Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rocking the boat

At various points during my blogging "career" (cue laugh track...), I've been accused of being an Anthopoulos fanboy, lapping up his every move and refusing to criticize even the smallest of missteps. 

And you know, there's perhaps an ugly element of truth to that in the sense that I've believed for quite some time that he's earned the benefit of the doubt from past transactions of brilliance (the Vernon Wells contract, the Rasmus trade, gaming the system with the Olivo deal, etc) in the sense that even if some moves didn't quite work out (Francisco vs Napoli), you could understand the logic going into the deals.

I have, however, always maintained that when I saw moves or trends I didn't like, surely I wouldn't hesitate to say so.  As if that means anything.  I'm just a fan like any of you reading this.  But friends, I can't shake the feeling that I might be staring dead into that moment even if I'm afraid to acknowledge it.

And it's not even about the Snider trade, or more specifically, the handling of Snider throughout his career with AA being the one dealt the unfortunate duty of finally putting ol' Lunchbox out of his Blue Jay misery.  It's not necessarily about trades he didn't make at the deadline either, because how the hell do I know what was out there, you know?  Maybe Theo said "I need all of the Lansing 3 for Garza or no deal."  I'd walk away from that conversation too.  And I know that's where this entire line of thought I'm confessing probably breaks down, probably maybe.

But I'm starting to question just what exactly is the plan or philosophy - or maybe timeline - in putting together the playoff team that we've all craved since 1993.  And that's big for me, because it's never even crossed my mind that there wasn't a grand vision in place to pull this thing together.

Build the system into one of the game's best, lock up the talent, then supplement the roster to championship calibre through trades (using said system) and free agency to add the final "over the top" pieces.  From where I sit, it kinda sorta maybe seems like that plan - which is perfect in it's obvious simplicity - is starting to break down.

The seeds were planted last winter, when mismanaged messages from the entire Blue Jays organization allowed the rabid fanbase to believe that there was money to spend and spend they would.  Perhaps not necessarily through fault of their own - though the "money will be there" line of talk from Beeston rang in our ears - the mainstream media jumped all over it and the Jays did nothing to quell that false hope until it was too late.

But that's OK, there was still the trade route, stated as the preferred method of building this roster.  Free agency was the last step in adding the final piece anyway.  Aaaand the winter meetings came and went with nary a splash (save for Santos).  But that's OK, the team preferred to make moves in-season, with teams being ready to deal at the trade deadline, a time more conducive to pushing around pieces of the puzzle.

And here we are.  Where exactly are we again?

Seemingly not yet willing to spend and not willing to pay the premiums in prospect currency through trade.  Neither nearer nor further from contention, in my humble estimation.  A rotation full of holes, a few big bats missing in left field and first base/DH, and a question mark at second base.  The bullpen has been worked and reworked again, and we can count on cornerstone everyday players like Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Edwin Encarnacion (who knew?)... and Jose Bautista.  Of course, the great 32 year old Jose Bautista.  The same age as Roy Halladay when he begged his way out of town, deeming the team too far from contention.

Make no mistake, I'm still in the can for Alex Anthopoulos.  He's among the brightest of lights in league exec offices and I wouldn't trade his chair for any other in the league.  There are still a whole lot of positives in the organization, at the big league level and down on the farm.  Surely there's enough already to build the base of the next Toronto Blue Jays playoff team... at some point down the road.

But 32 year old superstars typically don't have that many superstar years left in them, and what a shame that would be to waste another prime like this one.


Bret said...

I agree with this entirely. I've had the same feelings, you just put them into words much better than I ever could.

CoolHead said...

I disagree. The formula is still valid. There is no magic wand to get players to perform to expected levels.

The offense with the big holes in it still has managed to maintain a top 3 position in runs scored. The pitching hasn't come through, but the pieces AA has highlighted as troubled, he has traded. 5 new arms in a month, and has moved prospects to get them.

How much would Garza have cost? Well, he's still in Chicago, so I would have to think quite a bit, yes?

Yes Bautista is aging, but again, the offense hasn't been the problem.

Now an investment in injury prevention analysis, which Tampa Bay obviously has, but does not trumpet, would be something I think real money would be worth spending on.

But I respect where you are coming from, because there playoffs are very tough to see from this angle.

Anonymous said...

Welp, this is pretty much perfect. I think a lot of us feel this way, it's just difficult to express it without sounding like the typical "zomg Rogers is so cheap" mouthbreather. A tip of the cap to you.

