Playing Pepper 2014: Toronto Blue Jays

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Toronto Blue Jays
74-88, fifth in the AL West

Could it be the Marlins knew what they were doing after all?

Widely derided for the fire sale trade that sent players like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to the Great White North, the Marlins took the brunt of criticism while the Blue Jays were expected to compete in, if not run away with, the AL East. Yet for all the offseason talk and the idea that Toronto had “won the offseason”, both teams wound up in last place in their divisions, albeit the Jays with 12 more wins.

So now what?  How do you go forward after such an underachieving season?  Good thing we have some smart bloggers to ask such questions.  Today’s panel includes:

To the questions!

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

AED: Is there a grade below F? While on some level we might have avoided a few potential land mine contracts from injury prone pitchers (Matt Garza, Phil Hughes etc) it is a little disconcerting that we didn’t sign even one impact starting pitcher. Even if the Blue Jays signed Ervin Santana that would’ve maybe taken the grade to a D- as I think he would have really struggled in the AL East pitching at Rogers Centre for half of his starts.

BJH: D or perhaps even a borderline F. Aside from non-tendering J.P. Arencibia and signing Dioner Navarro, the Blue Jays failed to do anything this offseason.

Starting pitching was obviously the glaring need for the Blue Jays, and they failed to upgrade in that department. For whatever reason, Alex Anthopoulos has decided to stand pat this offseason, so management is either strapped for cash or they feel their current 40-man roster is enough to contend.

BJFA: C-. I don’t think the overall inactivity is necessarily a bad thing but I think the fan base is all hyped up because of last season and are really feeling like the team isn’t doing anything. The Dioner Navarro thing is fine. I didn’t see many other catchers out there that were much better than him at his price range. With Tanaka and Garza gone, I’m not overwhelmed with what’s left (mostly Santana and Jimenez). I’ve been saying all through the offseason that if the Jays buy a free agent starter, it has to be a clear upgrade of what they have. With about seven or eight pitchers with legitimate shots to grab the #4 and #5 starting spots, I think the Jays have the potential to get close to the production that either of the free agents will give them at a fraction of the cost. It would still be nice to have another experienced starter to plug in.

BJP: F. Going into it, Alex Anthopoulos had 3 things to achieve. The first and most important was to acquire one or two starters via free agency or trade. He did not do that. He has stressed that the price has not matched what he is looking for, but that is no excuse for a team that has as much money as it does. He failed at improving the pitching, and is now saying that he is content with the pitching he has, even though he clearly stated the he wasn’t in October.

Secondly, he needed to improve the second base position. HE DID NOT DO THAT. He tried. He wanted to acquire Ian Kinsler, but he didn’t. Robinson Cano was a free agent. Mark Ellis was also a free agent. So was Omar Infante. Aledmys Diaz was/is as well. But Ryan Goins is still projected to be the Jays 2nd baseman, and still projected to be horrible.

Lastly, a new catcher was needed. JP Arencibia was horrible, and was not going to succeed in Toronto. Dioner Navarro isn’t much better than him, if at all. Erik Kratz is the best catcher on the roster, but won’t start.

It just doesn’t make sense how bad this off-season was.

FLF: It’s been a pretty rough one to be honest. The Jays finished last in 2013 and had massive holes in the starting rotation and at second base, and did nothing to address them. They did make a slight upgrade at catcher by getting rid of J.P. Arencibia, but that’s about it. I’d give them a D.

C70: R.A. Dickey struggled in his return to the AL. Can he get that Cy Young form back?

AED: I wrote a piece after the Blue Jays signed the reigning NL Cy Young award winner and looking back it was part hyperbole and part insanity. Compared to the year prior all of his statistics were much worse (K-rate, K/BB, HR/9, ERA, FIP) and his velocity was down almost 2 MPH on his knuckleball. If he can bring his “power” knuckler back and stay healthy I think he can pitch much better but he will never again even sniff a Cy Young while pitching at Rogers Centre in the AL East.

BJH: I don’t know if he’ll ever reproduce that magical 2012 season, but this year should see R.A. Dickey return back to his 2010 or 2011 self. Dickey experienced a myriad of adjustments in 2013 (pitching in the AL East, pitching under a dome, dealing with a bad back), so hopefully things will even themselves out this year.

