Monday, March 31, 2014

From Great Expectations to Lowered Expectations: The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

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One year ago, the goal for the Toronto Blue Jays was quite simple; World Series or bust.

After a whirlwind offseason, the Blue Jays were poised to finally end their long playoff drought ... or at the very least, do some serious damage in the AL East. They went from being an overwhelming favourite to finishing last place in the division.

To have expectation levels elevated so astronomically high and then failing to reach them is incredibly disheartening. Add on the fact that the Blue Jays are entering their 20th consecutive season without a postseason berth, and it's enough to make any fan skeptical.

Unfortunately, there are just too many variables, too many "what ifs" and too many question marks.

The problem is nearly everything will have to break right for the Blue Jays and everything will have to go wrong for the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles. Conceivably, that's the only chance the Blue Jays have this year.

There are certainly a lot of things at stake this season, namely the jobs of  Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons. If 2014 is a repeat of last year, they could be out the door before season's end.

And not just management either, players could be the next to go. With a number of guys with expiring contacts either this year or next, a trade deadline fire sale certainly isn't out the question.

There is a scenario where the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year and Anthopoulos and Gibbons still manage to stick around. If they can secure a .500 or a winning record, then they very well could be spared.

But just because the Blue Jays may not end their 20 year playoff drought, doesn't mean they shouldn't play at all. Although as a team they may not excel, I think there will be a lot of great individual performances which Blue Jays fans can hang their hats on.

I mean, the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays as a whole were pretty mediocre, but Jose Bautista was one player who made them watchable. So in a year that could be a write-off when it comes to the playoffs, at the very least there should be some memorable performances.

In seasons past, while this team didn't break out, at least there was a sense it was going somewhere. There was an indication the Blue Jays were building towards becoming an eventual contender.

After progressing slowly year after year, that philosophy was ramped up significantly with the Marlins trade and the Dickey deal. Expectations were raised sky-high, but the results did not fall in line.

If a team is judged by the moves in between the World Series and Opening Day, the Toronto Blue Jays gave the impression as though they didn't care. I think that's the predominant reason why the organization has drawn a lot of ire from fans this offseason.

Obviously they do care, but the frustrating part these past two winters is they have employed polar opposite offseason strategies. Last year it was spare no expense to build a winner, and this year it was spare every expense.

It's odd because among the dichotomy that is the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays are now the lovable underdog of the division. They've somehow become the Bad News Bears of the AL East.

In retrospect, the Blue Jays could have and should have done things very differently this offseason. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. They tried to make things happen, but ultimately they failed.

But as well all know, champions are not crowned before the season starts, they are crowned in October.

Typically I consider myself a glass-half kind of guy, but there are still a lot of major concerns on this roster ... namely the pitching. For the most part, the starting rotation will have an uphill battle competing against that of the rest of the AL East.

However, when it comes to offense, I think the Blue Jays are actually in much better shape today than they were one year ago. Not that winning every game 10-9 should be their strategy, but this team should in theory have no problem scoring runs.

I don't want to kid myself and think the Blue Jays can reproduce what the 2012-2013 Red Sox achieved in going worst in the division to first. But there is still hope.

During the offseason, I think it's easy to succumb to pessimistic thoughts about this team because there's five long months of inactivity. That's a long time to stew in what the Blue Jays didn't do.

But with the arrival of Opening Day, at least there's something else to focus on; real live games.

Every year it seems like there are umpteen articles hyping the upcoming season being a "new hope". Heck, even yours truly has been guilty of scribing a few. While 2014 may not be a brand new hope for the Toronto Blue Jays, it's a different kind of hope.

What exactly that is, I'm not quite sure yet. But we will find out soon enough.
Let's play ball.



Image courtesy of RantSports, OK Blue Jays Audio courtesy of Toronto Mike

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dustin McGowan: The Most Unlikely Home Opener Starter

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"Your 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Home Opener Starter - Dustin McGowan."

Hands up if you guessed Dustin McGowan would be pitching in front of a sold-out crowd of close to 50,000 fans at the Home Opener at the Rogers Centre. Anyone? Anyone at all?

You're definitely not alone if you never thought you'd see McGowan get the ball for what will undoubtedly be the biggest game of his career on April 4th in Toronto.

The last time Dustin McGowan cracked the Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day starting rotation, it was comprised of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch.

McGowan's journey back to the majors has been nothing short of a miracle, but if you think about it, even the chain of events that took place this Spring Training which lead to Dustin McGowan securing a spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation is quite spectacular.

Firstly, J.A. Happ had to have a horrendously bad Spring Training. The man next in line, Ricky Romero also had to get roughed up in Grapefruit League action. Marcus Stroman showed he didn't quite have the polish to make his big league debut.

Kyle Drabek also had to create some doubt as to whether he was ready to return to his pre-Tommy John surgery self. And not to mention, the Blue Jays also had to fail to sign or trade for another starting pitcher in the offseason.

