Trade Bo Bichette?

BoB
Clutchlings Photo

Blue Jays prospect Frankie Barreto was on top of the world in 2014.  Ranked one of the top international prospects in 2012, he was fresh off an MVP season in the Northwest League at the tender age of 18, playing against players 3 and 4 years older.  He was still several years away, but the sky seemed to be the limit.

Barreto was one of the major pieces of the deal with Oakland that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto that November.  Admittedly, while I was thrilled to be getting a player like Donaldson, Barreto seemed a stiff price to pay.

With all due respect to Barreto, who was ranked Oakland’s top prospect entering this season (but slipped a bit in two strikeout-prone stints with the Athletics), boy, was I wrong.   Donaldson, a late bloomer, was coming off his first All Star season, and was just entering his prime.  The Blue Jays have enjoyed 21 WAR from Donaldson since then, while Barreto has yet to prove himself on the big league level.  It was Alex Anthopoulos’ best deal, one that he would no doubt make 100 times out of 100 if given the opportunity to make it again.

And today we’ve seen rumours that the fire-saleing Miami Marlins are in talks with the Blue Jays to send one of their top prospects in SS Bo Bichette for Marlins’ OF Christian Yelich.

Bichette may not be the Blue Jays top prospect, but there are many similarities between him and Barreto.  Both have advanced hit tools, some speed, and outstanding baseball IQ’s.  While both started out as Shortstops, the long-range plan for both seems to be across the bag at 2nd – Barreto already made the move last year.  At this point in his career, Bichette may be a bit more advanced as a prospect, but he’s also two years older than Barreto was at a similar juncture.

Yelich has averaged 120 OPS+ for Miami during his five seasons with the team.  He signed a contract extension near the end of spring training of 2015 – a 7 year, $49.570 million guaranteed deal.  The deal will see Yelich bring in $7 million this year, rising to $14 million by 2021.  There is a club option of $15 million for 2022, with a $1.25 million buyout.  The money may be guaranteed, but it’s a relatively team-friendly deal.

If the two teams are in fact talking, Bichette won’t be the sole return for Yelich, but he would be the centrepiece.  Other prospects will likely be included, but with the Marlins not getting a BA Top 100 for either Giancarlo Stanton or Marcell Ozuna, it’s hard to see much beyond the mid-prospect range.  Derek Jeter is obviously strapping on the tool belt for a full-on rebuild.

Do the Blue Jays make this deal?  Do they trade away a prospect who led the minor leagues in hitting (flirting with .400 until late June) , has great bloodlines, and profiles as an impact bat at the MLB level one day?

In a word – yes.

Why?

  1.  In acquiring Yelich, you are getting a proven MLB-er who is a borderline All Star.  Without having to give up anyone on your 25-man roster.
  2. There is no doubt that Bichette has huge upside.  And the Blue Jays have been burned before – Noah Syndergaard was at a similar point in his career when he was dealt.  That Barreto and Daniel Norris have yet to set MLB afire demonstrates that prospects are just that – there is not guarantee.  Barreto has been exposed a bit this year, and the same could happen to Bichette as he moves up the ladder.
  3. In dealing a prospect, the Blue Jays are dealing from a position of strength.  Vladdy Jr and Anthony Alford are on their way, and they have a decent SS prospect in Logan Warmoth.  There is depth in the system to withstand the trade of one of its more promising members.
  4. There certainly is an opening in the Blue Jays Outfield.  Kevin Pillar may have had a higher DRS total, but the drop off in CF would not be significant with Yelich.  Or he could nicely fit in a corner spot.
  5. There is contract certainty and at least four years of control with Yelich – at 26, he should just be coming into his prime.
  6. With the Yankees having acquired Stanton, the Blue Jays need to upgrade their 25-man ASAP if they hope to contend in 2018.
  7. Yelich certainly fits GM Ross Atkins expressed desire for team to get younger and more athletic.

There is no guarantee this deal happens, of course.  It will all depend on the Marlins’ demands.  Of course, with most teams, once you get past the first half-dozen or so in the rankings, you are looking less and less at potential impact players – and the Blue Jays are no exception.  Even if the additional cost was one or more of, say,  Ryan Borucki, Hagen Danner, or Riley Adams, the aquisition of a player of Yelich’s calibre would be more than worth it.

