The MLB All-Fun Team

Spring is in the air, and the start of the 2021 Major League Baseball Season is not far behind.

As with any preseason, this year’s Spring Training is full of storylines. New faces in strange places, teams entering rebuilds, others going all in. We could break down the new-look Blue Jays or the imminent dogfight in the NL West, but those topics have been beaten to death.

Spring Training also means it’s rankings season. Media folks all over baseball are unveiling their top tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds. Baseball is, after all, a game centered around individuality. I could follow a similar path, but I’m going to change it up. Instead of giving my opinion on who the best players are, I’m going to construct a team – one player at each position on the diamond – that reflects what I as a baseball fan love to watch (Bonus points if they regularly piss off your A-Rods and Mad Dog-type people).

So here it is, my 2021 Major League Baseball All-Fun Team

Starting Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani

Honourable Mention(s): Jacob deGrom, Tyler Glasnow

This is probably the most obvious pick on the list. How can you not root for the first two-way player the game has seen in nearly a century? It’s not like he’s mediocre on both sides of the ball either. We’re talking about a guy that had a 127 ERA+ in his first year in the big leagues, and was in the 96th percentile for Hard Hit Ball % (Baseball Savant). In the last week, Ohtani has crushed a baseball over the batter’s eye and hit 100 mph with the fastball. Injuries have held him back in his young career, but if he ever puts it all together, he is what scouts refer to has a “dynamic talent.”

Relief Pitcher: Josh Hader

Honourable Mention(s): Liam Hendriks

Josh has stuff. He pairs a 94.5 mph fastball with a slider that breaks 7.5 inches on average. He is elite when it comes to missing barrels, and leads all relievers over the pas two seasons with 16.07 K/9. I’m going to say that again. Josh Hader strikes out more than a batter and a half per inning. What makes Hader super-duper fun is that if by some miracle an opponent does make contact, it’s leaving the yard. Over the past two seasons, Hader has surrendered 1.71 home runs per nine innings, which is 23rd among all qualified relievers and way more than you would expect for a guy with 50 saves in that span. Normally, I’m not a big fan of three true outcome baseball, but Hader simply fascinates me.

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto

Honourable Mention(s): Jeff Mathis, Yadier Molina

You could very easily make an argument that J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in professional baseball. But what’s not to admire here? J.T. is a plus-hitter on top of being elite defensively at the hardest (and most important) position in the game. In 2020, Realmuto was the second-best framing catcher in the league (+3 runs), had the quickest throwing time to second base (1.89 seconds), led the league in caught stealing and was second among catchers with a .825 OPS. The dude can frame, block, throw and mash. What’s not to love?

First Base: Freddie Freeman

Honourable Mention(s): Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo

If a Canadian wins NL MVP, you better believe he’s going on the list. In 2020, Freeman ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in almost every major offensive category tracked by Baseball Savant. He hit the ball hard, and hit it often. So it’s really no surprise that Freddie wrapped up the season with a 187 wRC+. This means that when you total up the value of all of Freddie’s plate appearances in 2020 and adjust for the ballpark and era in which he played, he was 87% better than the average MLB player throughout history. This number was second in baseball, trailing another member of the list that we will get to shortly.

Second Base: Cavan Biggio

Honourable Mention(s): DJ LeMahieu, Cesar Hernandez

I know, this is a boring pick. You might not even think Cavan Biggio is that fun. But this is my list, and Cav makes it for two reasons:

  1. I wasn’t not going to put a Jay on this list
  2. Cavan is my kind of ballplayer.

What’s my kind of ballplayer? Cerebral. I love guys that think the game well. Let’s start in the field. Analytically, Biggio is not a good defender. In fact, he’s below replacement. But what he lacks there can be made up for in the fact that he is a super-utility man. In his 166 game MLB career, Biggio has played at least nine innings at every spot on the diamond except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. No one knows where he’ll play this year, just that he’ll play. At the plate, Biggio is as smart as they come. Need a bunt double? He’s your guy. Hit for the cycle? Been there, done that. Biggio posted a .375 OBP despite only batting .250. His 15.5% walk rate led all second basemen.

Third Baseman: Matt Chapman

Honourable Mention(s): Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson

“But Nolan Arenado!” I hear you yell at your monitor/phone/whathaveyou. Hear me out: Matt Chapman is the best defensive player in all of baseball. Not just at third base, but among players at all positions. Matt Chapman has played two full major league seasons. In those two seasons he has led baseball in Defensive Runs Saved twice and Ultimate Zone Rating once. Think about it: a third baseman (who gets a +2.5 positional adjustment) is beating Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor (who get a +7.5 boost). And when you watch some highlights, it makes sense. Matt Chapman is to third base what Tom Hanks is to acting.

Shortstop: Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Honourable Mention(s): Javier Baez, Bo Bichette

Duh. This guy is the undisputable face of baseball. He’s on the cover of MLB the Show. He’s the king of bat flips and breaking your precious, archaic unwritten rules. Fernando Tatis might just save baseball, that’s how freaking cool he is. Plus, he is a true 40-40 threat. According to Baseball Savant, Tatis hits the ball harder than anyone (95.9 mph, 1st in MLB) and runs faster than almost anyone (29.4 ft./sec, 10th in MLB). Super. Star.

