Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

Do Blue Jays Have What it Takes to Keep Winning?

The Toronto Blue Jays just completed a very impressive three game sweep of the AL Central division leading Detroit Tigers with a 7-3 victory Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park.  The Jays flexed their offensive muscles and really roughed up the suddenly terrible Justin Verlander – 7 innings, 5 earned, 4 walks and 4 strikeouts.

The Jays walked into Detroit and pretty much laid the smack down on a perennial powerhouse.  They earned the sweep with three straight victories against Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander.  The Jays got solid starting pitching, stellar bullpen work and their deep offensive attack continued its league leading performance.

With the sweep on the road in Detroit (did I mention they swept Detroit in Detroit?) and last night’s series opening victory over the St. Louis Cardinals the Blue Jays now sport a 38-24 record and lead the AL East by six full games.  The baseball season is brutally long and it is wise not to get too high or too low with any one series victory, or loss.

I was pretty excited when we took the first game and I texted my buddy who responded the same way he has all season “Good win.  Now let’s keep it up”.  In other words, relax, there is a long way to go.  Is the Blue Jays success sustainable with the currently assembled roster?

Let’s have a look at the offense and pitching staff to see if there are any major red flags in terms of impending regression.

OFFENSE:

The Blue Jays lineup has been an absolute beast to opposing pitchers all season.  They are tearing the cover off the ball and wearing out opponents pitching staffs.  When I looked at the Blue Jays in the preseason I thought the team had serious downside risk and also to the upside.  I think that most pundits while mostly concerned with starting pitching actually underrated the lineup a tad.

The Blue Jays have depth up and down the lineup and at first glance nothing really stands out and screams regression.  Let’s take a look at the starting lineup:

Catcher – Believe it or not but Erik Kratz leads the Blue Jays in WAR (0.2 fWAR) despite playing only about half the games of Dioner Navarro (0.0 fWAR).  The Blue Jays are not getting much production out of the catching position so the threat of regression at this time is low.

First base – Edwin Encarnacion (2.4 fWAR) and Adam Lind (1.1 fWAR) have both hit very well thus far.  Edwin Encarnacion responded to a sub-par April with a monstrous May but his overall stat line (273/361/606) is right around his career levels.  Adam Lind is only playing against righties for the most part (383/458/628) and has been aided slightly by an elevated BABIP so he could see a dip in overall production.

Second base – Brett Lawrie and Steve Tolleson have provided solid value.  Lawrie will shift to third base against righties and has given team solid pop and great defense.  Tolleson has hit lefties well in the past and can play an adequate second base.

Third base – Juan Francisco has actually been worth more (1.4 fWAR – 39 games) than Brett Lawrie (1.3 fWAR – 55 games) thanks to a stellar offensive start.  Francisco has slashed 262/343/579 and has been ever deadlier against right handed pitchers (298/381/654).  I wouldn’t expect Francisco to continue at such a torrid pace the rest of the season but I don’t think the power will suddenly disappear.

Short stop – Jose Reyes has actually underperformed his preseason ZIPS projections and has only slashed 259/330/400 thus far.  ZIPS projects 283/338/424 for the rest of the season and Blue Jays fans would be happy with that type of production.

Outfield – Jose Bautista has been his usual awesome self but probably even awesome-er to start this season.  He is currently slashing 318/444/565 and has absolutely destroyed lefties (434/531/849) so any regression there could be slightly offset against right handers.  ZIPS projects a solid 281/400/536 the rest of the way.

Melky Cabrera has bounced back very nicely and has added a new element of depth to the Blue Jays lineup.  He welcome prized rookie Mashiro Tanaka with a leadoff homerun early in April and has continued hitting all season.  He has slashed 305/345/490 and ZIPS projects 294/334/448 the rest of the way.

Anthony Gose has done a great job filling in for Colby Rasmus.  He has shown great speed, defense and an improved patience.  Kevin Pillar has done a great job in late game pinch running and defensive replacement situations.

Colby Rasmus has begun a rehab assignment and could return in the next few weeks from his hamstring injury.

PITCHING:

This is where things get a little dicier.  Let’s have a look at our rotation pitcher-by-pitcher.

