The clock is ticking towards spring training and thus far Toronto (to be fair, not unlike many teams) have done nothing to retool the team to make a run for it in 2019. There’s no time like the present, Ross Atkins. Over the next week I’ll be making a few suggestions for ways the Blue Jays could realistically put together a competitive and exciting team before the March opener. we’ll start by looking a t a few trade possibilities since the team itself has stated the obvious – that there are too many players in some spots and decided holes elsewhere,most notably with the starting rotation.
I, like many Jays fans, was disappointed “Big Maple”, the newly-crowned replacement for “King Felix” as the ace of the Mariners staff ended up in the Big Apple. James Paxton, the exciting lefty from B.C. grew up a Blue Jays fan and would’ve been happy to be pitching in his homeland. Could the Jays have acquired him? That we’ll never know. The Yankees offered up their top pitching prospect, Justus Sheffield, their #22 prospect, a decent AAA pitcher, Eric Swanson , and a solid power-hitting A-level outfielder, Dom Thomson-Williams. Sheffield was the big fish in the group, being 7-6 with a stirling 2.48 ERA in the minors this year and being ranked #12 overall among MLB prospects mid-season. Athlon Sports put him as the Yanks’ 3rd best prospect though, noting “durability concerns but also a huge fastball.” Since then others have suggested likewise he might be better-suited to being a middle reliever than a starter. It’s tough to know what Toronto would have had to divy up to outbid New York, but it’s easy to know they should have been in on the bidding…and no reference was made anywhere at all of Atkins trying to land him.
That being done, let’s start with a suggestion for Phone Call 1 Mr. Atkins should make :
try to acquire Carlos Carrasco and Edwin Encarnacion. In return, we offer Aaron Sanchez, Sean Reid-Foley, Luke Maile and Kendrys Morales.
this would land Toronto a stellar and reliable top end starter and a big bat to supplement what might be a still-weak hitting lineup in ’19, and a bat to defend behind apparent star-in-waiting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. when he makes the ‘Show”.
Carrasco was a solid 17-10, 3.38 over 30 starts this year, with 192 innings, a remarkable 231 K to just 43 walks and a good groundball to fly ratio of 1.22 (important in the hitters’ paradise that is the AL East.) Baseball-reference put him as a 3.9 WAR. All that was a slight drop off from 2017, when he led the league with 18 wins and had a 5.5 WAR. He’s signed on for 2019 at a reasonable $9.75M, but will be a free agent (potentially) after the season and has been publicly offered for trade by the Tribe. At 32 on opening day, he should have a good amount left in his arm and wouldn’t require a huge, longterm investment from Toronto.
Encarnacion will be 36 next spring and did what he usually does this past season as a DH – hit with pop. He hit .246 with 32 homer and 107 RBI over 137 games and posted an .810 OPS. Of concern is his increasing tendency to free swinging. He struck out 26% of at bats this year, more than double his 11% back in his heyday of 2013. Still, he’d be a good power threat and an upgrade over Morales as the DH, and occasional first baseman (he looked quite at home at first in the playoffs for Cleveland, some will remember.)
WHY TORONTO LIKE THIS – as said, a legitimate “ace” for the staff while other prospect pitchers have another year to mature, at a reasonable rate of pay and a good power bat that can probably hit triple digit RBIs again … and returns a very popular player to Rogers Centre. Worth adding, Carrasco is the player to opt for from the Indians’ staff. Corey Kluber, with his Cy Young past and his contract status (two years left potentially on contract) would cost too much and attract too much attention from the myriad of teams (Houston, NY Yankees, Atlanta etc) needing to boost the rote. Trevor Bauer, also being bandied about by Cleveland is toxic. A great pitcher, yes, but his personality would absolutely not work in Canada. I recently noted elsewhere that Jays fans’ as a group never warmed to Roger Clemens, even when he was winning Cy Youngs for the Jays. Bauer is infinitely less popular with his outspoken praise for President Trump and his various twitter rants against other players and fans who he’s wished cancer upon. He would have trash thrown at him from the home crowd even if he was hurling a no-hitter. Carrasco is the one pitcher from Cleveland to get.
