Dec 9, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos talks with reporters during the MLB Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Reviewing What Toronto Needs

Before I start, I do want to say I do often read and admire Blue Jays writer Gregor Chisholm’s work.  I, in no way, am trying to pick a fight or start a war with somebody I think seems to have a good handle on this team.  Every now and then, however, I don’t fully agree with what the man writes.  So I decided to take Chisholm’s 10 questions he asked himself and give some different, yet sometimes similar answers.  I don’t normally do this because I wouldn’t like it done to me… but I expect it to be done to me at some point, so here goes.  Let’s review what Toronto needs this season in order to be successful in 2014.

10.) Will Colby Rasmus be able to repeat his production the from 2013 season?
Chisholm doesn’t answer the question here and that’s probably due to the fact that nobody really knows.  According to what Tony Rasmus IV says on Twitter, responding to a question by a solid Blue Jays’ fan, this may have something to do with it.

If that’s any indication that Colby goes as the coach goes and the kid is having fun, then yes, it may be a precursor to Rasmus returning to his 2013 form.  The bigger tell will be  Rasmus’ pitch selection and if he’ll keep his head down on the ball.  His swing greatly improved later in the season once he did both.  Early in the season, he was often swinging at pitches low, either just in or out of the strike zone,  raising his head in the process.  This often left his bat swinging just above the pitch, resulting in a swinging strike or a weak grounder off the end of the bat.  Much rumoured credit for “fixing” Colby was given to former Blue Jays hitting coach, Chad Mottola.

9.) Is 2014 when Brett Lawrie breaks out and officially becomes one of the Blue Jays best assets?
I don’t feel Lawrie is untouchable like some, but I do believe he is already one of the Blue Jays best assets.  In regards to age and contract control, Lawrie is indeed one of Toronto’s best assets as he is still widely viewed as one of the top young affordable 3Bs in baseball.  In regards to his play on the field, Lawrie has shown that in the field, he’s top notch.  His high motor allows him to get to balls that should go for hits.  His strong arm allows him to go deep into the hole or make a tough play on the run.  This question was more in regards to Lawrie’s hitting however.  Chisholm neglects the other aforementioned facts when answering this question.  Lawrie’s bat should come around.  Less movement at the plate, combined with a more upright stance has given Lawrie some lift in his swing.  This means fewer batted balls into the ground, something which plagued him upon his return from injury in early 2013.

8.) Will R.A. Dickey get off to another slow start, or will his second-half success from 2013 carry over into the new calendar year?
No to the first question.  Unless the back issue creeps up again.  Even then, no.  I do not believe Gibbons will allow some of the players to come into camp the shape they were in last offseason, again.  I’m not in his head and maybe that isn’t considered to be a problem, but it should be.  Brandon Morrow‘s velocity was way down.  Dickey was having back issues and couldn’t throw his hard knuckleball.  It took Mark Buehrle some time to get going and that normally does not happen with the fast paced Buehrle.  The 2014 Blue Jays will, in no way, have an April in 2014 as poor as the 2013 April.  Write that down.  Does it start with Dickey?  Maybe.  You saw what he did in the second half of last season.  Quietly, he wound up having a solid year.  It just wasn’t the year Blue Jays fans were expecting when they traded away two of their top 3 prospects to the Mets to acquire him.

7.) Toronto’s bullpen was one of the best in baseball in 2013.  Can the group maintain that consistent production?
I took the liberty of shortening Chisholm’s question here.  I didn’t feel the pen defied odds.  Steve Delabar was expected to be good again.  Sergio Santos was expected to be healthy.  Casey Janssen, despite having some clean-up surgery in his throwing arm, was expected to still be an effective closer.  The man that defied odds was Brett Cecil.  Sure, there were others, but when Santos didn’t stay healthy as expected, Cecil filled the set-up void earning himself his 1st All Star appearance.  Will Cecil retire 43 consecutive batters again?  Probably not.  But there’s no reason to think that he, as well as the rest of this group, will suddenly become unreliable.

6.) Which version of Melky Cabrera will show up in 2014?
Chisholm’s makes an excellent point about the tumor that was just removed from Cabrera’s lower back.  If you click on the link, the Associated Press also made reference to Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos saying that “it didn’t make any sense…”  I’m sure AA is referring to Cabrera’s drop off in play, which Cabrera falsely attributed to battling quad injuries.  But why would even a tumor make sense?   Sure, it’s an explanation, but at 28 years old, a benign tumor in your lower back is indeed rare.  Sure, it could happen to anybody, but tumors do happen to be a side effect from the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Read into that part with a grain of salt however, because tumors can be caused from past use, as well as possibly current.  I’m not saying Cabrera is currently using.  I am saying expect more of the 2013 Cabrera in 2014.  Besides, who knows how recovered he’ll be from this surgery when the season starts.

