Having not contributed to my own blog in almost a year, I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things. My last post was, quintessentially, focused on Frank Ocean and how he probably doesn’t care about people clamoring for him to release his album after a lengthy period of enigmatic and puzzling inactivity.
Interestingly enough, he did eventually release “Blonde/Blond” – his best piece of work that has been a staple in my music shuffling ever since “Channel Orange” in 2012. He’s also released two singles since then (“Chanel” and “Biking”) and was featured on a Calvin Harris track along with Migos called “Slide” that, much to my dismay, has been featured regularly on the radio despite being a total banger.
This post isn’t about Mr. Ocean, surprisingly. It’s about the Toronto Blue Jays and the team’s worst start to the season in franchise history. The Blue Jays have gotten off to a
1-6 1-7 record and managed to look rather uninspired in the process but before I continue, it should be noted and made very clear that Toronto struggling seven games into the season isn’t cause for abandoning ship quite yet.
The fan base and organization should be worried, yes. Is it time to panic? Despite many players confidently proclaiming against it, perhaps they should be. There is a bevy of reasons as to why the Blue Jays window to win and compete has closed already and a 1-7 start only amplifies that possibility. A fun stat courtesy of Jon Morosi of MLB Network caught my eye last night and after tweeting it out, Morosi subsequently took to his column to let everyone know he’s very concerned about the team’s start.
I haven’t read his post because I want to keep other members of the media and their influential opinions out of my own. Here is why the Blue Jays should be concerned about the team’s start and what it could mean for the remainder of the season:
The Blue Jays aren’t getting any younger
In case you didn’t know, the Blue Jays aren’t a juvenile bunch by any means. Among the club’s position players, the team has only four players under 30 (Ezequiel Carrera and Ryan Goins are 29, Kevin Pillar is 28, and Devon Travis is 26). Of that group, Travis and Pillar are regulars and both of those guys aren’t exactly franchise cornerstones no matter how many diving plays Pillar makes in the outfield.
Of its pitching staff, it’s a little more promising. Aaron Sanchez (24 but soon to be 25), Marcus Stroman (25 but soon to be 26) and Roberto Osuna (22) are staples in the team’s rotation and bullpen and it’s also worth noting these three are the team’s most talented pitchers by a wide margin. Joe Biagini, a Rule-5 draft pick that emerged as one of the team’s go-to pitchers, is 26 and by all accounts, another nice piece. Other than these few, the Blue Jays lack youth. They’re getting older by the day.
What does this mean? Well, a few things. For starters, it’s not fair to assume their bodies are going to hold up forever. Josh Donaldson, the team’s most important offensive contributor, is already dealing with a calf injury after being shut down in the spring with a similar ailment. Jose Bautista, a 36-year-old who returned on a one-year deal after struggling to stay healthy last season, has three hits in 25 at-bats. Russell Martin, an aging catcher with close to 1,500 games under his belt, has no hits in 18 at-bats. Justin Smoak, a below replacement level first baseman that was awarded an underserved extension last year, has five hits in 22 at-bats. Steve Pearce, an often-injured 33-year-old platoon player with decent offensive pedigree has three hits in 19 at-bats. A combined 11-for-84 (.131) isn’t very good and while this can all be fixed and will eventually lead to better results, it’s not promising early on.
If these guys figure it out, which is entirely plausible, Donaldson gets healthy and Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales – the only two guys producing in the team’s lineup thus far – maintain their production, the Jays will be fine. If it continues to be an issue, questions will arise wondering if the Blue Jays are still fit to be threats in a competitive AL East that, unlike Toronto, features a few teams with a talented blend of youth and experience.
The players and their contracts
Here’s where things get interesting. I failed to mention starters Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano and J.A. Happ. Those three are important because not only do they carry decent value, all three are on short-term deals with reasonable salaries. Estrada (a free-agent at season’s end) earns $14.5-million while Liriano, also a free-agent at the end of the year, earns $13.6-million. Happ, who is coming off a 20-win season, is the cheapest pitcher of the three with a salary of $13-million but unlike the other two, has an added year left on his contract.