Also, keeping the Rogers Centre roof closed for every R.A. Dickey start (regardless of the weather) would definitely go a long way to playing the odds in Dickey’s favour. Last season, he gave up 40% more home runs with the roof open as opposed to keeping it closed.

BJFA: I’ll ask you a question that your question brings up. How do you define “Cy Young form”? Is it the way he pitched in going out and earning the Cy Young Award in 2012 or is it the numbers that he put up in doing so? I don’t think he’ll produce anything close to the numbers that he had for the Mets while pitching in the AL East. He still hasn’t really figured out how to keep the ball in the Rogers Centre and, despite the fact that the was much better over the second half last year, his numbers will never be better in Toronto than in his Cy Young season. That said, if he puts up a 3.50-3.70 ERA for this team, he will very successful.

BJP: No. He’ll be a 3-4 WAR guy if he is healthy like he was in the 2nd half of last season, but he won’t be a Cy Young candidate.

FLF: I’d like to say yes. He was actually quite good in the second half of the season – his awful start is what dragged his season totals down. He now has one year in the AL East under his belt, and one year in the Rogers Centre as well, both of which should help. That said, he is a 39-year old knuckleballer pitching in one of baseball’s toughest divisions, so I’m not counting on it.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

AED: I was interested in the 5th starter battle and was excited to see the hopeful resurgence of Ricky Romero, the return to health of Drew Hutchison or a return to the rotation of Dustin McGowan. The team will need contributions from all three at some point this season if they intend to compete for a playoff spot. We simply need some luck and a few arms to really step up this season.

BJH: The back-end of the rotation is something that’s been in constant flux this entire Spring Training for the Blue Jays. As I write this, I still am not 100% certain who the Blue Jays’ number four and five starters will be, and I don’t think they know either.

There’s a motley crew of options which include out-of-options arms like Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers, and much-maligned pitchers like J.A. Happ and Ricky Romero.

BJFA: I’m most interested in the bullpen and rotation roster battles. In the bullpen it’s interested because the Jays have so many guys who are out of options including Esmil Rogers, Luis Perez, Jeremy Jeffress and Dustin McGowan. With Santos, Jansen, Delabar, Cecil and Loup practically guaranteed spots, there will be tremendous competition to see who gets the last two or three spots (the Jays have been willing to carry 8 relievers in the past few years). In the rotation, without a free agent signing, the Jays have Dickey, Buehrle and Morrow at the top with J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin, Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers and Dustin McGowan all jockeying for spots with guys like Ricky Romero, Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire looking on from the fringes. It’s going to be really interesting to see how it shakes out. Happ will almost certainly get the #4 spot, leaving the rest of those guys to duke it out for #5.

BJP: Back end of the rotation. Between JA Happ, Esmil Rogers, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Sean Nolin, Kyle Drabek and Todd Redmond, 2 of those guys should step up. I’d rather have all of those guys as depth, but Alex Anthopoulos is pretty incompetent, so they’ll have to be used in the rotation.

FLF: The back-end of the rotation. Toronto seems set with Dickey, Brandon Morrow, and Mark Buehrle up front, but the 4 and 5 spots are wide open. Barring any late free agent signings there will be a ton of guys battling for them – injury returnees Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, last year’s stopgaps J.A. Happ, Todd Redmond, and Esmil Rogers, reclamation project Toma Ohka, and prospects like Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin. Should be interesting.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

AED: Well as I write this rotation hopeful Marcus Stroman lasted 0.1 IPs and was absolutely rocked but I will stick with him. He has a tantalizing array of pitches and was highly touted coming out of college. There really aren’t any other rookies that look ready to help the team in any meaningful way in 2014.

BJH: Marcus Stroman. Although he may not break camp with the Blue Jays, there is a potential for him to get called up part way through the season. Of all the Blue Jays prospects, Stroman has been reported as the most Major League ready of the bunch.

