The All-Star break is finally upon us, and when the Jays resume play against the Rays at Rogers Centre on Friday– with Esmil Rogers, mind-bendingly their best starter, on the hill– they’ll be looking to improve on a 45-49 record that currently has them all but out of the playoff conversation. Remaining in the season are just 68 games, over which the Jays would need to go 46-22 to wind up with 91 wins– two shy of the 93 that it took to earn both American League Wild Card berths last season, but a nearly comfortable-ish amount more than the 89-90 wins the league’s fifth-best club picked up in the few years previous.
To do so would require the club playing .676 baseball for the next two-and-a-half months– which is exactly the level they played at through their best, can’t get any better than this six weeks of the first half, going 25-12 starting on May 10th and culminating in the eleventh win of their streak back on June 23rd.
The Rays, who were behind the Jays in the standings when the streak was in full effect, now sit at 55-41– a living reminder that things can change fast. On the other hand, though, Tampa could play .500 ball over their remaining 66 games and still get to 88 wins– just a win behind the pace Baltimore is currently on, and still ahead of the Yankees and Cleveland at their paces. The Jays, to reach 88, would need to go 43-25. In other words, they’d have to play .632 from here out– a better clip than anyone in baseball has so far– and they’d still almost certainly wind up falling just short.
Any reason to think they’re capable of doing that, as constituted, or even with help via the trade market, is pretty far fetched.
Sure, having Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie back gives the club a boost, and we certainly– sorry, pisspantses– haven’t seen the best of R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson just yet, but help from Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ appears to be a few weeks away, Melky Cabrera– though the injury offers some excuse (he started 143 games in centre two seasons ago… think about that!)– hasn’t been what we’d hoped, and the bullpen, through no fault of their own, is sure to regress from the early season’s otherworldly heights, even as it gets Sergio Santos back.
Call me nuts, but I still have varying degrees of belief in all of those players, it’s just, they’d all– collectively, instantly– have to morph into something they haven’t been for the first three months of this season, if not longer, if anybody was going to have any kind of confidence that a sustained run of 102-win pace baseball wasn’t a total pipe dream.
Turnarounds can happen fast, sure, and the break will probably help the ailing veterans, but there’s absolutely no sense in not being realistic here. The Jays have all kinds of talent in place that can win, I believe– but especially with a fresh start and a rethought supporting cast. And they can position themselves very well for 2014 if they entertain ideas like trading Josh Johnson, trading some high-end bullpen pieces, extending Colby Rasmus and trading Anthony Gose, or even trading Adam Lind (peak value and allows Melky to move to the DH spot), or any sort of deal for close-to-the-majors talent in areas of need. Fans wouldn’t find it nearly as unpalatable as the front office perhaps fears– the bloom is long off last winter’s rose– and, frankly, I’m not sure how much of a downgrade it would even be.
An August-September rotation of Rogers, Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle and Happ doesn’t really look so bad, and doesn’t seem all that less likely to wind up finding the kind of magic the Jays need than what they currently have. There are other options, too: Kyle Drabek is pitching again, Marcus Stroman has thrown well (though the flyball rate is alarming), as has Ricky Romero. Jeff Blair lobbied for Romero to be held down until next spring on his show on the Fan 590 this morning, but the other side of that coin is that he’ll have face the prospect of coming up and giving it another go in the Majors at some point anyway, and in the back end of a season with little left to lose, maybe the Jays would be well served to get an extended look at him before trying to figure how he factors into their future plans.
Elsewhere, a bullpen without Casey Janssen or Darren Oliver, for example, would still have Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan, Juan Perez, Aaron Loup, Neil Wagner, and would soon be joined by Sergio Santos (and, if we’re being realistic about the flyball rate stuff, too, Stroman).
On the field, Kevin Pillar has done about everything he can to warrant a look in left field, which he could get with Melky move into the DH spot for the departing Adam Lind. And, perhaps, in some of the wheeling and dealing I’m half-proposing– which, of course, is a fuck-tonne easier said than done– they could wind up with an actually capable second- or third-baseman, as well. And another rotation option, too.
Surely a team that ended up on August 1st looking like that could, at the bare minimum, do as well as this team has in the first half. And rather than stripping away valuable potential future assets, like Stroman, A.J. Jimenez, Sean Nolin, Aaron Sanchez, and others, the Jays would– at least theoretically– be adding to their pool of young talent, while not necessarily raising the white flag on 2014 any more than their performance thus far already has.
Kinda makes sense, I think.