WHY CLEVELAND LIKE THIS – sure, it might be good for the Jays, but we have to sell the Ohio Tribe on it as well. And it could be done. They clearly want to reduce salary but remain reasonably competitive… they have no intention of shedding superstars Jose Ramirez or Francisco Lindor. they want to win on a budget. This trade gives them 2 MLB ready starting pitchers for one. Yes, Sanchez was … well, rather lousy this year but he’s only two years removed from an All Star year, leading tAL in ERA (3.00) and winning percentage (15-2). He’ll be 26 next spring, not over the hill by any means, and still has a good 94MPH fastball. A great groundball to fly rate (1.6) shows he still could win and ’18’s 4.89 ERA was the first time in his career he’s been higher than the league average. His main problem is control (194 walks over 458 big league innings) and if the new coach there could right his delivery a bit to minimize that, he might well be an All Star again. And he’ll earn in the range of $4 to perhaps $5M this year, and be Cleveland’s through 2021.
Reid-Foley is the Jays’ third best pitching prospect with an “average fastball and curveball” according to Baseball-America which note his “deceptive arm angle” that makes him hard to hit but also a bit wild. He was a decent 7-5 , 3.90 at AAA but over his head in just 7 big league games this past fall, with a 5.13 ERA. He projects to be a decent but not spectacular mid-rotation starter a year or two down the road and would be the Indians’ for 6 years minimum.
Morales is not quite Encarnacion, but would give them a reasonable imitation (.249/21/57 over 130 games and a .331 on base) at a much cheaper rate… $12M compared to Encarnacion’s $20M plus a $5M buyout or else one more year at $20M.
Maile suddenly becomes valuable to them since they traded star catcher Yan Gomes to Washington this week. Young Maile’s always been regarded as a good defensive catcher, (a career average of 30% of base stealers thrown out and a good head for working with pitchers) but no bat. this year however, he showed a little flair at least at the plate, hitting .248 with 27 RBI and a run-of-the-mill .700 OPS in 202 at bats. He seems to be learning to swing better and at 28 would be a cheap, reliable replacement for the Brazilian Gomes.
All things told, the deal would save Cleveland about $12 to $15 million in 2019 without costing them a great deal in the win column.
Would they go for it? Who knows. But if I was Ross Atkins , I’d be on the phone to find out!
It’s too early to be arrogant or start planning out a November parade… but this year’s Blue Jays team offers a lot more optimism than last year’s edition! Through two weeks so far, as we know, the Jays are a pretty solid 8-4, behind only the redhot Red Sox (and notably, 2.5 games ahead of the much-vaunted Yankees.
There’s a lot to like so far. Aaron Sanchez’s flirting with a no-hitter last night not the least of it. That he lost the “no-no” bid in the 8th is irrelevant. The team pulled off a squeaker in style and more importantly, the third decent start from Sanchez shows that miraculously he’s seemed to have shaken off the nefarious blister problem that scrubbed his 2017 season. In so doing, he’s also reminded us that before those finger ouchies, he was among the very best of the league’s pitchers in 2016 (leading in ERA in fact.) Justin Smoak has had good games and nothing much games, but is tied for the lead league in RBI so far, suggesting that his ’17 was no fluke. In the same game, roberto Osuna became the youngest player ever to record 100 MLB saves. Congratulations to him!
The numbers back up the team’s resurgence. Last night’s 8th win of the year came a full 20 days sooner than last year’s (when they won on the final game of the month to ‘improve’ to 8-17.) So far this season, they’ve scored more than 5 runs, five times. Last year they did that just 5 times in all of April. That translates into 61 runs so far, second best in the AL to the Angels (although to be fair, Boston have 56 in 10 games, for a better average per game.) Their 3.62 ERA is 6th best in the AL but second to only Boston in the division and as a result their run differential of +17 is fourth best in the league. Last year by comparison, they had a dismal -91 on the year, allowing 91 more runs than they scored- a difficult number to have if a team wants to have even an outside shot at playoff glory!
Their .235 batting average isn’t showy, in fact it’s only 10th best in the league (real surprise – Cleveland are last with an atrocious .158, resulting in only 31 runs.) But the numbers that really matter are better in that department. Their .437 slugging percentage is third best in the AL and best in the division, Aaron judge and his Pinstripes notwithstanding. And as we already noted, the bottom line is they’re scoring runs almost as well as any team going, which is the number that counts.