If the Blue Jays signed Ervin Santana like they should have, Dustin McGowan likely never gets the chance to start in the first place. So that's five things that had to happen in succession for Dustin McGowan to even have a shot at making the rotation.

Going into Blue Jays Spring Training, they had upwards of 11 candidates to make the final five starting pitchers (Dickey, Buerhle, Morrow, Happ, Rogers, Redmond, Hutchison, Drabek, Stroman, Nolan, McGowan) with Dustin arguably at the bottom of that list.

Here are the facts; Dustin McGowan hasn't made a start in the month of April in six years. McGowan hasn't made a big league start in over 2.5 years. He also hasn't thrown more than 26 innings in six years.

So you can see why the deck is stacked against Dustin McGowan.

With all this in mind, Dustin McGowan's path to becoming the starter for the 2014 Home Opener was truly baseball serendipity at its finest. Call it happenstance, call it luck, call it whatever you want, but there's no denying the odds McGowan had to overcome to get here.

If you think about it, Dustin McGowan's career path plays out like that of a Disney movie; a man who's essentially missed the past five years of his career, but who has gotten a second lease on his career at age 32.

So why exactly have the Blue Jays held onto Dustin McGowan this long? I remember at the time in 2012, his contract extension was quite curious for a guy who ended up not pitching at all that year. The contract was a gesture of good will more than anything.

And say for some crazy reason this experiment somehow works out, the Blue Jays also have a $4.5 million dollar option on Dustin McGowan for next season as well. So 2014 isn't necessarily the end of the line for him with the Blue Jays.

Some may call it an unwavering loyalty to Dustin McGowan, but I believe part of it is the organization's propensity to hang onto "live arms", no matter the cost. Recent examples of that lie with Dustin McGowan, Jeremy Jeffress, and to a lesser extent, Brandon Morrow.

All three are arguably guys that other organizations would have given up on long ago, but the Toronto Blue Jays have stuck by them, whatever their motivation is.

I'm not sure if the Blue Jays are afraid of Dustin McGowan becoming the next Chris Carpenter and "the one that got away", but they certainly signed him to a contract extension when they didn't need to.

As much as Alex Anthopoulos wants to play this off as a decision that was months in the making, my suspicion is that it was one out of necessity; the Blue Jays needed to stretch Dustin McGowan back out into a starter because they had nobody else.

It was reported during the offseason the Blue Jays might look into the possibility of stretching McGowan back out into a starter, but I think most thought the Blue Jays wouldn't need to. A free agent signing or acquisition would render Dustin's move from the bullpen to the rotation as unnecessary.

Keeping Dustin McGowan as the fifth starter likely isn't a long-term solution for the Blue Jays, either. They're likely just biding time until J.A. Happ returns from the disabled list or Marcus Stroman gets called up from Buffalo.

After that, I imagine the Blue Jays would just move McGowan back into the bullpen and make a corresponding roster move by letting go of Todd Redmond or Jeremy Jeffress. But then again, perhaps McGowan does make it to the All-Star break as the Blue Jays fifth starter.

When it comes to fifth starters, Dustin McGowan was surprisingly the best candidate for the job. He may not have been during the offseason or the beginning of Spring Training, but lo and behold here he is back in the starting rotation for the first time since 2011.

Dustin McGowan may be the most unlikely Home Opener starter, but he certainly is the best story. And sometimes that's what baseball is about; great tales. And regardless of how it eventually turns out, this will certainly go down as a good one.

Image courtesy of CBC

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is There a Disconnect Between John Gibbons and Blue Jays Management?

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Is it just me, or does it seem like the Toronto Blue Jays have been broadcasting a bunch of mixed messages lately?

Whether it's relievers being stretched out into starters, or position players being declared as Opening Day starters, key members of the Blue Jays organization haven't quite been on the same page the past few weeks.

In particular, there have been several instances which have hinted at a disconnect between manager John Gibbons and members of the Blue Jays front office. It's something that's really come to fruition these past few weeks regarding roster moves.

A piece from John Lott insinuates at some additional differing opinions between John Gibbons and upper management. Gibbons' preference was to not have Romero begin the year in the rotation, but apparently that wasn't the case with the front office.

According to Lott, John Gibbons and Blue Jays management had a disagreement about Ricky Romero's chances of cracking the Opening Day roster. Romero's poor outing last Tuesday sealed his fate for him, but one wonders what would've happen if he didn't implode.

Although there was some debate there for a while as to whether Ryan Goins would be the starting second baseman, I found it curious that the Blue Jays went back and forth on the issue ... even though Gibbons declared weeks ago that Goins would get the nod.

After the John Farrell debacle, I've long suspected whether Alex Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston or other members of the Blue Jays front office might have a stronghold on issues such as roster decisions and player personnel issues.

