Friday, November 24, 2017

Remembering Roy Halladay

I’m a baseball fan.  I’m sure that this comes as a shock to no one reading this.  I love the game.  I can spend (and love to spend) hours talking on the subject.  I am a baseball fan first and a Blue Jays fan second.  The Blue Jays are my favourite team and they always have been.  I like other teams as well but the Jays have always been number 1 in my heart.  That’s always been a constant.  My favourite player though I will admit has changed a few times over the years. 

My love affair with baseball started fairly early for me.  From the time my parents first took me to the then Sky Dome in Toronto as a wide-eyed 9 year old I’ve loved the game.  The Blue Jays lost that day to the Seattle Mariners.  However what I took away from the experience (and my only real memory of the game) was Fred McGriff hitting a home run.  From that day forth I decided that Fred McGriff was my favourite player.  Apparently all it takes to win over a 9 year old is a home run.  I still have a soft spot for McGriff and I am quite disappointed that he is not in the hall of fame (but that, my friends, is a rant for another day).  I was a pretty devastated when he was traded that offseason.  I had never heard of Joe Carter or Roberto Alomar and wanted no part of either one of them.  McGriff was gone.  That was all that mattered to me.  Pat Gillick was my new arch nemesis. 

Then this Alomar guy came in and won my young heart.  The plays, the uncanny ability to make an off-balance throw, the range… He was unbelievable.  A complete five-tool player.  He could hit, he could run, he could throw, he could field like no one else and occasionally he could hit for power.  Especially when it mattered (ahem Dennis Eckersley).  Alomar became my favourite player and remained so throughout his playing career.

Roy Halladay vs Baltimore Orioles. April 24, 2005
Then came a player like no one I had ever seen.  Now I mention that I am a baseball fan, but I haven’t always been an engaged one.  Oh I’ve always loved the game, I have since that day at the ball park back in 1990.  However after the strike in 1994, I like many other Canadians lost interest for a while.  It was early in 2005 when Rogers offered my wife and I a discounted rate on a Blue Jays ticket flex pack.  Stef asked me if I was interested in going at all and I said “sure, I love baseball I just haven’t watched it since the strike.  It would be fun to go to a few games though.”  We were young and didn’t have any kids back then (or any money) so we thought it would be a fun thing to do that wouldn’t cost a lot.  This was when everything changed for me and my love for the game was re-ignited. Sunday April 24, 2005 was officially my first game back.  The first game of our shiny new six game flex pack we had just purchased.  Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays against Sidney Ponson and the Baltimore Orioles.  I had heard about this Halladay guy and how great he was, so I was excited.  Although I soon wondered what all of the fuss was about.  Halladay gave up six runs over six innings including home runs to Melvin Mora and Sammy Sosa.  Sosa ended up going deep twice that game in an effort to silence the Toronto faithful who had come armed with anti-Sosa, anti-steroid and corked bat signs seen all around the ball park.  It was not Halladay’s best outing.  Lucky for me it was the first of many Halladay starts we would attend and I am pretty sure the only one I ever witnessed live where he would give up more than three earned runs.   

Halladay very quickly became not only my favourite pitcher, but my favourite player as well.  He was one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen.  His work ethic, his character and his dedication to be one of the best is nothing short of admirable.  I admired him.  If you know me at all you don’t have to look far to see this.  There is an autographed photo of him hanging in my office.  An autographed jersey and baseball on display in my home.  Numerous photos, cards, bobbleheads, collectibles etc.  Even my car has a Toronto Blue Jays license plate with Halladay’s number 32 proudly displayed on it.  I loved watching him pitch.  Hell, I loved watching him warm up.

On November 7 I received a text shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon from a friend.  Did you hear?  A plane registered to Roy Halladay has crashed in the Gulf.  I started searching for details online and while searching my phone continued to go off with text messages, BBM's and Facebook Messenger messages from family, friends and acquaintances asking if I'd heard the news.  Did they know how many people?  Had I heard if it was him yet?  Do they know what happened yet?  It was heart wrenching.  I immediately thought of his young family and hoped it wasn't him.   Later that afternoon during the press conference we all learned the worst.  