The pitching is even more reason for optimism. The 3.62 ERA , which sounds stellar, is actually 6th best in the AL . there’ve been a lot of shutouts and low-scoring games thus far! But it is second only to Boston in the AL East and the relievers have been spot-on. thus far, they have a cumulative 2.66 ERA despite being called on for better than 3 innings a game so far. If and when Marcus Stroman hits his stride, the starters’ numbers will improve, bullpen may be required to eat up a few less innings and the team could be among the elite pitching squads of 2018. Even if they just kept the current performance, they’d be looking at 594 runs given up through the year, which was topped last season by only Cleveland.
In the field, the .982 fielding percentage sounds normal, but there seems to be an influx of Gold glove caliber defenders this season, so it ranks only 13th best in the league. Noteworthy though- the two teams they are ahead of in that category are 2015 world Champs Kansas City and the all-powerful Yankees.
None of these stats really count for that much. It is, after all, early. There are a full 150 games to play still. Cleveland is bound to start getting a few hits sooner or later; Giancarlo Stanton will almost certainly eventually adjust to the new league and hit a few dingers in the Big Apple. But likewise, Randal Grichuk may not be the new 2012-vintage Bautista, but is bound to get more than 1 hit a week for Toronto and Marcus Stroman (who missed half of Spring Training) might not be as good as he thinks he is but in no way is a pitcher who’ll cough up a run per inning over the long haul. So the Jays too have areas where they can actually get better. the important thing is that right now they are putting up “W”s and have a sense of possibility that was missing in the stands and on the field by this time last year.
Maple Leafs in the playoffs, Raptors with second best record in NBA, and our Jays holding tough in second place… it’s a good time to be a sports fan in the GTA!
Last week we looked at some of the options the Blue Jays have to improve the lacklustre hitting we saw from them in 2017. I rather expected by this week there’d be developments to comment upon, but alas that’s not the case. While the Angels go all in on a championship run and teams like the Phillies and Braves retool looking ahead to greener pastures coming soon, Toronto twiddles its thumbs and preach “patience” on their website. Which would be well and good were there not roster holes to fill; were they not a team coming off their first losing season in 4 years. Clearly the time for action is now.
That said, it is worth noting the off-season has been pretty quiet all-around so far, Giancarlo Stanton, Shohei Ohtani and Matt Kemp notwithstanding. There are still plenty of free agents to go around and doubtless many franchises still trying to piece together trades, of which we can only hope Ross Atkins’ Jays are one.
As noted before, while the hitting really let the team down last season, the pitching needs to be better than its 2017 Run-of-the-mill state for them to really have a shot at anything in ’18. While I like that they apparently were (unsuccessful) suitors for CC Sabathia as a #5 starter, it still begs the question “Who will be the #4?”
Marcus Stroman may be a little arrogant but that might help him take the “ace” designation and run with it. He’s clearly still improving and looking like he’ll be a legitimate #1 starter soon, if not next season. Along with JA Happ and Marco Estrada, the team is well-set at the top of the rotation; capable of competing with any team in the division. where things go awry is with the #4 spot, which apparently the club is counting on Aaron Sanchez to fill. This seems precarious thinking to say the least.
Sanchez of course was limited to 8 starts, and 1 win in ’17, with his last decent game coming on July 14 at Detroit (6 innings, 7 hits, 1 unearned run.) If it was a sore shoulder or bad knee that kept him out of the lineup most of the season, at least there’d be a good indication of whether or not he’d be good to go in ’18. But as his bugaboo is recurrent blisters, there’s no real way to guage it until he’s been out on the mound several times for 4 or 5 innings at a stretch. My take on it is this: since they tried everything they could think of last year to fix the problem and the blisters kept coming back (and limited his few starts to an average of 76 pitches, down by 20 from the past year) let’s assume it’s an ongoing problem for him. Let’s assume that he’ll not be part of the 2018 equation and find a more reliable #4 starter. Then anything we get from Aaron is gravy. If he is healthy he could perhaps be back in the bullpen where he could provide a value as a setup man, really let fly with his fastball and, one might think if throwing only 15-20 pitches at a time, be less likely to have the blisters come back.
