*EDITOR’S NOTE* Please welcome the newest contributor Wes Kepstro to the AL Eastbound team. I’m excited to add such a dedicated Blue Jays (and baseball) fan and he brings a unique combination of advanced statistical analysis and a flair for writing. Welcome aboard Wes!
In my previous article I extolled the virtues of the Jays RF, Jose Bautista, and talked a little bit about how his injury will effect the team. But there are other angles to consider. On this Jays squad he’s the best player, and with a farm that’s shallow in the upper levels he’s irreplaceable. Or is he? He’d achieved 3.2 fWAR by the time of his injury, so projecting a season total of 5.5 fWAR is reasonable. He’d be costly, but not impossible to replace. The Cardinals are in the race again, despite losing Albert Pujols and his 5.1 fWAR from last season. Given his defensive shortcomings, his age, and his wrist injury, the Jays may need to replace him, but Jose Bautista is replaceable.
There are at least two problems facing the Jays and their fans if he doesn’t return at 100%. First, the present-day Jays are what it looks like to have Jose on the DL. They won one series in August, owing in large part to the fact that they couldn’t score runs. On one hand this reflects well on the Jays. Oftentimes, rebuilding teams drop like a stone in the standings: one needs only to look at the Houston Astros over the last couple of seasons for satisfactory evidence. The Jays haven’t, and Jose Bautista has been a key reason why they haven’t. He isn’t solely responsible for their relative success, of course, but he’s the best player on a mediocre team. Hats off to Alex Anthopoulos and staff for recognizing his talent and signing him to a good deal for the next few years. On the other hand it betrays a lack of depth. If he doesn’t come back healthy, the Jays can expect a serious setback in the rebuilding process.
The second problem they face if he doesn’t return at full strength is replacing him with a player of similar value. The Jays have incurred the wrath of some fans by failing to acquire the pitching that everyone and their brother knows they need. Injuries and trades using valuable chips (Doc for prospects; Marcum for Lawrie; etc.) have left the Jays short on quality ML pitching. That, and a focus on improving other areas, have left the Jays with their rotation to address. Whether Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, and Kyle Hutchison have developed as expected is a non-issue now. Drabek and Hutch are out until next August at the earliest, halting their development and leaving holes in the rotation at the same time. This brings us to the crux of the issue. Alex Anthopoulos has filled a number of holes (OF defense; C; 1B; 2B; 3B; SS; the ‘pen; etc.) since he took over as GM, and he’s left the starting rotation until last. Some of those holes have been filled admirably; some less so. At the risk of sounding alarmist, the next problem may be replacing Jose Bautista at the same time as addressing the rotation.
Earlier this season, the Diamondbacks lost patience with their struggling star CF, Justin Upton. Barely halfway into a season following one when he received strong MVP consideration, Upton was on the block. Rumours spread and pretty soon, 23-year old Justin Upton was on everyone’s wish list. I dreamed of an outfield patrolled by Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Justin Upton. Is an off-season deal for a player like Upton reasonable? Well, yielding prospects for a player like Justin Upton means those prospects aren’t available when a deal needs to be made for a pitcher or two. What about free agency? It’s less likely, with budget constraints and Alex Anthopoulos’s stated preference for using the farm and trade routes to build the team. Given these realities, a player of the calibre of Justin Upton is less likely regardless of how enticing such a move would be.
Potentially, those are two issues that Toronto faces. Jose Bautista is replaceable; the Jays have chosen not to replace him at this point. Now they need to consider replacing him at the same time that they need to acquire starting pitchers to help this rebuilding squad move forward. At this point, I’m going to take the Jays’ brass at their collective word and believe that: they want to build a winner, and the resources will be there when they’re needed. That said, these two considerations–fortifying the rotation and finding another outfielder–have me drooling at the prospects in front of the Jays.