Off season Report Card, Part 1

Fishermen, “old maids” have a lot in common with baseball general managers. No matter what else is going on around them, they are always preoccupied with the “one that got away.” The fisherman had the muskie pulling on his line, the Pirates had an inconsequential infielder called Jose Bautista they felt they could toss back in the pond for Toronto to scoop up. Which is a way of bringing us to today’s topic: how are the ex-Blue Jays doing this year and how have their departures affected this year’s club.

One of the most straight forward moves Alex Anthopoulos made in the off-season is the easiest to assess. And most positive. The trade with Oakland got rid of popular Canuck Brett Lawrie as well as promising pitcher Kendall Graveman and brought in all-star third baseman Josh Doanldson.

Lawrie has done at least one thing better on the left coast than he did in Canada- stay healthy. As of Friday afternoon (time of writing this) he’d not missed any time and had time at third as well as second base for the A’s. His .266 average is OK, and his 3 homers, 18 RBI aren’t embarassing but with few walks or extra base hits, his OPS of .657 is pretty low for a 3B and the lowest of his career. Perhaps more disturbingly for Oakland, he’s committed 7 errors already, resulting in a low .946 fielding percentage and he’s only been in on 6 double plays. Based on bench-clearing brawls provoked, he’s brought his feistiness along with him but based on the team’s last place standing, it’s not done much to motivate his colleagues. Graveman is a work in progress, but currently at 2-2 with a lofty 6.04 ERA and .297 opponents average, it would suggest there’s still lots of work to be done and, as bad as Toronto’s pitching has been on the whole , he’d likely not be playing in Toronto if he’d not been traded.

Donaldson of course, has been the best Jay so far and a strong contender for MVP. To start with the negative, his reputation for gold glove defense seems a bit of hyperbole thus far, with his numbers being similar to Lawrie’s so far: 7 errors, .949, only 8 double plays turned (last year he’d had 43). Perhaps the artificial turf is more of a challenge than anyone had imagined. But if the “D” is questionable, it would seem Toronto didn’t lose anything by replacing Lawrie and obviously, Josh’s hitting has been a driving force for what success the team has had. As it stands now, his .315 average, .582 slugging and .960 OPS are all the best of his career so far and he’s high on the AL leaderboard in most categories: leading in runs (41), third in homers, tied for 4th in ribbies, top 15 in batting average among everyday players. What’s more, like the weather, he seems to be heating up. Score one for Alex and company; the trade meant a major upgrade for the ’15 Blue Jays.

As we’ve much discussed here, it’s hard to support the decision to let Casey Janssen walk away. As luck would have it though, Janssen’s been battling shoulder woes all year and was only activated from the DL this week. In three appearances for Washington so far, he’s been great working as an 8th inning setup man, but with concerns about his throwing health, it may be the Jays didn’t lose out by not re-signing him. What that doesn’t change however, is the fact that Toronto erred by not bringing in anyone (John Axford, Andrew Miller, or any of a long list of other free agent relievers).

The outfield got a fair shakeup, so now that the dust has settled, did letting Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus sign elsewhere and trading Anthony Gose make sense?

The first two answers are pretty clear . Showing Toronto fans are always willing to grant second chances, a surprising number thought the Jays should have embarked on a bidding war to keep Cabrera and would have matched, if not bested the White Sox, 3 year, $42M contract. That after Melky had come to Rogers Centre straight from a PED suspension and spent two years here, one of which was forgettable at best and one which was good. It’s not quite a third way through the season yet, but the jury’s already gone out and come back with the decision on Cabrera and the verdict is the Sox got robbed. While he has played 46 games injury-free, he’s hitting a so-so .250, with just one homer and 17 RBI. Worse yet, his slugging pct. is a dismal .283 (down 173 points from last year) and if it holds up, his .574 OPS will be the lowest of his career (not counting a six game call-up in ’05), rather pathetic for an outfielder and proving one should call up his agent when buying a lottery ticket. Last year he was a contender for the All Star team, this year he’s a contender for most overpaid player in the sport. I’m glad I advocated against giving him a large, long-term contract and even happier the Blue Jays agreed.

Rasmus is not quite as black-and-white, seeing as how he only signed a mid-range one year deal with Houston. I was plenty happy to see him move along, as were (by all reports ) a number of his former teammates. Nonetheless, for all the reports of a bad attitude and laziness, something is working in Houston as the Astros have first place and don’t seem to want to wait til 2017 (Sports Illustrated‘s prediction last year) to win it all. Not to say Colby has inspired the winning ways, but at least he’s not dragged the team down. And while his .239 average is low, his other numbers- 8 HR, 10 doubles, .500 slugging (second best in his career) are pretty decent. On the negative end of the equation, despite his great arm, he’s yet to pick up an OF assist and he’s whiffed 55 times already in only 138 plate appearances, a rate even worse than last year’s. All of which suggests that he’s the same old Colby, one with a sky-high ceiling but a lack of patience at the plate that will keep holding him back.

Anthony Gose seemed the most inconsequential of the departed outfielders but has arguably been the best of the trio. In 38 games to date, he’s hitting a lofty .329 with the Tigers, and has 8 steals plus a .459 slugging percentage (over a hundred points higher than his Toronto career number.) With his speed adding to the Tigers defense, he’s been a big plus for the Motown crew. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see those numbers drop off closer to his career norms (about a .234 average with one extra base for every 18 at bats), but even if he keeps up what he’s doing now the trade looks good , as I expected since it brought in a big return…

Devon Travis.Rehabbing now in Buffalo after a shoulder problem, Travis shows every sign of giving Toronto something they’ve sorely needed for four years- a good, multi-tool second baseman. A .271 average, 7 HR, 26 RBI, .839 OPS are good numbers for any 2B- let alone for a rookie! And his mere one error so far and 20 DPs turned mean the Jays aren’t giving up much fielding by replacing Ryan Goins or Munenori Kawasaki there. Even if Gose keeps developing for Detroit, this trade earns a “thumbs up.”

Next time, we’ll look at what Adam Lind and JA Happ are upto and rate the other new Jays brought in to replace them and the outfielders.

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