Strangely, to me the question of where to look for that starter might begin with Josh Donaldson. No, not suggesting we throw our resident “Viking” on the mound. What I am suggesting however, is that the team needs to make a quick decision with Josh as to what his future will be. JD is coming off a year in which he made $17M and will be looking for a raise in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
There’s no question “Bringer of Rain” is a tough competitor and when hot can carry the team on his shoulders. There’s also no question he’s said he’s happy in Toronto and would like to stay on. Which would be great- depending on what his view going forward is. At a rather “old” 32, he’s still the ideal third baseman for the ’18 team, perhaps the ’19 one too. But looking forward, it’s clear his days of being a star-quality third bagger are limited. In ’17 his fielding percentage (.949) was lowest in 5 years, his range factor had dropped to a career low (2.47) and his only so-so throwing arm limited him to turning 13 double plays, or about one every 8 games. In short, despite his undeniable effort out there, his fielding prowess is declining and soon he’ll be better suited to playing first or maybe being a regular DH, with only occasional games on the turf. This has to factor in to contract negotiations.
Donaldson can hit, and will likely be able to do so for some years to come- his .944 OPS last year was only 9 points below the previous year and was actually better than his MVP season. The distance on his average home run increased to 409′ and the percentage of at bats resulting in a roundtripper increased.
In short, he’s a reliable run producer the team should look to lock up. But only within reason. If he’d sign on for a 3 or 4 year contract at market value (probably about $21M a year I’d reckon) to avoid arbitration, he should be handed a gold pen to do so. If his demands go much beyond that, in years or annual stipends, it may be time to think about parting ways and get something in return. Todd Frazier is still available as a free agent, and while he’s not Josh, he’d be a great short-term solution to get the team into the Vladmir guerrero Jr, era, which might only be a year off. Frazier’s a year younger than Donaldson, and while he hit only .213 last year (a career low), his 83 walks meant a respectable .772 OPS and he delivered 27 homers. In the field, he might not be flashy but his numbers are all better than Josh’s. His 39 double plays turned (about 1 per every 3 games) really stands out in comparison.
Frazier could likely be signed for less than the $17M Donaldson made , let alone what JD might pull in through arbitration, thereby freeing up some money for pitching. What’s more though, #20 is likely one of the few players around (and the only current Blue Jay) for whom teams might trade off a solid starting pitcher. One could imagine a team poised to win now with questions at third- say Boston, or St. Louis (who’ve alledgedly been dogging the Jays in pursuit of Donaldson) might be willing to give up some good arm in return. Todd Frazier at third could look pretty good for Toronto if there was a Drew Pomeranz or Carlos Martinez on the mound (in return for the departed 2015 MVP.)
If however, Donaldson is surprisingly agreeable in signing a multi-year deal and sticks around or there’s no offer of a legit star pitcher on the table for him, Toronto should quickly look to the big-gun arms in the free agent market while they can. Although we’ve heard Toronto’s interested in Jake Arrieta, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I think Lance Lynn or World series goat Yu Darvish might be better choices. Arrieta was still good last year at 14-10, 3.53 but his obvious trend is downward, with his ERA rising from 1.77 to 3.10 to 3.53 over the past 3 while his innings pitched have dropped 229 to 197 to 168. At age 32 it seems risky to give a guy like that a big-time, multi-year deal.
Lance Lynn on the other hand, at age 30, is coming off his 5th straight 30+ start, double-digit win year and was 11-8, 3.43 last year for a team inferior to Arrieta’s Cubs. His .223 opponents average was the lowest since his partial, 2011 rookie season. If any pitcher out there on the market might warrant a 5-year, $100M type megadeal, Lynn might be the one.
A Lance Lynn, or a Carlos Martinez or Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello or even Michael Wacha on board for the #4 role would lessen the necessity of scoring a big #5 guy like the back-in-pinstripes Sabathia, but if one could be acquired on the cheap, there’d be no downside to it. More on that, next time.
Yesterday I addressed some of the moves the Blue Jays could make to keep the offense powerful and viable for 2017; today, the pitching side of the equation.
