I’ll admit, I’m venturing a little bit out of my comfort zone here. I usually try to stick to hockey (although I’ve done a couple football pieces for this website) because it’s what I know best. But my second passion is baseball. Many a Summer’s night are spent watching Blue Jays games followed by a night game. While many like to delve deep into the stats and metrics (and I do), I still enjoy just watching the games as a baseball fan.
For years, I (among others) have been clamoring for the Blue Jays to make a trade, or make a FA signing, that would excite the fan base. I can tell you first-hand, that when we traded away Scott Rolen for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart, there was a collective groan among Blue Jays fans. At the time, Rolen was hitting .320 and playing a solid third base, and all we got in return was promise. Fast-forward three years, and I am wearing lots of egg on my face with the season that Encarnacion just had. The question wasn’t his power, but whether he would put it all together. He did, and now the 3-4 of Bautista/Encarnacion is one of the best in baseball.
The Jose Bautista trade was nothing to get the fan base riled up over. When he was traded to the Jays for a PTBN (it ended up being Robinzon Diaz, who hasn’t played a game in the MLB in three years), Bautista had never hit more than 16 home runs. He hit 97 between 2010 and 2011.
The Colby Rasmus trade was another “project” trade. He has (had) the tools to be a 5-tool CF, but has failed to live up to that expectation. Despite the 23 home runs in 2012, he had .223/.289/.400 slash line that isn’t quite what the Jays were hoping for. At 26, time is running out for Rasmus to become the hitter he was projected to be, and there’s Anthony Gose waiting in the wings.
There were other trades that impacted the psyche of the fanbase. Remember Travis Snider? I was irate at Alex Anthopoulos for getting rid of him, considering he finished with a slash line of .250/.319/.378 (RE: Rasmus/Gose). He is two years younger than Rasmus, can play the vacant left field, and would allow Gose a clear path to the majors. And for a once-coveted prospect, we get Brad Lincoln. I’ll just stop there. There was also the mega-trade with Houston, mega in size only, where we bolstered the bullpen, and acquired a possible 4-5 starter.
All this is to say, there was never that one trade that signaled to the fan base that the team was ready to win.
I know you all know the details by now, but here it is again
SS Yunel Escobar
INF Adeiny Hechavarria
C Jeff Mathis
SP Henderson Alvarez
OF-prospect Jake Marisnick
P-prospect Justin Nicolino
P-prospect Anthony Desclafani
There is not much loss in losing Escobar with Reyes coming back. Escobar wore out his welcome with many with his “Tu ere maricon” stunt. Mathis is a replaceable catcher, in every sense of the word. Hechavarria, for all his talents with the glove, still has questions about his bat. Alvarez has two problems: 1) He’s a sinker pitcher, and when it doesn’t sink, the ball flies (ask Justin Masterson). 2) He doesn’t have a usable breaking ball, limiting him to a 2-pitch pitcher for the most part (sinking fastball, and a change-up that moves the same as his sinker but 7-8 MPH less). He is still young, so there is time to develop that breaking ball, and if he does, he could be anywhere from a 2 – 4 starter. If he doesn’t, he won’t last in the big leagues. Marisnick is a very good OF propsect, but with Bautista in RF and Gose/Rasmus in CF, there is a bottle neck of players vying for left field. In this sense, Marisnick is expendable. Nicolino is one of the “Lansing 3″, along with Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard. These are three top prospect pitchers that played single-A for Lansing last year, but of the three, Nicolino is said to have the lowest ceiling (albeit, is regarded as a more surefire prospect). Desclafani is also another pitching prospect from Lansing, but less highly regarded than the other three.
SS – Jose Reyes
SP – Josh Johnson
SP – Mark Buehrle
Util – Emilio Bonifacio
C – John Buck
Obviously, the first three names are the key names. The Jays get a career .291 hitter who has an OBP of .355+ in four of his last 6 seasons, and has 109 stolen bases in the last 3 years. This is the first time the Jays have had a true lead-off hitter since Otis Nixon, and he had nowhere near the power Reyes does. As far as consistency goes, thy name is Mark Buehrle. This is a guy who has pitched over 200 innings and 30+ starts in twelve straight seasons. He’s not going to light the radar gun, nor his he going to pitch CG shutouts. But, he will be a very good 3-4 starter, and while his contract is bad, that kind of security doesn’t come cheap either. Bonifacio is nothing to sneeze at. He can play 2B, 3B, SS or OF, and should see lots of playing time this year. He is an ultimate utility guy, who despite being limited to just 64 games last year, still finished with 30 SBs, and an OBP that isn’t too shabby at .330. Also, between Bonifacio and the signing of Maicer Izturis, there will be days off for Reyes, in hopes of keeping him healthy. The acquisition of John Buck likely means the end of the Arencibia era in Toronto. The Jays have uber-catching propsect in Travis D’Arnaud who has nothing left to prove in AAA. John Buck will provide that veteran catcher to mentor the young player, making Arencibia the odd man out (especially with the Jays acquiring Bobby Wilson).