During his brief time in Toronto, it certainly seemed like Farrell wanted to make certain roster moves but wasn't able to do so. He was insistent that the Blue Jays let go of Omar Vizquel in late September, but the front office didn't see eye-to-eye with the manager.

Again, my suspicion that somebody from up top is pulling the strings on managerial decisions would point towards things like carrying an eight-man bullpen. The Blue Jays almost certainly will do that again this year, and it's not the first time that's happened under different managers.

Then of course comes the issue of not platooning Adam Lind; it appears John Gibbons tried to employ a platoon early on last season, but for whatever reason abandoned that strategy shortly thereafter. And again this year, Gibbons stated Lind would not be in a strict platoon to begin the season.

By all indications, John Gibbons is Alex Anthopoulos' guy. AA definitely went out on a limb to hire Gibbons in the first place, so the two will inevitably be tied together whether this whole experiment goes south or not.

But after experiencing what it was like to have a strongly opinionated John Farrell with his extensive background in scouting and player development, I'm curious if Alex Anthopoulos was looking for more of a "Yes Man" this time around with John Gibbons.

I've always wondered if that's what drove John Farrell back into the welcoming arms of the Red Sox organization; because he saw a greater potential there to do more in Boston than Toronto. Not just from a managerial standpoint, but from a player development and organizational standpoint as well.

If the Red Sox promised Farrell more of a say in how the roster was constructed and the types of players the team brought in via trade and free agency, who wouldn't jump at that chance?

Ideally, managers should have some sort of say when it comes to player acquisitions, signings and roster moves. Joe Maddon is probably the prime example of a manager who is clearly involved constructing a roster, but I wouldn't say John Gibbons falls into that category.

After all, this was a team that was basically built before he was ever brought on. The blockbuster trade with the Marlins and the R.A. Dickey deal happened long before John Gibbons was even brought back to the Blue Jays.

Alex Anthopoulos assembled the team and essentially just brought John Gibbons into the fold and said "here ... go nuts". Gibbons didn't really have a say this offseason either because they didn't do all that much.

Not that the manager should have the ultimate say on player acquisitions, but they should at least have some input on the guys that should be signed, traded for, and even started everyday.

By all accounts, the only say John Gibbons had was bringing in Kevin Seitzer as the hitting coach. When most managers come on board, they're given an opportunity to assemble a coaching staff. Gibbons was not offered that opportunity at the onset.

I mean, John Gibbons initially thought he was just being asked to be part of the coaching staff, so he was probably grateful that the Blue Jays were willing to take a second shot with him as their manager.

Many times this offseason, John Gibbons commented about how the Blue Jays were in on particular players and were working on trades, but I got the sense like Gibbons wasn't really on the same page as Alex Anthopoulos and upper management.

I realize that one or two disagreements between a manager and a general manager isn't indicative a disconnect, but I just find it odd that John Gibbons has come outright and said he wanted to do one thing when management wanted to do another.

Don't get me wrong; I think Gibbons is in the right on all these accounts; Romero shouldn't have had a legitimate shot to crack the rotation, McGowan shouldn't be stretched out as a starter, and Lind should unequivocally be platooned.

I'd like to think John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos are on a good accord. Up until this offseason, there has never been evidence of a strained relationship. But a disappointing season last year and an even more disappointing offseason may have changed things.

To me, it seems like the manager is the one who is being micromanaged here; either by Alex Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston, or someone else altogether. And that's no way to run a team. 

Image courtesy of the Toronto Star

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Adventures in Blue Jays Land: Romero, Stroman and Lind

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Suffice it to say, Tuesday wasn't exactly a great day in Blue Jays Land. It was a big opportunity for a few players in particular, and unfortunately they failed to impress. Two starting rotation candidates Ricky Romero and Marcus Stroman had horrible outings.

The on-field results in an 18-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers combined with a few comments by John Gibbons made for an overall forgettable day in Blue Jays Spring Training.

Vintage Ricky Romero


Going into his start yesterday, one could argue momentum was on Ricky Romero's side. In his three prior games, Romero wasn't exactly impressive ... then again, the wheels didn't completely fall off either.

But then the ugly side of Ricky Romero reappeared once again; the one that we've become all too familiar with since 2012. Romero's Spring Training line currently looks like this: 114 pitches total, 59 strikes, 55 balls, 10 walks, 6 strikeouts. 

Here's the sequence of how Ricky Romero's outing ended: walk, wild pitch, walk, walk, walk.

Any semblance of a chance Ricky Romero had of cracking the Blue Jays rotation prior to yesterday  flew completely out the window. Subsequently, it was announced that both Romero and Stroman were assigned to minor league camp.

The fact that Ricky Romero was even a consideration for the Blue Jays rotation in the first place just speaks to the severe lack of depth they have in the starting pitcher department. In reality, Romero should not have even been in the starting pitcher conversation.