Thankfully, and yes, surprisingly, there’s not much that needs fixing with this. The 2016 Jays led the league in pitching with a 3.84 ERA, six points better than league champion Cleveland. (Those looking for clues as to why the Twins lost triple-digit numbers of games need only start with their 5.08 ERA by comparison.) Toronto’s starters were best in AL and perhaps even more surprisingly, the team’s numbers on the road were best in baseball – 3.47, about a fifth of a run better than the NL champion Cubs. Clearly the hurlers did everything in their power to pitch the team to a championship. No question that coaches Pete Walker and Dane Johnson should return therefore, and they have been told they are.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the Jays can sit on their laurels for ’17, although I think they might be tempted to. Pitching seems even more fickle than hitting so there’s no guarantee that the crew will follow up their ’16 success, not to mention that Toronto might have been blessed with just about the best luck of any recent MLB club in recent years. Consider that they had their starting rote set in April and – except for a minor glitch mid-season with Marco Estrada’s sore back – were able to run with the set 5 all season and into the post-season. They even acquired a solid veteran 6th starter at the trade deadline just for the heck of it and he was excellent. Frankly it may be too much to hope for to think that the 2017 starting rotation will only miss one or two starts between the five of them due to injury; history suggests everyone in the Rogers Centre crowd might have a better chance of winning the 6-49 than seeing that happen again.
As well, while we try to take the “glass half full” approach, it’s wise to look at the other side of the equation. JA Happ had a “career year” in 2016- but will it be just that (a “Career” year , reminiscent of Adam Lind and Aaron Hill’s blockbuster 2009 seasons which were followed up by… well, not all that much) or just the start of a new, improved Happ?
We hope the latter and are encouraged by his consistency since he was traded to Pitttsburgh in 2015 and was coached by Ray Searage. Since then , he’s 27-6, 2.86 over 43 games. But it can’t be ignored that before this year he was a .500 pitcher who averaged 146 innings a year over the past 5. He exceeded that by nearly 50 innings, while knocking a run off his previous career ERA . I personally think the “new” Happ is real, the guy the Phillies expected when they made him a first round draft pick years back. But I’m not betting on another 20-win, Cy Young worthy campaign from him.
Marco Estrada, when healthy, is as unhittable as anyone in the AL. (That’s not just my opinion, he’s led AL starters in opponent batting average in 2016 and after the All Star break in ’15.) But his wonky back, which John Gibbons said had bothered him all year has to be a concern moving forward. Bad backs seldom get “good” all by themselves.
Francisco Liriano was a great addition and should be a decent, reliable 12-15 win, 180-210 inning sort of player. Which still leaves the youngsters in the rotation, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. I have no real worries about Sanchez – after all the hand-wringing and year-long story arc spun by the team and Toronto media about needing to send him out to pasture after the All Star break to prevent his arm from falling off, all he did was win the league ERA championship. Including the playoffs (a bat outing vs. Texas but a brilliant one and the team’s only win against Cleveland) he logged 203 innings and went 16-2. Even if he were to regress a little in ’17, he should be a reliable, above-average starter.
Less so Stroman though. He was by no means terrible this year; in fact at times he was outstanding. He was, however, not consistent at all and not nearly as intimidating to opponents as his younger self had been. His ERA jumped by over a run and perhaps more alarming, after giving up only 9 homers in 30 previous games, he allowed 21 this year in 32 starts. So it’s a bit of a crap-shoot as to which way he will go. A carbon copy of this year would still be enough to make him a valid #5 guy, but not an opening day pitcher by any means. A return to 14-15 form would be a huge lift for the team, but we can’t ignore entirely the possibility he might be the new Ricky Romero.
With all those factors, it’s clear the team needs another proven starter to pad the roster. They should extend an offer to return to RA Dickey (who’s turning 42 today- happy birthday to him!) but with an asterisk. His 15 losses this season were a career worst and his 4.46 ERA worst since ’09 when he was a reliever with the Twins. Nonetheless, he still gave over 160 innings and has averaged 206 per year in his time with the Jays. Knuckleballs don’t deteriorate as quickly as other pitches so it’s likely he could at least match his 2016 campaign next year.
The asterisk though, is that ideally he wouldn’t be a starter. He could follow Tim Wakefield’s arc in his late years with Boston, and be a bullpen arm that could deliver lots of innings in a blowout or extra-inning game and come through with a spot start or two should a regular wake up with a bad stomach. This would help the team, but wouldn’t warrant a $12.5M pay cheque like he’s been getting. At age 42, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dickey choose to retire rather than take a 50% pay cut. But he probably won’t have to as while he might not make the grade as a starter with the team with the league’s best pitching, he’s plenty good enough to be a #3 or 4 starter with many teams that are thin on pitching . It’d be no surprise to see the Angels or Rangers offer him a pay raise to give stability to their rotation for one year.
