Slow to Start, Slow to Stop.

Okay. We’re 14 games into the season. Now, most Bandwagoners, and I use that term in the most loving possible way, are upset that we aren’t 14-0. And most legit Jays fans are scratching their heads wondering why we’re having yet another typical .500 season (7-7 at the time of publication). We’re totally run-of-the-mill this year. Three home wins, three home losses. Four away wins, four away losses. At least we’re consistent… right?

Before the season began, our biggest worry was our pitching. Everyone knew we had a potent offense and a solid defense- we just didn’t have the pitching to back up our line-up. Shapiro, love him or hate him, made some great trades and acquisitions this off-season that put us in decent shape as far as our starting rotation and bullpen are concerned. With the additions of J.A. Happ (who some might recognize from a few years ago when he was a .500, 4.22 ERA pitcher with the Jays), Drew Storen, Jesse Chavez and Pat Venditte (the only switch-pitching pitcher in baseball) to name a few, Shapiro had added depth to a team more one-dimensional than a Kardashian. Even though we lost a few arms (Price and Papa Buerhle being the most notably missed from the rotation), we were in pretty good shape to start the season – much to the chagrin of every 2015 “Let’s throw Ted Rogers in the lake” fan.

Even in Spring Training, we had guys fighting over positions and battling it out to the very end- with Aaron Sanchez making leaps and bounds between the player he is now and the bullpen arm he was last year. Osuna remained our closer, we patched up some of the more glaring holes, knowing that our offense was going to make the big difference. Who cares if we give away 8 runs if we score 9? That’s the Blue Jays logic.

Only, what happens if that offense doesn’t come through? What if they have cold bats? Well, that’s how you get to be a .500 team fourteen games into the season. Like the Jays.
Chris Colabello, our out-of-nowhere Independent League player is batting a .080 compared to last year’s .321. Now, I know it’s 14 games in. And I know we expected some level of regression, but seriously?! Russell Martin dropped from a .240 to .108, and Troy Tulo-freakin’-witzki is batting a slash of .128/.222/.255. This isn’t even a concept any Jays fan was worried about last year. Our concern was meant to be pitching, not hitting! We’ve got the line-up of death with Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulo and Martin batting in a row. Even in today’s game against the Red Sox, we only won due to hit batters and a sloppy Bo-Sox defence- not because we played better offensively- they were just worse defensively.

Where does that leave us now? Are we going to watch the Blue Jays sink back into the hole they came from and have everyone forget about 2015? Or are we a giant bandwagon totin’ freight train that just takes a while to gain speed? We’ve still got another 148 games to prove that last year wasn’t just a fluke. That means over 1300 innings of showing off our defense, our pitching (my god, I never thought I’d say that out loud anytime soon) and, hopefully soon, our freakin’ crazy offense! It’s more than enough time to gain momentum and kick it into high gear- after all, we did it in half a season last year. These guys need to remember that they are still of the same caliber as the guys who ended our play-off drought and brought life back to Canadian baseball. And fans? I think we need to remember that, too.

 

A Tale of Two Allstars: Joey Bats vs. Edwing

We’ve heard the numbers. Jose Bautista is allegedly asking for $150 million over five years. Non-negotiable. Now, we have no way of verifying if this rumour is true, but if it is, he’s pretty much guaranteed himself a way out of the Blue Jays. This is, of course, after swirling rumours that Edwin Encarnacion had put a Spring Training deadline on his contract talks. Meaning, he wasn’t going to talk contracts during the season. Most people took this as him walking away at the end of the season, but he’s come out with some more information that hopefully will put our collective minds at ease. He is quoted to have said “I don’t want any negotiations during the season. I want to concentrate on helping the team to win games and I don’t want to be talking about contracts.” Makes perfect sense for a guy who keeps his head down and in the game. As Buck Martinez would say, he’s a baseball player. But is he worth more to us than Jose Bautista? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Both Edwin and Jose are homerun machines. Collectively, they have hit 440 homeruns for Toronto and a startling 1700+ hits for our boys in blue. They’ve brought in over 1100 RBIs and over 1100 runs for just themselves! These guys are Dominican machines, but with both of them ready for Free Agency, we have to figure out who is best for us next year and the years to come. Bautista arguably has the offensive edge over Edwin. Last year he played more games, he had more runs, more RBIs (by 3) and more homeruns (by 1) and a higher OBP. Edwin, on the other hand, had 10 more hits, two more doubles, and a higher batting average 3 out of the past 4 years. When all is said and done, the numbers are very similar for these guys. Bautista has one of the best eyes in baseball, but that also makes him easily aggravated when a call doesn’t go his way (how many times have we seen him shoot daggers at an ump over a strike??). Edwin, however, keeps a low-profile and let’s his bat speak for him. The quiet powerhouse that comes out and does his thing. He doesn’t need a show, he just needs an at-bat.