Now I’m a little late to the party here.  Roy Halladay passed away over two weeks ago and his memorial service was last week.  The truth is it took me a while to process my thoughts and how I felt about this.  By now we have all heard what happened, so I don’t want to revisit that.  I don’t want to bore you by rhyming off stats, awards and achievements that he earned because we have all heard them before and we already know how great he was.  Any Google or YouTube search can quickly provide you with any highlights or statistical information you could ever want on Roy Halladay.

If you haven’t watched his memorial service I highly recommend that you do.  If you have then you have heard from many different accounts, not only what kind of player he was, but also what kind of man he was off of the field.  I didn’t know him personally, so I don’t think it is fair that I talk about that either.  What I do want to tell you about is what Roy Halladay meant to me as a fan, how he impacted me and what I will always remember him for.

I remember his curve ball.  My word, what a curve ball.  If you have never had the pleasure of watching Roy Halladay pitch please do yourself a favour and Google Roy Halladay highlights.  Even if you are not a baseball fan, you can appreciate what he could do.  I once told a friend of mine that I could sit and watch Halladay throw curve balls all day.  There wouldn’t even have to be a batter there.  I would just simply watch in awe as he sailed in that pitch at letter height and then have it drop like a stone over the plate.  The weekend after Halladay passed away, a good friend of mine who lives in a different city came to visit us at our home just to hang out and catch up.  The conversation turned to Halladay passing away and he mentioned that he had never seen Roy pitch.  My nine year old son immediately said “Oh, you gotta see this” so we quickly pulled up a Halladay highlight video on YouTube.  “My goodness” my friend exclaimed “How did anyone even hit that?”  The simple answer:  When Halladay was on, you didn’t hit it.

I remember being in attendance when A.J. Burnette returned to Toronto after opting out of his contract with the Jays and signing with the Yankees in the offseason.  Halladay schooled him.  Throwing a complete game allowing just five hits and leading the Jays to a 5-1 win.   The fans ate it up.  It really was an experience to be there.

I remember his competitiveness.  One time Stefanie and I got to really see what Halladay could do.   Whenever Halladay pitched, he pitched efficiently and worked quickly.  He always had.  That’s one of the reasons why he was able to throw as many complete games as he did.  However sometimes inducing lots of ground balls doesn’t mean getting outs.  At this particular game Halladay was on the wrong end of four close calls on the field in one inning and there had been others before then in the previous innings.  After the fourth of these calls (which was obviously a blown call), Halladay was visibly frustrated.  This, of course, was long before video replay was a thing.  So, rather than continuing to get hosed by the umpires, Halladay simply decided to get the batters himself.  He struck guys out.  Repeatedly.  He struck out the next three batters that inning.  Struck out two the following inning.  Two more the inning after that and then struck out the side the next inning.  Even though he lost that start, it was amazing to watch.  He was a machine.  He really showed that if he wanted to go out there and dominate by beating hitters that he could.   He chose to put balls in play to get outs.

He was tough.  I was there when Kevin Mench hit a line drive back to the mound that broke Roy’s shin.   Halladay picked up the ball and made a perfect throw from his ass to first base to get the out.  Another time Nyjer Morgan hit a ball off of Halladay’s head and it was later learned that the first thing Halladay said to Rod Barajas when he got to him was “Did we get the out?”  For the record, they did get the out.

I will never forget the autographs that we were able to obtain from him.  He signed autographs like he played the game.  Like he was in a zone.  The first time we had the pleasure was at a game in Cleveland in 2007.   Stef and I had taken a sign with us that read “Roy Halladay may I please have your autograph”.   When we reached the park we went down to field level and soon spotted Halladay shagging fly balls during batting practice.  When he finally looked our way we held the sign high and it was evident that he turned and read it.  Didn’t acknowledge it, but had clearly looked in our direction and stopped on the sign.  Then immediately snapped back to looking forward and paying attention to the hitters again.  I was afraid we had picked the wrong time and didn’t expect him to come over.  He did.  On his way off of the field he came to where we were standing and we each got our photo ready.  He reached us and we greeted him but didn’t get a response.  He saw that we each had a photo, and he very carefully took the photo from Stef and signed it.  Then signed a few other items for other fans and was gone as quickly as he had arrived.  Many of us greeted him and asked how he was etc.  However the only words the man spoke were “you’re welcome” after each thank you he received.  The second time was an organized signing, but wasn’t much different from the first.  Again, Halladay was in “the zone”.  This was at a game honouring some Blue Jays pitching alumni during the 2016 season.  Pat Hentgen, Duane Ward, Mike Timlin, Juan Guzman, Dave Steib, Tom Henke and Roy Halladay were each there.  Halladay was at a table by himself down at the end.  I approached him and greeted him with a “Hi Roy, good to see you”.  No response.  I handed him my jersey and he very carefully took it from me.  “How are you doing today?”  I asked.  No response.  Instead, he was staring very intensely at the jersey.  With great care, he took his sharpie and slowly and carefully signed his name below the letters and above the number.  It is a great autograph.  He inspected his work, and only when he decided he was satisfied with it, handed the jersey back to me.  “Thank you so much Roy, have a great day” I said.   “You’re welcome” was the first and only response I received from him.   When Halladay had a job to do, any job it seems, he was going to do the best job he could do.