Meanwhile, the Yankees' Michael Pineda had a stellar outing against the Red Sox. This is life we have to look forward to in the American League East this year, folks.

Marcus Stroman Gets Lit Up


Tuesday was not kind at all to Blue Jays starting pitchers fighting for a spot in the rotation. First it was Ricky Romero, and then it was the highly-touted Marcus Stroman.

Stroman was lit up just as badly as Romero (if not worse), and his chances of making the rotation took a huge hit in that game. His performance as of late has been somewhat disappointing considering how well Stroman did in the Arizona Fall League.

That just reiterates Marcus Stroman still needs a little more seasoning more making the leap to the Major Leagues. As exciting as it would be to see him begin the season with the Blue Jays, the correct choice is to have him start the year in Buffalo.

Adam Lind Goes Platoonless


Just when you though the Blue Jays might be making some progress when it comes to utilizing Adam Lind to the fullest, John Gibbons goes ahead and says something like this:


If I recall correctly, John Gibbons did use Adam Lind in a strict platoon to begin the season last year, but that strategy was abandoned shortly thereafter for whatever reason. This time, Gibbons isn't even waiting until Opening Day to open up Lind to lefties.

Nobody really knows the rationale behind it, but my own personal conspiracy theory is that the decision came from upper management (either Alex Anthopoulos or Paul Beeston).

As ridiculous as it sounds, perhaps they're afraid of upsetting Adam Lind by sitting him versus lefties and want to show loyalty to one of their most tenured players. Other than that, I can't think of a logical explanation as to why John Gibbons won't platoon him.

Lind may have displayed limited success against left-handers for a brief period last season, but the fact remains he's a .219 career hitter against lefties.

I'm not exactly sure what Gibbons' definition of a "strict platoon" will entail, but unless Lind has particularly poor numbers against a specific starting pitcher, then I guess he'll likely be in the starting lineup most games.

Image courtesy of AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taking the Best Team North

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Constructing a 25-man roster is not an easy feat. Coaches and General Managers have the daunting task each spring of whittling down umpteen players to 25 men.

A lot of things are taken into consideration when building that roster; things like options and service time definitely have an influence on which guys crack the Opening Day roster.

A few weeks ago, Alex Anthopoulos made a somewhat surprising proclamation that they'd be "taking the best team north". I say surprising because Anthopoulos has a fascination with carrying players on the roster who have no options left.

But what if all that was thrown out the window? What if instead, the Blue Jays simply picked the 25 best guys to start the season on March 31st in Tampa Bay?

If the Blue Jays had to make the trek north tomorrow, who would they choose to comprise their most competitive roster? Here's just a ventured guess on my part:

Position Players
Lind Encarnacion
GoinsIzturis
Reyes Lawrie
NavarroKratz
CabreraSierra
RasmusBautista
Getz
Pitchers
DickeyBuehrle
MorrowHutchison
StromanJanssen
SantosDelabar
CecilLoup
RogersStilson

Obviously, a lot can change between now and the end of Spring Training; some of these guys might have horrible games, some might get hurt, others not on the list could make a strong case for cracking the roster.

There are probably a few points of contention when it comes to the 25 man roster, one being the final bench spot, the other being the final bullpen spot.

I flip-flopped between Chris Getz and Dan Johnson, but ultimately settled on Chris Getz. His ability to multiple infield positions is a plus, and his reputation as a good defender could come in handy down the road.

The Blue Jays will likely opt for Dan Johnson in the end, as that left-handed power off the bench may be something that's too tempting to pass up.

For the bullpen, I went with John Stilson; although he still has options left, I think he'd be a wiser choice over Dustin McGowan. Stilson certainly had a great year in Buffalo last year, and would be a great back-end bullpen arm.

Had Neil Wagner not been sent down to the minors, I would have gone with him as the last arm in the bullpen, but not surprisingly Wagner's surplus of options likely played a role in him not cracking the Opening Day roster.

Build the Best Team ... Period

If Alex Anthopoulos really meant what he said about "taking the best team north", the next few weeks will be crucial in constructing the best possible Opening Day roster.

I'm of the school of thought that the Blue Jays really need to stop messing with players who have no options left. There's a good reason why those particular players are out of options; they've been back and forth from the minors because they simply aren't good enough.

Never have I ever heard of a team like the Toronto Blue Jays that have made so many roster decisions solely on player options. The ever-wise Captain Latte sums it up best:


In fact, even the MLB.com Guide to Options explains how it should be done:
"General managers may never make a 25-man roster decision solely based on a player's option situation, but there's no question that it will at least figure into the thought process."
After reading that explanation, I'd say Alex Anthopoulos is guilty of making decisions based on the former, not the latter.

Guys like Dustin McGowan, Todd Redmond and maybe even Jeremy Jeffress will probably make the Opening Day roster predominately because of their options status, not based on their performance in Spring Training.

