Well, if you’re a “glass is half-full” type person, and a Blue Jays fan, you can at least be pleased that as the days dwindle to a dozen or so in this season, our boys of summer are at least ahead of Boston in the standings. And, if we went back to Spring Training, we’d have been happy enough to think about being one up on the Red Sox. Of course, the “glass is half-empty” type would add that no one anticpated the Sox of ’12 playing like the Sox of Sep. ’11- all year!- and that being on pace for a 90 loss season is no reason to feel good about anything. Either way the stein that is Team Blue Jay needs a lot added to it to come close to being full enough to enjoy or quench fans thirsting for success for 19 years and counting.
This week Alex Anthopolous addressed the loyal and stated his now predictable comments about the team having lots of potential, needing just some fine tuning in the starting pitching yada yada yada.
Well,I’d like to think that Anthopolous was being honest and informed, but after 19 years of “wait until next year’s” I’d be hard-pressed to believe either to be the case. Since this year is a write-off , a few suggestions for the 2013 Jays and making their glasses full of champagne come next October. I’d like to rip Gregg Zaun’s “three ways to win” that he does so cheekily every game, but let’s face it – a team sitting at 65-77 needs way more than 3 things to win.
First and foremost, of course, is one thing everyone is in agreement upon. The Jays need to beef up the starting pitching. Second base has been handled smoothly in the field but has been a black hole for hitting since 2009; clearly that needs to change. Toronto has too many players who’ve peaked or stagnated in their careers; it’s time to clear the pond. Quality, not quantity. And Russ Adams, John Ford Griffin,Kevin ahrens, Guillermo Quiroz, Gustavo Chacin , etc ad nauseum tell you all you need to know about the reliability of Toronto’s ability to discern real talent at a young age. The time to protect prospects at all costs is when they are no longer prospects. Finally, Toronto needs a manager who’s only goal is to win a world Series. For Toronto. Maybe John Farrell is that man. Maybe he’s not. They need to know which now.
In short, the future looks bright for next year’s Jays… if next year’s Jays get , oh about three new quality starting pitchers, a new second baseman , an outfielder who can actually hit to go with Jose Bautista , maybe change managers and tweak a little of the roster here and there. A rather tall order, but one that is doable. Let’s not forget that Toronto is a large market, not small; attendance this year has been up despite our wins being down and that Rogers is one of the most lucrative Canadian companies. There is money to be spent to help field a competitive team, if need be. The good news is perhaps not much more needs to be dolled out anyway; while it’s true Toronto spends barely a third of what the Yankees do and not much more than half of the Angels, they already spend way more than Tampa Bay and Oakland. For those needing a refresher course on how those teams are doing, just look at the AL wild card standings, starting with Toronto and then looking up. Way up. Not to mention, for better or worse, this coming winter’s free agent crop is likely to be one of the less spectacular in recent memory. While it’s not to say that Toronto couldn’t add a piece or two to help via free agency (Nick Swisher anyone? Edwin Jackson perhaps as a number five starter, if they could get him to forgive them for trading him minutes, not months after acquiring him the first time?) by and large the improvements the team needs will have to come from trades. Thankfully, the majors are full of teams rebuilding, retooling, or refooling, just like toronto has been for nearly two decades now. Plenty of teams would be willing, eager even, to take some of our excess talent and young maybes off our hands.
That in mind, Toronto needs to be willing to trade JP Arencibia, Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez and others. In Arencibia’s case, he’s grown in stature behind the plate and is adequate if not better at calling games and blocking balls in the dirt. His average is low but he’s consistently hit for power and driven in runs. 128 RBI in 728 at bats last year and this put him in league with Nelson Cruz and Kevin Youkilis and would make him a low salary, highly desireable commodity for any number of teams. The Jays of course, could do worse than keeping him, but with solid backup Jeff Mathis locked up through 2014, under-rated Yorvit Torrealba newly acquired and their best overall prospect, Travis Darnaud bubbling under at AAA, he isn’t essential to the future anymore. Much the same is true of Escobar, temperamental but certainly above-average with the glove and capable of hitting solidly, but expendable now that Adeiny Hechevarria is on the scene. A month of Adeiny has shown he can indeed play defensive very slickly, which was never in question, but just as he did in AAA, game by game he looks more polished at the plate. Even if his average were to stagnate where it is now, at .228, his glove would make him a worthwhile player and no worse than two of our everyday players this season. But watching Adeiny learn and grow, plus the idea of having him tutored by fellow latinos like Bautista and Encarnacion makes one think his .310 average in Las Vegas was no fluke and he would be capable of duplicating Escobar’s numbers– at a fraction of the price. The five mil or so saved could be plugged straight into the pitching staff.