RA Dickey – He has been about as expected – mid 4.00 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.  He has had his share of troubles when he hits the sixth inning but with a team with so many question marks in the back end of the rotation he will be a key component of any division title run.  Given the strength of the lineup the Blue Jays do not require Roy Halladay like precision on the mound.

ZIPS projects 122 IPs, 4.25 ERA, 7.47 K/9, 1.28 WHIP.

Mark Buerhle – I really expected to see career numbers across the board but I was actually relieved when I saw that his K/9, K/BB, WHIP and batting average against are not really that far from his career averages.  Yes his 2.10 ERA has been heavily aided by an 80% strand rate and 2.4 HR/FB% and it would be foolish to not expect regression.  However he will still eat innings and give our stellar lineup a chance to win ballgames.

ZIPS projects 109 IPs, 4.07 ERA, 5.71 K/9, 1.31 WHIP.

Drew Hutchison – In the preseason quiz I picked Hutch to ‘out-WAR’ Ervin Santana (for those curious Hutch leads 1.2 to 1.0).  He has been very consistent this season and looks like he could join the conversation of one of the division’s better young pitchers.

This is where I have serious concerns – innings pitched.  One year removed from Tommy John surgery will he have the stamina and team blessing to pitch the required 175-200 innings to actually finish the season?  The most innings he has thrown in his professional career was in 2011 when he tossed 149.1 IPs.

In 2012, one year after his surgery the Washington Nationals (also in pennant chase) limited their ace Stephen Strasburg to 159 innings and shut him down.  Will the Blue Jays risk injury to Hutch?  What if they actually make the playoffs?  It is hard to envision Hutchison finishing the year without being shut down.

JA Happ – I almost hate to mention him fearing I will jinx him but Happ has been pretty solid.  His value gets a slight bump as he is really a guy the Blue Jays will have no problem using and abusing if need be.  They have replacements in the system and free agency can always fill his spot for the next few years but milking his value this year will be crucial down the stretch.

Marcus Stroman – Watching him start got me pretty excited about his potential.  He has a very live arm, athletic build and delivery and I think size concerns are overblown.  But like Hutchison how many innings will the Blue Jays allow him to make in what is his first major league season?  He threw a total of 111.2 IPs in the minor leagues last season.

I didn’t include the ZIPS projections for 3 out 5 of the Jays rotation because the projections are either awful or don’t include much in the way of expected innings.  Which is sort of the point.  Alex Anthopoulos is no fool.  He knows the Toronto Blue Jays will require at least one or two veteran starting pitchers to complete this roster.  There are too many question marks surrounding age, experience and past performance.  The baseball world will be watching and Blue Jays fans will be hoping.

Jeff Samardzija Would Help Blue Jays, But Deal Cannot Include Drew Hutchison

With the Toronto Blue Jays playing some of their best baseball in years and currently leading the wide open AL East division speculation will once again heat up that the Jays are seeking help for their starting rotation.  The current rotation features RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, JA Happ and the recently called up Liam Hendricks who has taken the place of Dustin McGowan.

Dickey, Buehrle and Hutch have all performed admirably and perhaps above expectations thus far this season.  Happ has been strong recently but it is hard to envision and contending team showing complete faith in him given the rather weak track record in terms of major league success.  Hendricks was only recently called up and the fifth starter spot has been a sore spot all season.

This leads me to the point of this piece.  The Blue Jays will be looking for external help and all indications are they have at the very least kicked tires on acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs.  The man they call ‘Shark’ is having a career season in terms of ERA (1.46), WHIP (1.09) and ground ball rate (51.6%).

Samardzija, currently 29 years old is a very solid starting pitcher but if the rumored price of at least two of Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman I think Alex Anthopoulos should tread carefully.  First off trading one of our best current starting pitchers just to add another makes zero sense and perhaps the Cubs are trying to set an early high price to see if a team blinks first.

Second this would be buying a pitcher at likely the peak of his value.  Thru 68 innings in 2014 Shark has seen his K-rate dip to a career low 7.15 K/9 and his BABIP is at a career low .264 (career .294 mark) which has certainly helped his overall stat line.  His current HR/FB rate is 3.9% – which is not sustainable compared to his 10.5% career rate.  His strand rate is also at a career high 82% compared to his career rate of 72%.

