Now calling Alex Anthopoulos, ring ring.
The Blue Jays are in first place. Yes first place in the tough AL East. The same AL East that features the 2013 World Series Champions Boston Red Sox, the Bronx Bombers, the O’s and one of the lowest payroll teams, the Tampa Bay Rays.
If you had told experts before this season started that the Jays would be in first place on this date, they would have likely laughed or perhaps told you the standings are upside down. The Blue Jays ended last season with pitching being the biggest issue surrounding the ball club. They were confident in what they had and chose not to make any moves during the offseason – however they took a run at Masahiro Tanaka (the “5-year policy “dilemma) and somehow totally missed out on Doug Fister. So the Blue Jays went in the 2014 season with what they had and hoped for the best. The best was much more then they expected but how did this happen?
Well the answer is quite simple actually. Any good baseball team must have solid pitching, defense, offense and good coaching of course. The offense was no question with the Blue Jays relying heavily on the long ball to win ballgames. The addition of Juan Francisco to the lineup helped even more. The Blue Jays are quite good defensively with potential gold glover’s Jose Reyes and Canada’s very own Brett Lawrie covering the left side of the infield. Colby Rasmus covers lots of ground in the outfield and Jose Bautista has one of the strongest arms in the game. The Blue Jays started with Ryan Goins at 2B this year, which fans became familiar with towards season-end last year. Despite his high praise for defense, the Blue Jays sent him to AAA because of the lack of offense and Steve Tolleson and Brett Lawrie (Juan Francisco at third base) have shared most of the duties since. Also Erik Kratz has slowed down the running game whenever he has been behind the plate. The Blue Jays have a fielding percentage of .986 with 39 errors ranking them 9th best in the league. (ESPN MLB Team Stats) The pitching has been fairly consistent despite the Blue Jays recent struggles on the road trip. This pitching staff features solid performances game in and game out from Mark Buehrle who has surprised many with his All-Star worthy performance so far. If the Blue Jays could get to first place can they maintain it?
The baseball season is like a rollercoaster ride. Every team is expected to have its ups and downs. The Toronto Blue Jays had their up with a gigantic month of May going 21-9. The Blue Jays rode the rollercoaster for a long time going on a 9 game winning streak and teams are bound to do the same eventually as we just witnessed Kansas City do this past week. Blue Jays fans can recall how a season can turn around because of the injury bug and the Jays can’t afford to be bit again. They have seen names like Matt Moore, CC Sabathia and Clay Buchholz; all pitchers from the AL East go down due to injuries this year. Should the Blue Jays remain healthy they might be able to compete but to do so the Blue Jays will have to fix some glaring holes in their roster.
As we know the Blue Jays could certainly use another SP – an ace or middle of the rotation guy that can consistently give them innings and a chance to win game in and game out. The Blue Jays have been platooning Brett Lawrie and Juan Francisco on the infield against right-handed pitchers but Francisco may have reached his potential already. Juan Francisco, the same guy who was picked up off waivers and can’t hit a breaking ball if his life depended on it, is really not good enough and would be better coming off the bench. So the Blue Jays need to improve and to do this they will have to do so through trade. Lets examine some of the possible options for the Blue Jays with the trade deadline coming July 31st.
The SP crop is very deep with top of the rotation “aces” gaining lots of attention. The two hottest names in the market are former CY-Young David Price and Jeff Samardzija. David Price who the Jays are very familiar with has regressed statistically from last year but nevertheless remains arguably the best arm on the market. Jeff Samardzija is an intriguing arm that has been dominant all season long with an ERA at 2.53. Unfortunately he has not been given the run support he would like in Chicago which therefore gives him only 2 wins so far. Both arms would improve the Jays rotation immediately should the jays choose to pursue one of them. Other interesting names on the market include Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jason Hammel.
In regard to position players the Blue Jays could look to acquiring there are many options. Which options that interest the Blue Jays is the question. Brett Lawrie has been playing at both 2B and 3B this year but many feel he belongs at the hot corner. Alex Anthopolus told Jeff Blair and Kevin Barker on Baseball Central (Sportsnet) “If there’s a way that we could eliminate that platoon scenario in the infield, and just have one everyday player, that would certainly free things up for the bench and so on …That’s probably one area that in a perfect world you have that player.” Ben Zobrist of the Rays, Chase Headley of the Padres, Nick Franklin of the Mariners and Chase Utley of the Phillies could all be of the Blue Jays liking. Getting a position player would solidify the weakness at second base both defensively and offensively and the Jays could certainly use that. Acquiring a SP or INF via trade will make the Blue Jays a bigger threat but this will not be cheap whatsoever and that leaves the Blue Jays front office with lots of decisions.
