Tagged: Ross Atkins

Blue Jays Fans Green With Envy Of Red Sox?

Tonight Toronto starts their last series against Boston this year, and one can expect many in the (likely small) Rogers Centre crowd will be a little envious of the Red Sox. Not so much because of the season they’re having. Although certainly far and away better than Toronto’s, at 76-68 the Beantowners are a long-shot to make the playoffs, being 8 games out of the wild card race with only 18 games left. At best, mathematically, Boston can win 94… or 14 less than they did in last season in their World Series winning campaign. No, in that Boston has a lot in common with Toronto – a lot of disgruntled fans wondering what happened to their beloved team this year. Why Toronto might be envious is that the ownership of the Red Sox said “enough is enough” and did something about it. They fired their GM (although his title strangely enough was President of Baseball operations, the club lacking anyone with the title “General Manager”) Dave Drombowski.

Drombrowski is a great baseball man with lots of years experience, and the team’s own press release laud him for three-straight division titles and the World Series. But to them, it’s “what have you done for me lately?” They decided this year has been a bust in Beantown and someone had to pay for it and who better than the man who created the roster. Dombrowski was shown the door with 3 weeks left on the sched and another year on his contract. People were surprised.

Team manager Alex Cora said “surprised, shocked honestly” when asked for his reaction. Pity poor Alex, who’ll no doubt be looking over his shoulder a bit more for the rest of September. Star JD Martinez said about the same, that he felt “probably the same reaction you guys had – just a shock.” He added, “it’s a business and that’s their call” which hardly seemed like a strong endorsement.

MLB discussing the firing on their website noted that for all the success he’d had in the past, in the off-season he chose to let Craig Kimbrel leave and not replace him with a proven closer, that he re-signed Steve Pearce who’s been injured much of the time and that he gave a massive $145M contract extension to formerly-stellar Chris Sale, who in turn has struggled with velocity and elbow issues and tossed the worst year of his career, going 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and few runs of consecutive good games. To counter-balance, they note he also extended Xander Bogaert’s contract and the shortstop is having his best year yet.

More damning, Dombrowski did nothing much at the trade deadline, not adding any significant impact players to a team with a decidedly weak bullpen and on-again, off-again rotation. The team rewarded that by going on an 8-game losing streak.

So the Red Sox have one “off” season and decide they need a change in direction to make sure they don’t have two disappointers in a row. If only Toronto fans were so lucky. Continue reading

The Rise, Fall And Phoenix-like Re-rise Of The Blue Jays

You have to feel a wee bit bad for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Baseball’s top prospect came up to intense pressure earlier this year, and for about two months posted decent, but quite ordinary numbers, to the dismay of adoring fans primed by the media to expect the second coming of Ted Williams. Now, since he got in the national spotlight in the All Star Game home run derby, he’s been red hot. He’s hit not one but two grand slams in the last couple of weeks, and over the past 10 games has driven in 18 while hitting well over .400. He was, deservedly, the American League Player of the Week last week. Yet seemingly, all we are hearing about in the Blue Jays world is Houston pitchers and Vlad’s teammates bad fielding. Ergo, bad decisions by General Manager Ross Atkins.

Many have termed it a “perfect storm” of problems for Toronto’s front office this past trade deadline. They traded away the team’s most popular pitcher for two minor leaguers few seem inspired by, then managed to give away a former star-starting pitcher (Aaron Sanchez), a reliable middle-inning reliever (Joe Biagini) and a sharp minor league outfielder Cal Stevenson, all for one middling (to be kind) 25 year old Houston minor league outfielder, Derek Fisher. Fans were livid. Of course, you know the rest of the story, one so wild even Hollywood would balk at it for being too unrealistic. Sanchez and Biagini (with a few pitches of help from another bullpen arm) combined on a no-hitter their first time to the mound for the Astros. The same night, Fisher makes the highlight reel after leaving the game injured after having a fly ball smack him in the face after bouncing off his closed glove. #shatkins and #fireatkins were two of the more printable trending topics in Toronto social media that night. The next day, Sanchez put a full page ad in the Toronto Sun daily paper thanking the fans and people of the city for the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues and making him feel at home. A class move.

