Alex Anthopoulos met with the media yeterday morning in Dunedin and said exactly what anybody who’d given it two thoughts ought to have expected him to say about his club’s stand pat off-season, giving fans one final opportunity to vomit up as much winter negativity as their innards could summon before spring officially began. Even the calling of the session itself and its live broadcast online (on TSN only, as the Sportsnet feed of their parent company’s club’s GM’s potential self-immolation mysteriously succumbed to technical difficulties at the last minute) proved contentious among some fans, underlining the utter loss of perspective that seems to me to be characterizing this tail end of the off-season. After all, the media availability was almost certainly just a rote exercise on the first day in which all players are required to be at camp.
Negativity and disappointment directed at this club is, of course, justified, but some fans seem to believe that grants them license to act like spoiled children incapable of acknowledging nuance or any speck of thought that doesn’t enable them to piss and shit that negativity anywhere, and as though anyone who isn’t satiating their blind, deaf, and dumb thirst for acknowledgement of their supposed victimhood is a weaselly apologist with some kind of agenda hidden behind incomprehensible logic.
It’s not a monolith, of course. Many fans are able to swallow the bitter pills this club has been asking us to swallow this winter — the wholly disingenuous posturing as though they have no concept of realistic expectations on the free agent market; the bizarre acknowledgement that Ryan Goins isn’t a permanent second base solution, but that he is somehow the best they’re willing to do in what seems like it ought to be a crucial few months in early 2014; the sudden finding of religion on notions of the quality of their internal pitching options — with the understanding that this isn’t the end of the world. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, their voices aren’t nearly as loud as their whiny counterparts.
That’s because it’s hard to say in this climate of negativity that Anthopoulos is right when he points to health as the major factor behind last season’s disaster, but he is. It’s hard to look at the projections with enough perspective to wrap your head around how they’re fluid, imperfect, and hardly a substitute for actually playing the games.
And it’s easy as fuck to fake pity everyone who won’t goose-step along with you in the moronic doom and gloom brigade and pretend like it takes some measure of wit to regurgitate irrelevant noise like a club history that has zero bearing the here and now, to feign expertise on matters of health, or to narrowly pick at a single statement or inaction as though it’s all that’s needed to prove the club’s entire existence is an affront to everything good and true and that doesn’t smother puppies to death.
The fact is, the Jays are not that far behind the other teams in the AL East, yet certain people are acting like they couldn’t make runner-up in Little League.
Their back-end pitching is untested, yet people are acting like no one could possibly come from there to being successful.
Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek had Tommy John surgery in mid-2012, yet people are acting like they’re fresh from the infirmary and didn’t throw 57 and 45.1 innings, respectively, at various levels (including the AFL) in 2013.
I’ve said this sort of thing before, but I’ll say it again and say even more: last year the Rays gave 31 starts to Jeremy Hellickson, who finally stopped out-pitching his shitty FIPs. They gave 24 to Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona), who had a 5.41 ERA over his previous 180 innings, a 3.77 ERA in 2010, and ERAs above 6 and 5 in 2009 and 2008. They gave 22 to Alex Cobb, who has been a successful and improving big leaguer, but was not exactly a heralded prospect coming up.
Boston gave 27 to Felix Doubront, whose xFIP numbers made his 2012 look a lot better than his FIP (4.37) or ERA (4.86) did, and which gave him a nice 1.9 fWAR, but just 0.3 by BR’s calculation. They gave 29 to Lackey, who was awful in 2011 (6.41 ERA, 4.70 FIP/xFIP) and had Tommy John in 2012. They also had Dempster, who sucked when he went to Texas in 2012 and struggled with injury, plus Lester, who had seen his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all trend downward for three straight years (including a 4.83 ERA in 2012), and Buchholz, who has started about the same number of games since 2010 as Brandon Morrow.
Baltimore won 85 games with a rotation that screams mediocrity. The Yankees won handing the ball to shitty Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova — who wasn’t good in 2012 — David Robertson, and a CC Sabathia who wasn’t nearly his usual self. Kansas City won 87 giving starts to Wade Davis, Luis Mendoza, a guy named Ervin Santana coming off a godawful year. Cleveland made the playoffs pulling Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar out of pretty much nowhere, and managing to have Ubaldo and Scott Kazmir not be complete tire fires. Texas gave 34 starts combined to Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm, plus 20 more to Martin Perez, who, despite a strong pedigree, had been pretty bad in his first 38 big league innings in 2012.
This, of course, isn’t to say that good pitching isn’t necessary or that the Jays shouldn’t be searching for as much as they can, but to again point out that many Jays fans’ expectations of what makes a tenable rotation are completely out of whack right now, and that teams can be plenty successful with plenty of question marks being asked to take on a lot of responsibility.
Is the rotation a concern? Yes. Is it hopeless? Hardly. Are the Jays “not trying”? Should they just go ahead and rebuild they’re so far behind? Ridiculous.
This doesn’t mean anybody has to like what’s happened this winter. I certainly don’t, but it serves no one to blindly and incoherently point fingers without an honest grappling with figuring out what the hell is truly going on here. All what we do know is that none of what appear to be the possible answers to that question are particularly good.