If Escobar and Arencibia are expendable but worth holding onto if possible; Brett Cecil and Colby Rasmus must go for everyone’s good. Maybe they can blossom into stars. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. What’s clear is that it isn’t going to happen here. Sometimes players can stagnate in situations and only develop their talents in new situations with new coaches. Alex Rios seems to finally be maturing in Chicago and becoming the player the jays always hoped he would be. But there’s no guaranteeing he wouldn’t still be a .210 hitting , lazy-looking outfielder swearing at young fans were he still payrolled at Rogers Centre. And he wouldn’t have created a window of opportunity for Joey bats to shine with his departure. Likewise, it’s entirely possible that if he hadn’t come to Toronto, talked to Vernon Wells and been managed by Cito gaston, Bautista might be out of baseball, or still warming the bench in Pittsburgh when not assigned to Altoona. This is the reason there a bevy of teams who’d still offer reliable players who’d be an upgrade for Toronto for packages involving either of these two perennial “could be greats”. Cecil is a 26 year old southpaw who had a 15 win season. This is what the Jays need to stress when trading him, not that he’s also a lad who’s velocity has dropped, who disliked Roy Halladay because he felt Doc’s work ethic showed him up and who has trouble keeping the ball down.Only 22% of balls hit off him this year have been grounders, making him highly succeptible to homers. He does manage lefty hitters quite well, limiting them to an .189 batting average (vs a .311 average by right-handed hitters), but there’s no way of knowing if he’ll work as a specialized reliever and even if he could, Toronto already has two good ones in the ‘pen in savvy veteran Darren Oliver and promising sidearmer Aaron Loup. Let some other team experiment with him.
As for Rasmus, he can run. He can catch. He can hit. He just seldom does even two out of three on a given day. And he doesn’t like taking advice on how to do so. Yes, he hasnt’ had the same level of conflict here he did with Tony LaRussa in St Louis, but he clearly doesn’t like being told how to play his game. Which is fine if you happen to be Babe Ruth circa 1925, Albert Pujols circa 2006, or even Jose Bautista circa May 2011. But not if you’re a .227 hitter prone to striking out several times a game. Fact is, Rasmus has now been with the Jays for well over a season. In the 7 and a half months since brought on from the Cards, he’s had one good month- this June. Besides June 2012, as of this past weekend, Rasmus had managed to hit an even .200 in 497 at bats, strike out some 134 times while walking only 38 times and knocked 17 out of the yard. Numbers you might put up with if you’re an also ran and the player is a gold glove middle infielder or rock-solid catcher. But not if you’re a team pretending to compete and the player is an outfielder. Maybe he’ll find the inspiration or spark to be the star he was presumed to be by both St Louis and Toronto, but with a busload of other outfielders around the organization, I’d rather not take the chance that he won’t. Get rid of him while some other teams look at him with stars in their eyes and a calendar of June, his 8 home run, 25 RBI month in front of them.
Speaking of outfielders, even if Rasmus is traded, the team still has major-league ready Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra to go along with speedy veteran Rajai Davis. Given that there’s a need for one more power hitting outfielder, there would be one outfield spot plus perhaps a backup role available. Three is more than two, so let’s decide on which two we want around and make the other available for their career’s sake and for garnering players who do have a chance of playing time.
All that is fine and good but the one thing that the Jays most need to shift their mindset on with regards to trades is Michigan’s Big Three. No not GM, Ford and Chrysler, but Syndergaard, Sanchez and Nicolino, three 20 year old pitchers down at A-ball Lansing. Yes, all three have talent. Yes, all three have pitched well (well- not fantastically) this year with the Lugnuts. Cumulatively theyre 25-13 with an ERA under 3.00 and 317K over only299 innings. Yes the Blue Jays are selling them as Cy Young One Two and three for 2014 and on, and even some neutral observers like Baseball America’s Jim Callis have compared them to Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine (although he does admit Syndergaard doesn’t quite ‘match up’ to Maddux). One unnamed scout told the sun’s Bob Elliott that lefty Justin Nicolino is the “best of the three– reminds me of Jimmy Key, but more velocity.” He has a 7:1 strikeout to walk ratio this season.
All fine, all good, all promising. But it pays to remember that if things go according to normal plan and timing , they wouldn’t be ready for the bigs until 2015 and in all likelihood would only come into their own two or three years after that. Granted, when it comes to young pitchers, Toronto’s theme song has become Husker Du’s “Land speed record” rather than the Eagles “Take It Easy”; the remarkable thing about Marcus Strohman isn’t that he was suspended recently for violating the game’s substance rules but that the team said this derailed plans to have him pitch in the majors this year! Only three months ago he was an amateur. Had Tampa signed him, they’d plan for him to be with the club in september– 2016. Not all of thirty innings after being drafted and turning pro. But given that the last pitcher to come to the majors with Toronto and make any impact was Ricky Romero (2009) whose career had stalled for about 4 years before finally reaching MLB, whereas Tampa keeps winning on their renewable army of arms, the Toronto model is to be polite “redoubtable.” One look at the transactions sheet in baseball any day shows that the only thing rarer than a winning knuckleballer these days is a pitcher who’s arm stays healthy. The chances of all three of the kids staying fresh, strong and not needing to go to Dr Andrews for a visit from “Tommy John” before ’15 or ’16 is slim. They might blow their arms out. They might get fat midsections or fat egos. Their velocity might drop inexplicably ala Brett cecil. Very few stars at A-ball end up being stars in the majors. I for one am not willing to bet the farm and three or four more losing seasons on this trio being the rare exceptions. That isn’t to say it’s imperative to trade them, merely to say that it is imperative to be open to that idea if it will help the Jays of here and now .
Well, that’s enough about what the Jays can part with over the winter. Next time, we’ll examine who they could use to bolster the boat which right now appears to be sinking.