BJFA: I think Marcus Stroman eventually makes the biggest impact. I don’t see him starting the season with the team (I think the Jays want him to have at least a few months of action in Triple-A) but I think he can come up and be an impact arm. Most of the other guys in the equation have lost their rookie status (Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra) but if Stroman stays in Triple-A all year, then Ryan Goins (2B) will have the biggest impact, just for the fact that the Jays want him to play almost every day. If he does that and can’t get the bat going, he’ll be a negative impact (although his defense is excellent). If he can hit .260/.320/.370, it will be a pleasant surprise.

BJP: Marcus Stroman? Not many other candidates, so I’ll have to go with him. He’s got legit #2 starter stuff if he can stay healthy, and if he cannot handle a starters workload because of his height, he’ll still be a lights out back end of the bullpen pitcher. Should be fun.

FLF: I’m going to go with A.J. Jimenez, a minor league catcher. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him called up by mid-season and firmly cement himself as the backup, and maybe even challenge Dioner Navarro. The signing of Ohka, who has converted himself into a knuckleball pitcher, will at the very least give Jimenez practice catching the pitch, which will help him start with Dickey.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

AED: The Blue Jays will be a .500 team and finish last in the AL East.

BJH: I’m going to be conservative here and go with 85-77, which should be good enough for fourth place.

BJFA: The Jays finish fourth in the division with an 82-80 record.

BJP: 78-84. LAST PLACE.

FLF: What a far drop from last year, when I think I predicted 95 wins and a division title. The hopeless optimist in me says that if the team can stay healthy (unlike last year), they can challenge for a playoff spot. The realist in me, however, thinks a record of .500 and fight for 4th is more probable.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

AED: Jose Reyes is the easy answer here. He plays the game with such passion and almost reckless abandon. You can’t help but cheer for him and I really hope he stays healthy for 150+ games at shortstop this season to see what type of year he can put up in a great hitters park.

BJH: To this day, for me it’s still Jose Bautista. Whenever I know Bautista’s coming to the plate, it’s appointment viewing because you never know just how far he’ll launch a baseball. His plate discipline is incredible, and for all the flack he takes about giving the umpires grief, he certainly has phenomenal pitch recognition.

BJFA: I love watching knuckleballers so for me, I enjoy watching R.A. Dickey the most. Watching Brett Lawrie play defense is a close second and watching Sergio Santos throw sliders is third.

BJP: I’ll sway from Jose Reyes and say Brett Lawrie. Hot corner defense is the best type of defense, and Lawrie is really good at it. I could watch Brett Lawrie in the field all day. At the plate on the other hand…Well, he’s getting there.

FLF: Edwin Encarnacion. He has so much power that when he connects with a ball it goes for miles. Plus he always looks like he’s having a good time out there.

My thanks to all the bloggers who took the time to enlighten us about the only MLB team on foreign soil.  The AL East should be an intriguing battle all year long and we’ll have to see if Toronto is part of that mix.

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    This is a stars and scrubs team if there ever was one and they are in a tough division but some Boston regression and New York aging along with poor drafts catching up.witht he Rays still gives them an outside shot at the playoffs. Should be an interesting season

    • Cardinal70

      Lots of ifs there, but you are right, that whole division could be shaken up with little effort. Seems like that’s the case with a number of these as I’m trying to predict them. Feels like often there’s a good team, a bad team, and a lot of teams that are about equal in the middle.

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

        Yeah, that’s likely whats true, though that equal probably has a bigger spread than it would seem. Every year in baseball there are unpredictable emergences, injuries, underperformances, overpeformances, team under or over performing thier pythags from luck, bullpen success or failure, or simply having 1 run games going thier way. These can even change things for some clearly good or bad teams let alone the many teams that are closer. Many things that are unsustainable year to year still happen in one given year. The AL East and in particular Toronto simply are almost an exaggeration of that. Also Tampa is riding an amzing young core and the Wil Myers trade was a boon there but as some of those guys underperform, age and get hurt its going to be nore and more obvious that they are a small market team in a big market division and after drafting very well (given with very high picks) for years they have been drafting poorly since 2007 ir 2008, whichever year they got Price and Moore that I can’t recall offhand. Still if I had to pick the division this year I would pick the Rays,likely for the next two years after that too.

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