All the while, Ross Atkins continued to throw gasoline on the fire smugly making references to “20 pitchers” who “check all the boxes” to be major league starters and glibly talking about Fisher’s impressive fielding skills. And ignoring Marcus Stroman’s comments upon arriving in New York that he had won a Gold Glove, been an All Star, pitched back-to-back 200 inning seasons and never once been spoken to, let alone congratulated by front office.

Atkins and his office cohorts don’t get it. The Blue Jays have at times set MLB attendance records, and as recently as 2016 led the league in people through the turnstiles. Last year, and to date this year, they lead the league in drop-off in attendance. The fans are speaking, loud and clear. They don’t like Atkins nor the direction he’s taking the team, which is currently on pace for its losingest season since 1979.

Former MLB commissioner Bud Selig talks of how baseball failed initially in Milwaukee in the ’60s, noting that the owner at the time was an out-of-towner who responded to falling attendance by trading away the team stars and raising prices, not “doing anything to market itself” and assuming you merely need to “open your doors” to win. Taking the crowds for granted. Or, as the column Tao of Stieb, (not written by Dave Stieb it should be noted) pointed out in a Sportsnet publication… owned by the same parent company as the Blue Jays themselves… “if you look at the end of any fallen franchise regime, losing the confidence of the fans was always a key part.” He also notes listening to Atkins is like hearing a “post-doctoral thesis” about contract control and so on and that fans aren’t willing to wait until 2024 for one single shot at winning before he decides to scrap the key parts of the team being developed now.

So what would I do if I was made GM? If I had to try to steer the Blue Jays forward from the mess they’re in now?

Well, since it’s August, the new trade deadline is passed so we wouldn’t need to be consumed with ideas for trades between now and the World Series. Which actually simplifies things. Although it doesn’t preclude watching the waiver wire… Toronto missed a chance at not re-claiming Javy Guerra, who started the season with us in the bullpen, and was DFA’d by Washington. He cleared waivers and is now back in the Nats organization.

For me, job one would be to formulate a plan for 2020 that includes taking a shot at winning. Hell, Vladdy’s starting to hit .400 and an RBI+ per game (even if only on a short run), Bo Bichette’s hitting up a storm, over the past two months Toronto’s averaging north of 5 runs a game… it’s not a stretch. IF there’s pitching that is. Not just Ross Atkins’ imaginary list of 20 kid pitchers, that is. Right now, according to MLB scouting, only one minor league Blue Jay (Nate Pearson) really projects to be an average or better MLB pitcher any year soon. And yes, some rookies like Sean Reid-Foley and Jacob Waguespack have been decent at times, and Ryan Borucki could be the real deal IF he doesn’t need Tommy John surgery (he’s seeing Dr Andrews this week due to ongoing elbow troubles), but at best that probably equals about one good spot in the rotation next year. Matt Shoemaker should be back healthy, so that’s two, Trent Thornton is a possibility. With injuries and unreliability of young pitcher’s trajectories, it’s safe to say we need at very least two solid, reliable new starters next year. I’d be looking at the list of free agents this winter and making a few calls to teams about pitchers they might want to part ways with after October. (Carlos Carrasco? Jacob Degrom? Sonny Gray?)

Then on to job two, which is re-connecting with fans. Although to do that, we might have to leapfrog to job three, which is connecting with the roster. No one’s refuted Stroman’s claims, and that’s just wrong. The GM doesn’t need to be out partying with his players or invited to the catcher’s kid’s birthday party, but he should know his players and let them know where they stand. What they’re doing well, what needs to change. I’d try to talk to each one of the guys on the roster ASAP, let them know where they stand, what the team plans for them in the future and listen to their thoughts and concerns. Make it clear that Toronto cares about them and wants the city and team to be a desirable spot for them to live and work. I’d probably start with Justin Smoak, the only real long-term veteran on team and the only major free agent after this season. I’d float him the idea of keeping him around for a few more years, and even if not getting a contract done, try to reach an agreement to talk about it before he leaves town in November. The time is right for both.

