Gregor Chisholm: Blue Jays Mailbag: Sour grapes or sign of a bigger problem?
|Toronto Star 30 Oct 2019 at 11:57|
Major League Baseball’s off-season hasn’t even started yet and already there has been a flurry of activity across the league.
The Red Sox have a new man in charge of the front office after swiping the highly regarded Chaim Bloom from the Rays. Managers Joe Girardi (Phillies), Joe Maddon (Angels), David Ross (Cubs) and Jayce Tingler (Padres) have all found new homes while former Blue Jays bench boss John Gibbons is still looking for work.
In Toronto, the Blue Jays and head trainer Nikki Huffman parted ways last week but major changes are not expected in the front office or coaching staff. Instead most of the organization’s focus will be on implementing an off-season plan to address some glaring holes on the roster.
There seem to be a lot of former Jays who have expressed displeasure with the front office – Marcus Stroman, Josh Donaldson, etc. - is this a matter of sour grapes or is the front office viewed around the league as incompetent/not up front with players?
-- Mike, Toronto
It s fair to look at each of these departures and question whether the Blue Jays front office should have done more to keep the player around long term. But the quotes on their way out the door? That was expected and it seems to happen whenever a prominent athlete leaves town, regardless of what team he plays for.
Casey Jansen wasn t happy when former GM Alex Anthopoulos declined to offer a suitable contract extension in 2014. Remember Carlos Villanueva? He practically begged for a new deal after every start in 2012 and it never came. Go through the era of J.P. Ricciardi, Gord Ash and even Pat Gillick and you ll find examples of players unhappy they weren t welcomed back. These ones just happen to be more noteworthy.
So yes, this can be racked up to sour grapes but it s hard to fault the players. Donaldson and Stroman played pivotal roles in making baseball relevant in this city again. They expressed a desire to stick around and wanted to be paid accordingly. When Toronto wasn t willing to meet their demands, ego and hurt feelings took over. It would happen to anyone. Judge the decisions on their own, not the fallout, because most of that is just talk and all the parties have biased views about why things deteriorated.
When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. talked about a better fitness regime going forward it was evident that in September he started to run out of gas. Jays have a new fitness facility in Dunedin. Is it mandatory that players deemed out of shape get to Spring Training early? If not, why?
-- Wil, Toronto
It s not mandatory because the off-season falls outside the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement. Players aren t required to be in camp until the official report dates in mid-February and everything else is beyond the club’s control.
Players are essentially allowed to do whatever they want in the off-season. Certain activities that might lead to injury are banned, but there s nothing in place that can force players to follow a certain workout routine or spend an off-season at the club s minor-league complex.
The positive here is that Guerrero acknowledged he needs to change his routine. He appears more willing to follow the club s guidelines and the hope is that means Guerrero will report to camp next year better equipped to handle a 162-game season. Guerrero has all the talent in the world, but he needed a bit of a wake-up call and the fact that he got it at age 20 is a good thing.
Is the Jays’ professed desire to be like the Astros/Rays informed by a full understanding of what the Astros have done to get there and is the rebuild undermined by the popularity of rebuilds happening across MLB?
-- Darren, Toronto
Baseball is -- and probably always will be -- a game of copycats. When one team tries something new, and it works, a lot of other teams will try to replicate that formula. It happened in the 1990s when Cleveland was at the forefront of locking up its young players through their arbitration years. It happened in the 2000s with Oakland s Moneyball era and it s happening again with analytically inclined front offices.
Some of these trends were fads that went away, but this era is here to stay. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo stated in September that Toronto is closing the gap on analytics, but the organization still has a way to go to before it matches up with a team like the Rays. Additional resources will be made available, new hires will be brought on board and the organization will continue to grow. The blueprint is there, but the work is ongoing.
There are pitfalls to this approach. If you punch the numbers into the system, the same way every time, you re often going to end up targeting players with similar skillsets. If multiple teams are trying to accomplish the same thing, it becomes more difficult to differentiate from the competition. Players fall through the cracks, but you know what? That happened with scouts too. The smart teams will find a way to blend new-school and old-school approaches and the Blue Jays will be the first to admit they’re still in the process of making that happen.
After the 2014 season the Cubs finished 73-89, they signed John Lester to a six-year deal. Is this a year the Jays should go after a Gerrit Cole, or save it until 2020 for James Paxton or Trevor Bauer? But keeping in mind neither are as good as Cole.
If the Blue Jays are intending to make a run at Paxton or Bauer, they should go after Cole this off-season as well. Personally, I just don t see it happening. Not with Paxton and Bauer, and certainly not with Cole.
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There s nothing about this ownership group or front office which suggests it would be willing to make that type of financial commitment. The Blue Jays are going to spend money, and they re going to target pitching, but I don t envision a scenario where this club is willing to hand out $200-plus million to one player to get it done.
It s more realistic to expect this team to target mid-tier starters through free agency. The high-end arms will have to be acquired through trade or developed internally. That might disappoint some fans but it s not like this is mission impossible either. Toronto s rotation in 2016 -- Sanchez, Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey -- was built the same way.
What kind of realistic expectations can fans have for Nate Pearson when he is eventually called up? Will it be considered to use him out of the bullpen, or immediately as a starter. It is way too early, but could be get to the level of Rookie of the Year?
-- James, Mitchell, Ontario
Pearson has rookie of the year talent but whether he contends for the award will centre around the timing of his arrival. The 23-year-old tossed a career-high 101 2/3 innings last season and he s at least one full season away from being able to handle a full workload.
If the Blue Jays promoted Pearson midway through 2020, he wouldn t throw enough innings to be considered and anything above 50 would cause his rookie status to be lost for good. In terms of expectations, Guerrero proved this year even the most hyped of prospects go through learning curves at this level, but Pearson s upper-90s velocity should play from Day 1.
There might be some initial work out of the bullpen, depending on Pearson’s innings, but long-term the goal should be to make this guy a traditional workhorse. Houston and Washington proved this year that there s still a place for big-name starters and Pearson is the mostly like pitcher in the Blue Jays organization to become that guy.
With the schedule out for 2020, I noticed that there are two stretches of 17 straight games (May 8 through May 24 and July 31 through August 16). Why would any team agree to this? It seems to be a large stress to put on anyone especially the pitching staff.
-- Jacob, Toronto
Those long stretches fall well within MLB s guidelines, so Toronto doesn t have anything to complain about. According to the CBA, teams are prohibited from playing more than 20 consecutive games without an off-day. Exceptions are made for rainouts, and there are also certain restrictions when it comes to switching time zones and flights over two-and-half hours but outside of that everything else is fair game.
There have been a few ideas floated over the years about how to provide players with more downtime. One idea implemented in 2018 saw the 162-game season played out over 187 days, instead of the previous 182. But outside of shortening the season, or scheduling doubleheaders in advance, there s not much else the league can do.
Will the Jays seek at least some stability in their rotation this year?
-- Dan, Kingston, ON
Yes, of course. There s no guarantee it will happen, but general manager Ross Atkins has made it clear that his top priorities this off-season are pitching, pitching and more pitching. Re-signing Matt Shoemaker makes sense but even then, Toronto needs at least a couple of more reliable starters.
MLB s off-season has been moving slower and slower in recent years so there s going to be a lot of repetitive reporting on this in the weeks ahead but some of the fits through free agency -- after eliminating some of the unrealistic targets --- include Zack Wheeler, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, Rick Porcello and Jake Odorizzi.