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.
Well if nothing else, these are interesting times for the Blue Jays and their fans. Whether or not you subscribe to the idea of the saying “may you live in interesting times” being a wicked curse is up to you.
Of course Toronto, on the positive side, called up their top-rated prospect, Bo Bichette today meaning that 3/4 of their infield is now made up of rookies whose dads were All Stars – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio being the other two. Bo promptly delivered a line drive single tonight in Kansas City in his first big league at bat.
That was facilitated by the team’s trading of Eric Sogard to Tampa; the “nerd” started the game in Toronto’s clubhouse and apparently was told to walk across the field mid-game to join his new employer.He said he was a bit confused as to who to cheer on. The Jays get back two “players to be named” from the Rays, which seems odd (if they are unknown why two?) suggesting perhaps they are players on the injured list or something which would prevent them transferring right now.
Sogard’s been popular and useful this season in his Toronto debut, but it’s not a horrible trade. Eric’s traditionally been a 25th man, a utility infielder with little hitting ability. Somehow this year he’s having a career year, hitting .300 with 10 homers already compared to his 11 before over parts of 7 seasons. Sogard would be a great veteran presence and a good bench player for 2020, but as he’s a free agent he might well walk away in fall anyway and it’s quite unlikely he will be (as a few fans on Twitter suggested) the next Jose Bautista, a career journeyman who suddenly dips into the Toronto pool and becomes a flat out superstar.
Unless you’re a bigtime fan, you might not have even noticed the Sogard deal, because hours later Toronto pulled off the biggest trade in the majors so far this July, trading their staff “Ace” Marcus Stroman to the New York Mets for two pitching prospects- Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson. Torches are lit and the noise coming from P.O.’d Jays fans rivals that heard in Edmonton decades ago when their Oilers shipped hockey legend Wayne Gretzky south to the city of Angels.
Reaction has been over-the-top for sure, but one can’t argue with the fact that it’s a deal which does little for the Jays.
Regular readers here know I’ve been of mixed emotions about Stroman through the years. He has at times been immature, and quite frankly no one seems as impressed with Marcus Stroman’s successes as Marcus Stroman and his personal Twitter account. He gets on opponents nerves by his fist-pumping and high-energy celebrations when he gets a big out.
On the other hand… he’s a pretty good starting pitcher. He made the AL All Star team this season, and with good reason. Although low run support has kept his winning percentage below .500 (6-11 right now), he’s been strong more starts than not and his 2.96 ERA is (was) 5th best in the AL among pitchers with 60 innings logged, let alone “qualified” (ie- an inning per game team has played.) He is one of the most reliable pitchers in getting grounders, a major benefit in a division where at least three ballparks are home run hitters dreams. And don’t forget the young guy already won a Gold Glove in his career. Or that he is a favorite of other pitchers in the clubhouse and by all accounts, a good mentor, as the Toronto Star detailed this week.
In return, the Jays get the Mets top two pitching prospects. Which sounds good…except that Fangraphs consider New York’s farm system to be only 23rd best in baseball (Toronto,8th… San Diego is considered to be the top minor league system) and that even Kay is only the 4th best prospect from New York. Neither pitcher made the MLB list of 100 best prospects.
On the surface, Kay seems like the “catch”, being that he’s 24 and has been pitching in AAA this summer.Woods-Richardson is barely 18 and was only drafted last summer, and is in low-A ball. However, some Toronto sources figure Simeon is the better potential star, with a 97 MPH fastball shot from a 3/4 arm angle, and a good curveball. KAy on the other hand has what scouts deem only “average” fastballs and curve, though Toronto have said it is “a plus curveball with elite spin.” Time will tell. So far though, AAA batters haven’t made him look too elite; he’s 1-3 with a 6.61 ERA and 40 hits allowed in 31 innings after a good start to the year at AA.
The argument the management has made is essentially “it’s the best offer we had” and they pointedly say the Twins and Braves made lesser offers for Stroman, while the other team in Marcus’ hometown (Yankees) seemed to lose interest when Toronto wanted their top pitching prospect. It may be so but it misses the obvious- they didn’t have to trade Stroman!
He wasn’t going to be a free agent until the end of 2020, leaving them time to re-up him, or if things go badly next season, look for a better offer next July. Hopefully, go to the 2020 post-season with Stroman on the mound. Instead they jettison the only reliable starting pitcher they have in favor of a “back-end of the rotation” guy a year or two from now and a possible – vaguley possible – star in about 5 years, by which time they’ll probably be wanting to trade the likes of Guerrero and Bichette if they develop as expected. It’s dumb, dumb dumb. And it shows a total tone-deafness as to what the fans want. Fans who pay the freight for both the pitchers, and the office staff like Ross Atkins, mastermind of this team on pace to be the worst Toronto one since the 1970s.
So it goes. Congratulations Trent Thornton. Six months ago you were an anonymous aging minor league pitcher in the Astros organization. Now, you’re the ace of the Blue Jays staff. With 3 career wins and a 5.45 ERA and a decent record of at least going to the mound when called on this year.
For the record, the outspoken Stroman eventually tweeted apparent happiness about playing in NYC… after he threw a major,loud tantrum in the clubhouse according to both Chris Cwik of Yahoo and Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun. Say one thing for Marcus- he likes to win. He was not pleased to be shipped from one losing, fourth-place team with questionable direction to another fourth-place team with questionable direction. So,we say without sarcasm, best of luck Marcus. Hope you’re more appreciated in New York City … or at least in the New York front offices.