If Rogers is genuinely as willing to open the chequebook, as Anthopoulos and Beeston always say, the front office’s refusal to push harder to improve a roster that’s unquestionably geared to compete in the next two years is baffling, to say the least. Confusing the issue further is that free agency wasn’t their only avenue to improvement, and the fact that Anthopoulos and Beeston are obviously comfortable enough to not have started overpaying in prospects in a desperate attempt to win now, plus the fact that they surely could have cut payroll if they were really more inclined to save dollars than accumulate wins.
Their hedging, potentially with a view to major roster turnover beginning in July, makes more sense if Rogers has pulled the financial rug out from under them, but such a suggestion raises deeper issues, too. If the front office knew that payroll being reined in was a possibility all along — which for years was exactly the fear I suspected was driving their fiscal conservatism, having seen it happen to J.P. Ricciardi — the decision to make the commitments that the club did last winter looks infinitely dumber. If it’s all on Rogers and out of nowhere — based on Guy Laurence’s new paradigm, or the opportunity to use the sagging Canadian dollar as an excuse — that’s even more grotesque.
The spin we’re hearing is that it’s all about value, and whether it’s worth the cost of adding a Jimenez or Santana — or, if you’re Baltimore, maybe both — given what you can expect out of them compared to what the internal options are. It almost makes sense, until you remember the existence of Ricky Romero, or think for a few seconds about what this club is really worth. Obviously a team can’t afford having too many Romeros banished from the roster while still drawing enormous paycheques, but… actually they totally can.
It’s not about can or can’t at all, even, but the willingness of ownership to or to not — or the willingness of the front office to put their jobs on the line to continue pushing payroll northward. And that’s exactly where the Jays’ P.R. misdirection works best — even if it’s maybe not intentional. In the world that Beeston and Anthopoulos try to create Rogers is benevolent and perfect, and the curious decisions made by the front office are theirs and theirs alone to stand by. Fans, it seems, either dumbly believe management’s rosy picture of Rogers and conclude that the front office is in over its head, or they don’t believe it and make Rogers an easy villain, or they swallow it whole and work backwards to agree with the club’s own lame justifications.
There is never, then, any unified opposition, with fans spread out, pushing at all three pillars.
The truth, I tend to suspect, lies somewhere in between. Shit, maybe the front office has as hard a time reading which string the higher ups are going to pull next as we do. And think about it: of course the club is always going to stay on positive message when speaking with ownership. It may not even be a lie, as they may genuinely have never had Rogers turn them down for any additional dollars precisely because they know enough not to ask. The club then operates in a grey area with uncertainly about just how high their payroll could actually be allowed to go, and when they might next be massaged towards changing course, be it because of the dollar, a new C.E.O., a failure to capitalize on the excitement and ticket sales of the first half of 2013, the wasting of so many of Sportsnet’s marketing dollars on a roster that wasn’t as good as they were sold on, or… whatever.
Actually, that has generally been the prism through which I’ve written about the club for years, and in the frustration of this wasted off-season maybe sometimes I’ve lost the plot (though lately I’ve had some great reminders of late not to be sucked in with the blindly negative, or even to give a hint of empowerment to their corrosive, dumb, self-indulgent teenage venting — so thanks for that, shitstains!). But that isn’t to absolve the front office here, either.
Obviously I think there is some merit to the pillar of fandom that believes what the club is saying, though. As noted above, the rotation is not nearly in the kind of awful shape that the worst of fans are wont to believe, and if the club had been firmer from the beginning that they felt this way — or even that it was possible they might — I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off. Perhaps not, in terms of ticket sales — uncertainty and last year’s splash likely does a better job of selling hope than the moronic certainty too many fans have that Brandon Morrow has only about 100 big league innings left in his arm, and that Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman can’t come in and be successful — and maybe that’s my answer right there. But that doesn’t mean fans are wrong in thinking that they and this club deserved a whole lot better, either. And it certainly doesn’t mean that what’s going on at second base isn’t still a complete fucking disgrace, or that the club ought to sell us confidence-eroding horseshit just to have moved a few more flex packs over the course of the winter.
Viewing it this way, I wonder — as I did earlier in the week as well, I think — if there is simply a top-down rot in this organization that is underlined by an utter lack of respect from level to level. Rogers doesn’t respect the front office enough to give them unfettered access to the real capital this club generates, while the Jays don’t respect Rogers enough to not pull the rug out from under them, and don’t respect the fans enough to speak to anything but the lowest common denominator (not even just in terms of the constant selling of false hope, but the pandering to those afraid and unwilling to think outside of pitcher wins and RBIs), while fans don’t respect either enough to think of them as anything more than imbeciles and villains.
It’s just a theory, but it sure sometimes feels like that’s the muck we’re in — the kind of muck that was unheard of in the idyllic days of Labatt’s ownership — nor does it feel there’s a real good way out until someone like Tim Leiweke comes along and, for all of the faults and bluster and willingness to risk big (the consequences of which we’ve yet to see, it must be remembered) a person like that might bring, starts acting like this is big time club we all know damn well that it is.
It all sucks and we deserve more — familiar refrain much? — but let’s not let that obscure the fact that things are actually pretty alright, once you peel away all the marketing, failed expectations-managing, and futile desires for hollow certainty. Plenty of talent is here, and the idea that this team is doomed to failure is simply the other side of the same monumentally dumb coin that last year suggested the regular season was but a nuisance on the path towards the coronation that was the Blue Jays’ destiny. So let’s just fucking enjoy some baseball and see what happens already, eh?