This comes down to Josh Johnson. Under contract for just the 2013 season, he has to stay healthy. If he can, and returns to 2009-2010 form, this is a staff ace on just about any team. Also, if he doesn’t work out with Toronto, he can be flipped during the season as a rental to a contender. If they so choose, the Jays can also try to re-sign him.
But make no mistake about this deal, this is a deal of opportunity. Bonifacio is arbitration-eligible, Johnson has 1 year left on his contract, as does Buck. It’s only Reyes and Buehrle that are owed money past next season. What I mean about a deal of opportunity is this: What is the AL East going to look like next year?
Well, the Boston Red Sox of imploded, exploded and asploded all over the place, and are in a half-rebuild. These are not the Red Sox of a couple years ago. The pitching staff is suspect at best and the line-up doesn’t offer much after Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz. The are lots of question marks around the 2013 Red Sox, and John Lackey isn’t the answer to this question.
The Baltimore Orioles had a complete anomaly in 2012. They were a +7 in run differential and somehow still made the playoffs. This will not repeat. Nate McLouth isn’t going to carry the team at times like he did at the end of last year, and again, there is a suspect pitching staff there.
The New York Yankees showed their age during the playoffs. When your lineup features Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira and Cano, and you need Raul Ibanez to bail you out on multiple occasions, you’re in trouble. And after Sabathia, who is going to be pitching for the Yankees next year? Pettitte? Kuroda? Neither are signed. Michael Pineda has bigger question marks around him than a Mario Kart track. Who is going to be on the mound for the Yankees in 2013? Who knows, but as of right now, it doesn’t look good for the pinstripes.
The Tampa Bay Rays feature one of the best pitching staffs and bullpens in all of baseball. This is not in dispute. What is in dispute is their lineup. Granted, Evan Longoria missed much of last year, and that had a lot to do with their power outage. Even with his addition, B.J. Upton is a free agent, and if he doesn’t not return, that is another gaping hole in their lineup (you don’t easily replace a hitter with back-to-back 20-30 seasons).
So this is what I mean by opportunity. Beyond the Rays (and even with them to an extent), there are loads of questions all around the AL East. The Jays see 2013 as a window of opportunity, with the stop-gaps in place to carry them until the rest of their prospects are MLB ready. Once Buck is gone, D’Arnaud steps in. If Johnson goes, hopefully a prospect steps up, or players like Kyle Drabek or Drew Hutchison figure it out by then. Also, if Johnson does not re-sign, or the Jays do not trade him, they get a supplementary round or 2nd round pick, which has lots of value. If he stays, the Jays just got an ace. Reyes is the SS for the foreseeable future, until the next SS emerges with the trading of Hechavarria. Buehrle is their 3-5 starter for the near-future, and Bonifacio can fill in any holes they might have outside of pitcher, catcher and first base.
As a life-long Blue Jays fan (yet one that is young enough to only vaguely remember the 1992 and 1993 World Series), it’s been brutal. We haven’t been as bad as some others (looking at you, Pirates), but at the same time, no playoffs in two decades is tough to swallow. I understand this is a lot of payroll to take on, and going to $120M next year will likely be the Jays’ limit. But I also understand that the Jays see a window of opportunity next year. They also acquire a stable of players that can carry them until their wave of prospects (Syndergaard, Sanchez et al.) are MLB ready.
In 8 months time, I might sit here lamenting an underperforming team. The Red Sox supposedly had one of the best lineups in baseball history in 2011, and they failed to make the playoffs. But give me a 1-4 of Reyes, Lawrie, Bautista, Encarnacion, with other pieces like D’Arnaud, Rasmus/Gose, Davis that can either hit or run down further in the lineup. Sprinkle in a 1-4 of Morrow-Johnson-Romero-Buehrle, with J.A. Happ the likely 5th. Add these in conjunction with a bullpen that was very good for the bulk of the year (I just forget that Coco Cordero was ever a Blue Jay), and will also look forward to the return of Sergio Santos and Luis Perez, and you have a team with a lot of promise, taking advantage of a window given to them by the downturn of others in the division.
Also, this is a win-win for Rogers Media (who owns the Blue Jays). If they win, they look like saviors for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since I was 7. If they don’t make playoffs, they can say “we tried to spend to contend and it didn’t work”.
For now, all this is is promise. I feel bad for Marlins fans (who are paying for the bulk of the new stadium), as they are now a 100-loss team next year. This is SO a Jeffrey Loria thing to do. But they got a few good young prospects, and hopefully now they can build for the future.
But I can tell you as a life-long Jays fan, I was stoked before the 2012 season, as I thought we might even have an outside chance at a Wild Card (damned Injury Imp). I am absolutely jacked for the 2013 season, because at the very least, we don’t have to tell ourselves we are still waiting for prospects. The time to win (and by win, I mean just making playoffs) is now, and the pieces are there.