They may very well pan out and prove to be great additions to the roster, but why not just go with the 25 best guys from day one?

The Blue Jays didn't seem concerned last year by burning one of Sean Nolin's options for one single start, so what's the fear in starting the service clock time and potentially burning options with Marcus Stroman, John Stilson or others?

It's also very likely the team will carry an eight-man bullpen to start the season, which will compromise the bench and leave the Blue Jays a position player short.

The lack of the ability to play matchups late in the game has hampered the Blue Jays quite a few times in the past few years. While they definitely needed the extra arm in the bullpen with all the injuries to the rotation, ideally there should only be seven relievers.

The only strategy I can foresee here is Alex Anthopoulos is hoping to trade guys like Jeffress, Redmond and McGowan for some sort of return down the road. If that is in fact the case, it's the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Carrying players who are out of options will compromise the quality of this team. Just pick the best players on the 40-man roster, and run with them.

Friday, March 14, 2014

J.P. Arencibia Takes Shots at the Blue Jays?

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J.P. Arencibia may be long gone from the Toronto Blue Jays roster, but it appears he isn't quite finished stirring things up and causing controversy in Blue Jays Land.

I'm not sure how this managed to completely slip by weeks after the fact, but upon trying to find a video of a hilariously bad strikeout Arencibia had during Spring Training last week, I came across this video below.

In it he describes what it's like being in the Texas Rangers organization, and in doing so, perhaps takes a few shots at his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays.



A brief transcript of a couple of money quotes from the clip:
"There's not a lot of riff-raff going on except for baseball stuff. It's cool, it's refreshing to be part of something that is really baseball emphasized.

I think it comes from the top, and you see the way Wash goes about his business. I think that energy is throughout the clubhouse ...

Elvis, Beltre, you have these guys who are leaders and have been around for a while, they make it easy. It's not like you come in here and you're walking on egg shells."

The funny thing is this isn't the first time we've heard from current or former Blue Jays about "walking on egg shells" around other players or reported distention and cliques in the Toronto clubhouse.

There's no telling whether J.P. Arencibia was referring to the Blue Jays specifically, but it certainly seems like he was comparing and contrasting the differences between Toronto and Texas.

But wait ... there's more! ESPN did a feature piece on Arencibia and he echoed the very same comments from that video.
"It's an easy clubhouse ... I'm back to enjoying myself. I'm back to having fun. I'm back to waking up and being excited about coming to the field every day. And I think that has to do with this team.

Not to take away anything from where I came from, but it's a different feeling around here.

It's fun to come to work with guys that work hard and want to win. The culture around here is different. It's exciting to me. I have fun being a part of that.

I've missed that the past couple of years, and it's exciting to get back to that."
Keep in mind, these comments are coming from a player who fell out of favour with the Blue Jays and ultimately lead to him being non-tendered, so clearly he might have some ill will towards the Blue Jays organization.

However, the Blue Jays gave J.P. Arencibia every opportunity to succeed, with a starting catcher job for the better part of three full seasons. With the disastrous season J.P. had last year, the Blue Jays certainly could have dragged his name through the mud, but they preferred to take the high road.

There may have been some truth in the statements J.P. Arencibia made, but it's not very respectful to speak that way about a team that went out of its way to make the split as amicable as possible.

Alluding to the clubhouse environment of your former employer probably isn't the best idea when Arencibia still has yet to officially crack the Texas Rangers Opening Day roster.

Image courtesy of AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Losing Santana: The Culmination of the Blue Jays Disappointing Offseason

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Earlier today, most awoke to learn the news that Ervin Santana had signed with the Atlanta Braves. It confirmed what many knew all along; the Toronto Blue Jays had been thwarted once again.

Ultimately, the Blue Jays failed to do what they promised this winter ... and that was overhaul the starting rotation.

In a vacuum, not many are disappointed a fly ball pitcher like Ervin Santana decided to take his talents to the NL East with the Atlanta Braves. However, the entire situation was symbolic of how things unfolded this offseason for the Blue Jays.

It was the culmination of what has been an utterly disappointing offseason for the Blue Jays; missing out on Ervin Santana was just the cherry on top.

Many fans lashed out with vitriol after they learned the Blue Jays failed to secure Ervin Santana, but I don't think the anger stemmed from missing out on Santana per se; that was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

It wasn't only Ervin Santana, it was failing to acquire a starting pitching via trade, it was missing out on Masahiro Tanaka and Ubaldo Jimenez, it was losing out on A.J. Burnett ... all of it.

Most teams in Major League Baseball are doing either one of two things; spending or saving. The New York Yankees are notorious spenders, the Tampa Bay Rays are notorious savers, but I'm not really sure where the Toronto Blue Jays lie.

If you asked me one year ago, I'd say they were undoubtedly spenders, but judging by their actions this winter, they look more like savers. 