Smoak’s batting average is way down (.207) but he’s still getting on base reliably and hitting dingers (18, despite time on IL). And he’s a plus-fielder, something noteworthy when behind him are outfielders trying to catch fly balls with their face. A two year extension would solidify the infield and give a mature veteran presence in the clubhouse. And his wife Kristin helps too; she’s one of the team and the city’s biggest social media boosters and a big part of the Lady Jays help organization. Exactly the people the team can benefit from having represent them in the community.

Back to step 2. Time to be humble, tell the fans we probably messed up a bit in the past couple of years but we have some great young talent and a desire to compete with the big boys next year. to speed up that message, I’d get the team to mail out each season ticket holder something as a token of appreciation – maybe a Vlad jersey (yes, expensive, but with only about 10 000 of those fans left, the cost to them would be less than a million bucks… baseball chump change) and coupons off next season’s tickets. Then I’d pick by lottery about 200 or so such ticket holders, rent a nice community center, invite them for a nice free dinner and discussion. Tell them exactly how the team’s going to get better, have a few of the players up on the front table as well to sign autographs and take a few questions from the crowd.

Because as it stands, Toronto may only win about 62 games this year. It’s a long road from 62 wins to a playoff berth. It’s a longer, steeper road from a spot where attendance is crumbling and hashtags comparing the team management to excrement are popular to being the toast of the town once again.

Money For Nothing And Tulowitzki’s Free

Perplexing.” That’s one of the words Dan O’Dowd used to describe the Blue Jays decision to buy Troy Tulowitzki out of his contract yesterday. Two interesting things about that observation : one, O’Dowd had some insight into “Tulo” and what he can do. He was the General Manager of Colorado through 2014, seeing him play in his prime. Two, that observation was made in a video on the Blue Jays official website! And good reader, when the baseball team’s official promotional site can’t figure out what the heck the GM (Ross Atkins) is doing, it’s time for a clean sweep at front office. Atkins and his boss, Mark Shapiro, who came in at the same time as Atkins, from the same Cleveland organization need to go, faster than a wonky-ankled infielder.

For those not following the news, the team decided to release outright one-time superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Given his injury problems of late (surgery on both feet last year kept him out of the lineup for the whole season) that might at first glance make sense. What doesn’t make sense is that he was still under contract for a whopping $38 million through 2020 (with a buyout included in there) and as the team admits they “are on the hook for that full amount.” Thus they have paid Troy $38 million to go and twiddle his thumbs for the next two years. Should another team decide to pick him up and put him on their roster (as O’Dowd predicts ten teams will attempt to do), they will only have to pick up about $500 thousand of the total… toronto would then be paying him in the range of $37M or more to play… for a rival! Great.

Atkins refers to the 5-time All Star Tulo as “professional and respectful.” Teammate Marcus Stroman, never one to mince words, declared Troy an “unreal clubhouse presence…one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever encountered” and stated his career would be far from over. O’Dowd, who still keeps in contact with his former star, says TT appears to be in great health and is working out to be in game shape by spring. Yet Atkins still declares paying him to go away “the best interest of the organization.” Perplexing to say the least. Downright dumb to say the most.