I was fortunate enough to go to a few games last year after the trade deadline, and luckily got to witness part of Edwin’s crazy 26-game hit streak. In those 26 games, he hit 11 home runs, had 35 RBIs and helped the Blue Jays land at the top of the division for the first time in decades. All with a sprained finger and multiple long-term injuries and strains. Not saying anything against Bautista, because he’s obviously a powerhouse player, but not everyone gets a homerun hat-trick in a game. I mean, he was a 3-run homerun away from being the first major league player to bat the homerun cycle EVER (solo HR, double HR, triple HR & Grand Slam). Edwin was the man who made it even remotely close to a possibility.

But then you look at the play-offs. Jose Bautista was an ANIMAL. I’ve never seen anyone else come through with clutch-hits in elimination games. Even game 6 of the ALCS (when the Jays got eliminated), the only runs scored during that game were because of Jose Bautista. And the only reason we made it that far was because of Jose’s history-making 3-run homerun in the wackiest 7th inning ever. Period. I mean, that homerun was on-par with Touch ’em All Joe’s World Series winning walk-off homerun against the Braves in 1993. Jose Bautista made his mark on Blue Jay and Baseball history that day, and that is not to be discounted in this deliberation between Joey Bats and Edwin (even thought Eddie is the one who tied it up in the 6th). When it came down to it, Jose gave us exactly what we needed. Multiple times.

Then we get into fielding. It’s no lie that Bautista doesn’t have that much time left in right field. In fact, he’s starting to become a little bit of a liability. It wasn’t inherently obvious this past season, what with guys like Travis, Goins and Superman himself, Pillar, covering for him. We had rock-solid coverage all over right field…it just didn’t totally include Jose. When you look back over the highlights of the 2015 Jays, how many fielding highlights belong to Jose? Two that I can recall. And while Encarnacion was DH and therefore didn’t have many defensive stats to go off of, he’s also not asking for $30 million a year to be a less-than-stellar fielder who can hit a homerun once every four games.

Jose Bautista seems to think that he has given us a discount for his previous contract. Which, in retrospect, is probably true. However, just because he outplayed his $14 million/year contract doesn’t mean we have to ‘back-pay’ him this time. He had one good year. We signed him to, at the time, an enormous contract for what he had shown. How were we supposed to know he would outplay it to this level? People were calling for Anthopolous’s resignation after word got out they had signed Bautista to a contract like that. It was his contract. We didn’t force him to sign, just like we’re not being forced to sign a ludicrous $30 million/year contract for a glorified designated hitter.

At the end of the day, we have two very good, very strong players who have both admitted they would like to retire as a Blue Jay. However, one has placed himself out of reach. With all this contract talk, someone reached out to Encarnacion, and when asked if he had any numbers in mind, Edwin said “Yeah, I want to hit 40 homeruns [and] 100 RBIs.”

Who would you rather sign?

 

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Why Losing David Price Isn’t the End of the World.

“Wow.” That was all Marcus Stroman had to say when he heard the news. David Price has been traded to the Boston Red Sox for $217 million over 7 years. HOLY CRAP THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY. $31 million a year to a 30 year old pitcher who has yet to win a play-off game as a starting pitcher. Most Jays fans are in shock, and probably disappointed. For those fans that tuned in after the All-Star break, Price seemed like the fire that led us to end our 22 year playoff drought. But it’s not that simple. Price going to the Red Sox is far from the worst thing that could happen, and for us, is probably a blessing in disguise.

The BoSox have been known to make big name off-season trades in recent years, and where has that got them? Oh yeah, last place. Pedroia, Ramirez, Sandoval, Porcello, and now Price are some of the top earners for the men in red (Ortiz is a beast unto himself, with very interesting option add-ons for 2015-17). But how is this a good thing for our Blue Jays?

The answer doesn’t lie here, but in future years. Like 2019 when the BoSox will be paying over $100 million just for those players mentioned above. That’s right, over 50% of their budget will go to 5 players; most of whom haven’t exactly shone recently. This is a very good thing for the Blue Jays for a couple of reasons. 1) it means that the BoSox are now on a very short leash when it comes to acquiring new talent, and 2) they could be looking at a fire sale to get rid of those high-earners at a steal just to get some cash on hand.

Even though that’s more than three years from now, there is still immediate good to not signing David Price. There’s a reason Paul Beeston didn’t want to give out contracts more than 5 years- they’re bad for business. You just need to look at the Vernon Wells deal ($126 mil/7 yr) that had him be paid $21 million in the 2014 season. Luckily, Anthopolous worked some of his wizard magic and had the Angels take the brunt of that contract, but the point is, how do we know that David Price will still be worth $31 million/year in the 2020s? We don’t. That’s why this non-move was a great move for the Jays. The AL East chews up and spits out pitchers with its highly competitive teams and potent lineups. Price may have a few good years ahead of him, but 7 is definitely a stretch, even for the most optimistic of fans.

