Blue Jays: Last winter’s moves weren’t this year’s problem

TORONTO, ON - JULY 21: Curtis Granderson #18, Teoscar Hernandez #37 and Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate their victory during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on July 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 21: Curtis Granderson #18, Teoscar Hernandez #37 and Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate their victory during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on July 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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While the 2018 season has been a big disappointment for the Blue Jays and their fans, the new faces haven’t been the reason this team has underwhelmed.

When any professional sports team struggles, there is going to be blame thrown around, and in many cases someone will lose their job as well. We haven’t seen that (yet) in Toronto, but there’s little debate about whether or not this season has been a success for the Blue Jays thus far.

It’s easy to blame the coaching staff, and many do. John Gibbons has been a divisive figure among Blue Jays fans for years, and as the team has struggled through this season he may have faced more criticism than ever in 2018. The other popular target of frustration is the front office, and what they failed to do last winter in order to give this team the tools it needed to compete in 2018.

I got thinking about this over the All-Star break, and the more I considered it, the more sympathetic I got for both Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro. While they took a cheaper route in many cases with their upgrades, most of their signings were solid, well thought out moves. They addressed their middle infield depth by bringing in Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz, and their outfield situation with Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk. They re-signed Marco Estrada and brought in Jaime Garcia on a cheap contract to round out the rotation, and added arms like Seunghwan Oh, Tyler Clippard, and John Axford for dirt cheap deals to bolster to bullpen.

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Some of those contracts have obviously worked out better than others. However, with the exception of Garcia, you could argue that each of the players listed above have met or exceeded expectations for the Blue Jays in their first season. None of them are superstars or were expected to be, but rather were brought in to compliment an existing core that was supposed to have the firepower to make for a competitive team.

If the front office made a mistake this past winter, it’s that they had faith in the core that was already in place.

Don’t get me wrong, I was right there with them and wanted to see this group allowed one more chance to compete in 2018, and to prove that last year was a comedy of errors. However, that core I mention above hasn’t risen to the occasion, for one reason or another.

Josh Donaldson has been on the sidelines for all but 36 games this year, and hasn’t been himself even when he has been in the lineup. Marcus Stroman has looked much, much better since returning from the disabled list, but he was awful to start the season. Aaron Sanchez had mixed results before oddly going back on the DL, and we all know the disappointment that surrounds Roberto Osuna and his legal troubles.

Taking it another step further, the Blue Jays haven’t had a sniff from Troy Tulowitzki yet this year, and maybe won’t even see him in 2018. Russell Martin is having an awful year at the plate, hitting just .184 with seven home runs and 18 RBI. There have also been extended struggles at various points in the year from guys like Grichuk, Kendrys Morales, Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis, and more.

The most telling stat for me though, is the bWAR total numbers when it comes to the “core” vs. the “complementary” pieces that were added this past winter. If this doesn’t explain why the Blue Jays have struggled this year, I don’t know what will.

Donaldson/Martin/Stroman/Sanchez/Osuna/Tulo = 2.3 bWAR

Solarte/Grichuk/Granderson/Oh/Diaz/Clippard= 4.4 bWAR

The six names listed above are supposed to be complementary players, and they’ve done just that in Toronto. They’re also making less combined than the individual contracts of Donaldson, Martin, and Tulowitzki as well. You can wish that Clippard was a better closer or something if you want, but the reality is the Blue Jays have received tremendous value for their 1.5 million dollar investment, and he was never supposed to be the closer anyway.

If you ask me, you can’t blame the players that were added last winter, or even the front office for the moves they made. As I look at the roster, I still don’t understand how this team is seven games under .500 with as much talent as there is, but when it happens two years in a row it’s just something that you have to accept.

Next: Braves could be players for Oh, Axford

The disappointment of 2018 has been a true team effort, and will undoubtedly kickstart a rebuild into the next generation of this Blue Jays team. And for as much as things didn’t go as planned this year, I don’t think the finger should be pointed at the new additions for 2018 hardly at all. To borrow an analogy from football, you can have an excellent playbook, but without the star quarterback, running back, receiver, or tight end on the field, it’s pretty tough to make even the best of plans run smoothly.