This has all added up to a career best ERA and WHIP.  Now he has taken a bit of a different approach this season as witness by his pitch selection.  In 2013 he utilized his four-seam (straight) fastball 25.1% while in 2014 that has dropped to 17.1%.  This season he has tried to use his two-seam (sinking) fastball much more (39.6%) more than last year (27.7%).  This has helped lead to a higher overall groundball rate but overall he has not missed as many bats at in years past.

His current swinging strike rate is 8.2% (10.1% for his career) as batters are making higher overall contact.  Yes some of that is likely by design but it is never a good thing for a pitcher to suddenly start missing less bats.  According to Pitch FX data his fastball has seen about a one mile per hour dip – nothing huge but at age 29 his velocity will continue to decline going forward.

Finally bring any pitcher into the AL East and there is bound to be a bit of a learning curve.  Yes it is not the division it once was but that is more due to the injury prone starting rotations and not the overall level of offense.  There is no guarantee Samardzija comes over to the AL East and the Rogers Centre and pitches like an ace – which is the type of production needed to justify the current asking price.

I hope the price comes down but with so many teams still gunning for the playoffs that seems doubtful.  Shark would be a great addition to our rotation and could go a long way to solidifying our starting rotation but that addition cannot come at any cost.  If the price for Jeff Samardzija (3.46 xFIP, 1.5 WAR in 68 IPs) begins with Drew Hutchison (3.56 xFIP, 1.5 WAR in 60 IPs) the price is already much too steep and the answer must be no.

Riding with the Wind, ’14: An Apology

Usually we use the word “apology” to say “I’m sorry”. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m using the word apology as the transliterated form of the Greek word ‘apologia’, meaning ‘defense’. In other words I’m going to defend something or someone. In this case I’m going to defend something AND someone, because the something can’t be separated from the someone. They are linked inextricably.

On Friday April 11, 2014 Dustin McGowan was credited with his first win as a starting pitcher since 2008. It was one of those feel-good moments that have been too few and too far between for the Jays over the last several seasons. Not only did he get the win, but he threw 6.1 IP of shutout ball against the Orioles at Camden Yards. It was heady stuff.

Perhaps you recall the immediate variables that helped to make this a story:

  • a good fielding team had to make 2 errors to help a scuffling offense;
  • hard-hit balls had to be caught by the Jays’ defense, an Achilles heel in 2013;
  • Dusty had to shut down a potent offense that typically feasts on Jays’ pitching;
  • good coaching decisions and timing needed to play a role, since Dusty’s still just getting his feet wet in MLB again.

I suppose a host of other unseen and unthought-of factors played roles, too, but this is good enough for a good story.  These don’t even scratch the surface of all the years of agony and disappointment for McGowan, the Jays, and their fans.

The Something

The bullpen for the Toronto Blue Jays is the Something. A lot of effort and energy has gone into this facet of the team. It has been somewhat frustrating and more than a little bewildering to watch the Jays focus so intently on this as the something. Why not the rotation? Why not the defense? Why not the offense? Why spend so much time on the bullpen, for crying out loud?

Since 2010, its several incarnations have appeared as follows. The players listed are the most oft-used bullpen pitchers:

  • 2010: Gregg, Camp, Janssen, Frasor, Downs;
  • 2011: Francisco, Janssen, Camp, Rauch, Frasor, Rzepczynski;
  • 2012: Janssen, Villanueva, Oliver, Frasor, Cordero, Perez;
  • 2013: Janssen, Loup, Cecil, Delabar, Oliver.

The first couple of seasons, 2010-2011, were years of ‘try, try again.’ Not many cried when Gregg wasn’t re-signed; I almost did when Downs wasn’t. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch still give some Jays’ fans recurring nightmares, partly because Frankie F cost the Jays Mike Napoli. That’s another story for another time, though. Rzep was a quality LOOGY+ and young, too, but he was part of the price for a young CF.