5.) Who will be the Blue Jays’ starting second baseman on Opening Day?
There’s still a month and a half to go, but the 2Bs we wanted the Jays to sign are, well, “No mas.”  Unless a trade happens soon, and there have been a few names kicked about like Neil Walker and Brandon Phillips, I agree with Chisholm.  It appears to be Ryan Goins job to lose.  I’m not sure if he’s an above average defender like Chisholm states, but he can’t be any worse Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio.   If he is worse, the Blue Jays did re-sign Munenori Kawasaki, who can play 2B no problem and we know what to expect with his bat.  The problem is we don’t know what to expect with Goins’ bat, but we’re about to find out.

4.) The Blue Jays have a series of young starting pitchers ready to step into the fold, but who will emerge as a reliable option for a team that wants to win now?
Chisholm mentions a bunch of names in his article like Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Sean Nolin, Marcus Stroman, and even Aaron Sanchez.  I’m going to delete Drabek’s name and insert my darkhorse, Ricky Romero.  Now, why delete Kyle Drabek?  I KNOW we as fans want to see something come from the trade of our beloved Roy Halladay, but sadly, that’s not going to happen.  Drabek is entering his prime.  He’s had two Tommy John surgeries, which would make you think he’s safe from having a third, but who knows.  Prior to his surgery, he threw 97 MPH, but not accurately.  Prior to his second surgery, he threw 93 MPH, but not accurately.  He’s now throwing around 94-95 MPH, but not accurately and he only threw 20 pitches this season.  He can’t consistently throw strikes with fastball and his offspeed stuff has never materialized… oh yea, he can’t throw those for consistent strikes either.  Stroman seems to be the most promising, followed by either Hutchison or Nolin, though the latter two pitchers could probably use some more work in AAA.  Aaron Sanchez isn’t a realistic option at this point.  His arm slot flies open too often when throwing to the left side of the plate.  He would suffer at the MLB level right now.  Then there’s Romero.  You now know what I think about him.

3.) Following several years as a back-up catcher, is Dioner Navarro ready to handle a full-time workload?
Yes.  As long as he remains serious about being an everyday ballplayer, Navarro will be a significant upgrade over J.P. Arencibia.  All the Jays are asking from Navarro is to block the baseball, take a walk, make more contact than JPA, and frame a pitch.  The bar hasn’t exactly been set high here.  So while his signing doesn’t come with much fanfare, it is an upgrade and he will be better than the man he replaced.

2.) Will this finally be the year that the team’s overall health becomes a mere footnote instead of the defining storyline?
Same team essentially.  With the exception of Rasmus’ fluke injuries, it’s probably safe to say injuries will again be a problem this season.  Even Jose Reyes‘ ankle injury early in the season was fluke, but his injury history says otherwise.  The other problem with Reyes’ injury was that the Blue Jays played their best baseball without him.  It left us all with a lot of hindsight-false hope once he returned.  Other than that though, just by the style of play by some of the players dictates that injuries are a strong possibility.  Maybe the question should be “does Toronto have enough depth to overcome impending 2014 injuries?”  The answer to that question is NO.

1.) Is this finally the year that Brandon Morrow emerges as one of the best starting pitchers in the American League?
I want to pull for Morrow.  I want him to be that proud voice of success for overcoming Type 1 Diabetes and emerge as one of the best starting pitchers in the AL.  I want him to show the world you can make it with such a difficult affliction.  Answering whether or not he can stay healthy is a major quagmire, however.  Was Jack Morris right last season in calling out his preparation for the 2013 season, or was there something already wrong with Morrow heading into 2013?  He dialed up the velocity when he had to which says no to injury prior to the season, but he threw more sliders than usual last season.  Morris’ comments are really concerning to me.  Reading Morris’ comments forces me to say Toronto should be happy if they get anything positive out of Morrow at this point, much like they should be if they get anything positive from Romero.   The pressure for Morrow would not be as high however, if AA would go out and sign a solid pitcher, whether that be offseason prized arm of Masahiro Tanaka, or Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, or even Ervin F*****g Santana.  Chisholm mentions the upside of Morrow being better than any other option on the market however.  Morrow is going to be 30 this season.  There have been plenty of late bloomers in baseball history, but at this point, Morrow is more of a tease and shouldn’t be solely relied upon to make or break the Blue Jays’ season.

