The Blue Jays have winged east and are about to open an interleague series against San Francisco tonight at the Rogers’ Centre. As it stands, the biggest ovation will probably be for one of the opponents – Kevin Pillar, the longtime Jays outfielder with the stellar glove, recently traded to the Giants. No disrespect at all to Kevin, but that should not be the case today.
More and more people are recognizing a few things about the AL East this season. Toronto isn’t all that bad, to the surprise of many. Boston isn’t as good as anyone thought or any World Series champion is expected to be. New York have a fantastic roster…on the injured list. Baltimore is bringing back 2018, which is to say rather awful and Tampa are surprisingly good, but facing a bit of adversity now. Reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell has a broken toe and is going to miss another start or three, putting more pressure on the heavily burdened bullpen; .353 hitting Austin Meadows broke his thumb meanwhile and is gone for probably two to three weeks. No one is expecting Toronto to win the division this year, but suddenly it is also obvious that it doesn’t look like any team is going to cakewalk to the title. Which begs the question, why not go , well if not “all out” to win, at least “partly out” to try to win? Toronto currently is coming off a series sweep over Oakland and sit just 4 games out of first, closer still to a potential Wild Card spot.
Someone called “Hum and Chuck” suggested as much yesterday on Twitter and while I didn’t totally agree with all of her solution (which included biting the bullet and calling Scott Boras to get Dallas Keuchel to sign on with Toronto) her gist was spot on. Toronto isn’t totally out of the running, and with an addition or two, could make it a pretty exciting year for fans.
To start with, both Hum and Chuck and I are in agreement that there should be a nice car driven to Buffalo today to bring one Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the north shores of Lake Ontario. If the applause for Pillar will be loud when he comes out in San Fran orange and black, imagine the cheers for the most-hyped, top-rated prospect in the game if he emerged wearing hometown blue and white!
As we’ve talked about here before, Vlad missed time in spring with an “oblique” injury, but has been playing, and playing well for some 3 weeks now. In 6 games with AAA Buffalo, he’s 8 for 21, with 2 homers and 7 RBI. That comes after last season, which you may recall won him a number of Minor League awards, hitting .381 with 78 RBI and a .636 slugging percentage over 95 games. As we also talked about, there were financial reasons to keep him demoted for two to three weeks to delay his eventual free agency down the road. That day has already come and gone. He simply cannot hit the 172 day threshold this year, ensuring thus that Toronto will control his contract for one more year than if he’d begun the season here. So what’s the holdup?
According to Toronto, it would be “reckless” to do promote him right now, because… he’s not playing enough in the minors! The weather’s been stinky in upstate New York and New England lately, and Buffalo’s had two rainouts in the last five days and thus Guerrero has had only one trip to the plate over the past weekend. The team answer inexplicably is to keep him down and send him with the Bisons to Syracuse for a 4-game series. We ask why, oh why not bring him up now,let him get his at bats at the major league level – how much more ready could he be?- and not worry about rainouts or cold weather (since although Toronto’s climate is pretty much similar to Syracuse’s, obviously Toronto has the benefit of a domed stadium). The time is right, the time is now. Bring him up and send respectable but ordinary utility guy Richard Urena back to AAA for a stretch.
Then there’s the pitching, So far, Toronto’s has been good – 88 runs allowed over 23 games – but it suffered a big blow last week when Matt Shoemaker, who’d been stellar in four starts, tore his knee up on a fielding play and announced he’ll miss the rest of the season. Rookie Trent Thornton is looking shakier by the game and clearly, to remain close to competitive, a new arm or two is needed. While the Twitter writer suggested Keuchel, who’s sat out this far into the year waiting for a big, long-term contract, we’d suggest a slightly more modest target – Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was just released by the Yankees, who’d signed him to a minor league deal with an option to leave if not in the Bronx by last week. He would’ve made a modest $3 million had he made the team. Which makes one think he might be far more amenable to a one year deal that wouldn’t break a team’s bank. Why wait Blue Jays?
Gonzalez is 33, and a few years beyond his prime maybe. Nothing however, suggests he’s washed up. He started 3 games this spring at AAA, going 15 innings and 2-1. The southpaw made 32 starts last year, going 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA between Washington and Milwaukee. The year before he was a rather impressive 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA over 201 innings and a WAR of 6. He’s been nothing short of a reliable workhorse this decade, He’s made 27 or more starts and gone 170+ innings every season since 2009. With his control and stingy allowance of homers through his career, he’d be a great #4 or 5 guy in Toronto’s rotation, help save bullpen arms and perhaps add some mature wisdom to the myriad of youngsters in the clubhouse. So I say, get on that phone Ross Atkins… right after you get that Uber to Buffalo to bring Vladimir to Toronto.