Those of us who follow prospects closely tend to live and die with these kids.  It’s hard to see them go, but I feel foolish for even briefly lamenting the loss of Barreto.  As they say, prospects are good, but parades or better.  Christian Yelich does not bring the possibility of a World Series victory with him, but he would be a substantial roster upgrade.

 

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Blue Jays 2012 Draft Recap

DJDavis
Clutchlings photo

It takes, on average, 4-5 years to develop a Major Leaguer.  Some, of course, race through the minors and beat that timeline by a considerable margin, while others need longer to figure things out.  Because of that, I like to wait five years before evaluating an MLB team’s draft results.

When Alex Anthopoulos took over the GM’s chair from J.P. Ricciardi in 2009, one of the first areas he upgraded was the amateur scouting department.  A year later, no one in the game had more scouts scouring North America for talent at the pro and amateur levels than the Blue Jays.

It was in the 2011 draft that Anthopoulos and Amateur Scouting Director Blake Parker began to hone their roll-the-dice approach to the annual talent shopping spree.  With 7 of the first 78 picks, they selected the most risky of draft commodities, the high school Pitcher, with all but one of them.  One of their strategies was to take a flyer on a player whose stock had fallen due to the perceived strength of their college commitment.  It backfired when Massachussetts prep righty Tyler Beede, who had maintained all along that he was headed for Vanderbilt, was taken with the 21st pick, but refused to sign.  But the Blue Jays were able to convince their next pick, Tennessee HS southpaw Daniel Norris, to forego his pledge to Clemson.

2012 saw Anthopoulos and Parker at their swashbuckling best.  With the sheer size of their scouting numbers, they were able to probe areas that were not considered to be baseball hot beds.  They gambled on toosly Mississippi high school OF D.J Davis (whose father played in the Jays organization – give the pair credit:  they were ahead of the curve, because many teams now covet kids whose dads had played pro ball).  Davis has struggled mightily in six pro seasons, striking out about 27% of the time.  The tools are there, but an ability to get on base consistently has not.  After ranking in the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects for the first several years of his career, Davis has dropped off the radar, although a .333/.381/.449 August for High A Dunedin may be an indication he’s finally turning things around.

The next Blue Jays pick turned out to be the best (or perhaps second best) of the AA-Parker era:  with the compensation choice they were granted as a result of failing to reach terms with Beede, Toronto drafted Duke RHP Marcus Stroman.  There was no denying his talent and athleticism, but given his small stature, many teams viewed him as a Tom Gordon-type reliever in the long term.   Baseball America‘s scouting report suggested as much:

An 18th-round pick out of a New York high school in 2009, Stroman’s commitment to Duke and his size scared teams off. He was a two-way player in high school, but scouts always preferred him on the mound because of his low-90s fastball and compared him to Tom Gordon. After three years at Duke, Stroman has become one of the most electric arms in the country despite being 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. He was 5-4, 2.36 with 119 strikeouts and 22 walks in 84 innings this spring for a bad Duke team. He is athletic and now sits at 92-94 mph as a starter and can touch 95-96. His best secondary offering is a nasty slider with depth. He has also mixed in a good changeup and a cutter that sits 88-90 mph. He can hold his velocity deep into games, but most scouts say he could be the first 2012 draftee to reach the big leagues if he goes to the bullpen. He worked as the closer for Team USA last summer and was 93-96 mph consistently, pitching 8 1/3 innings without giving up a hit while striking out 17 and walking one.

The Blue Jays, of course, saw that four pitch mix as part of a starter’s makeup, and sent him to Vancouver to begin his pro career.  Stroman made his MLB debut in May of 2014l, and has produced 10.8 WAR, a total which undoubtedly would be higher if a positive PED suspension in 2013 and a knee injury in 2015 had not interrupted his career.