Now, there are a couple of caveats Atkins has seemed quick to point out this fall. The Jays, coming out of the 2018 season, had a logjam of middle infielders, too many to have them all on the team. Since then he “non-tendered” Yangervis Solarte, making him a free agent, and traded Aldemys Diaz for a non-descript minor leaguer. With Tulo now gone, the Jays could actually be in the position to be shorthanded in April if even one remaining infielder (either major league or budding-superstar, aka Vladimir Guerrero Jr,or Bo Bichette) should get injured. As well, Tulowitzki, just turned 34, is not all that likely to return to his peak, MVP-caliber play. A career .290 hitter with an .856 OPS and Gold Glove-winning defence, has been on the downslope since his mammoth 2014 year with the Rockies. that year he hit .340, had an OPSof a head-turning 1.035 and managing to hit into only 4 double plays all year. His WAR that year was 5.5 according to Baseball-reference. In 2017, in the half season he played with Toronto, he hit just .249, ground into 10 DPs and had a microscopic WAR of 0.1. Anybody who sees him contending for a batting title or driving in over 100 runs, like he did in 2011, is delusional.

That said, if healthy, he can still play baseball. There’s little doubt to that. As Stroman says, he’s a great mature clubhouse presence that would be invaluable on a roster of young kids. He doesn’t buckle under pressure either. After a so-so initiation to Toronto in the latter months of the ’15 season, he came through in the playoffs with a pivotal homer in game 3 of the ALDS and ended up with 11 RBI in 11 games. Ousted manager John Gibbons, in his going-away comments suggested the Jays would have not only not beaten Texas in the 2015 ALDS, but wouldn’t have even made the playoffs without the trade for Troy. Not hard to argue with, since Gibby was right there and Tulowitzki replaced Jose Reyes, who by that point was a huge negative on the field, with a virtual “iron glove” and an attitude. Reyes last year, by the way, hit .189 for the Mets and had a negative WAR, for the third time in the last four years. Probably makes him mad enough to go and beat his wife… which leads to his domestic violence suspension, but that’s a tangent for another day. Point is, Tulo’s Toronto days haven’t been all for naught.

As it stands, the Jays are projecting to begin the year with Lourdes Gurriel as the shortstop and Richard Urena, rapidly becoming a “veteran utility man” as the backup there and at second. Kendrys Morales will be the DH for the third year. Gurriel was promising last year , so no problem with that. But if healthy- and all indications suggest he will be – Tulowitzki is a better hitter than Urena or Morales. If you’re going to pay him anyway, why not have him as the backup infielder/DH , ready to go in case of injury? He’d add some value to the team, to the clubhouse and while it might be annoying to pay around $18M to have a player do that (and about the same in 2020), it’s not as annoying as paying him $18M to do nothing at all. Something is better than nothing. Perplexing indeed.

With the added announcement of a tentative deal for JA Happ and the Yankees, despite Toronto attempting to re-sign him and despite Atkins’ admission that starting pitching is weak to bad right now with the Jays, with their seeming indifference to star Canadian pitcher James Paxton being traded by Seattle when he would have liked to pitch in Canada, the one thing not perplexing is whether or not Toronto’s current administration is up to the task of making a winning, or at least contending team. They’re not. Toronto fans deserve better.

*** ***

The Jays apparent concept that they shouldn’t even try to win in 2019, despite having two of the best prospects in the game readying to appear, is all too symptomatic of the malaise of MLB these days. We’ve seen too many teams in the last two years either deliberately “tank”- lose to save money or else get good draft picks – or at least make a conscious decision to not try to contend. It all ties into the reason attendance last year was down by over a million in Toronto and was under 70 million overall in MLB for the first time since 2003. The 69.6M fans through the gate was well below the 73.8M in 2015. But with ticket prices that continue to rise, making a night out for a family, once hotdogs and a beer for Dad, colas for the kids are worked in, equivalent to a second hand car loan, and teams which flat out refuse to try to provide a winner for the fans, where is the incentive to go out to the old ballgame in many cities? Fix those things, Rob Manfred, before throwing a pitch clock on the dugout wall or trying to ban “the shift.”