Mark Ladouceur said...

It's starting to feel like a plan, like the Cylons had a pan, or Lost was planned; in that there's some high-level ideas, but there's a lot of improvisation.

Pat said...

I agree with your sense of frustration. It's been a frustrating season.

And I'm sad about Snider's trade too (though I'm not convinced it was a bad trade).

But I am glad AA didn't trade for Garza (or the like). If Morrow was healthy and Romero was even a little better it would be a different story.

We don't have the rotation to be a contender this year.

jovoscrapper said...

Fantastic commentary duder....spent a couple of hours at the bar yesterday trying to figure out how on earth trading Snider now was a reliever made sense (vs letting him play out the year) and we could not. AA is starting to make me nervous

Darrell Jacques said...

Its hard to go for it this year, especially with more talent on the DL than we send to the field. Alex will have money to spend when its a realistic chance that we can go for it. The pitching staff was decimated in June. I said "maybe next year" when Hutchinson went down. If you lose three starters, and then replace them with guys that could make your team (Laffy), you know its trouble.

The Ack said...

Thanks for the comments, interaction = funner blog.

A lot of the comments seem to revolve around injuries decimating the rotation to the point that moves were, well, pointless.

But the rotation was a question and substandard heading into the season, so are the in-season injuries really to blame?

I would submit that if you're heading into the season counting on Kyle Drabek, Joel Carreno, and Brett Cecil as prime options, with inexperienced arms like Drew Hutchison as your plan-a fallback, then you probably never were going to contend in the first place.

Losing Morrow sucked but realistically... that's the only difference maker.

re: the offence... just because it's good doesn't mean it can't be better. Holes in the lineup are holes in the lineup, man. The frustrating thing for me is the holes the Jays have (LF, DH) realistically should be among the easier positions on the diamond to replace.

Ian - BJH said...

Ack, I don't know if it's because the Toronto sports talk radio shows have been alluding to this the past few days or what, but I'm starting to question where exactly this plan is going as well.

The Blue Jays don't necessarily owe it to the fans to go out there and spend a boatload of cash just to quiet the villagers. But it seems like the front office is trying to do everything in their power to avoid signing free agents. Just look at the Mathis and Ben Francisco trades - couldn't they have just pulled them off the scrap heap somewhere?

Anonymous said...

The issue in the plan for AA is the following which caused AA to think outside the box.

the issue being that not only did the rotation of the Jays get ravaged by injury, but the guys who were drafted to fly through the system (Jenkins, McGuire) also struggled mightily. Jenkins was a JP pick and McGuire a reach pick by AA. The reason for this selection however was due to the lack of any talent in the upper minors in which AA felt he needed to address. If you look past this pick you will see nothing but high upside picks for 3 drafts with the exception of Stroman (although Stroman is awesome).

If McGuire/Jenkins (or one of the two) held up there end of the bargain I don't think the Happ trade nor the Snider trades occur. As is the case these prospects cost the Jays a couple (need trades) to get some depth in the rotation for this and next season.

Next year you will see the Jays with a rotation of about 7-8 deep. Morrow, Romero will still be at the top of the rotation. I see the Jays getting at least 1/2 starter through free agency, or through a trade. That leaves, Hutchinson, Alvarez, Stroman, McGuire, Jenkins, Happ, Cecil, fighting for the fifth starter, sitting in AA/AAA or in the bullpen who can jump right in.

And I think you will see this cycle repeating from now on. The next wave will include Nicolino, Syndergaard, Sanchez, Stilson, and that is followed with Norris, Osuna, Cardona, Comer, Robson, Smoral, De Jong.

This season with a shortage of the pitchers will be the last time you see something like it in a long tome.

Anonymous said...

this is pretty much perfect. I think a lot of us feel this way, it's just difficult to express it without sounding like the typical "zomg Rogers is so cheap" mouthbreather. A tip of the cap to you.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:32

McGuire wasn't a "reach" pick... he was well regarded before the draft and was ranked higher then he was actually taken IIRC.

As for the trades... I dunno. I think the Happ trade was fine none of the prospects really excited me and getting rid of Coco and Francisco is a plus. I'm also not a Snider homer like so many (too many IMO) are (Overrated AAAA player IMO) so losing him isn't a game changer for me either but what I don't like is that we aren't getting the premium talent that we'll need fast enough. Happ, Linoln, and Delabar are decent players... but are they taking us any closer to the point that we're this (mythical?) "one player away"? I don't think so.