After Stroman, the Blue Jays reached for the dice and took Ohio HS LHP Matt Smoral with the 50th pick (a supplemental pick for the loss of reliever Frank Francisco).  Smoral had fallen that far after a foot injury cost him his senior year.  They were willing to be patient with the 6’8″ southpaw, but after injuries limited him to 53 games over 4 years, the Blue Jays lost him to Texas in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.  Arizona 3B Mitch Nay was their next selection at 58 (another supplemental, this one for the los of Jon Rauch), but injuries have derailed his career, as well.  While playing for High A Dunedin, Nay woke up one August morning with a sore knee.  The pain worsened, and Nay was eventually diagnosed with a staph infection, which took three surgeries to remove.  The infection cost him all of 2016, and he in essence started all over with Lansing this year.

With the last of their supplemental picks (compensation for the loss of Jose Molina), the Blue Jays took Texas HS RHP Tyler Gonzales, who some thought could become an elite closer.  After having pitched poorly in his first two pro seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Gonzales was released in July, 2014.  Two months later, he was suspended for 50 games by MiLB for a second positive test of a drug of abuse.  With the last of their Top 100 picks, Toronto selected California HS RHP Chase DeJong.   DeJong had a breakout 2015 for Lansing, before being dealt to the Dodgers in August for international bonus pool money in the wake of the Jays signing Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  DeJong made his MLB debut for the Mariners this year.

The biggest gamble of the draft, and perhaps the one that will eventually have the biggest payoff, was the drafting of Mississippi two-sport athlete Anthony Alford in the 3rd round.  Alford was a highly regarded, first-round level talent, but as one of the top football recruits in the country, most teams backed off.  The Blue Jays allowed him to pursue both sports, and their patience was rewarded when he fully committed to baseball in the fall of 2014.  After making his MLB debut this season, Alford should be in contention for a 25-man roster spot this spring.

The only other draftees to make much of a minor league impact beyond that were OF Ian Parmley (7th round), Illinios LHP Ryan Borucki (15th), and SS Jason Leblebijian.  Borucki did not pitch beyond March in his draft year due to elbow injuries, but after being promoted to the 40 last fall, is on the cusp of a big league job himself.  Leblebijian can play a variety of positions, and while he’s down on the depth charts, he will serve a useful role for Buffalo this year.

Beyond those choices, there was no one who “got away.”  Missouri HS RHP Jon Harris was taken in the 33rd round, but opted to go to college.  Three years later, he was one of the top Pitchers in the nation, and the Blue Jays selected him again, this time in the 1st round (29th overall).  Harris had a disappointing season with AA New Hampshire in 2017.

The 2012 Blue Jays draft has produced 10.6 WAR, almost all of that by Stroman (De Jong accounts for -0.3, Alford for 0.1).  The 2011 draft was more productive in terms of WAR, producing 24.8 Wins, almost half of them by 32nd rounder Kevin Pillar.  The rest have mostly been compiled by players no longer with the organization like Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, and Anthony DeSclafani, as well as Aaron Nola, who was chosen in the 22nd round, but opted to go the collegiate route.  The 2010 draft has produced 42.9 Wins, but that total was inflated by another player who didn’t sign, Kris Bryant.

How does the 2012 draft compare to the previous two, then?  If Stroman becomes a long-term Blue Jay, and Alford reaches his ceiling, it could turn out to be the best of the Anthopoulos-Parker regime in terms of quality, if not quantity.  We can certainly play the “what if?” game in the case of Davis.  The Dodgers took Corey Seager with the next pick, while the Cardinals took Michael Wacha after that.  With a second first round pick, however, the Blue Jays were inclined to gamble on the toolsy-but-raw Davis, taking a safer bet like Stroman with the second choice.  But you certainly can’t argue with the haul of prospects they acquired in 2010 and 2011.   One thing is certain with these first three drafts:  the Blue Jays took advantage of the rules of the day, letting free agents go in order to hoard those picks – they had 17 top 100 selections over those three years.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #2 Anthony Alford

Alford
milb.com photo

If there is one thing to be learned from covering minor league prospects for over half a decade, it’s that teams that are patient with their top hopefuls are usually rewarded.  Progress is not always measured in a straight line.  Injuries can disrupt the timeline.  Players who have never had an extended experience with failure often need the adversity of such periods in order to reach their potential.

Teams that don’t rush prospects, or give up on them when their development stalls, are often the ones reaping the benefits of productive farm systems.  Simply put, development takes time.