I will never forget Roy Halladay for his love of Toronto.  For signing here and avoiding free agency more than once when he could have gotten more on the open market.  Then when he finally did leave, he signed a deal with Philadelphia for much less than some of his counter parts did that same off-season.  All because it was where he wanted to play and have a shot to pitch in the post season.  It was another testament to his character.  He wasn’t in the game to make as much money as he possibly could.

I remember the first time I saw him in person in a Phillies jersey.  Four of us went to Pittsburgh to watch the Phillies and Pirates play two games.  A good friend and I wore our Halladay Jays jerseys with Phillies caps to both games.  We took a pretty good verbal beating from the Pittsburgh fans.  They didn’t understand that we were Halladay fans, only that we were two idiots wearing Jays jerseys to a Pirates/Phillies game.  It was worth it though, an experience I won’t forget. 

I have so many memories.  I remember being in Toronto and watching Halladay and Buehrle go toe to toe in a game that lasted only an hour and fifty some minutes.  It was a gem.  I remember watching Halladay and Scott Kazmir also throw a game that was also under two hours.  Between the two of them they only gave up 3 hits if I remember correctly.  I remember his first perfect game on May 29, 2010.  I was watching on television when he threw his no hitter in the playoffs against the Reds that same season.  I will never forget game five between the Phillies and Cardinals.  Halladay and his good friend Chris Carpenter pitched one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of watching.  Two aces in their prime going head to head.  I loved every second of it.

So really what I am saying is:  Thank you Roy.  Thank you for everything you did for the city of Toronto.  Thank you for all of the charity work that you did while you were here, and throughout your life.  Thank you for everything you did for the fans.  Thank you for all of the wonderful memories.  Thank you. 

I have a feeling that if Halladay were here and I could thank him in person exactly what his response would be.  The only words he ever spoke to me.  A very plain and simple:

“You’re Welcome”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Wins Keep Coming!

What is better than nine wins in a row?  Well, I'd say nine wins in a row which include series sweeps of both the Boston Red Sox and that pesky team from Tampa Bay that always seems to have Toronto's number would be better.

The Jays swept Tampa for the first time since August 6 - 9 2010. 

When I sat down to write this, I started to recap the series in Tampa game by game.  But you all know where to find the box scores and have all either watched the games, seen the highlights, or read the box scores.  So let me just touch on some real positive signs from this series.

First and foremost:  This team is never out of it.  When I had the chance to talk Blue Jays with Eric Rosenhek of Definitely Not Jays Talk a few weeks ago, he asked me what were some positive things I liked about this team.  I told him that I really liked that this team never seems to be out of ball games.  Their offense this year is that good. In fact, it is reminiscent of the 1993 team that was also never out of the game, some days despite their pitching.  The first two games against Tampa was another testament to that.  On Monday the Jays put up ten runs on sixteen hits and on Tuesday another nine runs on thirteen hits, with six home runs over those two games.  The Jays are a very exciting offensive team to watch. Even in times when they are trailing late in the game, we all stay glued to our screens because we know that on any given night in any inning, this team can come back and still win the game.  Even if its a bunt and an over throw that get the job done.

Second:  Edwin Encarnacion is an absolute monster right now.  He now has 14 home runs in the month of May and in his last twelve games, he's batting .340 with two doubles, 10 homers and 15 RBIs.  After a slow start that had people worried (which it shouldn't have, traditionally he starts slowly.  In fact, a few seasons ago it was this day, May 29, that he hit his first homer of the year) he has really come into his own this month.  Like him or not, Edwin is a lot of fun to watch right now.  If you do like him, then hurry up and get voting to get this guy into the MLB All-Star game.  He is not even close to a start at either first base or DH. He needs your votes.