Phone Calls For Ross Atkins To Make, Part 2 – New York

Last time we looked at a call Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins should make, to the Indians to try and land a top-flight starting pitcher. Today, another call, another pitcher. Eyeball your I-phone, or activate that Android, Ross and dial

NEW YORK

to remind the Yankees of that Sheryl Crow song – “A Change Will Do You Good.” Why not flip bedeviled starters? Acquire Sonny Gray for Marcus Stroman. This would be very close to “six of one, half a dozen of the other”. Both teams shed a starter with star power who’s struggled of late and might benefit from a change of scenery. Stroman will be 27 next spring, Gray just turned 29. Both righties have had some excellent years in their young careers. Gray in 2015 (with Oakland) was 14-7 with a great 2.73 ERA over 200+ innings. Stroman, as recently as 2017 got some Cy Young votes, going 13-9, with a 3.09 ERA, 201 innings and received a Gold Glove to boot.

But things haven’t gone well of late. Gray was noted by Athlon sports pre-2016 as having an unusual (76.8%) rate of men left on base for him the year before and pondered if he could follow up that level of success. Answer: in Oakland, possibly, in the Big Apple no way. He’s been a big disappointment for the Pinstripers and from all accounts doesn’t like the pressure of the big city, big expectation fans. Since being traded there in 2017, he’s struggled. Last year, he was 11-9, but that was on a triple-digit win team. His ERA was bad – 4.90 – and his Baseball-reference WAR was 0.6 (with an ERA like that on a team of New York’s caliber, one wonders how he added any wins compared to a “replacement.”) His 2015 WAR, for comparison was 5.5. He particularly struggled in the Bronx, being 4-4 with a 6.98 ERA at home, compared to a decent enough 7-5, 3.17 on the road.

Stroman too struggled through 2018. He battled blisters on his fingers all season and was limited to 19 starts and 102 innings. His results were not wonderful, 4-9 with a 5.54 ERA and a not that good 77:36 K to BB ratio, well below his career norm of slightly better than 3:1. His WAR was a scant 0.2, compared to 5.7 the year before.

Both pitchers made around $6.5M last year and are going to arbitration this winter, in all likelihood bringing in about $7M for ’19. It won’t benefit or harm either team financially although Stroman won’t be a free agent until after 2020’s season, whereas Gray will be next winter.

WHY TORONTO LIKE THIS – It brings a new arm to the rotation, one who at worst is probably as good as any pitcher they already have in the #3 or 4 spot. At best, outside of the pressure cooker on the Hudson, he might relax and return to his better A’s form. Encouraging signs for Toronto for that to happen would include his better second half last year (he was 5-2, 3.63 after the All Star game) and his good results against Baltimore, Boston and Tampa last year. He had a collective 2.84 ERA against those 3 teams last year, and of course would see them a lot wearing the blue-and-white. As well, there’s not much difference in his fastball velocity over the past three years. What did change was he threw more “subpar” cutters in New York and he altered his stance a wee bit, holding his hands a bit higher as he went into the windup. Seemingly small things that could be easily changed by Pete Walker.

Getting rid of Stroman would irk some fans, but others would cheer. Little Marcus (one of the 6 shortest starting pitchers this century, at 5’8”) has had a big chip on his shoulder when it comes to the team. While, to his credit, he’s been a cheerleader for the city , he’s frequently publicly bashed the Jays management and fought them tooth and nail in arbitration.

WHY NEW YORK LIKE IT – they get a starting pitcher likely to be as good as, if not better than, Gray has been there and they get him for at least one extra season. As well, he’s more or less a hometown boy, being born in the suburbs. He’s a grinder, which might appeal to fans, and has a better than average ERA every year up to last. Unlike Gray, Stroman seems to like pitching in front of big,loud crowds.

The trade could backfire on either team, such being the nature of sport. But it could also rejuvenate both players’ careers and bolster both teams while being revenue neutral. It’s worth a ring-a-ding, Ross Atkins.

New Faces On Mound, Behind Plate. Time For New Faces In Front Office Too?