It began to come together in 2012, experimenting with Janssen as the Closer and bringing quality LHP Darren Oliver on board. Cordero was a bust. Frasor was reliable and had a rubber arm. The starting rotation fell apart in mid-June, though. JA Happ and others were acquired near the deadline to shore up the ‘pen and the rotation, but the season was lost anyways. Shipping Travis Snider to PIT for Brad Lincoln was a little painful, too.

It was supposed to gel in 2013. Big off season trades, combined with a stronger ‘pen, were key parts of a seemingly well-rounded team. Steve Delabar showed he was for real, Brett Cecil was looking sharp early and if they could ever get Sergio Santos to stay healthy, his fastball and slider were deadly. But nothing gelled, nothing at all. It all fizzled amid great-but-frustratingly-unmet expectations. Well, check that: the bullpen gelled. They were solid all season.

Fast forward to 2014 after an off season of virtual non-activity, and the Jays’ ‘pen is even more of a shut down ‘pen than they were previously. The offense has sputtered, but the defense, starting pitching, and bullpen have been good.

At present, the ‘pen consists of:

  • Casey Janssen (CL; DL); Sergio Santos (CL); Steve Delabar; Brett Cecil; Aaron Loup; Neil Wagner; Todd Redmond; and Esmil Rogers.

They have two closers, and two other guys (Delabar; Cecil) capable of closing. They have two high quality LHP capable of going 1+ IP, striking out plenty, inducing ground balls, but also can be used as LOOGYs. Career minor leaguer Neil Wagner throws hard (95+ mph), has good control, and he’s their sixth/seventh inning guy. Rogers and Redmond are both long men who can start in a pinch and give them quality innings. Then there’s JA Happ, the LHP on the DL, who’s at least the equal, talent-wise, to Rogers and Redmond.

The Someone

This of course is Alex Anthopoulos, the much-maligned GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. A quick perusal of the transactions page at baseball-reference.com (here) will show that the majority of deals made by Anthopoulos have involved at least one reliever going in one direction. Several deals have been larger, involving a number of relievers. This focus on the bullpen was frustrating, since the on-field product was poor and getting worse. After all, why waste time on something that exerts so little influence on the game’s outcome? Because it’s the AL East, that’s why.

There are currently two bullpens dominating the American League. They have everything they need to succeed. They stand head and shoulders above the rest of the AL, and actually could get (much) better as the season wears on. Rather than reproducing the table, I’ll just include the link so you can see for yourselves. (We don’t want to use up virtual paper unnecessarily here at AL Eastbound.) Keep in mind that the sample sizes are miniscule (9-12 games; fewer than 50 IP; etc.). Also bear in mind that Toronto’s ‘pen did this last year, too, for the most part.

Against Baltimore, Dustin McGowan gave up some rockets. It’s not surprising: he’s still just getting his feet wet again, and those Orioles have some rocket launchers. His 6.1 IP of shutout ball was pretty impressive, as was the 2.2 IP by Brett Cecil and Sergio Santos. Cecil and Santos struck out 5 of the 8 batters they faced. No hits, no walks, no blips or glitches, just shut down ball. It was a nice period at the end of that particular sentence. Dustin McGowan, good start, blah, blah, blah, bullpen. Lights out. Well done, Alex Anthopoulos, well done.

Wes Kepstro

Forget Ervin Santana, Sign Andrew Friedman

Ken Rosenthal has certainly stirred up a hornets nest in the Big Smoke with his recent piece regarding Ervin Santana, the Blue Jays and deferred money.  Apparently various Blue Jays were willing to defer salary in a last ditch attempt to sign starting pitcher Ervin Santana but the team was unsuccessful in their bid.

The piece implied that the deal was essentially agreed upon but perhaps Blue Jays ownership has imposed a spending limit for the 2014 season.  According to the associated press the Blue Jays are on the hook for $132MM in payroll this year – ranking them 10th in major league baseball.

According to Sportsnet.Ca, the players willing to defer money for Santana were pitchers R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, right fielder Jose Bautista, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and shortstop Jose Reyes.

The effort by the players, first reported by FOX Sports on Thursday night, raised new questions about the Jays’€™ payroll flexibility for 2014. The team would have ended up paying the players a similar amount of money, just not this season.

The Jays, owned by Rogers Communications, ranked 10th in the majors with a franchise-record $132.6 million Opening Day payroll, according to the Associated Press.