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  • david s

    I wanted to get your opinion on Kevin Seitzer. Do you believe he will have a positive impact on the team? Is his hiring a change in philosophy of hitting for the fences that seemed to dominate last year?

    • Justin Jay

      Hey David. It’s tough to say. Eric Hosmer really struggled with a guy like Seitzer instructing him, as did Mike Moustakas. But other players like Salvador Perez, Alicedes Escobar, Alex Gordon, and even Jeff Francouer for a little while, thrived with him.

      The Jays swing for the fence philosophy dates back to the most recent Gaston era. Dwayne Murphy was the hitting coach then and just recently stepped away from that role last season, staying on as the 1st Base Coach. That change is what led me to believe Mottola would be given rope, but now both guys are gone. The major problem has been RISP BA. They’re hoping Seitzer can develop a better plate approach with the players and possibly work on them to hit opposite field. That’s the kind of hitter Seitzer was as a player.

      As far as positive impact, you might see players hit for less HRs but take a better approach to ABs. That’s a sweet trade-off if the approach makes them get on base more and produce with runners on.

      • david s

        Gotcha. I don’t think it was my imagination that Seitzer said he was not get into the heads of guys who are successful hitting long ball (I.e., Encarnacion). I think he is here because he worked with Gibbons in KC and brought in to help Goins and perhaps other bench players.

        • Bob Loblaw

          I think his approach could benefit guys like Lawrie, Thole, Gose, or even Rasmus with the strikeouts. Striving for a high walk rate, you’ll see more pitches that you can make good contact on, overall. Make the pitcher pitch to you. I’ve only been a baseball fan for 10 years, and I’ve watched the Yanks do it every year.

          • Justin Jay

            That’s the Athletics and Red Sox philosophy. Force the pitcher to throw strikes. It’s no coincidence that Romero struggled against Boston even in 2011. That’s why

  • Bob Loblaw

    Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but in order to not lose value unnecessarily, 2 guys will have to be traded from the bullpen. Given the 11 solid bullpen options (Cecil Delabar Janssen Loup Santos McGowan Wagner Jeffress Perez Rogers Redmond), Redmond and Wagner can be optioned to start in AAA and so won’t be exposed to waivers. Loup could be but I’m bettin he’ll make the team and Redmond would be a good option for rotation depth.

    I wonder if the M’s have interest in reliever(s) for Ackley. I’d let go of Janssen or Santos and Perez or Jeffress. However, if the relievers could be used to help bring in a SP, that’s the need.

    Sad they didn’t sign Ellis. Seemed like a good deal, as with Navarro. If Thole can step up his OBP working with Seitzer, I could see Navarro handling 3 pitchers and Thole handling 2.

    As far as Melky’s health goes, I wonder if he’s in a position to fill the DH spot. Lind would probably net a prospect from the Pirates to flip in a package for a SP. 3 team trade?

    From where I stand, to say they can contend, they need a 2B, 2 reliable SP, and everybody has to have a decent year. Otherwise, it’s a long shot.

    • Justin Jay

      Bob, I’m not going to correct you, but I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re saying. Usually, you don’t want to make any trade unnecessarily. The bullpen is an area of strength, yes. Rogers and Redmond could possibly be starters, with Redmond more likely to be. Given that he has options, if he doesn’t win a spot in Spring Training, the Jays will most likely use that option, like you said, for rotational depth. It’s tough to say where the other guys end up and it comes down to Spring Training. There are 2 players with the last name Perez, Juan and Luis. Juan had major arm surgery and I haven’t heard any updates on him. Luis is also a lefty and with Oliver gone, he’ll be battling Loup for that “specialist” spot.

      I wouldn’t let go of Janssen for Ackley period, nevermind adding an additional Jays player in the deal. There’s a lot of nay sayers for the Save stat. People often write off the mentality to close out a ballgame when the pressure is on. Janssen has shown he’s one of the best at closing out games under pressure. Ackley hasn’t shown much and got bumped from his 2B slot in favour of Nick Franklin. Ackley’s fighting for playing time in a crowded Seattle OF. The only destinations I thought made sense for Janssen in a trade were Arizona, LA Dodgers, Detroit, and possibly Seattle during the 2013 season. Now, it would be Arizona, Houston… and unfortunately Baltimore, Tampa Bay… possibly Seattle and maybe Texas depending on Perez and Soria.

      I’m not too sad about not signing Ellis. He’s older and I think I’d like to see what we got in Goins rather than put a player out there that may decline this season. The going concern for Navarro is the “that’s it?!” mentality. Meaning, if Navarro gets hurt or wares down because it’s been a while since he’s been full time, who takes over the role? The current options don’t look very appealing and who knows where Jimenez is at.

