Opening Day is just around the corner now. Are you excited? Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
With the 2013-2014 offseason drawing to a close, Opening Day is just around the corner now. In less than two weeks (Feb.16), Toronto Blue Jays pitchers and catchers will report to Dunedin, FL for the start of Spring Training. Is it time to get excited?
Helping to lead the charge for this excitement is Blue Jays club President Paul Beeston. It’s part of his job. Anybody that watched the State of the Franchise saw his “Ra-Ra” cheerleader mentality during the event that lasted about a half hour. Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin recently caught up with Beeston in a sit down meeting at Rogers Centre and it’s certainly worth the read. After reading, of course I had questions, and then I decided to answer those questions.
One of the things Beeston mentioned was that the 2013 Blue Jays had “entertainment value” and “people wanted to latch on to a winner.” The Blue Jays bumped up their payroll $35M last season and saw only a one game increase in the win department. Now, clearly, the Blue Jays dealt with injuries and players had career worst seasons, so the logic is that shouldn’t happen again right? So it should be expected that the Blue Jays should be winners in 2014 right?
Baseball Prospectus has yet to come out with team audits due to the offseason not being completed yet, but it is pretty obvious that the Blue Jays’ payroll, like their ticket prices, will increase without any free agent additions at all. Is the young Toronto fanbase that Beeston and Griffin aluded to excited? Beeston mentioned that team owners, Rogers Communications, isn’t in the baseball business to take a loss in profits, but they’re not in it for the profits as well, as Rogers Comm puts that right back into the team. The major question is (as Griffin mentioned that due to an increase in attendance and an expansion of the fanbase brought increased revenue possibly making this 2013 a success) will the fans be there?
If the Opening Day sellout is a precursor to the season, then yes. The reality is, unless the team wins, the fans may not continue to come. Beeston acknowledged that with winning comes the profits. That brings about the question, which I debated on my previous Blue Jays Plus podcast appearance with Ewan Ross, “why aren’t the Blue Jays spending?” If winning breeds economics and last seasons splurge was done to win as well as invigorate the fanbase, why stop?
Ross did an interesting article based off of predicted WARs. While his first article focused on the offense, the more realistic Blue Jays problem is their obvious lack of starting pitching. In Ross’ follow-up article, he believes that’s a misconception heading into 2014, in large part to the Tommy John duo of Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison returning as well as the advancement of prospects like Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman. Nolin had his first taste last season and seemed unready, but he has looked good in AA and AAA since that early 2013 MLB experience. Stroman also dominated in his AA and AFL appearances and seems primed to make an impact with the Blue Jays. All of this could be explanations as to why Toronto doesn’t necessarily feel the need to further bump up payroll by signing Ubaldo Jimenez (3.2 WAR) or Ervin Santana (3.0 WAR), but it remains to be seen if one of these young or returning arms can actually produce the numbers the Blue Jays would pass up by not signing Jimenez or Santana. So again, why stop spending? Most times, a team tries multiple prospects out for the rotation in a rebuilding or even a “bridge year” and Beeston makes it clear that the 2014 season is not that type of season.
Another point of interest was Beeston twice got excited when talking about the speed of the Blue Jays last season. It never materialized. Emilio Bonifacio was almost as big of a disaster as Josh Johnson. While I make that statement with the benefit of hindsight, the bigger surprise is that Toronto let Rajai Davis walk and Bonifacio is available now for essentially nothing. The excitement of Bonifacio isn’t there now? As it stands, Toronto is prepared to let Anthony Gose or Kevin Pillar take over the role of Rajai Davis. Neither player has an extensive track record in comparison to Davis. Davis was also a left-handed pitching destroyer (.319/.383/.474 in 128 PA vs LHP) and neither Gose (.229/.250/.300 in 77 career PAs vs LHP) nor Pillar (.235/.297/.382 in 37 career PAs vs LHP) comes close as a replacement, despite their speed. The only MLB proven base stealing threat among the players mentioned would have been Bonifacio (138-174, 79.3% career SB% ). Gose was at 57% (4-7) last season and Pillar only had one attempt, in which he was thrown out. So as a bench player, if the Jays are looking for speed, Bonifacio might be worth looking into, right? Bonifacio isn’t just an infielder, as he can “play” (I use this word very lightly) the outfield.
Beeston also blew away the rumour (for what it’s worth) that the Rogers family is reluctant to spend. This heavily goes against the Tweet that jonah (@yyzsportsmedia) posted a while back, as he said that Rogers is looking to reduce payroll. Beeston said that in the past, he and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous have tried to ask for reasonable things that were smart in terms of spending and return on investment. He cited that Blue Jays ownership green lighted the amount of money to spend to acquire Aroldis Chapman while on the international market, but ultimately Beeston and AA nixed that idea feeling it was not worth the investment. So when the time comes and the Jays management team asks ownership to green light a big name signing, like say a Jimenez or Santana, the likelihood is high for the green light to happen and chances are twitter people like jonah aren’t worth listening to at this point.
The last two things I wanted to touch on, without taking too much away from one of Griffins better articles: The alumni component and player development.
The alumni component has actually been relatively evident and intriguing at the same time. The Blue Jays have done a great job of bringing in former stars like Roberto Alomar and Pat Hentgen to help improve the team. When the Blue Jays were fumbling in the field, in particular at 2B last season, Alomar was brought in to help Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis work on turning the double play. Hentgen has been credited in either showing or improving the 2FB for numerous pitchers like Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, and Brett Cecil. Then Beeston mentioned Roy Halladay being in the fold now. But Hentgen and Halladay are NOT in the fold. The greatest Blue Jays pitcher of all time retired a Blue Jay and then became part of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg‘s Spring Training coaching staff? What… the… HELL! Much like if anybody could benefit from learning from Alomar, it was Bonifacio, the same can be said of Ricky Romero, Aaron Sanchez, and Esmil Rogers learning to repeat their mechanics from Halladay. Halladay was known to be very good at making in game mechanical tweaks during his career. He was also known as a classic model for repeating a delivery (that doesn’t mean he’s a model for a repeatable delivery. He’s not). Why didn’t the Blue Jays keep him? If for nothing else, why not for the sake of the young pitching prospects?
It leads me into player development. I’m pretty sure I’ve single-handedly beaten this issue down. Beeston believes that somebody from the farm system is going to contribute to the Blue Jays like former pitching prospect Michael Wacha (and don’t forget Shelby Miller) contributed to the St.Louis Cardinals last season. He asked “Why can’t that happen to us?” Great question Paul! Unfortunately, you’re the guy that’s suppose to be providing the answers to that– you’re one of the guys anyway.
This question has been on the minds of Blue Jays fans everywhere, particularly mine. As I have asked before in previous articles, podcasts, and on Twitter, “Why can the Cardinals, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Rays, and now even Red Sox continue to churn out pitching prospect after prospect, but the Blue Jays cannot?” It’s good to see the guys at the top don’t have an answer for you any more than I do. Yes, there’s a lot of sarcasm in that last sentence. That, in turn, takes some of my excitement away for 2014, but none-of-the-less it’s baseball season and I’m more-than-ready to watch the Blue Jays PLAY BALL!