One last thing:  Liam Hendricks.  Two starts and two solid outings from this young man thus far.  I know last night the twitter feed was abuzz with folks saying that he wasn't fooling anybody.  Well that may have been the case, but even if it was he once again got the job done.  Through his two starts he is 1 and 0 with a 2.31 ERA and a 0.771 WHIP with 8 K's and 3 walks over 11 and 2/3 innings.  I will still stand here and tell you that this team NEEDS more starting pitching to continue to threaten down the stretch.  But any time you can get performances like this from guys like Hendricks it is a huge boost for this club.  They are going to need outings like this from him and probably other guys down on the farm to make it to October baseball this fall.

The Jays will try to match last seasons ten game winning streak when KC comes into Toronto for a four game series over the weekend.   R.A. Dickey and James Shields tonight.  Should be a fun one!

I will be watching, or at least paying attention once again from Arizona.

- Rob

James Shields is 6 and 1 against Toronto over the last three seasons and has been very tough for some of the Blue Jays better hitters.  Melky Cabrera is just 5 for 27 lifetime against Shields.  Jose Reyes is 2 for 10 and Edwin Encarnacion just 6 for 29.  Jose Bautista may be the man to watch tonight.  He is 9 for 29 with 4 HR vs Shields over his career.  Hopefully his success continues and contributes to another Toronto win.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Six In A Row!

Last month I wrote “Why This Year Was the Best Shot For the Blue Jays…. & How They Blew It”.  I implied in that article that if the Blue Jays had pitching, they would win.  Well, turns out when the Blue Jays get good pitching, they win.  Period.  Six solid starting pitching performances in a row and they’ve won six straight.  Not only have they won six straight, they did it against the Boston Red Sox and the team that held the best record in the Majors coming into Toronto in the Oakland Athletics.  The starting pitching over the past week has been pretty good. 

Over those six wins, Toronto’s starting pitching has gone 37.2 innings giving up 10 earned runs and striking out 29 while walking 11.  However if you take out Happ’s start at the beginning of that streak and look at the last five starts, then you have 33.2 innings pitched, 6 earned runs, 23 strike outs and 9 walks.  That’s an era of 1.60 over those last 5 starts.  What has been even more of a positive sign than the rotation however has been the bullpen.  When this bullpen is not overworked, it is effective.  Over these last 6 games, Toronto’s bullpen has thrown 14.1 innings (approx 2.1 ip per game on average) and has allowed 5 earned runs, with 10 strike outs and just 3 walks.  Which looks even better when we take out Esmil Rogers, who is no longer with the club.  Without Rogers, the bullpen pitched 14 innings and allowed just 2 earned runs.  Over that six game span.  What is also encouraging:  1 hr allowed by the bullpen in 14 innings pitched at Rogers Centre.

When the pitching is present, this team will win.  The problem is, I still don’t think we have enough starting pitching to get us through the season.  We got a great performance from Hendriks and hopefully he can build on that.  But he is young and we should expect some regression from him.  Also don’t forget that Hutchison isn’t going to be able to pitch all year.  One year removed from Tommy John, they will need to shut him down at some point. 

I know it sounds like I’m playing a broken record or beating a dead horse here, but I really wish that Anthopoulos had delivered on his promise of more starting pitching in the offseason.  If we had one or two more arms in this rotation right now, I feel The Jays would be in a much better position to keep fighting to stay atop the AL East. 

What we need to do as Jays fans, is hope that this team is still in top spot come deadline day.  Then maybe they will get something done to bring in at least one more arm.  I just hope we still have enough trade chips still to get something accomplished at the deadline.  I think it’s safe to say that we are no longer going to get Jeff Smardzija from the Cubs for just Stroman and Sanchez. Not with the year Smardzija and Stroman have each had respectively. 

Toronto hopes to get to seven in a row when Tampa Bay comes to town tonight.  Hutch gets the ball for Toronto and Tampa will counter with Canadian native Erik Bedard.

Here’s hoping that the pitching can keep it up.  Because watching this team win sure is a lot of fun.