Tonight’s Blue Jays game in Kansas City will be watched closely and with anticipation by fans, which is something we’ve not said for awhile now. The reason is highly-touted pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley being listed as the scheduled starter, thereby making it his MLB debut. Add to that the fact that in all likelihood, behind the plate will be his normal catcher of late, Danny Jansen, who was called up yesterday and is expected to make his debut as well.

It will be good to see a glimpse of the team’s future… but it doesn’t hide the fact that this is one lacklustre season which is trying the patience of even diehard fans. It doesn’t put enough smoke out to screen the fact that there’s a noose dangling over manager John Gibbons’ career either. Widely respected baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal started a rumor last week that Toronto was about to fire Gibby, Toronto media picked up on the story and it grew and a few days back, Gibbons suggested that he was OK with staying or going and that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around if the team was going to have a “total rebuild.” That gave the story more legs, even with Gibbons under contract to Toronto through next season.

It would be a bit of a shame to see Gibbons go. He seems affable in his own odd way, has been much better with the media than his predecessor John Farrell and ranks second on the Jays all-time list for games and wins among managers. Curiously he trails only another San Antonio, TX native who also had two go arounds as manager- Cito Gaston. Currently Gibbons sits at 1537 regualar season games managed, with just over half (773) being wins. Gaston has 1731 and 894 respectively meaning Gibbons would surpass Cito for longevity sometime next year if he stays on and, we’d hope in wins as well. The latter however would be a longshot given the trajectory of the club in the last couple of years.

Which leads us to my point. I like Gibby but maybe it is time for him to go. He seems to be having trouble motivating the team lately and they sure aren’t putting up W’s or even exciting the diminishing crowds in the stadium. However, if he goes, Rogers’ should see to it that joining him on the path to the Exit are GM Ross Atkins and Big Poohbah Mark Shapiro. Since that pair crossed the border from Cleveland after the 2015 season, they’ve quickly driven the team steadily downwards on the field and in the public’s eye. Continue reading

Blue Jays Bet And Lost On JD

Gambling is the sure way of getting nothing for something,” quipped Wilson Mizner. A few lottery winners would disagree, but he’s often right. He surely was in the case of the 2018 Blue Jays. They rolled the dice about four times over the past winter when it comes to that “Bringer of Rain”, Josh Donaldson, and went a remarkably unlucky 0-for-4. A lot of snake eyes! They could have let him go in the off-season, or better yet, traded him off when teams were calling (St. Louis in particular we fans are told) and probably parlayed him into a couple of good solid prospects… and not gone to arbitration with him and ended up saddled with a $23 million debt to #20. That wasn’t in the cards however.

First off, they gambled that the ’18 Jays would be competitive. That they’d at least have a chance at hitting the Wild Card spot and if they did that, who knows where it could lead? Well, at this end back in spring, I thought that might be a bit optimistic and they needed more in the way of starting pitching, but there was at least a slim chance they could be correct. Now, almost half-way through the season, we see that’s just not going to happen. Like last year, the Blue Jays are battling for third and running below .500. Unlike last year, both the Red Sox and Yankees are on unbelievable tears, with the two best records in baseball. Throw in another good year from the Astros and a surprisingly solid campaign from Seattle and you have Toronto sitting something like 10.5 games out of the final Wild card spot. Conservatively, the blue-and-white would need to win 55 of their last 85 games to even have a chance; more likely this year 57 or 58 would be necessary to get them in. A tall order for a team which hasn’t managed to put together more than 4 wins in a row in half a year. With more games to look forward to against the Orioles than Red Sox, a .500 finish is within reach. A playoff berth- sorry, that train left the station weeks ago. Continue reading

Fine Happ-etizer…Where’s the Main Course?