That’s especially true given a fairly slim selection of free agent starting pitchers coming up. No David Price or Jon Lester this winter, the feeding frenzy will have to settle for trying for the likes of an Andrew Cashner or Ivan Nova. Which is the type of pitcher Toronto should try to add. doing so without increasing the budget significantly (even if we factor in the subtraction of Dickey’s money) will be a test of the Shapiro-Atkins office!
A quick look at the arms behind the outfield fence next time here…
Last column I said Aaron Sanchez had gone from being a question mark to a name in the discussion for a Cy Young Award. True, but really Sanchez has gone from being a question mark to… another question mark.
It’s a problem most teams would love to have. With pitching at such a premium in today’s game, most teams would kill to have a pitcher who’s just too good. Not a terrible problem to have, but make no mistake, Aaron Sanchez has become a problem for the Blue Jays by being precisely that.
His run of ten-straight winning decisions is best for a Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay back in 2003- his Cy Young winning campaign. He’s currently second in the AL among officially-qualified starters in ERA , at 2.72, in the top 10 among pitchers on pace for even 100 innings and his 11-1 record equates to the league’s best winning percentage among regular starters. So what’s the problem again?
The problem is, at least to the minds of the management, a worry about how much more he can deliver this year. At 132 1/3 innings, he’s sixth in the AL (ahead of regular innings-eaters like Cole Hamels and jered Weaver) and only a few pitches away from his career high of 133 1/3 innings, split between the minors and bigs back in 2014. In days of yore, back when Pete Rose would say “men were men” and Nolan Ryan pitched about 300 innings a year at full tilt, this wouldn’t be seen as a predicament . But times have changed obviously, and we live in a world of pitch counts and teams wanting to nurture their investment in ace pitchers. A common rule of thumb these days is to limit a young pitcher to about 20% more innings than in the past year, which even if the Jays forgot about 2015 and went by his ’14 season, would see him top out around 160 innings. As it stands now, he is on pace to hurl some 210 innings before, (we hope), heading into the post-season.
Midway through June, coincidentally or not after a bit of a rough outing against Baltimore, John Gibbons told the media that Sanchez would soon trudge back to the bullpen to save his arm and be replaced with Drew Hutchison in the rotation. That’s where the problem arises. Since that time, Sanchez has been brilliant, going 5-0 in seven starts, allowing only 8 earned runs in over 47 innings, for a 1.53 ERA. Oh, and of course he also put in an inning for the American League in the All Star game. Hutchison, meanwhile , has been mediocre enough as to not dispel any memories of his disappointing fall from grace last year. Not to mention that the other youngster in the rotation, Marcus Stroman, has been less than expected so far and is also getting up there in innings (129 or so , with a career high of 166 in 2014.)
So what to do? The Jays have been playing well enough of late, but still languish in third place. Dropping the best pitcher from the rotation would surely alienate fans and result in a booming business in burnable effigies of John Gibbons and Mark Shapiro should the team miss the playoffs by a game or two (particularly if it was indeed Hutchison replacing Sanchez.)
On the other hand, a torn rotator cuff or similar arm injury would keep Sanchez out for at least a year and be sure to be blamed on over-use. Never mind that the science is dubious about the relationship between innings and injuries and is slow to explain why there are more injuries requiring Tommy John surgery now than there were before the surgery was available, (when pitchers often started 40 games a year and hit the 300 innning mark), the current sport concensus is in. Too many innings, not an over fascination with the radar and throwing all out, all the time, caused young arms to break. An injury to Sanchez late season would harm the Jays post-season chances and have the front office labeled as idiots by many of their peers. It is a problem indeed.
The Washington Nationals had a somewhat similar problem 4 years back, when they shut down their young ace, Stephen Strasburg, in September after he hit 159 innings. The team then went on to lose the NLDS in five games causing fans to wonder “what if”, and some might suggest have been battling that karma since. The Nats, despite being the best team in the NL East have but one playoff win since then.