- Rob

Navan Ontario native Erik Bedard has been having a bit of a bounce back season this year with Tampa Bay and is having a great month of May.  In four starts he has 2 wins and one loss allowing only 2 earned runs over 23 innings with 18 K’s.  As someone who follows all Canadian born players in MLB, I am excited to see him pitching so well.  Having said that, I hope he isn’t too good tonight.  ;)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Definitely Not Jays Talk

I had the opportunity to be a guest on Definitely Not Jays Talk with Eric Rosenhek this week to talk about the Blue Jays.

If you've never been to his site, you should check it out. All of the episodes of the Definitely Not Jays Talk are worth a listen. It is a show by Jays fans made for Jays fans.

Here is the link if you want to check it out:

- Rob

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Re-Emergence of Justin Morneau?

Photo Courtesy of Rob Tringali, Getty Images
Wednesday July 7, 2010.  A hot, muggy summer day.  Toronto was under an extreme heat alert.  The Minnesota Twins were in Toronto for a three game series with the Blue Jays.  After losing the first game 7-6 on Tuesday night, the Jays were looking to Marc Rzepcynski to even the set at a game a piece.  Minnesota countered with Kevin Slowey.  But despite Toronto coming away with the win that day, nobody really remembers that game for the box score. 

Canadian Justin Morneau was in the midst of possibly the best season of his MLB career.  In 81 games he had 102 hits, 25 doubles, 18 home runs (going into that game, he was just three behind Jose Bautista) and was hitting to the tune of a .345 average.  He was on pace to meet or surpass his season that won him MVP honours in 2006 (The first Canadian to win the AL MVP)
and had already been voted in as the starting first baseman for the AL All Star squad.  However on that day his stellar season (and career to that point) came to a screeching halt.

It was the eighth inning.  Minnesota was down by a run.  Michael Cuddyer was at the plate for the Twins with nobody out and Morneau at first base.  Cuddyer hit a ground ball to a back peddling Alex Gonzalez who quickly got the ball to McDonald to force Morneau at second.  Justin slid in hard to second.  As he should have.  As anyone would do in an attempt to break up the double play.  He was successful.  John McDonald jumped over Morneau to throw the ball to first and Cuddyer beat the off line throw easily.  However when McDonald jumped, Morneau was coming in so fast he slid through the bag at second.  His head hit McDonald's knee as McDonald was attempting to clear him.

Justin suffered a concussion that caused him to miss the rest of the 2010 regular season and the playoffs.  He returned in 2011 but was reduced to playing in only 69 games.  Over that span he batted just .227 with 4 home runs.  Well below his career numbers.  2012 and 2013 were marginally better.  In 2012 Justin was able to play 134 games, posting a .267 batting average and hitting double digit home runs (19) for the first time since that 2010 season.  2013 marked the last year of his contract with the Twins.  As a result Justin was dealt on August 31 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Alex Presley and a player to be named later. (On October 5 that player was named as Duke Welker.)  The Pirates appeared to be playoff bound for the first time since 1992 and were looking to add a bat to help put them over the top.  After batting .259 in Minnesota with 17 home runs, Morneau unfortunately did not bring what the Pirates were hoping for.  He debuted in Pittsburgh on September 1, wearing number 66 and playing first base.  Through 77 at bats as a Pirate, Justin hit .260 with 4 doubles, 3 RBI's and no HR's.  I'm sure not what he or the Pirates were expecting.

Even though he was three and a half seasons removed.  Justin had never been able to get back to his pre concussion form.  Justin was granted free agency on Oct 31, 2013.

I've been a Justin Morneau fan since he broke into the league.  I have always followed him closely (as I tend to do with all of our Canadian born players) while he was a Twin and whenever he represented team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.  I have been rooting for him and hoping that he would at some point get back to where he used to be for one more season or two before his career is over.

I know it's early.  Heck, it's barely May.  But it appears that this year may finally be that year.

On December 1, 2013 Justin Morneau was signed by the Colorado Rockies to replace their long time first basemen Todd Helton, who retired at the end of the 2013 season after spending his entire career in Colarado.  The contract is a two year deal worth $11.75 million dollars and carries a mutual option worth $9 million for 2016.  Maybe it's the mountain air.  Maybe a change of scenery.  Maybe the National League.  Maybe batting between Troy Tulowitzky and Wilin Rosario. Who knows?  But whatever it is Justin seems to have found his stroke again.

