Heading into the Winter Meetings, I think a lot of people are celebrating this offseason as one to rival that of 2012/13 in which the Blue Jays completely made over their roster, acquiring Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera in order to make a run at the World Series. This year, the Blue Jays are focusing squarely on the offense (and defense) by bringing in upgrades at catcher and third base and filling the gap in the lineup left by Melky Cabrera with a cheaper and younger player.
Listening to the radio (to a radio host who shall remain unnamed), I heard a host whose attitude was almost victorious already thanks to the splashy activity that the Blue Jays have been involved in. Despite the acquisition of Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders, the Blue Jays are heading into the Winter Meetings with some big questions that need to be answered. In my opinion, the wheeling and dealing of Alex Anthopoulos had better just be beginning because, while there’s a lot of good energy in Blue Jays land right now, the roster just doesn’t seem to be ready to compete for the playoffs and the World Series.
There are still the holes in the Blue Jays’ club that have been talked about ad nauseum: the lack of a second baseman, the lack of a couple of reliable arms in the bullpen and the Blue Jays will be (at this point) relying on a rookie center fielder. I’m also a believer that the Blue Jays will have to make a move or two to address the depth in their 6-10 starters positions.
I’ll say this: I love Dalton Pompey. He’s a great young man and a really mature and exciting ballplayer. I love that he takes walks and works the count. I love that he’s an excellent defender in center field. I love that his stolen base percentage has been incredibly high in the minors. He’s not Billy Hamilton or Anthony Gose. He barrels up the ball really well and understands the game (and not just one aspect of it). That said, I think that the Blue Jays need to have a Plan B for center field. I think this is why they went out and signed Ezequiel Carrera to a minor league deal but, while I’d love to see Dalton take the starting center field job and run with it, as a 22-year-old rookie in 2015, I expect to see at least one significant setback. Will Blue Jays land be patient if he slumps badly?
Is Devon Travis ready for the big leagues? If not, are the Blue Jays ready to go back to the Ryan Goins/Maicer Izturis/Steve Tolleson well? That’s what it’s looking like. Maybe Maicer will be decent (I’d be happy with a 90 wRC+; Steamer has him at a projection of 85 for next year) and maybe Devon Travis will come out of the gate hammering the ball. Travis is definitely the top guy on the list when it comes to second base and has the best bat of the bunch. I really like Travis (I’m big on guys who can flat out hit, even if their other tools don’t stack up with the uber-prospects) and I think he’ll be in the bigs by July but there’s a chance that his development could take longer (just like Pompey). Plan B for second base is slightly better than for center field, though.
Certain radio people have been saying that Justin Smoak is going to be the every day first baseman while Edwin Encarnacion moves into a regular DH role. Whether this is true or not has yet to be seen but I’m not exactly comfortable with handing over the position to a guy who has hit for a 94 wRC+ and has a -0.2 fWAR in over 2000 big league plate appearances. Like with Donaldson and Sanders, Rogers Centre will likely help Smoak’s offensive numbers but he’s been a prototypical 4-A guy and we can’t count on a 28 year old (happy birthday yesterday, BTW). Despite being a switch hitter, the Blue Jays have another guy, Matt Hague that might be a threat in Spring Training. Hague, a right-handed hitter, had a great year in the International League but has never really gotten a shot in the bigs. Could he be another option? Is there someone else out there that the Blue Jays might bring in to swing from the left side?
Obviously, the Blue Jays are missing a couple of arms. They do have some guys that we saw last year a bit like Rob Rasmussen and a few waiver claims like Cory Burns and Bo Schultz who are still hanging around. There’s also a chance that Blue Jays pick someone up in the Rule 5 draft coming up at the end of the Winter Meetings.
The bullpen is a place where the Blue Jays have been creative in the past and I, for one, am very curious to see what they’re going to do this year. I’ve seen “rumours” that they love David Robertson but Alex Anthopoulos has never spent the kind of money that Robertson is expected to get on a reliever. Could the Blue Jays re-sign Casey Janssen or Dustin McGowan? Absolutely. Could they come up with pieces who are total surprises (like a Steve Delabar before he regressed last year)? You betcha. Indeed, Delabar could return to being the Delabar that we saw in 2013 which could solve part of the problem.