The imposition of a payroll limit by Rogers would make it difficult for the team to add salaries if it stays in contention. Likewise, trading high-priced players might become a priority if the team falls out of the race.

While I wish Mark Cuban would buy the team and spend to his heart’s content I really don’t understand all of the sudden hate for Rogers.  Well, unless you are referring to your current cable/cell phone bill than I completely feel your pain.

I think the key number in all of this is $132 million.  Spending in the top third of all payrolls in baseball cannot be considered ‘cheap’.  This should be more than enough dough to put out a highly competitive baseball team.  The problem isn’t that the Blue Jays didn’t sign Ervin Santana the problem is the Blue Jays can’t develop big league talent – or at least to this point in Alex Anthopoulos’s career.

Developing talent is paramount to any success in baseball and one man cannot be blamed for an apparent organizational failure.  But in the ruthless world of professional sports there has to be accountability and the scrutiny begins at the top.  Who have the Blue Jays drafted, groomed and brought to the big leagues with any type of prolonged success in the Alex Anthopoulos era?

Among starting pitchers Ricky Romero was looking to be a solid major league pitcher.  He was drafted ahead of Troy Tulowitzki by then GM JP Ricciardi but at least Romero was a legitimate mid rotation workhorse – maybe even a solid number two pitcher.

Here is a quick rundown:

  • Drew Hutchison – Had a successful cup of coffee prior to injury.  Jury is still out but the talent is there.
  • Kyle Drabek – Looks like a potential bust and has not given the Blue Jays much in the way of value.
  • Daniel Norris – Is still in the low minors after being drafted early in the first round and has been inconsistent at best.
  • Deck McGuire – At this point any actual contribution to the bullpen as a long man might be best case scenario.
  • Marcus Stroman – Early on hasn’t lived up to the hype and has already been suspended for PED usage.  It is definitely too early to say for certain but nowhere near a sure thing and already 24 years old.
  • Roberto Osuna – Things were looking promising until Tommy John touched his right elbow.

There are some younger players from recent drafts that still have time to develop including recently draftees Phillip Bickford, Clinton Hollon, Matt Smoral, John Stilson and Sean Nolin.  Among others.  The Blue Jays do have some intriguing young position players as well but pitching has been the biggest issue recently so I decided to focus there first.

Unfortunately Alex Anthopoulos turned one of the best minor league prospect systems (that he built) into one of the worst and have only RA Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and JA Happ to show for it.  Various trades made over the last year saw the team move prized prospects Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, Travis d’Arnaud and Asher Wojciechowski to acquire them.  That was a big misstep.

In a large market like Toronto with some of the deepest pockets in sports there is no reason the team doesn’t try and poach the top executive talent in baseball.  The Toronto Maple Leafs landed Brian Burke and the Toronto Raptors landed Bryan Colangelo.  This isn’t meant as a judgment of their tenures but more that they were both considered difficult to land at the time.

At this point I think it is clear the Blue Jays have to adapt, evolve or die.  There current method of drafting and developing young major league talent is not working.  Instead of using money to bring over a veteran starting pitcher like Ervin Santana use it to land a real game changer.

You might as well go straight to the top and try to sign Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman.  When discussing the top baseball decision makers in baseball Friedman’s name is frequently found on a short list with Billy Beane as the alpha dog.

Offer him a blank cheque and let him run the organization as he sees fit.  Give Andrew Friedman full autonomy over all baseball related decisions and arm him with a similar budget.  If Rogers are serious about investing into the Toronto Blue Jays this course of action could prove to be the best return on investment possible – if winning is truly their priority.

He has deep ties and loyalty to the Tampa Bay organization but everyone has their price.  Make him the highest paid executive in baseball and sweeten the pot with a stock option package if need be.  Basically whatever it takes to get his named signed on the dotted line.

A fangraphs community contributor wrote a recent piece surmising that Friedman has been basically the most efficient GM in baseball:

One name I have not mentioned so far that has had an impressive stint as head of the Rays is Andrew Friedman. Since he’s been the GM of the Rays, they have been tied with St. Louis as the most cost effective winners in baseball. It’s even more impressive when you consider the dumpster fire he inherited.

