This is the point in the offseason when we wonder if we’re ever going to make it to Opening Day. Yes, I’ve already looked at the schedule and we have to wait until April 6 for big league baseball.
That’s right, folks, the big league season starts a week later this year than last so no March 31 games for the Blue Jays in 2015. I’m already getting antsy. Heck, I’ve already got my travel plans for spring training made!
Right now, however, I’m more interested in whether the Blue Jays are “there” yet in a competitive sense yet rather than the in the sense of the chronological march towards Spring. So where do the Blue Jays stand as of the end of January?
They were very active early in the offseason, striking before November came to a close. The first major move was on November 1 when the Blue Jays sent Adam Lind to Milwaukee for Marco Estrada. On the 13th, the Jays sent another player who was thought to be a bit of a problem in the clubhouse, Anthony Gose, over to the Tigers for second base prospect Devon Travis.
On November 18, the Blue Jays got people excited by signing catcher Russell Martin. Martin will go a long way to improving the defense on the field and should provide a good “presence” in the clubhouse. I use quotes there because it’s hard for an outsider to know exactly what kind of effect a particular player has on the team behind closed doors.
The biggest question then is, “Are we there yet?” If you ask me, the answer is no. The Jays have upgraded the club offensively at third base and a little bit at catcher but most people would argue that there is a downgrade (offensively) in left field. Colby Rasmus is gone and he had a rough year last year, striking out 33% of the time and coming in with a .287 OBP but, when all the chips fell, his offensive production was pretty average. Colby had a .321 wOBA (right around average) and a 103 wRC+, again, slightly above average. His 0.6 fWAR (from Fangraphs) and his 0.7 rWAR (from Baseball Reference) tell us that he was worth well under a win over a replacement player, so we could argue that by replacing Rasmus with Dalton Pompey, the Jays might get a little better (but they might not).
Offensively, I think the Jays aren’t particularly that much better. Adam Lind has been replaced by Justin Smoak, a Quad-A player who has shown flashes of competence but not much more than that. The club still doesn’t have a second baseman who can be counted on, Maicer Izturis is a big unknown, Ryan Goins hasn’t been able to hit at the major league level and we have no idea if Devon Travis will be able to make the jump to the big leagues in 2015. Center field is another big question mark. Jose Reyes hasn’t been playing at 100% often enough either and hasn’t looked nearly as good defensively as we thought he’d be.
On the whole, after the Blue Jays get past the #5 spot in the lineup (assuming that Russell Martin is hitting in the #2 slot), there are a lot of question marks.
Pitching still hasn’t really been addressed, outside of the Blue Jays putting their faith in what they’ve already got. How did they do this? They traded their #5 starter and two key rotational depth guys in Happ, Graveman and Nolin. Now Aaron Sanchez slots into the #5 role where they hope that he’ll be successful and they’ve brought Liam Hendriks back to join a couple of other guys in Buffalo like Daniel Norris and Jeff Francis. Marco Estrada could also start the season in the rotation if needed.
The potential is certainly there for a strong rotation with a potentially ace-like Marcus Stroman and solid guys like Buehrle, Dickey and Hutchison bringing up the middle. Sanchez could blossom but he could have his command issues exposed and end up back in the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen . . . there are certainly guys who could be good, but there are also guys who are untested or are reclamation projects. Names like Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond, Estrada and Chad Jenkins don’t exactly inspire fear in opposition teams.
Who else is on the 40-man that could help in the bullpen? Steve Delabar, Scott Barnes, Kyle Drabek, Preston Guilmet, Colt Hynes, Juan Pablo Oramas, Rob Rasmussen, Bo Schultz, Ryan Tepera and Matt West.
Of those guys, most probably won’t be able to help much. Maybe one or two guys step forward and contribute and relievers are notoriously inconsistent but still, I’m not going to go out on a limb and wager that the bullpen will be a strength of the team based on what’s there now.
So “are we there yet?” I don’t think so and as the days go by, it looks less and less likely that Anthopoulos will make anything more than a minor move to shore up a weak spot before the season starts.
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