What a difference a week or so makes. A little over a week back I wrote here about why Blue Jays fans should be excited over the team’s signing of pitcher JA Happ despite prevalent nay-sayers. This was of course, based on my rose-colored glasses view of the situation as Happ being a message to the league and a building block in developing a solid pitching staff for ’16- not the end all and be all. By the day it seems I was wrong and the nay-sayers were right for letting all the air out of the lofty post-season spirit balloon. For while teams all around (and generally behind by ’15 standings) Toronto have been active as a meerkat on espresso beans in upgrading this month, the Jays have merely sat on their hands. It’s as if the team went out to lunch (few would disagree when Alex Anthopoulos left at the apparent behoof of the new Pres Shapiro who quickly praised John Ferrell!), ordered a nice little appetizer – Happ- and then sat back watching all the teams at other tables load up on Price steaks and Frazier au gratin. And the fans, who are hungry for a title, are told to enjoy that appetizer and not forget how good past meals were.
As we know, since I last posted here, David Price signed on with the Red sox, and managed to annoy fans both here and there by stating he’d have preferred to stay on in Toronto had they only made him an offer. Other high-profile starters have jumped on their own personal Brinks trucks driven up to them by teams like San Francisco and Arizona. Arguably- and I do mean it’s open for debate- the Jays might not have been able to afford or justify matching the deal Boston gave Price to keep him around. But there’s no way to suggest they couldn’t have at least outbid the Mets on the services of ageless Bartolo Colon, who signed back there today for a comparitive bargain basement $7.25 million. Forget Bartolo’s age and rotund physique, he still is better than any pitcher Toronto has to bring up the rear of the rotation, averaging 15 wins, 195 innings and a sub-4 ERA over the past three campaigns. I’d take him on the mound in a Game 7 any day over jesse Chavez.
As much as the departure of Price stings, the worse failure of the Blue Jays this off-season has been the utter disinterest in improving on the bullpen. No mere coincidence that the team with the best bullpen has been the AL champion the past two years; no secret the Jays ‘pen last season was OK but not Kansas City good and is only going to get worse if left as is. LaTroy Hawkins has retired, Mark Lowe has taken off and the best reliever in the league after the All star break, Brett Cecil has a chewed up leg so is no sure bet to be pitching at all, let alone at full strength, come April. It’s such a concern that the team’s own website stated earlier this week “Blue jays keep focus on bullpen in Nashville.” They needed to pay attention as while they did nothing, the A’s picked up two star relievers (John Axford, Ryan Madson) in a matter of hours, the Astros picked up one of the best young pitchers in the game – Ken Giles- from the Phils, Seattle got a closer (Steve Cishek)and those other birds, the Orioles picked up the very respectable Darren O’Day. The lack of improvement of the bullpen doesn’t only concern me- today the Blue Jays website declared it their biggest need.
Two things come to mind. First, we fans need to resist pulling Chicken Littles. While it’s annoying that the team has done so little this fall, it also pays to remember that this is a team that came so close to making it to the World Series only weeks back and the bulk of that winning roster will be back. A lineup with Bautista, MVP Donaldson, Encarnacion (assuming his fussing over lack of long-term contract doesn’t lead him out of town, although as a last ditch measure, trading him for solid pitching might be an option), Tulo, Martin and the arms of Stroman, Estrada and Osuna should fare decently in ’16.
Second, there still are players out there who can fill the holes the team has. Just not so many as there were a few days ago, so Toronto can’t let the Astroturf grow under their feet to make things happen. Scott Kazmir and Yovanni Gallardo are two decent starters still un-signed, either of whom might make the rotation more playoff-ready. On the bullpen end of things, Tom Gorzelanny (mentioned here last month as a good choice for Toronto), tyler Clippard, and former Jays Casey Janssen and Carlos Villanueva are still available, no doubt for sums which wouldn’t break Rogers’ bank. the addition of any two of those would seemingly be enough to make Las Vegas like the Blue Jays again for the ’16 campaign.
In case I don’t have much else to write here in the next 9 days, I wish all my readers a happy Christmas and all the best in the new year! And let’s all look for a sparkly new pitcher in a blue cap under the tree, eh Ross Atkins?! There’s still time to order up dessert after the “Happ-etizer”