After ignoring the potential for mediocrity during his first two seasons and building for the future, Friedman’s Rays took off. In the past 6 years, the Rays have won 87 more games than they should have. While it’s not as good as Beane’s best 6-year stretch of 117, it has coincided with a relatively weak stretch for the A’s where they have only exceeded their budget-wins by 30 games.

Yes it’s a long shot but never say never.  This would be huge.

Balance of Power – Blue Jays Struggles With Tampa Bay More Than Just Simple Road Woes

After beginning the season with a series split against the AL East powerhouse Tampa Bay Rays I was beginning to think of what it would take for the Toronto Blue Jays to really become an annual contender themselves.  I fully expect this season to be up and down and if the Blue Jays finish the season around the .500 mark I don’t think most fans would be shocked.

But no I am talking about becoming extremely competitive, year in and year out.

How can a team truly consider themselves a contender when you hear the words “if he stays healthy” for 60% of the starting rotation?  Yes health is a key equation for any potential success league wide but if health will almost completely dictate your fate then you were defeated before you even began the season.

The key to this current season for me isn’t Brandon Morrow, RA Dickey or even Jose Reyes.  This season the key players will be the development of Drew Hutchison, Daniel Norris, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez.  In short development of the most volatile commodity in baseball will be the real key for the franchise going forward.

The Tampa Bay Rays are the model organization in baseball and when they lose a key member of the starting rotation there is no panic, just a replacement.  James Shields would have been the best pitcher the Blue Jays organization has had over the last decade not named Roy Halladay.

The Rays rotation not only continued to thrive in his absence but they were able to parlay Shields into a potential all-star in right field.  Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi make it easy for a team to simply trade their ace and if not for injury they would have stud right handed prospect Taylor Guerreri knocking on the proverbial major league door as well.

The Blue Jays need to take a step back and reassess what is working and what is not.  The current major league team is not a contender and when Josh Johnson and RA Dickey proved to be less than Ace 1 and Ace 1a this team never had a chance as currently constructed.  Alex Anthopoulos right or wrong took his shot and unfortunately appears to have come up short.

I don’t doubt his intentions and neither did a majority of the fan base.  While I don’t think anyone in their right mind thought the trade of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for RA Dickey was shrewd the notion of contending in 2013 can somewhat justify the move.  Of course in hindsight it could turn out to be one of the most lop-sided trades in the Alex Anthopoulos era.

I think it was simply a case where the Blue Jays made their move about one season too soon.  If they had Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman all knocking on the door ready to contribute to a major league roster it makes filling out a winning roster much easier.

Bringing in Ervin Santana would not have been the answer.  If the team had been close to the playoffs last season I think you could justify if not promote bringing in that extra piece or as a replacement for Josh Johnson but when a season goes so off the rails and was nowhere near good enough the entire roster is likely due for a major tune-up.

If the engine of a race car just can’t match the output of other race cars there is no sense buying expensive tires to compensate.  Though it will be painful and a sign of defeat the engine must be rebuilt.  This isn’t to say that there is a complete blow-up of the current team but until we can roll out a young quartet of starting pitchers that Tampa Bay possesses or we decide that no price is too great to sign Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke or David Price then we are not in a place to contend.

Mark Buehrle was brought in to be the number four or five starter but is now seemingly our only reliable option every five days.  That should tell a team everything it needs to know.  The path to major league success is not linear and I hold out hope that one or two (or more) of Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna take a big step forward in 2014.

If the trade of either Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion can speed up the quick retool with a too good to pass up offer of young cost controlled pitching prospects than I think Alex Anthopoulos has to give strong consideration to pulling the trigger.  I love both hitters but the market has shown you can add veteran sluggers (maybe not at their level) on the cheap.  Nelson Cruz was barely able to land a contract and Stephen Drew continues to sit out waiting for an appropriate contract.

I have enjoyed the early season Blue Jays action because I am a loyal fan of the team and they have looked sharper with the gloves and have shown some resolve playing in a house of horrors.  Like anyone else I am quietly optimistic that the team plays above expectations and fights for playoff contention.