The Jays are playing it safe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have the best offence in all of baseball, and that is the undeniable truth. Yes, pitching is important, but winning 9-1 and winning 9-8 are the same thing; wins. With Stroman in the regular rotation, Chavez, Happ and Dickey sitting pretty in the middle and Hutch/Sanchez taking up the rear, we could still make it work if we have to. Another starter would be great, but we don’t have much of a farm team left to trade away and young players like Pompey and Pillar are worth more to us than a 3rd string pitcher.

Having Price come to Toronto for those few months ignited life back into Toronto baseball, and gave us the best half-season in over two decades. But Price wasn’t the fire that started in Toronto last year, he’s the smoke that alerted Toronto to wake up and pay attention. We have all of the logs and kindling we need, now we just have to sit back, relax, and let the fire build itself.

2016: The Do-or-Die Year?

2015 was a whirlwind. There’s no other way to describe it. From having another .500 year at the All-Star break, to being the World Series favourite, nobody can say that the 2015 Jays weren’t in it to win it after the Tulowitzki/Price trades in July. The SkyDome was selling out, SportsNet recorded record-breaking audiences, the offence was unstoppable, and more importantly, the fans (and the players) knew that it was something special. But we lost. Now what?

With the known exit of Paul Beeston and the unexpected departure of Alex Anthopolous, where are our Jays headed next? On paper, Mark Shapiro looked perfect coming into the 2016 season. He was great in Cleveland; known for his experience being a small-budget, non-championship, don’t-rock-the-boat leader…exactly what Rogers wanted for their sleepy team. But with Anthopolous’ mic-drop moves at the Trade Deadline, he did something that Rogers wasn’t expecting (and, in my opinion, something Rogers didn’t want) – he woke up Toronto.

There were rumblings last off-season that the play-off hibernation was over with the surprising acquisition of Josh Donaldson, but after some bad luck (lookin’ at you Stro & Travis), it was shaping up to be a regular season for the men in blue. We all know what happened next- some major trades were made, the boys went streaking (twice!) and came out on top of the AL East, won the ALDS (I could write a whole book about that one) and lost in game 6 of the ALCS against the eventual World Champions, the Kansas City Royals.

But before the crazy second-half of the season, Rogers had already sealed the deal with the hands-on Shapiro: a man known for creating a good rotation with a low-budget, maintaining a deep and ready farm-team and always looking towards the future, rather than the present.

But Anthopolous threw a wrench in that one, boy did he ever. After releasing most of the already-thin farm team in trades (including Norris who lives in a van by the river), and haunted by previous pitching trades (Oh Thor, how I wish we had kept you!), our prospects look pretty thin as far as pitching is concerned.

When you have the most potent offence in baseball, we thought we could make up for the glaring gaps in our rotation, but halfway through the season we were still just your average .500 team. Anthopolous played his hand and went all-in. As much as adding Tulo to our line-up was a great call (and allowed us to dump the less-than-stellar Reyes onto the Rockies), it was the acquisition of All-Star David Price that really got the city going. He was only a rental, and we traded away good prospects for him, but there’s no way we’d have been as successful without him in the latter half of the season.

But now that season is done with and we’re left with a management change, a disgruntled fanbase who want to relive August-October, and not enough pitchers and prospects. And I know we don’t want to hear it, but after 2016 it’ll be more than just our pitching we’ll be worried about.

Until the arrival of Donaldson and Tulo, our offence consisted of pretty much Bautista and Encarnacion. The two Dominicans dominated our lineup and are some of the most beloved players in Toronto. We’ve taken up options on both, but after next year they both enter Free Agency and are able to go where the money takes them. Barring any trades, that will leave us with Donaldson and Tulo as our strongest hitters. With trade rumours flying around about Pillar and Revere, who will our lineup (and our defence) consist of? Travis is out for the next five months, Goins isn’t a confident batter and Pompey still can’t hit in the big leagues. Smoak is consistent on first and even managed to hit the only Blue Jay grand slam at Yankee Stadium, but his bat isn’t nearly as good as the unexpected independent league wonder, Chris Colabello (who, surprisingly, is learning Japanese for Kawasaki and speaks fluent English, Italian and Spanish).

Everyone thought that 2015 was our do-or-die year, but in reality, 2016 is going to be our final test. If we don’t make the play-offs next year, there’s no hope of the budget going up. Even after a stellar second half of the season this year, our budget doesn’t appear to be changing (after all, Rogers only took in an extra $40 million…). If we don’t make it, and don’t re-sign Bautista or Encarnacion, we will go back into *shudder* “rebuilding phase.” And with Shapiro, that means giant farm team, no big headlining trades and more .500 average seasons.

If we don’t acquire a big-name pitcher this off-season, there’s little to no chance of making even the wildcard spot in 2016. The AL East is too good to be able to get away with shoddy pitching, and unfortunately, that looks like the plan. So be good to your 2016 team, and remember the dream-team that captured us in 2015, because this time next year, we’ll be closing the book on this fairytale and going back to sleep until the next generation of hopeful Blue Jays fans wake us up with some good news.