics, Stroman had one of his worst starts to the year, giving up 6ER in 4.2 innings, and allowing three home runs in the process. But he would rebound quickly in his next start, giving the Blue Jays one of his best starts of the year, only allowing one run to cross the plate, in eight innings of work. Although Stroman’s season has been shaky, the glimpses of greatness that he has shown us this year and in years past, gives a bright outlook on the kind of player he can be.
As was the case at the 75 game point, the Jays have outscored their opponents, though the gap has widened. As the graph below shows, the Jays have scored 490 runs over their first 100 games, compared to 411 for their opponents.
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