The Toronto Blue Jays may very well be a big market team masquerading as a small market team. Alex Anthopoulos has used all the small market excuses and tactics, and yet the Blue Jays are among the top ten payrolls in baseball.

This was a team that took on close to $190 million dollars total in additional salaries through trades and free agents signings last year. This year, they've taken on a grand total of (drumroll please) ... $8 million dollars.

They bumped their payroll up $35.5 million dollars from 2012 to 2013, and due large in part to some back-loaded contracts, the Blue Jays 2014 payroll appears to be on track for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $133 million dollars.

As a Blue Jays fan, I would say that this offseason has probably been the most frustrating in recent memory. Brendan Kennedy used the perfect phrase on ESPN's Baseball Tonight podcast; this is a fan base that's become entrenched in cynicism.

It's something that's bubbled under the surface all winter long, but I think the Ervin Santana saga has really brought a lot of unrest from Toronto Blue Jays fans and pundits to the forefront.

If the Blue Jays only have a three year window of contention, it feels like the front office pulled the plug after year one and completely put a halt on spending. Or at the very least, with the promise that the pocketbooks will be opened up again once the team proves it can win.

Blue Jays ownership has turned a complete 180 compared to just one year ago. For a team that's expected to compete in the American League East, the Blue Jays extremely passive offseason made no sense.

Here's a prime example; Alex Anthopoulos made it sound like he had to pull teeth to get the cash to sign Dioner Navarro to a two-year deal, when he would wanted to do a one-year deal instead:
"I would have preferred to do one year and lower dollars but we really felt we needed to make a change there. We stretched."
If Anthopoulos was splitting hairs over an $8 million dollar deal, you know something is drastically different in the front office. In my mind, the definition of stretching is going beyond your means - not spending at or just slightly below market value for a starting catcher.

With that in mind, I guess it's no surprise why the Blue Jays failed to land a starting pitcher this offseason and why they missed out on Ervin Santana. They either can't or won't spend the cash to bring players on board, even on a one-year deal.

To me, this feels like a franchise in the midst of an identity crisis. They want to be the Yankees or Red Sox when it comes to spending, but because the Blue Jays crashed and burned so horribly last year, they're now back to square one.

People often forget the Toronto Blue Jays were the Yankees back in the late 80's and early 90's and were consistently among the top-spending teams. "Spend to contend" was mantra of the Blue Jays back then. In 2014, the mantra is apparently "scratch and survive".

Alex Anthopoulos has been taking a lot of heat for the Blue Jays inactivity, but I'm not convinced it's entirely his doing. If his position were hanging in the balance, one would think AA would do more to set this team up to be successful this year.

Many have suspected Alex's hands are tied in regards to payroll. The "five-year policy" also sounds like it was something instilled by Paul Beeston in particular, so in that respect Anthopoulos was already at a disadvantage when it came to luring free agents.

But it made absolutely no sense for the Blue Jays not to spend this winter ... even though Paul Beeston made this promise to season ticket holders below. And after reading this, I might need to rethink what I consider to be "relentless".


Image courtesy of Reuters/Fred Thornhill

Saturday, March 8, 2014

There's No Excuse Not to Sign Ervin Santana

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The Toronto Blue Jays now have virtually no excuse to not sign Ervin Santana ... none.

If the latest report is true and Santana is merely seeking a one-year deal, it's a no-brainer for the Blue Jays - they should sign him immediately. It might seem odd to make such a sweeping proclamation, but very rarely does a move like this seem so completely obvious.

The latest from Santana's camp is that Ervin wants to sign a deal immediately, which means he's willing to take a one-year consolation deal at this point. It sounds like he'd rather sign somewhere now rather than wait it out and hope for a multi-year deal.

With this new information in mind, it makes the excuses for the Blue Jays to sign Ervin Santana all but disappear, or at the very least seem trivial.

If Alex Anthopoulos was concerned about delving out multi-year guaranteed contracts, that's all but thrown out the window. And if Santana is willing to take a one-year deal, he's likely to sign in the $10-$15 million dollar range.

The Blue Jays are really in a unique position here because they hold most of the power now. If Santana wants to play this year, he'll have to come down on his asking price (which he's already done, by all indications).

So if AA can get Ervin Santana on a short-term contract, I can't really think of a good reason why the Blue Jays shouldn't go for it.

Is it about depth? Can the Blue Jays confidently say that J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison or even Marcus Stroman could perform better than Ervin Santana? Happ's suffering from an injury already, and it's still too early to say whether Hutchison or Stroman will contribute at the big-league level.

Is it about injury concerns? If Santana's elbow problems do come into play, what does it matter if it's only a one-year deal anyway? The Blue Jays could eat the contract and simply proceed down starting pitcher depth chart as originally planned.

Is it about money? As Mike Cormack noted, if Alex Anthopoulos fails to sign Santana, the reason could be because the front office hasn't given him the go-ahead to spend the additional cash. An additional $14 million is not going to make or break the Blue Jays.


