Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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?"

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