Blue Jays: In Difficulty Lies Opportunity

Feb 17, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31), starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (6), relief pitcher Roberto Osuna (54), pitcher Brett Oberholtzer (32), pitcher Jeff Beliveau (36) train during spring training during spring training at Cecil P. Englebert Recreation Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31), starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (6), relief pitcher Roberto Osuna (54), pitcher Brett Oberholtzer (32), pitcher Jeff Beliveau (36) train during spring training during spring training at Cecil P. Englebert Recreation Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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There has been much talk about the assets the Blue Jays could get in rebuild trades.  But would a rebuild year have other advantages?

*Editor’s note- This article was submitted prior to the 3 game winning streak.

The Jays’ 2017 situation is becoming increasingly precarious.  Their odds of making the playoffs are down to 12%, and their chances of winning the World Series are (optimistically?) pegged at 0.6%.  A rebuild (reposition?  refocus?) of some kind appears increasingly likely.

The obvious advantage to a rebuild is the young talent that the Jays could receive for players like Estrada, Liraino, Happ, Bautista – and especially Donaldson.  But there are other advantages.  A contending team, for whom every win is important, cannot afford to take chances or to make mistakes.  A non-contender can.

So what does this mean for the 2017 Jays?

Dalton Pompey

It seems as though Pompey has been in the Jays’ system forever, although he only turned 24 in December. Once a top prospect (remember when he won the Rawlings MiLB Gold Glove in 2013 as the best defensive centre fielder in all of the minor leagues?)  his stock has dropped significantly with his 2015 meltdown.  Still, he has Kevin Pillar-ish potential.  The question is whether he will ever achieve it.

Could a rebuilding Jays team afford to tell Dalton that the LF (or RF, or possibly even CF) job is his for the remainder of the season?  That he doesn’t have to worry than an error, or 0-for-4 on Tuesday means that he will be sitting on Wednesday?  If they did, the Jays would have a far better idea of what they had by the end of 2017 then they have now.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Mat Latos

Guilty admission #1: I like Latos.  I think his clubhouse issues are overblown (his own version of what happened is quite compelling) and his performance from 2012-14 (his 3.31 ERA over those three years was 27th best in baseball, sandwiched between Chris Archer and Corey Kluber) is hard to argue with.  And Mat does not turn 30 until December.

So far in 2017, Mat has pitched to a 3.27 ERA (albeit with a 6+ SIERA).  Is this just a small-sample-size aberration, like his 2016 March and April?  Or could he be getting his mojo back?

Could a rebuilding Jays team – one who would likely trade at least one of Happ, Estrada and Liriano – afford to give Mat a spot in the rotation for the remainder of the year, with a view to signing him to a ~3 year deal if he succeeds?  The risk of a meltdown and severe underperformance is there, of course – but so is the “risk” that he could be a solid back-end starter.

Joe Biagini

When the Jays claimed the Genie in the 2015 Rule V, consensus was that he would be a bullpen arm at best.  He only had two pitches (fastball and curve) at a MLB level, and very few starters can survive with a two-pitch repertoire.  But Biagini worked hard on his secondary offerings in 2016, and now has a legitimate four-pitch arsenal.

Going into 2017, the Jays had a touch decision to make.  Keep him in the MLB bullpen, where he was sorely needed, or send him to Buffalo to be stretched out into a starter.  The Jays made the decision to keep him in Toronto, for the benefit of the team.  But if they push the rebuild button, should that decision be revisited?  Would it not be to the team’s greater long-term advantage to see if the Genie could be a legitimate big-league starter (a position he prefers)?  If he fails, no worries – he will still carry high value in the bullpen.  But the Jays will need starters in 2018, and I agree with the old adage that a decent starter is worth more than a good reliever.

Roberto Osuna

Roberto Osuna has been questioned of late for using all five of his primary pitches rather than relying on his “big 3”:  4-seam fastball, slider, change.  (Guilty admission #2:  I like Greg Zaun – some of the time, anyway.  Poorly played baseball irritates me too).

Osuna is Biagini, only more so.  Already a solid closer (I would not call him elite), his arsenal screams for conversion to the rotation.  But there are other factors:  his preference for closing, his Tommy John surgery in 2013, and the lack of an obvious replacement in the closer role.  But like Biagini, life would be much easier if Osuna had an opportunity to start in Buffalo and he and the Jays were in a better position to make the starter-vs-closer decision.

The rest

There are many other questions that could be answered – to the Jays’ advantage – if the team could afford to take a few risks.  Is Ezequiel Carrera a legitimate major-league left fielder, or was last year’s playoff performance a fluke?  Can Kendrys Morales still play first base on a semi-regular basis, freeing up the DH slot to rest players like Donaldson and Tulo?  Is Reese McGuire’s defense and pitch-calling good enough to make him a mlb backup right now?

Next: Blue Jays, What ifs- Part 1: The R.A. Dickey Trade

The bottom line

Albert Einstein once said that “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity“.  There is no question that, at least so far, 2017 has been a difficult year for Blue Jays fans.  The only question is whether the Jays can find the opportunity that lies within that difficulty.

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