Yet the rumour mill keeps churning out stuff about the club’s interest in free-agent-to-be Matt Garza, who appears certain to leave the north side of Chicago while netting the season’s biggest rental prize.
According to a piece today from David Kaplan of CSN Chicago, a “significant industry source believes that while Texas, Toronto and Cleveland are all involved, the dark horse to watch is the St. Louis Cardinals.” He later tweets that “an AL scout just told me that he thinks Garza is throwing so well that the Cubs are in a phenomenal spot to land a tremendous deal.”
On Saturday, Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago went as far as saying “the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays remain the front-runners for a trade with Chicago,” and noted that “the two clubs have had numerous evaluators watching Garza over his past three starts.”
There are a number of places these rumours can take us:
For one, there’s all the usual stuff about Anthopoulos and due diligence, and the possibility of his getting involved as some kind of third party to a deal, or that they just happen to be scouting him with a view to next winter.
For two, in Kaplan’s piece he speaks to an AL scout who tells him about the Cubs’ plans, explaining, “I still think that they will move Castro at some point, which will bring back another good haul of young talent.” That would be shortstop Starlin Castro, who is on a slightly backloaded$49-million deal that runs from 2014 until 2019 (plus an option year), and has been below replacement level this year both at the plate and in the field, where he is not well liked by either URZ or DRS. Would he fare better at second base? He’s got a career .326 on-base (and was in the .340s in 2010 and 2011), a .321 wOBA, and when his deal moves up from $7- to $9-million in 2017, the only contract the Jays are currently set to have on the books belongs to Jose Reyes.
I’m not sure Kaplan’s scout means that he expects Castro to be moved this season, but a devalued asset with a reasonable– if a littttttle lengthy– contract ($8-million AAV) who plays up the middle at a position of glaring need for the club both now and going forward? That sounds a little more Anthopoulosian to me than load-blowing all over Theo and Jed Hoyer’s faces for Garza, doesn’t it?
For three, Anthopoulos may simply be engaging with the Cubs– assuming the rumours are true, of course– in an attempt to inflate the market and perhaps help himself out when the clubs who don’t wind up landing Garza start sniffing around Josh Johnson, having already resigned themselves to losing a bunch of quality talent for a rental starter.
For four, I guess it’s possible that Anthopoulos could be thinking of dealing for Garza, getting three starts out of him between the break and the July 31st trade deadline, then reassessing where his club is at that point and potentially trading him elsewhere. Of course, it’s hard to envision the Jays not taking a loss on such a transaction, but maybe he feels he’d be able to recoup enough talent to make the gamble reasonable. (There is also the pipe dream some fans have of dealing for Garza and immediately signing him to an extension. Maybe. But how often do those deals really happen? How often in-season? Good luck with that.)
For five, maybe he really does believe his club has a shot– or cynically, like his predecessor, would rather serve his corporate masters and sell false hope while doing a disservice to future editions of his club.
I’ll certainly be ready to call him out in full force if it’s the latter. The former, though, maybe isn’t even that crazy. The .632 ball his club will need to make it to 88 wins (and, most likely, fall just short of the second Wild Card spot), was played by four teams over the final 68 games last season: the A’s, Orioles, Reds and Nationals. The year before five did: the Rangers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Tigers and Brewers. In 2010 it was just the Phillies and Twins, and in 2009 just the Yankees. None of these teams were as bad at this same point as the Blue Jays have been so far in 2013, but still!
It’s not impossible, and if Anthopoulos truly, truly believes in the talent on this team, maybe that’s really a thing he’s actually fucking thinking. Which is pretty much nuts. I mean, maybe it’s not as fun as emptying your farm system for Garza, but there are guys to be acquired who can help both this year and next. I expect to see the Jays make some moves prior to the deadline, but anything that doesn’t help the team for at least 2014 as well makes very, very little sense. I can’t imagine Anthopoulos actually, seriously contemplating it, yet we don’t know all that much about how he intends to operate in this new, all-in mode he shifted into back in November, or just how committed to 2013 being the year, no matter how futile that increasingly seems.
Paul Beeston, in his comments from last week, seemed pretty nonchalant about the possibility of this not being the year (bah! we’ll just win next year, then!), so I tend to assume that would carry over to Alex as well.
There’s also this, from Jon Heyman, yesterday afternoon at CBS Sports:
St. Louis wouldn’t seem to have a major need in the rotation, but Garza would upgrade any team, even better ones. Toronto has been speculated as a possible suitor, but there is little to no evidence they are actively involved, at least not at the moment.
Let’s hope he’s right.