Sunday, August 12, 2012

Were the Blue Jays doomed from the start?

What went wrong?

The Jays season looked promising enough: a great spring training at 25-7, with good performances by a number of starters, good performances by the starters, and a fairly healthy team, with McGowan the only culprit with a sore foot. The team was stronger than last year, with Brett Lawrie being the regular third baseman, a decent hitting Adam Lind, and a strong Colby Rasmus in center field. Bautista was back, and Encarnacion was also hitting well. Arencibia was back for his second full season, defensively much better. Anthopoulos went out and got proven bullpen in Darren Oliver, signed Casey Janssen to a two year extension, got back Jason Frasor, and acquired Cordero who had 37 saves for the Reds last year, and Sergio Santos who had 30 saves for the White Sox. Things were looking up.

And the fans bought into the hype too, buying 22% more tickets than last year (the rest of the league is up 4%) on the hopes of a team competing in the AL East vs a hurt Red Sox, a rebuilding Tampa Bay, and a mediocre Orioles team.

The team really received a one-two punch that did them in for the season. The one punch was losing three of their starters in one week, which I believe led to the demise of Ricky Romero due to the intense pressure for him to perform (the pressure he put on himself -- after the win at Miami on June 22, he has yet to win a game. The bats came to life however and left the team around the .500 mark with hope really slipping away game by game as they stayed roughly five games back of the wild card mark.

But the #2 punch happened on July 26th, when Arencibia broke his hand and Lind left the same night with a sore back. From that point, the team has hit a breaking point. Add to that outages by Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus and you have a team full of not-ready-for-prime time players to fill the spots. It is easy for good pitchers to pitch around a team when you have only four major league players in your line up. Snider's trade away didn't help team morale either.

Now the fans are blaming AA and Rogers for not spending the money on the Jays. Clearly, Rogers is afraid to sign blockbuster agreements. They dumped Vernon Wells' contract (fantastic move) and Alex Rios (good move). Bautista and Encarnacion's contracts are steals and most MLB analysts thing that those contracts are extremely good values for the Jays. They traded away Halladay. And I've explained in another post that the Jays activities represent about 1% of the total action within Rogers Communications, Inc, but the expectation is that they will be profitable. So, the fans are right. The only way that the Jays will spend some money is to build up the team slowly through value, and the team has indeed been making strides in that direction with their payroll slowly on the uptick to correspond with their revenue. The blame is fair, but do you want the Jays to be the New York Yankees? Do you want to spend an average of $63 for a ticket (current is $26)?

My view is that AA took a risk in not signing a veteran onto the pitching staff -- the rotation was too young, with three rookies and new rookies, and a fragile Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. His gamble failed. A veteran might have not been a good value on paper, but might have stabilized the rotation. I can't fault AA with the initial bullpen choices. Having both Santos and Cordero imploding was not predictable -- it was just bad luck, and it took Farrell time to realize that Janssen and Oliver was up to the task of closer/setup after giving Cordero a reasonable amount of time to prove himself (and fail). Add to that Perez's season ending injury which complicated matters. The depth at relief also took time to resolve, and the Jays pretty much tried everybody on the AAA and AA farm to see if they were ready -- all kinds of relievers came up from AAA and went back down. Chavez, Beck, Carreno, Coello, Andrew Carpenter, Crawford, Pauley, Richmond -- none were ready. Finally, the Jays settled on Loup and had to trade for Lincoln, Delabar, and Lyon -- because no one from the farm was able to step up to the task in the bullpen. And on the starting rotation, Cecil and Laffey make decent #5 starters to replace Drabek and Hutchinson, but there really was no one of Morrow's calibre that was able to step up to the task.

On the hitting side, Lind failed until his return from AAA. He went on waivers and no one claimed him. No one stepped up to the task of being a star left-fielder, and just went it looked like Snider was up to stay, he was traded for the necessary relievers. There were slow starts by Rasmus, Arencibia and Bautista, and both Escobar and Johnson have be somewhat lacklustre. Only Edwin has really really impressed.

Let's face it though -- the injuries would have been insurmountable to any team. I am sure the Yankees would be on a major slump if they lost Cano (their best hitter), A-Rod, Texiera, Granderson, and Russell Martin. The injuries are the culprit here.

And it is clear that the depth of the farm is not there. Many have come up from AAA and AA to pitch and have failed, necessitating AA to go out and trade Snider and Thames. The AAA hitters who have come up have all failed to impress with the exception of Moises. Had the farm been ready with major-league ready relievers and hitters, the Jays would be all right.

So, you ask the question, did AA make bad acquisitions and overhyped the farm system, or did the players fail the Jays in their performances in the MLB? I would blame the players. The farm system has improved vastly over the years in their records and their independent ranks as prospects. But really, the end indicator of the value of a player is their performance in the majors. So, I can't blame AA for the farm acquisitions, but I will blame the players as a whole for failing to step up at the major league level.

In the end, the Jays season went wrong due to a vast and unheard of number of injuries. And the players really didn't step up before the pitchers went down in mid-June. Besides Anthopoulos acquiring a veteran pitcher in the offseason, I really can't fault him for doing anything wrong. And as long as Rogers continues ownership of the Jays, and they will for a long time, their spending will be conservative in nature. I really believe that the Jays will pull the trigger at the trade deadline if they believe they will make the post season -- the increase in ticket sales, playoff games, and ratings will recover the cost -- it makes economic sense to do so. But it makes no sense to Rogers Media to spend $150 million on player salaries when the team is only pulling in $160 million in revenue. Until that point in time, expect AA to stay the course and make spending decisions based on value, not on emotion.

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