And the Blue Jays are about to watch a player they’ve been patient with for five years  embark on what should be a long and successful career in the form of OF Anthony Alford.

A two-time high school football player of the year in his native Mississippi, Alford’s stock in the 2012 draft dropped due to his college football aspirations.  The Blue Jays under GM Alex Anthopoulos and Amateur Scouting Director Brian Parker were not afraid to gamble on draft day, and waved a $750K contract and an agreement to let him continue to play football at him to convince him to sign.  Baseball America gave this pre-draft assessment:

Alford, a two-sport athlete, has committed to Southern Mississippi for both baseball and football. He’s teammates in baseball with Garren Berry, son of USM baseball coach Scott Berry. And the Golden Eagles have a new football coach, Ellis Johnson, who has hired Alford’s prep football coach onto his staff. In April Alford indicated he plans to go to college and play both sports. That’s too bad, because many scouts considered Alford one of the class’ elite athletes. Big and fast at 6 feet, 200 pounds, he was the Magnolia State’s football player of the year as a quarterback and chose Southern Miss over such football powers as Louisiana State and Nebraska. He threw for more than 2,000 yards and ran for more than 1,700 as a senior, accounting for 44 touchdowns, but he’s at least as intriguing on the diamond, where he’s a 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale with power potential, too. He helped Patal High win back-to-back state 6-A championships before the team lost in the third round this spring, as Alford batted .483 with four homers.

By 2014, many team might have been tempted to give up on Alford.  An off-field incident cost him his scholarship to Southern Miss, and he had played all of 11 games in his first two pro seasons because of his football obligations.  But the Blue Jays were not about to cash their chips.  Anthopoulos made the drive to Lansing in mid-July, where Alford had teased in a 9-game Midwest League stint with the Lugnuts, with a contract extension in hand.  The catch was that Alford would have to give up football, but after transferring to Ole Miss and sitting out a transfer rule year, he said no, thanks.  To top things off, Alford left shortly after that meeting in order to get married before the football season started.

The Blue Jays were not thrilled with Alford’s decision, but they chose to remain patient with a player who had amassed just over 100 plate appearances in three minor league seasons, even though many of his peers had surpassed him in development.

But their patience was about to be rewarded.  Alford lost his starting position in Ole Miss’ defensive backfield (he had originally gone to Southern Miss as a Quarterback), and perhaps he had some serious second thoughts about spurning the Blue Jays’ offer.  Alford did admit later that as a football player growing up in a football-mad state, he felt incredible pressure to commit to the gridiron.  In late September of 2014, he gave up on football, and reported to the Blue Jays Instructional League camp.  A stint in the Aussie Baseball League that winter gave him a crash course in pitch recognition (“it’s like they pitch you backwards,” he said of the veteran ABL pitchers), which in turn led to a breakout 2015.

2016 was a sideways year for Alford.  A knee injury cost him a month, and shortly after he returned, an OF collision with teammate Richard Urena had him out for another.  Time in the Arizona Fall League did help restore much of his former prospect lustre, but concerns did begin to crop up about his durability (Alford tore his ACL in high school).

2017 saw Alford pick up right where he left off in the fall, and after a torrid .356/.427/.507 April at AA, he made his MLB debut in May.  A broken hamate bone a week into that debut put him on the shelf once more, and with the team all but out of pennant contention when Alford returned in July, he was sent back to New Hampshire for more seasoning.

At first glance, there is no mistaking Alford for an athlete.  Time in the weight room during his football days is evident.  More importantly, he’s one of the highest make up players in the system.  This in spite of the fact that his difficult upbringing and prodigious athletic talent from an early age might have given him ample reason to behave otherwise.  Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim found many good things to say about Alford:

   Anthony has a difference-making set of physical tools, and an even more impressive make up.  His work ethic, aptitude, and competitive drive to get better every day are strong reasons as to why he’s seen such a positive development gains in the relatively short time he’s devoted to baseball.  He was at home training when the opportunity in Mexico came up, he reported to the Mattick (Blue Jays minor league complex) for a week to step up his prep with our High Performance and Player Development personnel, and now he’s off to a great start (.457/.444/.629 over his first 8 games) with Jalisco.

