Yesterday was something of a microcosm of the recent past for the Blue Jays. Last night’s game gave fans plenty to cheer about as they routed Texas 19 – 4, a season high for runs and hits (21). Oft-forgotten Brandon Drury hit a grand slam, everyone in the lineup had at least one hit and as usual (of late) the kids were alright…to say the least. Rookie catcher Danny Jansen hit a homer and had three hits, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. each had two hits, with Vlad scoring three runs and Dante’s little boy, Bo Bichette, once again led the way. Hitting lead off he notched two singles, two doubles and scored three. For those keeping count, Bichette, in his third week in the “bigs” has 11 doubles already and is clipping along with a .394 average.
It was fun for fans, a middling crowd of about 16 000 at Rogers Centre plus the TV viewers, and was although extreme, indicative of recent weeks for Toronto. After an atrocious start at the plate, the Jays have begun hitting pretty well and much of that has been ignited by the youngsters – rookies Bichette, Guerrero, Biggio and Jansen as well as sophomore Lourdes Gurriel. The result is a team that on some nights looks like world beaters, other nights can be rather ordinary. Since the end of June, the Blue Jays have been an even 19 -19, largely because they’ve had 6 games of double-digit runs in that stretch and scored 206 runs – about 5.5 per game. While the team still only tops Detroit in the AL in terms of batting average (.238) and on base pct. (305), their recent run and power hitting has them 5th in the league in homers (186) and 10th, but climbing in the important category, runs scored (561.)
Yes, the blowout game was fun and good news, particularly because very few fans or players in Toronto have forgotten Roughned Odor’s cheap shot sucker punch of Jose Bautista three years back. But as usual, it would seem, the joy was tempered by another dark cloud floated over the stadium by GM Ross Atkins. Only hours before the team took the field they announced they’d given shortstop Freddy Galvis to Cincinnati on a waiver claim. The twitterverse was once again aghast and annoyed. One could almost imagine Atkins in Batman villain gear chortling “So they didn’t like getting back one second-string outfielder for two pitchers, eh? Wait til they get a load of this…”
The supposed reasoning that the team took the uncommon stance of announcing on Twitter was that they had a shortstop now in Bo Bichette and he’s playing well, so let him play. Who needs two? So they threw Galvis out on waivers and let Cinci come on by and drive him off for absolutely nothing in return. Nada.
This seems dubious wisdom to say the very least. Galvis is immensely popular in Toronto and in fact just won the team’s Heart and Hustle Award for the player “who best personifies the values” of baseball and sports, both on and off the field. It’s Galvis’ second one of those, having won Philadelphia’s two years ago as well. Galvis leads the Jays in games played this season (115 out of their 122) which is no surprise since he played every game last year and the season before and ran a league-leading 349 straight games until Charlie Montoyo sat him one day in April. Freddy had earned his time on field too; he also led the team in hits and RBI at the time (Randal Grichuk overtook him in that category in last night’s game.) All in all he was hitting .267 with 18 HR, 54 RBI and a WAR of 1.6 so far. He was also a reliable glove in the infield, leading the team with a part in 64 double plays and a high .986 fielding percentage at short.
Now, there’s no denying young Bo has been impressive since being called up from the minors. Nor that he is one of the game’s best prospects. His 11-game hitting streak upon being called up is the longest to begin a career in Jays history. He’s fast, exciting and a friend of his other young counterparts in the infield. If he keeps it up, he will be the “Bo” people think of when someone says “Bo knows baseball.”
All that doesn’t make giving away a star infielder for nothing at all sensible. Galvis is a very durable veteran – at least veteran compared to the bulk of his teammates – with a great work ethic as well as the steady hand in the field that to this point, Bo is a bit lacking in. Just as with Vladimir Guerrero, Bo is already a hitting star but at times looks a little bit overmatched in the field. That’s not meant as a knock; few 20 or 21 year-olds look like latter day Brooks Robinsons or Roberto Alomars defensively and fans should be overwhelmingly pleased with their composure and effectiveness at the plate. But it also doesn’t mean that Bichette might not learn a bit from an above-average defensive SS who is also a popular guy in the clubhouse. Nor that Galvis couldn’t continue to get some regular ABs even with Bichette playing. Consider that manager Montoyo tries to insist young players have at least one game off per week to not overwork them, that the team lacks a full-time DH and that Galvis can also play 2B or 3B.
Galvis wasn’t eligible for free agency until after next season and the team had an option for a reasonable $5.5 M for 2020. Toronto could have kept Freddy at least until the end of this season, played him probably 4 games a week without sitting Bo Bichette more than the manager already does and had important backup protection in case of injury. That would have been smart. Or they could have decided three weeks ago he was expendable and put him on the trading block. While pitchers were the preferred pick-up this past July 31, if Tampa would pledge two “players to be named later” for the Jays journeyman IF Eric Sogard and LA would give up an A-ball pitcher and a veteran reliever currently injured, in Tony Cingrani, for St. Louis journeyman Jedd Gyorko who was hitting just .196 trying to recover from a back injury, one has to imagine that some team would have made some reasonable offer for a good-hitting, hard-working veteran like Galvis.
Instead Atkins chose to do neither and Toronto gets nothing but fond memories and the insecurity of having no real viable backup for a rookie shortstop with only 15 games under his belt.
In short, the Blue Jays have been fairly good of late. But one has to suspect that’s despite the front office not because of it.