As I said, it's early.  But through 30 games so far, Morneau is batting .339, with 6 HR's, 9 doubles, and 24 RBI's.  That would put him "on pace" for a 32 HR, 129RBI season if you believe in that sort of thing.  This appears to be the best stretch that he has put together since that day in July of 2010.

I am very hopeful that this is a sign of the year to come for Morneau.  That he is finally going to bounce back and put together a monster season that will put him back on top and have him back in the conversation amongst analysts when they discuss the year's top performers.  But more importantly, that he is finally healthy and feeling 100% again.  Enjoying both baseball and life to their fullest extents.

As of today Justin Morneau is the top performer among Canadian players in Major League Baseball this year.  Perhaps this might be the year Joey Votto (who I am also a big fan of) might have a threat to end his streak of Tip O'Neill awards.  The Tip O'Neill award is handed out annually by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to a Canadian Baseball player, or players who are "judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball."  Morneau has won the award in before in 2006 and 2008.  Votto is the current Tip O'Neill award winner and has won the award for four straight years (although he and Jon Axford shared the award in 2011.  The third time the award has been awarded to co-winners).  How great would it be if both of these Canadian first basemen put together a good season and were neck and neck when it's time for the Canadian ball hall to choose its winner for 2014?

Oh, and by the way.  Watch out for those Rockies.  With a record of 19 and 13, they are currently one game out of first place in the NL West behind the Giants and half a game up on the World Series favorite Dodgers.  There are some good things happening out in Colorado this year.  They're definitely worth checking out if you're surfing around MLB.TV some day looking for a game to watch.

Keep an eye on Morneau.  I definitely will be.

 - Rob

Justin Morneau was born on May 15, 1981 in New Westminster, British Columbia.  He was drafted in the third round of the 1999 amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins.  He made his MLB debut with the Twins at age 22 on June 10, 2003 against coincidentally the Colorado Rockies.  Morneau went 2 for 4 from the clean up spot in his first game.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jays and Royals Delayed

The rain has been falling in KC tonight, but we're still going to see a game.  Sportsnet 590 the fan is reporting that the Jays and Royals game will get underway at 8:35 ET.

Some good news from Buffalo tonight, Marcus Stroman pitched 6 innings of no hit ball.  Allowing one walk and striking out 10 on 80 pitches.  Apparently only one ball was hit out of the infield all night.

Why This Year Was The Best Shot For The Blue Jays.... & How They Blew It

If you're a Jays fan like I am, then you can answer the following question handily.  Where were you when you heard about the Florida Marlins trade?  Well?  Where were you?  You know exactly where you were.  As do I.  I was sitting in Pizza Hut having dinner with my family, when my phone started going absolutely bananas.  In a span of about ten minutes I was receiving non stop text messages, emails, BBM messages and even a phone call from friends asking if I'd heard about the deal.  What did I think?  Was this the deal that would put Toronto over the top?  Have the Blue Jays finally got a legitimate shot to contend for a play off spot in the American League East?

For the first time in many years this country was buzzing about baseball.  In November nonetheless.  Even the players were fired up.

Jose Bautista told Sportsnet's Shi Davidi: “My level of confidence as an athlete has just been quadrupled and I don’t say that lightly. I mean, it’s the honest truth

Catcher JP Arencibia tweeted:  "Fired up this is really happening.. More fuel to the fire to be the best!! Also hearing about season ticket sales. Guess fans are ready too!"

Alex Anthopoulos was deemed a genius.  The wonderboy.

Then in December, he added R.A. Dickey.  In just two transactions AA had seemingly turned over three fifths of a starting rotation that won 73 games in 2012.

Then 2013 happened....  Josh Johnson (whom I never had faith in) was a short lived disaster.  Morrow was what we've accustomed to Morrow being in the Blue Jays rotation (absent).  Dickey and Buerhle both struggled in the first half, and to cap it off Happ was hit in the head by a line drive and was injured while falling from the impact.  Couple the starting rotation woes with Reyes getting injured opening day, Bautista, Rasmus and Lawrie all missing significant amounts of time and Melky having more serious health issues... Not to mention Arencibia being a minor media fiasco, talking and playing his way out of the organization.  (I'm still not sure that was the right move.) We arrive at the recipe for what happened last season.

Heading into last off season, Anthopoulos had some lofty goals to improve and solidify the Jays for the 2014 season.  Starting with the rotation. No pun intended.