Left Field: Juan Soto

Honourable Mention(s): Tim Locastro

Remember when I said Freddie Freeman had the second highest wRC+ in 2020? Juan Soto was the only qualified hitter ahead of him. In fact, he was roughly 14% better, with a 201 wRC+. That’s right, in 2020 Juan Soto was twice as valuable as an average major league hitter. If there is any player in baseball that has a chance to top what Mike Trout has done with the bat, it’s Soto. His Baseball Reference comparables feature the likes of Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey, Jr. And don’t even get me started with the Soto Shuffle. Juan Soto might just be my favourite non-Canadian, non-Blue Jays player in the game today.

Centre Field: Mike Trout

Honourable Mention(s): Ronald Acuna, Jr.

Mike Trout is one of the bet five baseball players to ever walk the earth. Depending on how the rest of his career progresses, he could finish on top. No player in the history of this game has been able to contribute like he has on both sides of the ball. Don’t believe me? Babe Ruth is the all-time leader in Wins Above Replacement at 182.5 over 22 major league seasons. Let’s say (for sake of argument) that Trout matches Ruth and plays 12 more seasons in the show. To catch Ruth’s WAR total, Trout would need to average 9 WAR per season, well within his career high of 10.5 (which he’s done twice). Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Not a chance.

Right Field: Mookie Betts

Honourable Mention(s): Max Kepler

If there is a player that can even come close to Mike Trout’s talent, it’s Mookie. He’ll never be equal to Trout, but he can get close. We all saw what he did in the World Series. The dude has tools. Elite hitter, best defensive right fielder in the game, deadly speed and incredible baseball IQ. I don’t know what else to say other than the Red Sox should be banned from baseball if they can’t keep a talent like this. That’s not even mentioning David Price.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz

Honourable Mention(s): J.D. Martinez

What can I say? Home Runs are fun. Nelson Cruz hits lots of home runs.

Since you’ve been so good and lasted this long, I’ll reward you by making a lineup for this team. Let me know what you think. Any players I missed? Go yell at me on Twitter: @BayduzaEthan

  1. Tatis, Jr. SS
  2. Soto LF
  3. Freeman 1B
  4. Trout CF
  5. Cruz DH
  6. Betts RF
  7. Realmuto C
  8. Chapman 3B
  9. Biggio 2B

Blue Jays: World Series Bound?

TORONTO, ON – AUGUST 30: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros hits a 3 run home run in the fifth inning during a MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on August 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the World Series.

Repeat after me: The Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the World Series. Bold words for a team that has made the playoffs exactly three times in the last 28 years? Definitely. Have I gone mad? You betcha. Nonetheless, the Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the World Series.

The signing of George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract – beating out the New York Mets – indicates that the bluebirds are done playing. They are no longer messing around. They are here, and they are here to win.

I should clarify: I don’t mean the 2021 World Series – although that is a definite possibility – but by the time that George Springer’s contract expires, Blue Jays fans will have celebrated at least one World Series title.

I’ve definitely lost it.

How they stack up right now:

Forgive my use of fancies here, but they paint a clear picture of why the Jays are in such a good position (plus, baseball analytics are actually useful for predicting future success, unlike *cough* hockey *cough* some sports).

According to Fangraphs’ 2021 Projections, the Blue Jays have the fourth best team in all of baseball. Not bad for a 32-28 team last year. In the American League, they are second to only the New York Yankees. They have the fourth-best lineup in the majors, and the seventh-best pitching staff. As they stand right now, the Blue Jays seem like a lock for at least a wild card spot (according to the numbers).

Youthful exuberance

The big advantage the Blue Jays have is the fact that their young core has yet to play a full season together. They’re still getting acclimated to life in the Big Leagues. In six years, we will be talking about how Toronto has the best infield in baseball, and maybe the best outfield as well. In 2020, the oldest starting position player not named Travis Shaw was Randal Grichuk at 28. 28! Age is simply not going to be a factor for a while in Toronto.

The biggest obstacle for young players playing in big games is a lack of experience. In 2020, the Blue Jays got a gift from the baseball gods in the form of an expanded postseason. Yes, their playoff run lasted less than 48 hours, but the experience of playing meaningful baseball in September is priceless for this young team. They earned their spot in the Wild Card series. They had to beat the Yankees and scratch out a win against Tampa Bay. When they are in the middle of a pennant race this fall, it won’t be new to them. That disadvantage is gone.

Big fish

Last offseason, the Blue Jays spent $109 million on Free Agents – the 10th highest total in the Majors. So far this year, that number is at $166 million – more than any other club this year, and more than all but three teams spent last year.

Think about that: The Blue Jays have outspent the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Mets.