The Toronto Blue Jays haven’t won a world series or even made it to the playoffs for that matter since the glory days a long 20 years ago. The fan base here is starting to get impatient and many people are demanding the Blue Jays make a move now – but who can blame them? After all the Blue Jays haven’t really had a legit 1st place lead in the division since the glory days and many fans hope that a move will help solidify their standing in the division in what many are calling a “race to 90 wins”. Alex Anthopoulos has an interesting resume as the GM of the Blue Jays. He has shown in the past he is willing to make moves and is not afraid to give away his prospects. Fans will recall the major trade with Miami that brought Jose Reyes and Mark Buherle to Toronto as well as the trade with the Mets to bring reigning CY-Young winner at the time, RA Dickey to Toronto. This offseason there were rumours that Alex Anthopoulos engaged in trade talks that would have brought second baseman Ian Kinsler to Toronto. (CBS Sports) Since he has made such moves in the past, fans are encouraged he will be willing to do so once again. So what options does Alex Anthopoulos have?
Realistically speaking, when teams are looking to unload big name players they are demanding prospects and many of them in return. This is where the situation gets tricky. According to Bleacher Report the Toronto Blue Jays have the 23rd worst farm system in the majors with top prospect pitcher Aaron Sanchez leading the way. “He’s highly thought of in the baseball world – not only our organization” Gibbons said. “So I’m sure a lot of teams would want him just like we want him” (Sportsnet) There is no doubt that should the Blue Jays go after a SP like Price or Samardzija, he will have to be included. But that’s not all. The Blue Jays will likely have to give up more than one prospect. Marcus Stroman who was one of the Jays top prospects at the beginning of the year has joined the club and has performed well so far but he was and may still be an intriguing name for many other ball clubs. Drew Hutchinson was also said to be gaining interest as well as LHP Daniel Norris and OF Dalton Pompey, other shining prospects in the Jays farm system. The choice to parting ways with prospects has created a debate among experts and fans.
Despite his numbers not being very exciting so far, prospects such as Aaron Sanchez have very high upsides and there is no doubt about that. Because they are only prospects though, they haven’t proven themselves and there is no certainty they will turn into star players when they reach the show. On the other hand, SP prospects are the foundation of a team that is always in demand. The Blue Jays were patient with Marcus Stroman and fans are already getting excited about what he can bring to the ball club in years ahead. The Blue Jays current state as a franchise makes this situation very interesting indeed.
The Blue Jays don’t have much depth in their farm system and should they choose to unload their top prospects, they wont have any solid pitchers to replenish old players such as Mark Buehrle and RA Dickey in the coming years. Just like a prospect may never turn out to work, neither may the trade. The Blue Jays traded one on the top MLB prospects SP Noah Syndegard in a trade with another top C prospect for RA Dickey. Unfortunately RA Dickey has been nothing close to his CY Young form and Noah Syndegard could be making a splash in the big leagues in the upcoming months. This trade – which looks like a bad mistake to many, came after the mega deal and many fans like myself feel that Anthopoulos was getting greedy – mainly in his attempt to help the Jays make the playoff last year. The truth is the Blue Jays don’t have many exciting young rookie phenoms like Gregory Polanco or Billy Hamilton who have taken the MLB by storm already this year. But at the same time I would be lying by saying the Blue Jays could compete for a championship with players like JA Happ in the rotation. If the Blue Jays are confident they can make it to the playoffs they will need a solid SP who can compete with the other aces such as the Clayton Kershaw’s and the Matt Scherer’s of the league. A sign-and-trade deal seems very unlikely though teams such as the Tigers and Angels may be interested in acquiring a reliever from the Blue Jays deep bullpen.
The Blue Jays know that the price is very expensive. In fact they were on the opposite side of the trade table when they were looking to unload their ace Roy Halladay. They tried to get the best group of prospects (Brett Lawrie, Kyle Drabek, Anthony Gose) in return just as teams are trying to do with the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays might not have enough to offer to teams like the Rays or Cubs but still are said to be a top of landing destinations. Unlike David Price, Jeff Samardzija would be a rental player until the end of the year when he becomes a free agent and the Blue Jays may end up mortgaging their future because of one player who may or may not get them to the playoffs. Will getting to the playoffs for one year be worth possible poor seasons in the future?
I’m not suggesting the Blue Jays burn this whole thing down and start selling rather than buying. If that was the case, and Alex Anthopolous felt the Jays didn’t have what it took to compete, names like Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind and perhaps even Juan Francisco (during his hot streak) would be gone already. The Blue Jays would like to retool (buyers) rather than rebuild (sellers) their current roster but the Blue Jays don’t have and can’t afford to for that matter to offer many top prospects to teams. The harsh truth is that the Blue Jays aren’t ready to compete, but they shouldn’t go all out to do so.
After all it’s a long season boys and girls.