Their situation was a bit different than ours. Strasburg was coming back from Tommy John surgery, which would suggest some caution might be prudent. Sanchez has, knock on wood been healthy for a young pitcher who throws at 95. My suggestion is to learn from Washington’s blunder. You get only so many kicks at the can and Toronto has one this year. They need to make a run for it, especially when pondering the unhappy fact that either Jose Bautista and/or Edwin Encarnacion might be elsewhere next year. The Jays need to put their best foot, or arm, forward and go all in for october. Anything less would be a betrayal of a reliably loyal fan base.
That said, it makes no sense to tempt fate and burn out Sanchez. As much as I like starting pitchers who can go deep into the game, it might be a smart move for Gibby to call for the bullpen after 6 innings in any game where Sanchez has a lead. As well, the team has 7 off days left , July 28th and then three each in August and September. It would be feasible to keep the 5-day rotation largely in effect and skip over Sanchez a couple of times with the off days, thereby limiting him to 8 more starts. Granted, it’s a compromise but like all good ones, it’s better than the alternative for both sides. Eight starts and about 6 innings each delivers him to the post-season with 180 innings. Hopefully he could tough out three or four starts in October in return for a ring! And while people like myself would love to see him out there every fifth day trying for a shutout, it’s obvious that a Sanchez who pitches six innings, eight more times this year is better than seeing him resting in the bullpen when a much lesser pitcher throws away games and our hopes of a championship.
A final thought- in 1992, the Jays went into the post-season with a dominant young, 25 year old pitcher who had only 139 innings of experience prior to that year. Juan Guzman dominated in three October starts, and we know the rest of that year’s story!
There’s a lot to like at this point for us Jays fans. The team, while in third place, is only a game out of top spot, has the best run differential in the division (and at +85 runs, are second in the league to Cleveland), have a couple more home games than road ones left on the schedule and starting with the unofficial kick-off to Canada’s summer (Victoria Day) have been humming along at a remarkable .654 pace. In addition, Josh Donaldson is starting to look like a repeat MVP winner, Edwin Encarnacion leads the world in RBIs and the starting rotation has been astonishingly solid for the most part. As of the All Star Break, they led the AL by averaging 6.4 innings a start and are a big part of the reason only Houston and Cleveland have allowed fewer runs.
Add in Troy Tulowitzki’s slow return to Colorado-like form at the plate (.162 average with 5 HR in first 31 games this year, .301 with 10 HR in next 35) and the expected return of Jose Bautista, looking to impress in time for the free agent jamboree in winter, from the disabled list within days. Aaron Sanchez has gone from a question mark to a name in any conversation about Cy Young winners this season. With the team ahead of where they were last year at this time, the Jays look to be in great shape to return to the post-season.
But the skies aren’t all jay-blue. A few menacing clouds mar the horizon. For instance, as the Toronto Sun‘s Ken Fidlin points out, the 2014 Jays were in first place in July and ended up playing out the string watching the action from the sidelines come October. And while they are ahead of last year’s pace, they are also in a division with a resilient Baltimore team this year and a Red Sox squad that is a night-and-day turnaround from last year’s mediocre one. While the starting rote has been very solid as an entity, Marcus Stroman has taken a step or two back from the last couple of seasons and there are concerns over just how many more innings both he and All Star Sanchez can tack on with both at or near career highs already. Then there’s that bullpen, which outside of sophomore closer Roberto Osuna, has been more of an open window than a slammed door on leads.
One more thing that’s not to like this year is the trade deadline. Fans already know not to expect another blockbuster trade – let alone two- to revitalize the team like we saw last year. First off, new boss Mark Shapiro is loathe to trade prospects for short-term gains. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, there would appear to be no David Price-calibre superstars available this season. At least 18, possibly as many as 21 teams think they are still in the running for the post-season meaning the buyers are going to outnumber the sellers. The teams that have thrown in the towel have largely done so for a good reason- lack of significant talent! The few big names who seem to be up for grabs are stars, but not ones likely to be significant upgrades for Toronto. The likes of Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Ryan Howard and Josh Reddick are all players who could add a significant piece of the puzzle to some teams, but would add little to Toronto’s lineup. (Worth noting though that some scribes still report that the Jays are talking to Cinci about Bruce who very nearly landed with us in the off-season, but there seems to be little apparent sense to such a move.) Pitchers , let alone high-quality ones, are much scarcer this July than the previous couple of trade deadlines. Ergo, the trade of a Scott Carroll or Mike Montgomery being treated as a big deal in the last couple of days.