While not overly cheap, these are the kinds of guys that buyers target at the trade deadline. If the Blue Jays fail to match last year’s production, come July you should expect good teams to come calling; especially if Estrada, Happ and Liriano pitch anywhere from O.K. to good. Pitching wins championships, and the Blue Jays have three guys on short-term contracts that would likely be coveted if the team doesn’t turn it around.
As for position players, you can expect the Blue Jays to get a few calls on the 2015 MVP if the team struggles. Donaldson, one of baseball’s most productive all-around players, currently carries a $17-million salary but unlike many other franchise cornerstones, isn’t signed long-term. He’s arbitration eligible at the end of the year and would be a free-agent in 2019 if he’s not extended past that. It goes without saying that teams would have an interest in Donaldson and one can only imagine what teams would be willing to part with in order to acquire him.
I haven’t touched on Bautista yet either, who as I mentioned before, rejoined the Blue Jays on a one-year, $18-million deal. Many expect Bautista to bounce back and have a terrific season. If he does this and Toronto doesn’t reap the rewards of his production, considering he and the team have a mutual option for 2018 worth $17-million, he too could be moved to an AL team looking for offence. Donaldson and Bautista being shipped out of town would be heartbreaking for fans but would also be necessary, especially if the team wants to reload its prospect pool.
Going back to pitching, the Blue Jays have three relievers (Joe Smith, J.P. Howell and Grilli) all under contract for next year earning identical salaries at $3-million each. If any of them provide good value in the bullpen, they would, presumably, also be dealt quickly.
A thin group of prospects
If you’re asking why this should be a reason to panic, you should look around the league at team’s that have an abundance of top prospects. The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres all possess a large number of the game’s best young players. While some of these teams are focused on lengthy rebuilds and won’t compete for years, it’s not surprising to see the Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs here. While Boston dealt away some key prospects to get Chris Sale, the team has seen a few key players graduate from the minors to make a big impact; specifically, Gold Glove winning outfielder and MVP candidate Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi – the favorite to win this year’s Rookie of the Year.
The Dodgers groomed 22-year-old shortstop Corey Seager, last year’s anonymous ROY and a franchise talent. The team also has left-handed starter Julio Urias – one of baseball’s best pitching prospects and first baseman Cody Bellinger; currently ranked by MLB as the league’s 10th best of 100 prospects.
Comparatively, the Cubs won the World Series thanks to a developmental approach in which the club loaded up on prospects, patiently waited and saw them graduate only to help guide the team to its first World Series in 108 years. Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Carl Edwards are all terrific players 25-and-under that will be part of the team’s plans for the foreseeable future. Bryant, as you know, is the reigning NL MVP.
Then there’s the Blue Jays. Of most teams in the league considered to be contenders, Toronto has a very weak prospect pool in comparison. There are no top position players waiting in the wings maybe other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who is 18-years-old and many years away from the majors and first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who, because of the front office, is blocked by Smoak and his brutal contract. Tellez, a nice prospect by most standards, will be with the team this season whether they struggle or not, but it wouldn’t be fair to think he’s going to have a substantial impact in his first few seasons. Anthony Alford, a 22-year-old football player turned outfielder, is another guy to keep an eye on.
Other than these three, don’t expect to see any Blue Jays prospect come up from the minors and have great success. Unlike the Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers, the Blue Jays don’t have the luxury of many youthful talents ready to contribute right now. There are a few decent pitching prospects that could eventually make the team (specifically Sean Reid-Foley and Jon Harris) but neither are viewed as game-changing talents. At best, they’re viewed as middle of the rotation types which could slot in nicely behind Sanchez and Stroman eventually, but they’re no sure thing and are at least a year or two away.
Going off my previous point, this is why I believe the Blue Jays front office will target prospects through trade if the team fails to recapture last year’s magic. They can’t risk waiting it out for a long period of time and undoubtedly know that making most of their veteran players available through trade will bring in some good assets which would go a long way in improving a middle of the pack prospect pool.
The Blue Jays have some decisions to be made and most of them aren’t expected to be done anytime soon. While there is some time to turn it around, win some games and battle for a postseason berth, the team’s worst start in franchise history has come at a very bad time and it remains to be seen if the same group of players will be around to ride it out.