A long, long time ago, those of us Blue Jays fans old enough to remember times when the likes of Dave Roberts and Brad Ausmus were players rather than gray-haired managers, might recall the phrase “Stand Pat.” Of course, Toronto sports fans didn’t create the phrase, but they did get a lot of use out of it in the context of expressing the team’s tactic of leaving well enough alone when Pat Gillick was running the show. While in retrospect, the Gillick era did anything but (the biggest trade of the team’s history, arguably, the one with San Diego which brought in Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter was done under his watch, as were free agent signings of big names like Jack Morris, Dave Stewart and Paul Molitor) it was a good enough strategy when the team was continually winning and missed the playoffs only once between 1989 and 1993. However, Gillick’s long since moved onto different organizations and so too have the great years. Coming off a 95 loss season when 21 different starting pitchers were used, “stand pat” would not be a viable option.
So, Monday’s activity in itself is some reason for guarded optimism. Team president Mark Shapiro has said the team needs to get better, and fast, and that has to begin with an upgrade to starting pitching. GM Ross Atkins apparently is listening. The Blue Jays made a few roster moves yesterday, the most noteworthy being a trade with Milwaukee for a starting pitcher; also worth noting, “veterans” Ryan Tepera and Devon Travis have been removed off the 40-Man roster. We’ll start with those.
Travis is the type of player you hate to see go, and the type you root for. Rowdy Tellez pretty much credits him for talking him out of quitting baseball a couple of seasons back and almost everyone in the organization, young and old, cite Devon as one of the most upbeat, positive players they’ve been around. When he came to Toronto before the 2015 season, he was a major prospect, a second baseman with good range and speed and a great bat. Unfortunately, he’s been something of a walking medical journal with injuries that just seem to follow one another like dominoes falling. Damage to his knees is said to have limited his fielding range and the only time he ever hit 400 plate appearances was back in 2016. He missed all of last season, and by now seeing his spot as a regular on the big club blocked by Cavan Biggio, it’s no wonder he chose to refuse an assignment to the minors and become a free agent.
Ryan Tepera is much more of a mystery. The pitcher was “DFA’d” or designated for assignment, and to most fans it seems to make very little sense. Like Travis, he arrived with the Blue Jays in 2015. Since then he’s been one of , maybe the most consistent member of the bullpen. Although he did miss June, July and August this season with surgery on his elbow, the rightie came back in September and looked decent. He pitched in11 games, with a 3.38 ERA. Getting rid of him on a roster with such thin pitching makes no sense, unless as someone suggested to meon Twitter, the team doc is saying more than the public knows. The counter-balance is Shi Davidi, long time TV analyst for the team who suggests it’s just a “Moneyball” cost-cutting strategy. Which I would add will backfire not only in giving away a solid middle reliever but also suggesting to other players there’s no loyalty to long-term players in Toronto.
The Big Deal , and The Price is Right, was the trade with the Brewers. The team picked up starting pitcher Chase Anderson for a AA minor-league infielder/outfielder who frankly showed very little promise. So, a good trade for Toronto as long as they aren’t going to cry “poor”…Anderson has a contract for 2020 at $8.5M and an option for the next year at $9.5M – a bargain compared to projections for Gerritt Cole’s upcoming contract, but not real cheap nonetheless. Too expensive for small-market Milwukee evidently, owing to Anderson’s decent but not spectacular career.
Last year, Anderson was 8-4 with a 4.21 ERA over 30 games and 139 innings. Over his final three regular season starts, he went 4, 6 and 5 innings and gave up just 2 runs. Career-wise, the pitcher with a very good curveball but mediocre fastball will be 32 on opening day and has put together a 53-40 record and 3.94 ERA. Nothing special but by no means bad. He has never topped 160 innings but he’s stayed pretty healthy and clearly said in the news conference that he thought he could’ve gone deeper into the game on a number of starts last season and gotten closer to 200 innings if given the chance – a promising attitude at least. On the upside, he’s been good and fast in his delivery and has managed to get over half potential base stealers three out of his six years. On the negative, although a ground ball pitcher by and large (a very good thing for Toronto), an alarming number of his flyballs fly far and leave the park. In 2018, he led the NL in home runs given up with 30. Not promising in a division with tiny parks and unusual numbers of heavy hitters.
Anderson as reviewers have pointed out, would be a reliable back-of-rotation guy on most teams. Nothing remarkable, but a solid, ordinary #5 starter. On the Jays though, right now he could slot in as the “ace”. His ERA last year, even when converted to AL equivalent at 6% better than average would convert to 4.33 – slightly ahead of Jacob Waguespack’s 4.38 among starters the team ended the year with. And his measly 139 innings would have ranked him second behind rookie Trent Thornton.
Takeaway from it :a good trade since the team gave up little. Anderson could be a very good #5 pitcher, even if maybe a bit overpaid for that role. We’ll give the move a conditional “thumbs up”… conditional on Ross Atkins not saying “voila! I got you another veteran pitcher, we’re done.” Because clearly, the work should have only begun.