There is so much to like about Alford’s game.  After concerns about the swing-and-miss element to his offence, he cut his K rate to a respectable 15.4% this year.  He works the count, and uses the whole field effectively, so the Blue Jays will live with the strikeouts:  Alford gets on base, where his speed becomes a weapon.  In the outfield, he can play all three positions, but perhaps is in his element in CF, where his speed and ability to read and track balls allow him to cover a tremendous amount of ground.  His speed allows him to out run many of his mistakes, but his routes have been improving in terms of consistency as he’s gained more experience. Alford’s arm has been rated as fringe-average, but he makes up for that relative weakness with his accuracy and ability to unload the ball quickly.

But let’s consult some experts, starting with Bobby DeMuro who wrote in baseballcensus.com:

Alford has everything you could want from a rangy, athletic center fielder of the future: exceptional speed combined with good instincts on the bases, good range and aggressive, hard-charging routes in the outfield, and even some sneaky power in his bat that could turn into 20 home run-level production in the big leagues if things all go in a best-case scenario. His speed is plus, he’ll thrive in center field, and he’ll wreak havoc on the base paths. He can mix it with good raw power, the product of great bat speed and an athletic swing that lets him hit the ball to all fields with authority; right-center, in particular, is a very good power alley for him let alone the pull side.

Benjamin Chase of calltothepen.com makes an interesting comp:

Physically, Alford’s build and natural athleticism make him a very difficult player to find a comp for, but in skills and general size measurements, the guy who strikes me as the upside play for Alford is Andrew McCutchen.

One critique of Alford’s swing that has cropped up in a few reports is a relative lack of loft in it, which some suggest might lead to a future as a doubles/triples hitter.  He has hit only 21 Home Runs in over 1200 minor league PAs, and while he has started to tap into his power, a 47% ground ball rate, coupled with a 33.5% flyball rate at AA suggest that the 20+ HRs projections may be hard for him to attain.  His speed certainly helps put pressure on the defence on any balls he hits on the ground or into the gaps. He shows on this stand up triple he hit in Mexico this week that maybe the loft is coming:

 

Alford will be in competition for a major league job this spring, although he may need a little more time at AAA.   If he can stay healthy, he should reach his potential ceiling of a player with a power-speed combo,  top of the order hitter who can be an occasional all-star.  It’s not at all out of the realm of possibility that he replaces Kevin Pillar in CF before long.

Tinnish Reunites with Anthopoulos in Atlanta

Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish has left the Blue Jays to accept a promotion with Atlanta, according to a Braves’ press release.

The Nepean, ON native, and Brock University Grad joined the Jays in 2001.  He worked his way up the scouting ranks from Assistant Scouting Director in 2006 to Director of Amateur Scouting in 2009.  In 2012, Tinnish was named Assistant General Manager, with responsibility for the club’s international scouting and development programs.

During his time with the team, he oversaw the drafting of players such as Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Kevin Pillar, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, and Anthony DeSclafani.  He also was involved in the recruitment and signing of Franklin Barreto, Richard Urena,  and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.   Tinnish was a major part of the Blue Jays’ efforts to sign Japanese star Shohei Otani, and travelled to Japan several times to scout him.

The Blue Jays Dominican complex has been under a cloud of controversy, as three more players based there tested positive for PEDs, bringing the total to an MLB-leading 7 since September.

Tinnish reunites with Anthopoulos, who served as the Blue Jays GM from 2009-15, and was most recently with the Dodgers.  Montreal native Anthopoulos has hired last week to be the Braves’ new GM and Executive VP.  Anthopoulos worked for the Expos prior to joining the Blue Jays in 2003 as their Scouting Director.  Tinnish takes on the title of VP of Amateur and International Scouting with the Braves, meaning that his role will likely be similar to what it was with the Jays.  Atlanta, of course, is under a cloud of its own in the wake of sanctions by MLB for improprieties in the signing of international players, which cost the Braves 12 of their top IFAs from last year.

There is no word yet from the Blue Jays as to Tinnish’s replacement.

Will a New Team Change Alex Anthopoulos’ ways?

I have to admit to mixed feelings about former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who landed with Atlanta yesterday.