But I am also a realist who gets discouraged when I compare our current organizational depth chart with our rivals from Tampa Bay.  Pitching has to come from internal development, astute trades and occasionally free agency.  The team has had a very difficult time drafting and developing legitimate major league starting pitchers and that is still very concerning.

Until we roll into Tampa Bay with a starting rotation that can match or exceed the Rays it will continue to be a house of horrors.  The balance of power in the AL East has shifted considerably over the last decade and it certainly hasn’t proved advantageous to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Riding with the Wind, ’14: A Good Read

I just read a community research article at http://www.fangraphs.com written by Foster Honeck a few days ago, entitled “Baseball’s Biggest Market Inefficiency”.  It is worth your time, whether you agree or disagree with him.

I won’t play the role of spoiler, but I will make one comment about the Toronto Blue Jays: you will be interested or outraged or intrigued or surprised or something else to see the Jays’ rank.  It is unlikely that you will be indifferent.

Read it, enjoy it, respond to it thoughtfully, or react to it viscerally.  It was not what I expected nor did it tell me what I wanted to hear, both of which contributed to my enjoyment.

Wes Kepstro

Riding with the Wind, ’14: Losing the Santana Sweepstakes…

According to multiple sources (www.mlbtraderumors.com, etc.), the Atlanta Braves have signed Ervin Santana to a one year deal to shore up their rotation after Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were hurt.  Gavin Floyd isn’t due to return from surgery until about the middle of the season so the Braves swooped in and snapped up the best remaining free agent starter.

The Toronto Blue Jays, after declaring early in the off season that improving the rotation was a priority, are left out in the cold.  Honestly, there are three observations that I would like to make.  First, Santana made a deal that is MUCH more likely to help his career by signing with Atlanta rather than the Jays or Orioles.  He’s mainly a fly ball pitcher.  The heavy offenses and the band boxes in the AL East would more likely hurt his value.  This seems like a very good move on his part, and I can’t fault him for it.

Second, Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays’ front office (i.e. Paul Beeston) deserve all the criticism thrown at them.  They had multiple opportunities to improve their chances to take advantage of the so-called “three-year window” by using the resources that “will be there if we need them”, and did very little.  I like the acquisitions of Navarro and Kratz but more needed to be done, namely 2B and the rotation.  This latest turn of events even has more of the serious supporters–not just the casual fans–outraged.  Their complacency is bewildering.  Many have picked the Toronto Blue Jays to finish 5th in the AL East this season, based on their inactivity and the glaring holes in their line up.

Third, there’s the message that’s been sent to the players.  After the debacle of 2013, changes needed to be made.  It wasn’t a strong free agent crop outside of Robinson Cano, but there was plenty of value to be had.  The strange thing is that no trades were made either.  All the while, AA was decrying the market: prices were too high for the potential value received in return.  To wit: the Cubs wanted Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman in exchange for Jeff Samardzija.

But even the players believed that signing Ervin Santana would be a positive move–several of Santana’s friends on the Jays lobbied for him to sign with the Jays.  The players have reportedly been watching the various situations very closely to see what management would do.  Since they’ve done nothing substantial, the message to the players is __________.  If the players are jaded by the Jays inactivity and if the Jays acquire a reputation, what effect will this have on future deals?  Sure it’s speculative, but…

Yes, of course, there are still 162 games to play, and everyone (except projected 4th starter JA Happ) seems healthy.  And yes, this is much the same unit that had so many fans and pundits drooling last off season.  But things have changed, and they’ve changed pretty dramatically.  A 74-88 season after such high expectations will do that.  Just like the 2013 season, more was expected of the 2013-2014 off season but very little was delivered.

Wes Kepstro


AL Eastbound On Twitter!

  • Ugh. My reaction every time I hear Paul Romanuk's voice before start of Leafs game. 1 day ago
  • What a win for the Raptors. Down 15 against Chicago (who had beaten us 11 straight times) and Ibaka ejected from game. Overtime victory. 1 day ago
  • @DSzymborski especially baseball. Of all sports. 2 days ago
  • I'm old school. I love PJ Tucker. He doesn't sing and dance and hug opponents. He's Oakley like all business. #hustlehard 2 days ago
  • How can leagues honestly still justify blackouts in certain viewing regions? Begging me to stream for free. 2 days ago

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