Blue Jays need to stay the course
In a world where instant updates, and push notifications inform fans of a team’s every move, Tuesday afternoon’s “significant news” alert on Jays fans’ social media was worrisome, concerning and, in the end, one more moment of the here we go again Toronto mantra.
Was it Edwin? Were the Jays finally trading away the trade hungry Dioner Navarro? Was Jose Bautista’s hamstring more than a little tightness?
No, none of that was it. Instead it was the earth-shattering news that the sophomore, bubble gum chewing starting pitcher Marcus Stroman had torn his ACL in a seemingly innocent pitcher’s fielding practice drill while stepping off the mound.
With the pop of a ligament, Jays’ nation was sent into frenzy. At first it was quiet; then fans began typing away on their keyboards, asking, demanding rather that something, anything, must be done to plug the latest hole in the Jays lineup through a freak accident.
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Minutes later every media conglomerate you could name was saying the Jays should do this, or that but mostly arguing that the Jays need to do something. ESPN even said the Jays need to bite the lure Phillies GM Ruben Amara Jr. has left out all season and trade for Cole Hamels.
In this post you won’t find argumentative prose belittling Hamels, libeling the impressive career he has already had for himself. But you also won’t find the ‘do what you gotta do to get him’ argument either.
Hamels is currently 31 years old and his annual $24 million contract is something the Jays can neither afford nor rationalize. In the current baseball world where every move, every pitch is recorded, and trends are established through years of data mining, the baseball community has come to understand the peak age for a pitcher’s talent and isn’t in his late 20’s or early 30’s but rather the ripe age of 26. According to FanGraphs, from age 26 onward pitchers will experience a steady decline in terms of radar gun performance, which usually translates to a regression in on-the-field performance.
For Hamels, this would mean he should be getting worse as he gets older right? Wrong. Since 2012, Hamels average fastball velocity has gone from 90.9 mph to 92.1 in 2014. His ERA was a career low in 2014 but, since 2011, he has gradually become less valuable being worth only 3.8 WAR last season. Does this mean he can define science?
Well not really. Sure, he can fight off Mother Nature for a season or two but I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on him being able to do it until the age of 35 for a price of $24 million a season.
Even more, is Hamels really worth it?
The simple answer is no. The deal to acquire him would likely include, but wouldn’t be limited to, a package with prospects Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, Roberto Osuna, Max Pentecost, or even Daniel Norris. Basically, it’s anyone and everyone the Jays would need to have a legitimate chance at building a championship caliber team beyond next season.
Mar 5, 2015; Sarasota, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Daniel Norris (32) pitches during the first inning a spring training baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles atEd Smith
Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
More than that, the big reason why the Jays shouldn’t make this deal is that the game has changed. As Ben Lindbergh and Brian MacPherson argue, MLB competition may be more even now than it ever has been in history. Last year was the first year since 2007 that no team won or lost over 100 games, meaning that teams are increasingly huddled around the average and competition has gone up.
When you combine that with the addition of an extra playoff team in 2012, it makes it a lot easier to become a part of October baseball.
According to PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, the Jays were forecasted to finish third in the AL East with an 81-81 record trailing the first place Boston Red Sox by a mere six games. But projection systems are uncanny; there’s no way to quantify a team’s string of luck, which, as Neil Payne writes, could account for over a half dozen games either way in a season.
What this means is that, with any luck at all, the Jays are still right there in the mix for the AL East division this season. With a few breakout seasons from replacement pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Norris, they just might be okay.
But now is not the time to mortgage years into the future so Jays fans can repeat the dreadful conversation of, “why us” a decade from today.
Now, more than ever, intelligence, fortitude and rational thinking are needed from the front office to make cost-effective decisions for today’s team without laying waste to everything already established in the farm system.
History shows, this won’t be easy.