Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
PHOENIX _ A mere eight hours after saying he’d probably leave the annual general managers meeting with nothing more than the suitcase he brought … Alex Anthopoulos pulled a late nite desert deal Wednesday.
Travis was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Tigers organization this month by the highly-respected Baseball America.
He entered the season listed as the 84th best prospect in the minors.
Now by rights, Travis, who played at double-A Erie this season should be at triple-A in 2015, but now will land in Dunedin as a competitor for the second base job along with Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis… unless a further upgrade comes via the trade route.
Anthopoulos credited Jays scout David May, whose coverage included the Tigers and the 5-foot-9 infielder.
“David saw him quite a bit and he pounded for this guy, David described him as a Jose Altuve type, No. 2 hole hitter,” said Anthopoulos. “I’m not saying he’s going to lead the league in hits (like Altuve did with the Houston Astros this season).
“Guys compare him to Altuve type because he’s shorter in size and he plays second.”
Travis, who turns 24 in February, hit .298 with 20 doubles, seven triples, 10 homers and 52 RBIs with an .817 OPS in 100 games at Erie. He was 16-for-21 stealing bases.
From Wellington, Fla., former adopted home of Miami Marlins Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Van Horne, he was a 13th round pick from the Florida State Seminoles by the Tigers in 2012. Detroit booked Travis to play in the Arizona Fall League and begin conversion to a centre fielder since they have Ian Kinsler. Travis underwent surgery for a sports hernia. He’s now nine weeks past surgery.
The Jays and the Tigers talked Gose-for-Travis Tuesday and made the deal Wednesday.
“Like I told Devon on the phone, I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few weeks, but if the season started tomorrow, he’d compete for the second base job,” Anthopoulos said. “He can hit, has good approach and is a solid average defensive player. He has surprising power for his size.”
Ben Badler’s BA scouting report:
Born: Feb. 21, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Florida State, 2012 (13th round). Signed by: Jim Rough.
Background: Travis has spent most of his baseball life being overlooked. Undrafted out of high school, he went to Florida State, where he posted big numbers as a three-year starter. Still, teams were wary of Travis’ 5-foot-9 size, so he lasted until the 13th round in the 2012 draft, then signed for $200,000. That quickly looked like a bargain when he hit a combined .351/.418/.518 through two levels of Class A ball in his first full season in 2013. A week into the 2014 season, Travis suffered an oblique injury that kept him on the disabled list for six weeks and lingered into May. After shaking off the rust, from June 1 onward he batted .312/.379/.481. With Ian Kinsler blocking Travis at second base in Detroit, the Tigers moved the prospect from second base to center field for the final three games of the season and planned to play him there in the Arizona Fall League until Travis was sidelined following core muscle surgery in September.
Scouting Report: While there’s nothing flashy about Travis, and he still has his detractors in the scouting community, he has excellent bat-to-ball skills and an extensive track record for hitting everywhere he goes. He has superb hand-eye coordination, good balance at the plate and strong bat control, which allows him to make consistent contact and use the whole field. He’s a smart player who’s been able to make adjustments as he’s moved up the ladder. His stance was more spread out in college, but in 2013 he adopted a more upright approach, dropped his hands and used a shorter, simpler load to be quicker to the ball and improve his plate coverage on the inner third. He stays within the strike zone and squares up both fastballs and offspeed pitches. Travis has the strength for 10-15 homers per year. He is an average runner who’s sometimes slower going from home to first base, but he’s a better runner underway and moves well going first to third. He’s an instinctive player and an efficient base stealer. At second base, Travis is steady, making the routine play and turning double plays well with an average arm.
The Future: With Kinsler signed through 2017, with a club option for 2018, Travis doesn’t have a clear path to Detroit. His pure speed isn’t ideal for center field and he has minimal experience there, though his bat could be ready at some point in 2015. While Travis fits the grinder mold that gets thrown on a lot of short players, he’s more than just a scrappy reserve because of his bat potential. If everything clicks, Travis could be the Tigers’ version of the Pirates’ Josh Harrison, another diminutive righthanded batter who hit at every minor league level but never had many believers among scouts until his breakout 2014 season. Even if Travis doesn’t hit that upside, he has a chance to turn into a steady, average everyday player.
Moving Gose shows how much faith the Jays have in Pompey and re-unites Gose with Rajai Davis with the Tigers. Gose hit .226 with two homers, 13 RBIs and a .604 OPS in 94 games with the Jays this season.
“This is a good baseball trade, they had a need we had a need,” said Anthopoulos.
Knowing is one thing: The Blue Jays obviously know what free-agent left fielder Melky Cabrera is looking for as both sides have talked. Cabrera had told friends that the Jays made a three-year $39 million offer. The outfielder’s agent is believed to be looking for a $50 million package.
“We have a sense right of the likelihood is of signing him,” said Anthopoulos, at the GMs meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. The GM says he is sensitive to not talk about someone else’s free agency or divulge negotiations. “When a player reaches free agency, you have to start preparing for contingencies because the likelihood is when players become free agents an overwhelming percentage don’t return.”
Once the barn door is open … see right-hander Chris Carpenter who the Jays wanted to re-sign in 2002 after he hit the open market as he went on to win a Cy Young award with the St. Louis Cardinals and finished second one year and third another season.
Cabrera turned down the Jays’ $15.3 million qualifying offer which means Toronto gets a compensatory draft pick should he sign elsewhere.
“We want him back, we believe he wants to be back, but he’s not a signed,” said Anthopoulos. “If both sides want an agreement, and he’s not signed yet, I think we can come to the conclusion that we can’t agree on the financial structure.”
If Cabrera bolts — the Kansas City Royals have been one team inquiring about the outfielder — the Jays face a large hole replacing a line-drive No. 2 hitter who batted .301 with 35 doubles, three triples, 16 homers, 73 RBIs and an .808 OPS.
Martinez off market: The Jays had interest in Detroit Tigers free-agent DH Victor Martinez but Martinez isn’t going anywhere according to ESPN. The Tigers and Martinez agreed to a four-year $70 million deal.
Martinez, who turns 36 Dec. 23, hit .335 with 32 home runs, 103 RBIs and leading the AL with a .409 on base mark in 2014.
What direction: What direction are the Blue Jays headed?
Will Rogers Communications reach past the NHL posted to open the vault of the team that they actually own to spend on a free agent?
Or will they move some of pitching depth to fill holes in left field and the bullpen.
“I’m not sure what he’s going to do,” said a rival executive of Anthopoulos. “I do know he’s trying to do something big.”
Looking for hitting help: The Blue Jays asked for and received permission from the Texas Rangers to interview Brook Jacoby for the vacant hitting coach’s position. After seven years at the Cincinnati Reds hitting instructor Jacoby is the assistant hitting coordinator with the Rangers.
Meanwhile, the Rangers, who are looking for a third base coach, had inquired about double-A New Hampshire manager Bobby Meacham — not first base coach Tim Leiper as reported elsewhere.
Part of history: Blue Jays infield co-ordinator Mike Mordecai, who is managing the Mesa Solar Sox, has a place in Arizona Fall League history as he led off in the first game ever.
“Struck out on three pitches,” is the way Mordecai tells the story, “I’m walking back to the dugout and Chip Hale, the on deck hitter, mumbles ‘thanks, maybe I can get the first hit in League history.’”
Meeting: The Jays did meet with Gustavo Vasquez, who represents San Francisco Giants free-agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The Giants made a three-year offer, while the hallways say Sandoval is looking for six. He won’t find it north of the border.
The Boston Red Sox are “all-in” on Sandoval.