 

What a difference a week or so makes. A little over a week back I wrote here about why Blue Jays fans should be excited over the team’s signing of pitcher JA Happ despite prevalent nay-sayers. This was of course, based on my rose-colored glasses view of the situation as Happ being a message to the league and a building block in developing a solid pitching staff for ’16- not the end all and be all. By the day it seems I was wrong and the nay-sayers were right for letting all the air out of the lofty post-season spirit balloon. For while teams all around (and generally behind by ’15 standings) Toronto have been active as a meerkat on espresso beans in upgrading this month, the Jays have merely sat on their hands. It’s as if the team went out to lunch (few would disagree when Alex Anthopoulos left at the apparent behoof of the new Pres Shapiro who quickly praised John Ferrell!), ordered a nice little appetizer – Happ- and then sat back watching all the teams at other tables load up on Price steaks and Frazier au gratin. And the fans, who are hungry for a title, are told to enjoy that appetizer and not forget how good past meals were.

As we know, since I last posted here, David Price signed on with the Red sox, and managed to annoy fans both here and there by stating he’d have preferred to stay on in Toronto had they only made him an offer. Other high-profile starters have jumped on their own personal Brinks trucks driven up to them by teams like San Francisco and Arizona. Arguably- and I do mean it’s open for debate- the Jays might not have been able to afford or justify matching the deal Boston gave Price to keep him around. But there’s no way to suggest they couldn’t have at least outbid the Mets on the services of ageless Bartolo Colon, who signed back there today for a comparitive bargain basement $7.25 million. Forget Bartolo’s age and rotund physique, he still is better than any pitcher Toronto has to bring up the rear of the rotation, averaging 15 wins, 195 innings and a sub-4 ERA over the past three campaigns. I’d take him on the mound in a Game 7 any day over jesse Chavez.

As much as the departure of Price stings, the worse failure of the Blue Jays this off-season has been the utter disinterest in improving on the bullpen. No mere coincidence that the team with the best bullpen has been the AL champion the past two years; no secret the Jays ‘pen last season was OK but not Kansas City good and is only going to get worse if left as is. LaTroy Hawkins has retired, Mark Lowe has taken off and the best reliever in the league after the All star break, Brett Cecil has a chewed up leg so is no sure bet to be pitching at all, let alone at full strength, come April. It’s such a concern that the team’s own website stated earlier this week “Blue jays keep focus on bullpen in Nashville.” They needed to pay attention as while they did nothing, the A’s picked up two star relievers (John Axford, Ryan Madson) in a matter of hours, the Astros picked up one of the best young pitchers in the game – Ken Giles- from the Phils, Seattle got a closer (Steve Cishek)and those other birds, the Orioles picked up the very respectable Darren O’Day. The lack of improvement of the bullpen doesn’t only concern me- today the Blue Jays website declared it their biggest need.

Two things come to mind. First, we fans need to resist pulling Chicken Littles. While it’s annoying that the team has done so little this fall, it also pays to remember that this is a team that came so close to making it to the World Series only weeks back and the bulk of that winning roster will be back. A lineup with Bautista, MVP Donaldson, Encarnacion (assuming his fussing over lack of long-term contract doesn’t lead him out of town, although as a last ditch measure, trading him for solid pitching might be an option), Tulo, Martin and the arms of Stroman, Estrada and Osuna should fare decently in ’16.

Second, there still are players out there who can fill the holes the team has. Just not so many as there were a few days ago, so Toronto can’t let the Astroturf grow under their feet to make things happen. Scott Kazmir and Yovanni Gallardo are two decent starters still un-signed, either of whom might make the rotation more playoff-ready. On the bullpen end of things, Tom Gorzelanny (mentioned here last month as a good choice for Toronto), tyler Clippard, and former Jays Casey Janssen and Carlos Villanueva are still available, no doubt for sums which wouldn’t break Rogers’ bank. the addition of any two of those would seemingly be enough to make Las Vegas like the Blue Jays again for the ’16 campaign.

In case I don’t have much else to write here in the next 9 days, I wish all my readers a happy Christmas and all the best in the new year! And let’s all look for a sparkly new pitcher in a blue cap under the tree, eh Ross Atkins?! There’s still time to order up dessert after the “Happ-etizer”