As you may have noticed earlier, I’m not entirely thrilled with how the depth in starting pitching has been depleted. While the Blue Jays had to deal that depth in order to get the players they did so far this offseason, if the Jays went into Opening Day with Daniel Norris, Liam Hendriks and Jeff Francis as the go-to guys if any of the top five starters falter, I’d be very uncomfortable. There are definitely going to be free agents galore (minor and major league) who will be able to fill that depth at a reasonable price.
In my eyes, there is still a lot that is needed to be done by the Blue Jays before Opening Day. As things stand now, the Blue Jays may have a lot of faith in the players who are slotted in to certain roles but there are an awful lot of rookies and/or players without successful track records to wonder how they’ll respond when the lights come on in April. I’m hoping we see some activity soon.
UPDATE: Sometimes comments can really force a writer to think about why he wrote what he did and I want to thank @DXpwns for his(?) insightful note. Since it’s tough to read the comments sometimes on this blog, I’ll post the comment and my response here:
Let’s be a bit realistic though. Is there a single team out there that ISN’T going to have 2 or 3 question marks when it comes to position players? I would also argue that the bullpen is also not something that you can guarantee success with because of the randomness due to small sample sizes.
I agree that moves need to be made especially in the ‘pen, but I don’t understand how you can say that we cannot compete for the playoffs. The rotation is solid 1-5 with lots of upside between Stroman, Hutch and Sanchez, while in terms of depth we do have Norris, Estrada, Redmond, Jenkins, Hendriks plus room in the 40-man roster to add more. That’s certainly not awful or below average depth and a lot better than what we had in 2013.
Offensively and defensively we have improved quite a bit. Keep in mind Smoak has career league average numbers away from Safeco, and considering the other elite guys in the line-up in front of him, league average production isn’t the worst thing in the world from the #7 or 8 spot, no?
Just my take…
First, my impetus to write this post was because I was hearing a lot of self-congratulatory talk about what the Blue Jays have done so far. They have done a lot but it just seems to me that it’s too early to turn the hype-meter up to 11.
Second, I think that the biggest issue I have with the makeup of the Blue Jays right now is that there’s no margin for error. The guys who are the front-line guys need to step up and perform and there really aren’t any Plan B guys in place, except at second base.
You’re right that bullpen pitchers are the most inconsistent because of small sample sizes and, therefore, it’s tough to predict who will have a good season. It’s easier to strike gold in the bullpen and there are some decent guys with the organization already but I’d also like to see someone who might be a clear improvement.
The problem with calling the rotation “solid” is the fact that if Sanchez doesn’t immediately give you league average production and Hutchison or Stroman take a step back, then you’re going with three “solid” starters. I don’t expect either Dickey or Buerhle to be better than one standard deviation above league average (at best) but I think it’s safe to call them “solid.” I love Chad Jenkins but I just don’t think the Blue Jays see him as a starter. That leaves you Norris (completely unproven in the major leagues, with only a handful of AAA starts), Marco Estrada (mediocre success in the starting rotation, coming off a down year, and he’s a guy who gives up a lot of home runs coming into Rogers Centre), Liam Hendriks (a guy who has never posted an ERA under 5.00 in the major leagues, despite a very solid FIP and xFIP last year — he could be a guy who always underperforms his expected stats and peripherals) and Redmond (a guy whose stats blow up when he faces batters multiple times as a starter). It’s true that almost any guy that you get for the depth positions behind the starting rotation is going to have warts (and if he’s so good, why isn’t he a starter with another team) but, to me, none of the guys the Blue Jays have ready to go are truly able to sustain “solid” production through a big chunk of a season. All four of them could be really good, but I think there’s a lower chance of that than of them being below average.
As far as Smoak goes: I would love to see him put it all together but the Jays just don’t have a Plan B in the form of a left-handed hitting first baseman or DH. I’d love to see them re-sign Dan Johnson just to have some insurance at that spot.
I hope that gives you a bit of insight into what was going on in my mind when I wrote the post!
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