On the day of the final game of the season last year Anthopoulos reasserted the organizations intentions of adding a front line pitcher either through trade of free agency.  Then, during a television broadcast, he acknowledged that the Blue Jays would be bidding for Masahiro Tanaka.

Anthopoulos also said the club planned to improve at second base, upgrade their "catching situation" and possibly look for a left fielder.

In December, with the winter meetings looming, the Blue Jays signed Dioner Navarro to be their starting catcher.

Prior to the winter meetings, Anthopoulos had his annual meeting with the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writer's Association of America.    At which he told them that he was no longer optimistic he'd be able to upgrade his club's starting rotation via free agency.  He did tell them however, that he had targeted three starting pitchers he was attempting to acquire via trade.  "As the prices in free agency sit today, I'm not optimistic.  But that could change.  We're definitely having dialogue in trade.  I wouldn't say that we're necessarily close, but we're having active dialogue.  Where that leads to, I don't know yet." Even in December, the priority was still to upgrade the rotation.  With honorable mention going to bringing somebody in to compete with Ryan Goins for the second base job.

The rest of the off season came and went...  Nothing happened.  Well, unless you count Chris Getz as the guy competing with Goins for the second base job that is.

The most exciting day of the off season for me was the day that Sportsnet 590 the FAN sent out an email saying that the Jays had signed Ervin Santana to a one year deal worth $14 million.  However we all know now that this was a false report.

Ok, so now that we have reviewed the non happenings of this past off season, please pass me my soap box.

Alex Anthopoulos has completely contradicted himself this year.  Following the 2013 season Anthopoulos showed his cards when the Jays made the trade with the Marlins and acquired R.A. Dickey from the Mets in the span of a just a few weeks.  In doing so he had pushed his chips to the middle of the table and went all in.  Giving up significant prospects and bringing in veteran upgrades in an effort to be a contending team right now is something I will always get behind provided there are pieces already in place, which there were.  I supported him 100%.

Here is where we differed.  After the abysmal 2013 season, Alex said that they didn't just build this team for one year, they built it to be a contender for the span of 3 or 4 years.  Then he took a very passive aggressive approach to the 2014 off season.  I believe this was all wrong. 

Let me begin with the passive aggressive off season, and I will come back to the statement that the team was built to contend for not just one or two years.

This team needed starting pitching.  Period.  There were not enough guys to provide enough innings to get through this season.  I believe Drew Hutchison is going to be a great starting pitcher, but he JUST had Tommy John surgery.  How many innings can he really throw this year?  Brandon Morrow is in a similar situation.  The last time he threw more than 55 innings was in 2012 and he has only pitched over 150 innings one time in his entire major league career.  That leaves you with Dickey, Buerhle and..... Happ?  McGowan?  Romero?  Redmond?  Rogers?  Drabek (cough)?  Stroman?  What was the plan here?  Throw the pasta at the wall and hope that some of it sticks?  I know that Anthopoulos said that he was planning on adding starting pitching.  In fact if I remember correctly he originally said a front line starter as well as a second, back end rotation guy.  He did neither of these.  He says he had deals in place but he wasn't comfortable with the price.

Here's the thing.  Once you've gone all in you don't get to flip your cards back over and pull back your chips.  That luxury is gone.  I don't care if you're not comfortable with the price.  If you have the chance to bring in a starter that can help this rotation, you do it.  You can't claim that you don't want to mortgage the future, because you already have.  Alex traded significant farm hands last off season.  If Jeff Samardzija is the best that you can get and you have to give up Stroman and Sanchez to do it, then you do it.  No, Samardzija is not worth Stroman and Sanchez.  However if that is all you can get done then you get it done.  This team is not built to contend for years.  The majority of the impact players are not under contract after the 2015 season. (not including club options) Rasmus, Lind, Morrow and Melky are in the last year of their contracts.  Bautista, Encarnacion, Dickey and Buerhle are finished after next season.  Next season we are realistically looking at a starting outfield of Sierra, Anthony freakin Gose, and Bautista!  If that doesn't scare you a little it should.  After 2015 we could have no first basemen, no DH, we'll still have no second basemen and who knows what the rotation will look like?

