4. Claiming Jake Lamb
Jake Lamb was claimed off waivers from the White Sox on September 3rd and proceeded to hit .129 over 12 games with the Jays down the stretch, with an OPS of .547. Prior to being acquired by the Blue Jays, Lamb had hit .212 with Chicago over 131 plate appearances in 2021 and his aggregate bWAR for the year was -0.3. From 2018-20, his slash line was .205/.309/.351, and he would not have been playoff eligible with the Jays, having been added to the roster after August 31.
Again, hard to understand the thinking. Injuries to Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal precipitated the acquisition of Lamb, and his left-handed bat did offer potential balance to the lineup. But was it reasonable to expect Lamb to be a meaningful upgrade over Breyvic Valera, who had a .270 avg and .721 OPS by mid-September while playing solidly at third for the Jays? Kevin Smith struggled in a very small sample size with the big league roster while filling in at third, but he had also piled up numbers for years in the Jays minor league system, including an OPS of .931 in 410 plate appearances with AAA Buffalo in 2021. What did Shapiro and Atkins see in Jake Lamb’s recent performance that warranted playing him over Valera, Smith or other in-house alternatives? Ultimately it was another ill-advised, long-shot gamble that became an unqualified disaster in the middle of a September playoff push.
5. DFA of Patrick Murphy
The Blue Jays organization had consistently expressed optimism about Murphy and his development since drafting him in 2013. He was listed as the Jays #18th ranked prospect heading into 2021. Consequently, when he was abruptly DFA’d by the Blue Jays on Aug 11 to clear roster space, many in Jays nation were caught off guard. The Nationals claimed Murphy off waivers almost immediately – he currently holds a spot on their 40-man roster – and the club has expressed optimism on his upside as a reliever going forward.
The 6’4” Murphy came up through the Blue Jays system as a starter and battled through injuries and delivery changes for years before settling into more consistent productivity and moving to the bullpen. Appearing first in the shortened 2020 season for the Jays, he posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.565 WHIP in 15.1 innings and a 1.00 ERA and 1.278 WHIP in 18 innings with the Bisons in 2021. Atkins and Shapiro had, for several years, touted Murphy as one of the key pitching prospects for Jays fans to look forward to, usually while asking for continued patience while tolerating the club’s refusal to invest in front of the rotation free agent starters between 2016 and 2020.
Clearly, there is a complete disconnect between the potential value of the player promoted by the front office prior to 2021 and his outright release – for zero return – in the same season, despite sound performance in the context of his development. The club had invested heavily in Murphy for the past seven years. Before being designated for assignment, should he not have been extended some latitude to find his way, to work through rough spots and ‘figure it out’ in the big leagues – particularly with the team desperate for bullpen help in May and June? Was he given the same opportunities that were afforded to Brad Hand, or Tyler Chatwood in 2021?
There is a risk/reward analysis associated with every decision, and countless short, mid and long-term considerations are to be factored into that analysis. Prior to the 2021 season, Rogers awarded new, five-year contracts to each of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, despite the Blue Jays’ consistent underperformance (and zero playoff success) under their leadership.
By comparison, Tampa Bay has made the playoffs each of the past three years, with a much smaller payroll (e.g. the Rays’ payroll in 2021 was less than half the Jays payroll). There are no certainties in this game and no simple answers. But at this point in its competitive cycle, Toronto should not be gambling on high-risk reclamation projects, it should be proactively engaged at the top tier to significantly deepen its run-prevention capabilities through adding high value, lower-risk targets, both prior to and during the 2022 season.