Gone are the days of not even offering David Price a contract. Gone are the days of losing Encarnacion, Donaldson and Bautista. The Blue Jays ownership have shown that they are willing to take advantage of the current financial climate and invest now. And if you think the Jays are done spending this year, you clearly have not been paying attention.

We thought the Jays locked up Michael Brantley, but now that he is staying in Houston, Toronto is going to use that money to upgrade another position. It might be another outfielder, but I believe it will either be a Number Two starter (maybe Trevor Bauer, but I think Canadian James Paxton is a perfect choice) or a utility infielder that can play second and third base (I’m big on Tommy La Stella).

Here are just some of the top-tier Free Agents the Blue Jays have been linked to recently:

  • James Paxton (Jon Heyman)
  • Brad Hand (Robert Murray)
  • Andrelton Simmons (Jon Heyman)
  • Trevor Bauer (Ken Rosenthal)
  • Jake Odorizzi (JP Morosi)

Oh, and multiple writers have reported that the Jays are working on a Kris Bryant deal with the Cubs.

I think it’s safe to say that the Blue Jays have entered their championship window, and it’s going to be open for a long time.

Breaking Down Blue Jays Free Agent Targets, Part One

Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said it himself: “What we’d like to do is add another really good player, or two, or three.” After years of stagnation and cautious spending in the free agent market, last year the Jays shocked the world by inking the National League ERA Champion Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four year, $80 million deal.

Heading into 2021, the bluebirds are expected to again be a major player, as it seems they are one of few teams that are in a position to take on salary. Many top Free Agents have come up in rumours, and today I’m going to break down some of the top names and give my thoughts on whether the Jays should pursue them.

George Springer

Easily the top of this year’s Free Agent Class. The 31-yera old former World Series MVP put up a slash line of .265/.359/.540 last season, adding an OPS+ of 140 and 1.9 Wins Above Replacement. The guy hits. He doesn’t strike out, he hits the ball hard, and he can touch soft or hard stuff – a weakness of the Jays that was exploited in the Tampa Bay series. Add this to the fact that he’s an above-average baserunner as well as a plus defender in centre filed, and you have yourself a slam dunk signing.

George Springer checks all the boxes for things I love in a ballplayer. He puts the ball in play, plays good defense, is a great athlete and possesses high baseball IQ. A real Cavan Biggio type – if Biggio was faster and averaged 35 home runs per season.

The only real objection (other than cost, of course) to going after Springer is a moral one. Of course, Springer was a member of the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and won his World Series MVP thanks to knowing exactly what pitch was coming when. He was not one of the ringleaders, but he certainly didn’t do anything to stop it. Do we as Blue Jay fans really want that kind of person on our beloved ball club? Some won’t care, just as long as he performs. Which he has, since 2017. His career-high OPS+ came in 2019.

Should the Jays sign him? I really want to say no. But we’re not talking about Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran, Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman. As far as we know, Springer went about his business and wasn’t the guy pushing this idea.

The Blue Jays had the best outfield in baseball last season, and adding Springer to the mix would put fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. While Randal Grichuk performed admirably in centre last season, the Jays don’t have an everyday-caliber natural centre fielder. Springer would fill that hole. You could move Grichuk to right and use Teoscar Hernandez as a primary Designated Hitter, where his defense doesn’t hurt you.

I’m going to say yes. The Jays should go after Springer.

Trevor Bauer

I’m not going to get into the Trevor-Bauer-is-cheating-just-look-at-his-spin-rate controversy (you can read about it here.) because I have my own argument for staying far away from Trevor.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy. If it was a different time, different place I’d crawl over broken glass to get him to Toronto. But right now, the Jays have plenty of starting pitching.

They have an ace in Ryu, a four/five guy in Tanner Roark, and rising stars Nate Pearson, Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki (I still prefer Ryan in a starting role, but either way the Jays need to make up their minds). They already locked up Robbie Ray for another season. That’s six. So maybe there is room for Bauer.

Should the Jays sign him? No. I’d much prefer the Jays use the money they would spend on Bauer and use it to lock up Matt Shoemaker and Taijuan Walker. It sounds like both of them have at least some interest in returning, and both have proven themselves to be solid middle-of-the-rotation arms.

For these reasons, I’m not going to talk about any more starting pitchers.

DJ LeMahieu

Maybe it was my strict anti-Yankees bias, but I was surprised when I heard Jays fans were excited about potentially landing the three-time Gold Glove, two-time Batting Champ. But then I looked into him some more.

Everyone knows the pitch here. LeMahieu is a lifetime .305 hitter with a .357 OBP who plays great defense at second and third base. And that is what I really like about him. Just like George Springer, he fills a whole. Travis Shaw is a fine third basemen, but it’s hard to see him as a part of the team’s long-term plans when we never know what kind of season to expect from him. LeMahieu would give the team everything Shaw does, minus home runs, plus contact, plus defense.

Should the Jays sign him? Yes. I suppose it’s more a preference of style, but the Jays already have a lot of guys who can put the ball over the fence, and not a lot who can hit .300. If the Jays land DJ, expect those solo and two-run shots to turn into three-run home runs and grand slams.