If I haven't lost you yet and you're actually still reading this you are probably thinking:  "But Rob, aren't these reasons why you shouldn't trade Stroman and Sanchez?" NO!  They're prospects.  We can get prospects back!  As I said, you have significant guys coming off of their contracts.  So lets say that Anthopoulos actually finished what he started and stayed all in.  My definition of staying all in would have involved two things.  Number one you trade Sanchez and Stroman and bring someone in.  We'll use Samardzija because we already know he was on the table.  You add Samardzija and you give Ervin Santana the four year $50 million dollar deal he was looking for.  Never mind this crap where you thought you had a one year deal in place for $14 million but Santana backed out.  Of course he did Alex.  What pitcher in their right mind (a fly ball pitcher nonetheless) wanting a one year deal with the hopes of landing a lucrative multi-year deal afterward chooses a home run park in one of the traditionally toughest divisions in baseball?  NOBODY!  Of course he accepted the same deal from Atlanta.  What you should have done was just given him four years at 12.5 million per like Santana wanted.  I firmly believe that he would have taken this deal if offered from Toronto.  He didn't opt for Atlanta because he didn't want to play here.  He opted for Atlanta because it was a one year deal.  If Toronto had offered him the money he was looking for, he would have taken it.  Everyone knew what his price was.  I don't think he would have been overly picky about who gave it to him.  Especially with so many of his Dominican Republic comrades already playing in Toronto.

NOW Alex, you are all in.  Now you have Dickey, Buehrle, Santana, Samardzija and Morrow.  Morrow may have been replaced by Hutchison by now, if Hutch didn't win the spot outright in spring training.  You just solidified your rotation.  But not only have you solidified your rotation, you have also bolstered the bullpen by adding McGowan and either Morrow or Hutchison in long relief roles.

We already know this offense can hit.  Not only can they hit, they are healthy this year.  They scored 8 runs on 16 hits one day last week and lost.  As it stands, the Jays record is at 12 and 13 despite having lost 7 games in which they scored 4 or more runs.  Their rotation has not been good and their bullpen is already overworked.  If we had Samardzija and Santana in the starting rotation right now, I am willing to bet that the Jays would have won at least 4 of those 7 games.  Especially considering the leads that they obtained in those games before blowing them later on.  That would put us at 16 and 9. All hypothetical of course.

If Alex had stayed the course from last year and gotten these two deals done we would have officially mortgaged the farm.  But we also would have been legitimate contenders this season.  The rest of the division is not bulletproof.  The Yankees have holes. The Red Sox have holes.  The Rays have had significant injuries to their pitching staff, but no one could have seen that coming.  This is why I believe this year was the best shot for the Blue Jays.  The state of the division combined with the amount of players they are losing after this season and even more that could be free agents after 2015 reasserts to me that 2014 could have been the year of the Blue Jays.

Let's say that Anthopoulos had done these things and they worked out.  We made the playoffs, maybe even won the Pennant or the World Series.  If that had happened, no one would have minded that Stroman and Sanchez were gone.

If he had done these things and they hadn't worked out.  Say two or three of the starters got injured.  Maybe some of the offense was hurt and the team fell behind.  Then you still have assets.  Good, moveable assets that can bring you back more prospects.  Colby, Melky, Bautista and Encarnacion would get you good young pieces back.  Lind might bring something.  Dickey is probably moveable.  Buehrle might be to the right team at the deadline next year.  Had they signed Santana, I am confident that they could have moved him as well after year two of his contract.  You are never "screwed" as long as you have assets.  I believe that the Blue Jays are rich enough in assets that they could have completely mortgaged the farm, gone for it and if it didn't work out, still been able to re-mortgage the farm.  Remember, when Alex Anthopoulos first got to Toronto he took this organization's farm system from being down in the lower third of the league, to fourth.  It has been done before and it can be done again.

Instead Jays fans are stuck with the current situation.  They do not have enough pitching to get through this season, which is going to lead to an overworked bullpen and more frustrating losses.  But that is probably not where the frustration will end this season.  Lets face it, if Toronto is at .500 or below come the all star break, the fire sale is going to start...  Then where are we going to be next season?  I don't believe that the Blue Jays will pay Melky the money he is going to command at the end of this season.  I also don't believe that Rasmus is interested in re-signing after this year.  But I have been wrong before.

Fasten your seat belts folks... It's going to be a bumpy ride.

 - Rob

Prospects are made to be traded.  If you're interested in hearing more of my take on prospects, please read my previous post from December 2012 "Do Jays Fans Overvalue Prospects?"