Another starter would be a boon to Toronto, to allow for Sanchez to have a few missed starts or even be bumped to the bullpen to minimize wear and tear, or to give insurance against Marco Estrada’s back acting up more this fall. But that’s easier said than done. Julio Teheran of Atlanta is probably the biggest, and best, name available.
Teheran would be a great addition to the Jays. In his fourth year as a regular with the Braves, he is a textbook example of why a won-lost record isn’t that ideal a way of measuring a pitcher’s worth. Though just 3-8 this year, in 19 starts he’s got a stellar 2.79 ERA, has limited the opposition to a .203 average and has a 112 K’s to just 26 BBs. His lifetime ERA is 3.33. Problem is of course, with that kind of upside other teams will pay attention too and this year almost every team still in contention (even the Dodgers one would expect now that Clayton Kershaw is likely done for the year) wanting to upgrade their starters, it’s unlikely Toronto will win a bidding war. Other teams have more, and better, prospects to offer and a front office more willing to bet big on trades.
More reasonable options might be the likes of lefty Tommy Milone of Minnesota or Andrew Cashner of San Diego. Neither offers anything like the upside of Teheran, but neither is going to cost a busload of prospects either. Milone was not bad last year (9-5 , 3.92) but this year has 10 starts, of which he’s gone beyond 6 innings only once. He’s given up 7 HR in 49 innings which wouldn’t project well to being in Rogers Centre, and sits at 3-2 with a 4.71 ERA. Cashner is expected to be traded to Texas anytime now, according to Fox Sports, but even if he isn’t his 4-7, 5.05 record in pitcher-friendly SD doesn’t sound promising. His 1.48 Whip this year is very similar to last year’s 1.44, when he fiished at 6-16. Hard to see that type of record being an upgrade over Drew Hutchison for the Jays.
The field of available bullpen arms, where the need is greatest for Toronto, is also limited. The Yankees have alledgedly decided to OK a trade of either Aroldis Chapman, who we know really ‘brings the heat’ to a battle or Andrew Miller. Chapman, with his record of domestic abuse, would be a poor addition PR-wise and would also be the typical type of “rent a pitcher” Shapiro hates. Miller might deserve more consideration. The lefty had 36 saves last season but has been demoted this year with New York, but has still been outstanding. He has 70 Ks in about 41 innings and a 1.31 ERA, and would be a huge upgrade over struggling Brett Cecil in middle-relief for the Jays. However, one wonders if the pinstripes would want to trade a star to their divisional rival, especially when their own team is still over .500.
One reasonable suggestion to bolster the team pitching comes from looking west- and backwards. San Diego’s Carlos Villaneuva , whom we remember well from his years with Toronto, has to be available and has been typically decent this year. He’s appeared 37 times, has a good 44:8 strikeout to walk ratio and has pitched 52 innings – a lot for a reliever, but consistent with his role here when he was a “long man” in the ‘pen or occasional starter, Troubling though is his 5.19 ERA, which has skyrocketed lately. He’s allowed earned runs in 5 of his last 6 games, in which time his ERA has jumped by nearly 2. My take on him is that he would be a worthwhile addition, if he passes a physical that ensures his recent slump isn’t injury-related. The Padres could probably let him go for the likes of a Matt Dominguez or Dalton Pompey, both slogging along well in Buffalo , boasting big league experience but lacking an obvious opening in Toronto’s lineup.
So, even if we do manage to add someone like Carlos Villaneuva to boost the pitching , it would seem that if roster improvements are needed, most will have to happen from within. The outlook there isn’t spectacular, but isn’t bad either. Southpaw Scott Diamond has been good in Buffalo this year, leading the team with 112 innings and has posted a 3.62 ERA despite a losing 6-9 record. he’s only walked 19 and has MLB experience, so he could be a good safety net for the rotation. However, he’s not currently on the Jays 40-man roster so calling him up would necessitate dropping someone off. Meanwhile there’s also the versatile, ambidextrous Pat Venditte as well as left-handed Chad Girodo (1.86 ERA in 16 games) to call on down at AAA to add to the bullpen.
The outlook is good- but August and September aren’t likely to be a Blue Jays cakewalk like last year. Mark Shapiro and his lackey Ross Atkins have a lot on the line and how they handle the next ten days or so will go a long ways towards how the public will perceive them in years to come.