It just seems to me that by the time we plug one hole so much time has passed that another hole opens up and then if we plug that one another opens up and another and another... all the while we're being fed lines about spending when the time is right. Frankly it feels like the "right time" is never going to come because the baseline payroll restrictions don't allow for it. Sure the Lansing 3 look great in a prospect porn type of way but they'll likely be at least two years away from competing for the big club (if at all) and by that time it feels like we'll be fed some line about how we can't spend because we've had to many holes open elsewhere in the interim. And so the cycle begins anew.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 12:13

I stated that the Lansing 3 are a couple years away hence I mentioned they are part of the second wave of pitchers to come up.

You keep saying the Jays are 1 player away,I am not sure what you are getting at. All I have to say is when AA started as the GM the Jays had holes at (every position) since then he has added 4 keep pieces for the future (Lawrie/Escobar/Rasmus/Morrow)and the following guys have developed (Bautista, EE, JPA, Romero) that is basically the core of this team and since AA took over 2 years ago this core has doubled from the Riccardi days.

Not bad.

TonyRage said...

I kind of feel your frustration, but at the same time, I think you are missing a very important point. You seem to think the plan had a timeline that had the Jays making the playoffs this year or next. I personally never saw that as possible. Next year would be a stretch, but a slim possibility.

You say the plan was to build up the system, lock down the core and add pieces to put us over the top. But it is not sequential. Building the system is an ongoing process which is well underway, but the best talent is still below double A ball. Locking up the core is also ongoing, but also requires that core to develop together into a cohesive unit. I would suggest this takes two season at least of them being together. Adding pieces through trade of prospects is important, but it should not be at the expense of the entire system. We cannot trade everything for players who aren't controllable. We can't trade propects for less than their worth.

I think if Jays' fans are patient, they will see this come together very well in 2014. I think 2013 will be close, but certainly no chance of going deep in the playoffs.

As for Jose, well, even if he is not in his "prime" when we get there, he is still probably going to be pretty good, and he is an invaluable player for mentoring, and to rally around.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually ok with the holes in left and at first because they are, theoretically, easier to fill.

bkblades said...

Why are so many commentators railing against Travis Snider (and his supporters, whatever that means), but still dismayed that his trade brought a underwhelming return? Travis Snider can't be a glorified AAAA player and bring spectacular value back.

Ack, solid post. I can't necessarily disagree with you here, especially in light of the most recent trades. But I will hold judgment on Jose Bautista and his supposed declining skills. I know history tells me that age 32 is past a person's prime, but Jose Bautista has defied conventional history that has made me question my asinine assumptions and non-factual judgment calls.

The Ack said...

Asinine assumptions and non-factual judgment calls are a constitutional right - look it up. The Queen signed off on it and everything.

No but seriously on Jose, I don't think his skills are declining yet, but I mean... how long can he keep that ungodly bat speed going? Another 2 or 3 seasons?

And just to clear one last thing up... hope this didn't come off as completely dumping on the Jays org and AA. Not the case. More a note of concern for where this thing is going. Like a love letter.

Rupert said...

Call it what you will but this whole line of thought is about one thing: The Travis Snider trade.

A fan favourite gets traded for a not-well-known reliever and the fan base erupts claiming that there's no plan, that AA is an idiot and more.

It makes me sick.

1. The Snider trade might very well work out in the wrong kind of way. I'll give you that one. But there's nothing in Snider's history (or Lincoln's) that makes this trade a slam dunk for either side. And while the couch GMs claim that Snider is on a path for stardom, they're really just quoting their favourite on-air personality who has been cheerleading for his promotion. The truth is: You don't know.

2. Even if it doesn't work out, I think AA has earned one bad trade. Every move up to this point has been "blindsidedly" brilliant. Colby? Brilliant. Lawrie? Brilliant. Gose? Brilliant. (Where is Brett Walace again?) He's earned one sucky trade. I hope this isn't it. But if it is, oh well. You don't think Theo Epstein has a few of those?

3. Blaming Rogers, a faceless corporation who sucks at servicing your cable, is easy and gutless. The truth is, they brought back Beeston, upgraded the stadium, and gave AA all the resources he needed to get the young, International players he wanted. Did they overpay for Darvish? No they didn't. And thank god they didn't. I paid $40 for him in fantasy league and I feel hosed.

4. The plan is in action. I think they have a date (2014) but why would they share it? "Come back in 2014 when we'll be ready to win!" Nope. That won't work because along the way, you never know what can happen. You think the Orioles were targeted 2012 as their breakthrough season?