      As I stated above, you could split the DH spot with Lind and Cabrera on games that there’s a LHP on the mound. Trading Lind for prospects on a “win-now” team doesn’t make sense. I liked Skaggs because I felt he was more MLB player now and less prospect. The idea of Neil Walker makes some sense, but the Jays would need more and the Pirates would need a viable 2B replacement as they expect to contend this season.

      I agree on the longshot mentality. I think the team will start better than last season. They have to. If AA brings in an impact arm, even if it’s a #3 starter, that should help. Goins fielding and Navarro’s bat 1/2 cancel out some weaknesses at weak positions. If either can produce on the other side of the ball, that will be a big lift. What would really help is one of our internal starters producing at an unexpectedly high level… meaning, 1 of the kids in AA and AAA needs to step it up or one of our falling stars rebounds. There’s a lot that needs to go right. I thought Gibbons did a good job last season given what he had to deal with. He helped guide this team to wins before. This offseason, from a coaching perspective, seems more stable, even if they let Mottola go. They still brought in a Gibbons guy in Seitzer and that has to be a positive. Now it’s up to Walker, Hentgen, and possibly Halladay to get the pitching straight.

      • Bob Loblaw

        Thanks for the reply. Yeah I didn’t really explain myself well at all. I meant Luis, forgot about Juan.

        The way I understood the bullpen situation was, since those pitchers are currently on the 25 man, whoever starts at AAA will either have an option or go through the waiver process. Redmond and Wagner have options, leaving 9, so two of those guys would have to go through waivers (assuming a 7 man pen), and would certainly be picked up. That seems like value lost for nothing to me. The obvious solution would be to use the surplus in trades if possible, always a fickled process. Of course, other guys may step up and make the team, other guys may fail to perform. Considering the large needs we still have and the market for proven relievers, I’m just saying I don’t want to see value lost for nothing. The reason I suggested using Janssen or Santos as trade bait is because it would free up money, their MLB success will look appealing, Santos has injury risk, and they have a name, which always matters cause people are irrational, even GM’s.

        There’s just too many if’s right now. Reliable pitching and depth are huge needs. Don’t think they can afford a high risk SP, no matter what the upside is. They need at least one guy they can slot in the rotation and count on.

  • SM

    I find it hard to argue with most of your points made here Justin. I do have a quick comment though: Melky was horrible in that he was a defensive liability. He wasn’t ALL that terrible offensively and at times, especially earlier, he was on a hot streak a couple of times. It seems that as the season went on he waned off, perhaps due to the tumor enlarging, I ain’t no doctor but that probably has a huge effect.

    I don’t mind seeing Melky as a DH, in fact I much prefer him over Lind because he can switch hit and showed glimpses of power on both sides although I felt just like Reyes, he’s better batting left. I’m expecting Cabrera to deliver, the one I’d be worried about is my favourite pitcher – Morrow – too much of a “tease” as you called it – spot on!

    • Justin Jay

      Psych Dr right? haha His bat was OK, but not what it was in KC or SF obviously. There’s also no guarantee he’ll be healthy when the season begins. The lower back is a tough area to injure or have issues with. Hopefully he is ok, but like Morrow, I wouldn’t count on Melky.

      DH’ing Cabrera with Lind wouldn’t be a bad idea in games when LHPs are starting for opposing teams. Even though Lind has SOME success against LHPs, he’s still not very effective against them and Melky is a decent enough switch hitter. Lind’s bat against RHPs is far superior and as long as he stays selective and puts himself in favourable counts at the plate, he should produce like he did last season.

      Thanks for the compliment on Morrow. It’s unfortunate, because this has been an issue with him going back to Seattle. My friend went to watch him at the Trop 3 yrs ago and watched Morrow unleash this curveball that he said had the hitter swinging before it even got to the plate. Then it dropped so hard and fast that it literally crashed into the plate. That’s the kind of stuff he has and his curve isn’t even his best pitch. That’s what is so agonizingly frustrating about him. I’m sure it frustrates him too.

  • Jason Kerr

    I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your article here and also the one you posted about reviving Rickey Romero. I have always been a baseball fan (on the back burner type) but, after last years hockey lockout I had enough and started to follow more closely.

    I’ve not followed a lot of the transitions from the Japanese league to MLB but, how well do the players transition? Is paying the money for Tanaka worth the chance or does it come down to because of the price of what’s currently on the market do you pay it? Are the Jays (even though lack of a comment from AA) even close to being a contender for his arm (even with putting up the same money that other clubs may)? It just seems that players are hesitant to play in this market.