And because of the draft pick compensation tied to Santana, he could practically fall into the lap of the Blue Jays. Earlier this offseason, Alex Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays were interested in free agents, but only at a certain price point. Here's what he said in January:
"We've had a lot of dialogue. There's still a lot of players out there, just haven't been able to line up with respect to a price, whether it's trade or free-agent cost.

From a free-agent standpoint ... we have been given a price and we just don't necessarily see the value right now."
And then again reiterated the point about free agent prices in February:
"We wanted to add to the rotation, to add depth. But again, where some of the price points were, whether it was years or dollars or some of the acquisition costs in trades ...

I wouldn’t have felt good standing in a scrum and saying ‘We didn’t believe in the acquisition cost, we just did it but we don’t feel good about it.'"
If AA was truly waiting for the market to come to him, how much lower can it get than a one-year deal for Ervin Santana with dollars close to or below a qualifying offer? 

Or is it because they don't want to give up the draft pick? Ideally, the Blue Jays would like to hold onto that second rounder, but when ever will they get another opportunity to sign a free agent without surrendering a first round pick?

Another benefit of signing Ervin Santana right now is it could net the Blue Jays a first round draft pick down the road if they extend him a qualifying offer at season's end and Santana turns it down.

So in essence, the Blue Jays would be giving up a second round draft pick this year, but it could net them a first rounder next year.

As far as I'm concerned, if AA is willing to start the service time clock on Marcus Stroman and have him crack the Opening Day roster, then all bets are off. Who cares about a second round draft pick that may come to fruition 3-4 years down the road when you're trying to win now?

Anthopoulos himself said he wants to take the best team north. So if the opportunity presents itself to improve the starting rotation via free agency, shouldn't Alex take it?

I mean, these are all excuses not to sign Ervin Santana to a one-year deal, but none of them are good excuses.

I'd be interested to see what explanation Alex Anthopoulos would offer (if any) as to why the Blue Jays won't go for Santana on a short-term deal. I'm guessing he'd respond by saying they're confident they have enough starting pitcher depth already.

Not that signing Ervin Santana would immediately push the Blue Jays over the top and make them a playoff contender, but you'd have to think Santana would at least improve what the Blue Jays currently have.

Image courtesy of Bleacher Report

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Is Brandon Morrow the Next Dustin McGowan?

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Stop me if you've heard this one before - a young right-handed pitcher with electric stuff has a potential to be a Cy Young award-winner.

Sound familiar?

There's a reason why you may be experiencing deja vu; it's because Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan may be on a similar career path.

I don't know what exactly lead me to that connection, but it probably had something to do with Brandon Morrow's forgettable start yesterday in Spring Training action. For whatever reason, I was getting flashbacks to Dustin McGowan starts. 

Morrow may have been lit up for five runs in his Spring Training appearance yesterday, but the fact that he didn't leave the game with arm discomfort should be considered progress. If Brandon Morrow exits the game with his arm intact, it's a small victory. 

I hate to say it, but Brandon Morrow is just one more injury-plagued season away from becoming the ultimate "what if" in Blue Jays history, not unlike his teammate Dustin McGowan.

There was a time when Dustin McGowan was a highly regarded starting pitcher. Even Gregg Zaun was convinced McGowan had the stuff to be a Cy Young Award winner. But as we all know, injuries took their toll on Dustin McGowan.

The fact that he's even pitching in the Majors again is nothing short of a miracle, but it's a far departure from when Dustin McGowan was a mainstay in the Blue Jays starting rotation back in 2007 and 2008.

My fear is that the same thing that's happened to Dustin McGowan will happen to Brandon Morrow; that a laundry list of injuries will hamper what could very well have been a successful career.

I don't want to say 2014 is the last chance for Brandon Morrow, but in many ways it is. The Blue Jays hold a $10 million dollar club option on him for 2015, but if he goes down to injury again, what's the sense in going through that process again?

Interestingly enough, the Blue Jays also have a club option on Dustin McGowan for 2015 as well, although the likelihood of that one being picked up are much less likely than Brandon Morrow's.

Admittedly, this is a very cynical outlook when it comes to both Morrow and McGowan, but that's almost the approach that needs to be taken with players with a substantial history of injuries.

Odds are Brandon Morrow will be a better than average starting pitcher this year and Dustin McGowan will be an okay middle reliever for the Blue Jays. But the caveat with these guys is always "if they can stay healthy".

Perhaps the past few years have just made me bearish as opposed to bullish on pitchers with checkered pasts like Brandon Morrow. He certainly has all the talent in the world, but if he can't stay healthy and log over 200 innings a season, it's almost all for nothing.

Had the Blue Jays not committed to being a contender over the next few years, they'd have the luxury of time with Brandon Morrow to see if he could develop into that powerhouse pitcher everyone is hoping he will eventually become.

