Jose Bautista is too polite and too much the ‘company man’ to say it, so I will: It is time for Alex Anthopolous to be replaced as the GM of the Blue Jays.
If there was ever any doubt that the Jays will spin their wheels endlessly while young Alex talks smiles bemusedly and talks of timing, it has been removed this month with his (non)actions at the trade deadline.
To the amazement of many, probably including the team’s front office, Toronto stays within three games of second place in the East and four games of a playoff spot as August looms ahead. Despite losing three starting pitchers in barely a week in June, despite having Bautista himself injure his wrist just as he really got hot and despite having everyday catcher JP Arencibia break his hand. The Blue Jays offense has pounded and grounded its way to leading the majors in runs scored despite lacking a .300 hitter. The pitching, of course, has been another story. The 4.54 ERA ranks in the dark depths of the bottom of the American League and most of the summer , manager John Farrell has been strategically hampered by having a short bench, at times only two backup position players, by the bloated bullpen of eight and even at times, nine men. Not to blame the bullpen entirely though, the weak performance of several starting pitchers (most noticeably ‘ace’ Ricky Romero) has meant they have had to carry a disproportionate share of the workload a disproportionate amount of the time.
Three weeks back, Bautista said what fans knew. The team needed new arms and if they needed to trade a young prospect or two to do so, that’s what needed doing. Fans cheered and waited for Front Office to pay atttention to their marquee player. What we got was not only not a full out response, but not even a passing nod at the legitimacy of the concern.
Granted, soon after the team pulled off a heavyweight (heavy because ten men weigh a lot!) trade of inconsequence with Houston. Picking up JA Happ can’t hurt; he did enter the league a few years ago with skyhigh expectations placed upon him and besides, having a Blue Jay who pronounces his first name “Jay” can’t help but be cute. The same trade also returned veteran reliever Brandon Lyon to Toronto but as it sent Francisco Cordero to the ‘stros, that was a wash.
With former Cy Young winners Zack Greinke and Cliff lee on the trading block this past week, not to mention Ryan Dempster , Paul Maholm and possibly James shields, there was reason to hope- nay, expect the Blue Jays would make a move and bolster their staff to make a run for the playoffs, and for 2.5 M fans in the stands for the first time this century.
Expectations and excitement built to a crescendo when mid-game last night Travis Snider was called in from the outfield, hugged his manager and left the dugout. A trade was afoot! I was aching to know who else might have left the bullpen at the same time or been told to shelve their alien-headed Las Vegas caps and get to the airport. Could canuck Dempster be headed our way? Unlucky but effective superstar Cliff Lee?
Of course, hopes were dashed minutes later when it turned out to be a mere one for one trade, bringing Brad Lincoln over from Pittsburgh. It’s never a great sign when a second place team (err, yes, that would be Pittsburgh and no, this isn’t April Fool’s day) trade off a former first round draft pick pitcher, but then again for all the promise, all Lincoln’s done is win 7 games,post a very pedestrian 4.67 career ERA and rack up frequent flyer miles between PA and Indiana ferrying back and forth between the bigs and the minors. In such, his career has almost paralleled Snider’s.
With a full 18 hours left to pull off the trade, Anthopolous announced an encore: outfielder Eric Thames to Seattle for reliever Steve delabar. It’s never a good thing when even sports announcers have to race to the computer or baseball prospectus’ to even find out who a guy is. Turns out delabar has actually made 34 relief appearances with Seattle this year, holding righties to an impressive .089 batting average but being hit hard by lefties. He’s blown a couple of saves but is looking forward to actually not blowing one some year soon. Best of all, I’m sure in the jays’ management minds, he’s 6’5”. Like a superficial office cougar or Kardashian woman, Toronto has made its preference for tall pitchers well known lately. They had the tallest of all last year, 6’11” Jon Rauch and we remember how well that turned out.
Thames, while nobody’s All star, has at least put together a decent .257 average , 15 homers and 48 RBI in 151 games with the Jays and was hitting a lofty .330 in AAA this year. Advantage: Seattle.
Now there’s no denying that we had a surplus of outfielders. Trading two isn’t a problem; Bautista is signed through 2014 and will be back in the lineup within days, Colby rasmus has intermittently played well and is the apple of Anthopolous’ eye, part timer Rajai Davis is second in the AL in stolen bases, and youngsters Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra are still winning thumbs ups with their minor league play (and both will start the big league game tonight, apparently.) What is a problem is that we got so little in return .
True, many teams want and needed pitching. But the ones who were serious got pitching. The already strong-armed Angels picked up Grienke, who even in a ‘sub par” season is 9-4 with a 130:29 K to BB ratio. They gave up shortstop jean Segura, and minor league pitchers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg. At least they were minor leaguers who could be found in prospects reports but with Pena being the best of the bunch and a so -so 10-6, 4.45 in A level last year, it’s hard to imagine they really are projected to be front line stars anytime soon.
In response, smarting from recent terrible outings by Roy oswalt and the season-ending injury to Colby Lewis, the rangers responded by acquiring Ryan Dempster from the Cubs. Dempster had managed to somehow have a .500 record pitching for the lacklustre Wrigley Field crew. A 2.25 ERA probably explains that. He’s on track for his fifth straight 200 inning year and should help Texas make their third straight trek to the world series, just as cliff Lee did two seasons back.
Atlanta, scuffling for a playoff spot, picked up another sharp Chicago pitcher , Paul maholm, plus a decent backup outfielder (former Jay, Reed Johnson) for two minor league pitchers. Maholm for the record, has allowed one or less run in seven of his past ten starts.
The point is obvious. Teams needing pitchers who actually aspire to win this year got pitching. The Blue Jays decided to tread water and pontificate about ‘when the timing is right’. The timing hasn’t been right, according to them since 1993 and won’t anytime soon .
It’s impossible to think that if the Blue jays had been even a bit bold and offered two or three of young prospects like Noah Syndergaard, Sierra, Gose or Travis Darnaud, or if they had offered up expendable sure-handed shortstop Yunel Escobar (with heir apparent adeiny Hechevarria waiting in the wings), that Greinke , maholm or even Lee mightn’t be wearing blue caps starting for us tonight. Were that to happen, even today’s rainstorm wouldn’t have kept fans from the stadium ticket offices gobbling up tickets for the remaining 30 home games. Instead, we start looking towards 2013 and picking teams to cheer for this October since Alex Anthopolous has delivered his verdict to both us, and Jose Bautista: not this year folks! Not gonna be Toronto!
It’s time for the blue Jays to find a GM who wants what the fans want: a team with a shot at winning.