Alex Anthopolous has done one thing consistently since he took the helm from JP Ricciardi last season – build the Jays up-the-middle of the field. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a list of the additions up-the-middle:
- Acquired Michael Taylor in the Roy Halladay deal, only to flip him to Oakland in return for Brett Wallace. Wallace was later flipped to Houston for Center Fielder Anthony Gose – the no doubt about it CF of the future for the Jays;
- Also in the Halladay deal was the acquisition of Travis d’Arnaud, who many see as the Jays catcher of the future, and Kyle Drabek, a pitcher who could either wind up as a #1-3 starter or a dominant closer. Either way, both moves strengthen the middle of the field;
- Spent $10 million to land Adeiny Hechavarria, matching a rival bid from the Yankees who wanted to take Adeiny on as Derek Jeter‘s future replacement – there is some doubt that he’ll develop as advertised, but he is quite possibly the SS of the future for the Jays;
- Jumped all over John Buck at a very nice rate as soon as he was eligible to be picked up last off season and also added Jose Molina. Both were instrumental in working with the young Jays pitching staff and getting the most out of them and Buck garnered the Jays a very coveted sandwich pick. For the price he cost the Jays, that’s one heck of an investment;
- Signed Kevin Gregg at a very decent rate as he wound up being fairly steady as the closer during the 2010 season. Although it’s likely he’ll sign elsewhere this off season, he’ll still garner the Jays a draft pick, so his acquisition was more than worthwhile;
- Also added Alex Gonzalez who wound up being traded for a more controllable, cheaper, and younger Yunel Escobar. For the first time in a very long time, the Jays ended up with some offensive production from the SS position – what a concept! If Adeiny doesn’t pan out, the Jays still have the option of signing Yunel until they find a replacement;
- During the 2010 draft, only 4 of the top 30 Jays picks were at positions not up-the-middle. That’s a measily 13% of the picks. If that’s not a commitment to building up-the-middle I don’t know what is. In fact, only 2 of the top 20 were at positions other than CF, P, 2B, SS, or C. Those were Kellen Sweeney who was drafted in the 2nd rd (as the Jays 6th pick that draft) and signed for $600,000, and LF Marcus Knechtwho was selected between the 3rd and 4th rds as a sandwich pick and signed for $250,000. Otherwise, all other picks were up the middle with the following emphasis of positions in the top 20: 13 pitchers, 3 SS, one 2B, and one CF;
- Traded for Miguel Olivo in hopes of retaining him at a very affordable rate. It didn’t work out, but Alex knew he’d obtain a draft pick as a result; and most recently
- Acquired Carlos Villanueva in return for a PTBNL, strengthening the depth of the bullpen; and
- Obtained what most scouts agree is a future all-star 2B and possibly the best MLW prospect in Brett Lawrie.
That’s an incredible commitment to the middle of the field and a recognition that the Jays need the very best at those positions in order to compete with their AL East rivals. Speaking of their AL East rivals, who did they have up-the-middle when they won their championships?
- 2009 WS Championship Yankees: C – Jorge Posada, 2B – Robinson Cano, SS – Derek Jeter, CF – Brett Gardner, CL – Mariano Rivera, and a strong starting core.
- 2008 AL Champion Rays: C – Dioner Navarro, 2B – Ben Zobrist, SS – Jason Bartlett, CF – BJ Upton, CL – Troy Percival, and a strong starting core.
- 2007 WS Champion Red Sox: C – Jason Varitek, 2B – Dustin Pedroia, SS – Julio Lugo (weak link), CF – Jacoby Ellsbury, CL – Jonathan Papelbon, and a strong starting core.
I could keep going here but I think the trend is noteworthy enough at this point. First, most of the players listed above are home grown players who were affordable and at or near the top of the pile at their respective positions. The fact that they are home grown is an interesting part of the equation, as it allows each of these franchises the opportunity to spend money to gather respectable LF, RF, and corner infielders on the FA market or through trade to support that strong middle of the field.
Regardless of how you look at it, the pitching has to be strong to win a championship. I believe that this is why the Jays spent 13 of their top 20 picks on pitchers and also added Adonis Cardona through the international market. They know that value very well. But, until they have an all-star caliber middle of the field, they will not be able to make the playoffs in the AL East. Alex Anthopolous has recognized this instead of ignoring it as JP Ricciardi did and has, for the most part, rectified most of those deficiencies with the last piece being Brett Lawrie.
The foreseeable Jays middle of the field now includes the following lineup:
C – J. P. Arencibia and/or Travis d’Arnaud and/or Carlos Perez, 2B – Aaron Hill and/or Brett Lawrie, SS – Yunel Escobar and/or Adeiny Hechavarria, CF – Vernon Wells and/or Anthony Gose, and a ton of pitching prospects led by Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart, Aaron Sanchez, Asher Wojciechowski, Deck McGuire, Henderson Alvarez, Adonis Cardona, Griffin Murphy, and Noah Syndergaard. That’s a very promising list of talent that is deemed to be joined by yet another class of great picks in 2011 when the Jays will have yet another 6-10 picks in the first 3 rounds of the draft.
The possible 2014 lineup will include some of the best prospects, all with all-star caliber potential at that time and all at extremely affordable rates:
C – Travis d’Arnaud, 2B – Brett Lawrie, SS – Adeiny Hechavarria, CF – Anthony Gose, and pick 2-3 pitchers from the list above to help out Ricky Romero (who is signed through 2016 if the club option is exercise) and one of Brett Cecil or Brandon Morrow if we want to count on only one of them to be around that long.
The key reason I chose to list the 2014 lineup is that all of these players should have worked out the kinks by then, and also because it will be the last season that the Jays will have Vernon Wells under contract – for $21 million – unless he is traded by then. The Jays will have that strong core up-the-middle AND will have a ton of money to spend on a few key pieces to support that young cast of highly talented players.
AA is building the Jays through the middle and is finally setting the Jays up for long term success that should allow them to compete much more effectively in their uber competitive division. It’s incredible that he’s been able to garner top quality players at each of those positions in such a small period of time. He’s the man with the plan and Jays fans seem to be on board with his every move. I know I am and I can’t wait to see what’s next now that the middle of the field seems to be as filled with potential as one could expect!
What happens to Aaron Hill now, if anything, is unknown, but he does become an interesting trade piece if Alex were willing to move him.
In my opinion, Alex and the Jays are well on their way to building a championship caliber franchise and one that will be revered as the best in the AL East. It’s a great time to be a Jays fan.