When fans almost everywhere were tweeting #FireAA in the early 2-teens, I was a steadfast AA defender, even as his attempted overhaul of the team in the fall of 2012 ultimately proved unsuccessful.  He was a Canadian kid who had made good with two Canadian teams.  He went to the same school (McMaster), and was in the same program (Economics) as my oldest son.

As a guy who follows the minor leagues closely, I was dismayed with the quantity of prospects he dealt from November, 2014 to the the trade deadline the following July, even though it brought the team back to the post season for the first time since that son was a toddler.  It was as if six years of also-ran status was erased in the space of just over two months.  When Anthopoulos left the club shortly after the team was defeated in the ALCS, his image rehabilitation was complete, and he became something of a deity in the eyes of fans (many of whom had clambered aboard the bandwagon weeks earlier).  The FireAA fans were too impatient, while the halo-effect crowd seemed to have forgotten about a half dozen mediocre years prior.  And it’s not like the guys he dealt that July have set the world on fire just yet.

Along with amateur scouting director Blake Parker, Blue Jays drafts were a thing to marvel at, and it still is an interesting exercise to look back on them today.  They found some clever work arounds of the new slotting system, and they weren’t afraid to roll the dice on draft day, often gambling on that most risky draft commodity of all, the high school Pitcher.  And they weren’t afraid to punt a pick – whether it be a Tyler Beede, who turned into Marcus Stroman a year later (not signing Beede also freed up cash to convince Daniel Norris to forego his Clemson commitment) , or Phil Bickford, who begat Max Pentecost.  During the period 2010-14, Anthopoulos and Parker drafted and signed 9 Pitchers who made 20 starts from 2016-17,  but only 2 of them are currently with the Blue Jays.  That fact, as much as anything, might summarize the Anthopoulos philosophy on roster construction.  Just the same, there is a solid legacy in place in Toronto from his years at the helm:  Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Danny Barnes, Ryan Tepera, and Roberto Osuna were all drafted/signed and developed during his tenure, along with Anthony Alford, Sean Reid-Foley, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr, among others.

And now in Atlanta, AA takes over a team with the number one-ranked farm system in the game, a new stadium, and hope for the future.  He also inherits an organization that likely will face some harsh sanctions for their international dealings under disgraced former GM John Coppolella – the Braves may have many of their IFA signings declared free agents, including prized prospect Kevin Maitan.  With the Braves heading into year three of a rebuild, he may be under some pressure to make moves to put more fans in the stands – despite a new park, the Braves last year were middle-of-the-pack in terms of attendance, and their local television deal has been called well-below market value.

What will his approach to building his 25-man be?  Will he deal from this wealth of prospects to upgrade it, or will he allow his young players to grow into it?  The Braves have what Baseball America calls the deepest group of pitching prospects in the game, as well as Ronald Acuna, the best prospect in the minors with the possible exception of one Vladdy Jr.

Certainly, his time in Los Angeles has reinforced to Anthopoulos the importance of building from within.  In Toronto, he did have to take something of a riverboat gambler’s approach:  knowing that most free agents were reluctant to come north of the border, he had to deal from his prospect base in order to fill gaping holes in the MLB roster.  We may never know how the behind the scenes events of 2015 played out.  Did President Paul Beeston, who was on the way out the door himself, give his blessing to AA’s deadline moves in an attempt to go out in a mutual blaze of glory?  Had he known he was staying, would Anthopoulos have pumped the brakes on his dealing, or will his philosophy of “Flags fly forever/Prospects are good, parades are better,” always be part and parcel of how he attempts to put together a winner?

Anthopoulos takes over a team in transition and in some turmoil.  His previous experience dealing with Rogers in Toronto should serve him well in Georgia – the Braves are baseball’s only other corporate-owned team.  On the whole, I’m happy for AA.  For whatever reasons, it’s a shame that he either was forced out, or left Toronto of his own accord.  It would have been nice to see where he would have gone with this club.  A cynic might observe that he left the team with an aging core and little farm system depth with which to use in some way or another to upgrade it, while an optimist might say that a guy who dealt Adam Lind for Marco Estrada would find creative ways to improve it.

I wish him well, and will follow Atlanta more closely than I have in the past now that he’s running the show.