This was never supposed to be our year. And if you thought it was, you set yourself up for disappointment. Don't blame AA for that.

Outkast feat. AA said...

You can plan a pretty picnic but you can't predict the weather.

BBFANTO said...

Pitching injuries killed this season. Jenkins/McGuire not developing also hurt badly. Who knew the Lind season would be the disaster that it has been, poor perfromance, demotion, return and signs of hope, to back problems and DL.

On the bright side.

I like that we added depth and years of control to the bull pen with hard throwing guys. Santos will be back next year, and Jansen proved again he can pitch.

Lawrie & Rasmus get another year of at bats. Alverez gets another year of experience and ups his inning limits for another year.

Morrow showed he can be a better pitcher. Romero has had a bad year but I beleive he can bounce back. Hutchinson showed promise so after a off season to recover I cross my fingers he will be good to go as a starter next year.

EE blossomed, Bautista continued.

Escobar & Arenciba were down but still hold potential to be better.

DH & LF can be fixed. 2B may be harder but we could do worse than Johnson (OBP but the K's kill).

Ratings are up and attendance is up so MAYBE the purse strings will be openned to add a longer term expensive piece.

The plan was on a roller coaster ride this year but there are many positives to take from this year. An off season of moves and I still think next year could happen. I wouldn't think twice about trading any of D'arnaud, Gose, & Hech for good younger pitching or hitting. Jenkins may be turning a corner now, been better recently.

Bullheaded said...

Let's get Garza for 3 or 4 of our best prospects and pay him 12 Mil. Then sign or trade for a little better the average DH and 1B paying them both 10 to 12 Mil each. Then what? Our payroll would be at 115 to 125 Mil and we would still be a couple of starters away with less prospects in the system. We need to wait until our players step up and start performing and take us near the top and then add a few top free agents to guarantee a ring. 2014 the earliest unless a couple of starters click next year.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ack for a well written post. This really does sum up the feeling of the fan base quite eloquently. Not bad for a "blogger"

We came into 2012 with the following holes:

Starting pitching, 2B, LF, DH and 1B. We have only solved 1B with EE. Starting pitching continues to be our largest area of opportunity and the most expensive area to address. We have potential with Morrow, Romero and Alvarez. Happ should be an adequate #5. Drabek and Hutchison will likely not be ready until mid to end of 2013 so let's not make the same mistake we made this year and count on injured pitchers to make up significant portions of a rotation and then be surprised when they can't. We still need a front of the rotation pitcher. But going into 2013 we will have a bit of depth for the rotation, when injuries occur in Cecil ( who should be in the pen) and Laffey. I don't see the Jays resigning Villaneuva with all the starting pitchers available this off season.
The pen should be fine for 13 as we now have some quality arms with power: Janssen, Oliver, Lincoln, Delabar are definites. Loup, Cecil, Stroman are possibilities as is Santos, Carreno and Crawford. So now some depth is being created in the pen. Where we obviously didn't have it before.
The 5-6M in savings from this pen plus the savings from Teahen should be able to be reinvested. From the reports Hech should be able to fill the gap we have at 2B or we shift Escobar over. Either way there is a possible solution and a 6M+ savings. So far there is a 18M savings over 2012.
What 2012 has proven is that we need to acquire a LF and DH so that we have lineup depth when the inevitable injuries and daily wear begins to set in. Rajai is a 4th OF. Gose is only 21 and needs more seasoning. We can't expect a 22 year old to be piped right into a major league line up and produce especially when we have a 32 year old star who will begin to decline.
This next month and the off season will be the true test of AA and ownership. If they go out and get a big starter (Grienke, Jackson, Sheilds) and one of a proven bat for LF or DH. Then we should be just fine and even a dark horse to win the division. If they don't and we trot Cooper, Davis, Gose and some menangerie of arms just about ready to fall off. Then they will have spoken loud and clear about what they truly expect to do.

The Ack said...

Yup, obviously willing to admit that any moves at the trade deadline had to take the long view - and an arm like Garza just barely meets that criteria with one more year before FA - so this upcoming offseason is going to be a big one.

Just like the last one. That's where I'm going with this.

Unfortunately, the end result - and I can only speak for myself - is I'm kind of at the "show me don't tell me" stage. Love the plan, but we have to move past the
"beef up the system" stage at some point.

My favorite AA quote: "they aren't all gonna play up here."

(ps - excellent discussion, all. thanks.)

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