When it comes to Brandon Morrow, I think things have reached a boiling point because the Blue Jays can't afford to have him not do well right now. The window of contention is closing for the team, which has intensified expectations on internal guys like Brandon Morrow.

And because the Blue Jays didn't go out and get reinforcements for the starting rotation this offseason, that forces a lot of undue pressure on Morrow this year.

If things go sideways for the team this year and Brandon Morrow doesn't contribute, many will look to him as a reason why the Blue Jays didn't make the playoffs.

The main thing with Brandon Morrow and even Dustin McGowan is the Blue Jays organization has invested so much time and money into these players, that they just want some sort of payoff.

But at the same time, they're like the proverbial carrot that's been dangled in front of our noses. And no one really knows if Morrow and McGowan will break out ... or just break down.

Note: Drew pointed out in an old GROF post that Morrow and McGowan are very similar.

Images courtesy of CBC and The Score

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Wildly Underwhelming J.A. Happ

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He's James Anthony Happ; he currently owns a 40.50 ERA in two Spring Training games, and he isn't going anywhere, folks.

After a second consecutive poor outing yesterday, J.A. Happ is beginning to look more and more like a man who's pitching his way out of the Blue Jays starting rotation. But like him or not, J.A. Happ will break camp as the Blue Jays fourth or fifth starter (barring an injury).

Happ is not a proven commodity by any means, but frankly the Blue Jays know more about his potential than they do that of other guys competing for the fifth starter spot in the rotation.

Now that I think of it, J.A. Happ's Spring Training is beginning to look eerily similar to Ricky Romero's last year. Romero looked shaky early on, then the coaching staff suddenly altered with his mechanics, and then the wheels completely fell off.

Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays coaching staff also tinkered with Happ's mechanics as well, experimenting with a new arm slot. However, the early results aren't proving to be much better, and J.A. Happ is almost destined to repeat the same fate as Ricky Romero.

J.A. Happ will likely turn a lot of heads this spring ... and by that I mean the Blue Jays outfielder's heads, as they watch the ball sail past them.

Yes, it's still early on - two outings in Spring Training camp usually isn't much cause for concern, but the Blue Jays don't have the benefit of time on their side when it comes to pitching. There are other guys out there who might be much more attractive options to give innings to.

Are they just going to wait it out and hope that Happ magically figures it out, or are they going to let Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek have a shot at starting games?

Due to Bluebird Banter's handy new Options and Status page, we can see Happ still has an option left, but since he has five years plus of service time, he'd have to agree to be sent down at the minors. At this point in his career, I don't think that's going to happen.

$5.2 million dollars isn't a great deal of money to have tied up in one pitcher, but it wouldn't make sense to just cut bait with J.A. Happ unless Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons were confident one of Hutchison, Drabek or Stroman could take his place.

And considering how many pitchers the Blue Jays went through last year, I don't think letting go guys who can pitch (albeit not extremely well) in the Majors is something that benefits the Blue Jays.

For a team that went through as many pitchers as Toronto did last year, it would be counter-productive move to just let go of J.A. Happ.

Believe it or not, there are worse options out there when it comes to back-end starters. And some of them exist in the American League East, so it's not necessarily imperative the Blue Jays employ five aces in their rotation.

If given the choice, would you rather have J.A. Happ or Bronson Arroyo? I'd give the slight edge to Arroyo simply because he can rack up innings, but at $9.5 million a year for Arroyo, the Diamondbacks are definitely overpaying for a back-end starter.

Fourth and fifth starter spots are typically reserved for mediocre pitchers, and J.A. Happ is exactly that - a middle of the road arm.

It frustrated me at the State of the Franchise when Alex Anthopoulos cherry-picked stats that made J.A. Happ sound like a Cy Young calibre pitcher, but this is obviously a guy the Blue Jays are committed to, simply because they don't really have a choice.

I'll don't think I'll ever quite understand what Alex Anthopoulos seemingly moved heaven and earth to acquire J.A. Happ in the first place, but he's still under contract this season and therefore Happ will pitch for the Blue Jays.

Richard Griffin pegged the Happ trade as the worst deal ever by Alex Anthpoulos, and after witnessing the results since that 2012 mid-season trade with the Astros, I'd tend to agree. Mostly because the Blue Jays have received nearly no production in return from that trade.

Let's face it; if by some miraculous feat the Blue Jays make the playoffs this year, J.A. Happ will not be starting in the postseason. He just does not seem like a big-game pitcher.

But the good thing is in the postseason, you only go with your top three starters anyway. So fans need not worry about Happ getting the ball in a pivotal Game 3 in the ALDS.

At this point, I've basically reserved that J.A. Happ will be in the Blue Jays starting rotation this year. I guess that just means we'll have to hold our collective breaths every five days when he takes the mound.

Image courtesy of AP/Charlie Neibergall
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