Hey! Prospect stuff!
Remember prospect stuff?
Around here we used to get in a real lather any time that something like the mid-season top prospects lists from places like Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America — both of which released their mid-season 2014 lists yesterday. It’s not like that stuff became less important, it’s just with the depletion of the club’s upper minors with the trades of Noah Syndergaard (9th for BP, 19th for BA), Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, etc., and the shift in focus by the Jays from prospect-hoarding to turning farm pieces into big league roster players, it simply wasn’t of the same concern. And now… well…
As much as my knee-jerk reaction to the Jays’ recent might be to write things like “this is not the week I want to deal with morons insisting the Jays should be sellers” *COUGH* the prospect question becomes ever more interesting the more the Jays flail. Sadly, the club has floundered so badly — and has been hit by key injuries to Brett Lawrie and now Edwin Encarnacion, with guys like Adam Lind and Jose Bautista playing while ailing — that it is no longer outside of the realm of honest assessment to wonder about the wisdom of dealing away prospects to patch the holes on the club’s current roster.
I mean, I’d absolutely argue that the season is still eminently salvageable — and that’s not even a word anyone should be using, given the club’s still-excellent position in the standings with nearly half a season still to go — but there are certainly reasons to wonder about what a future would look like with the players being praised today on these lists.
For Baseball America it was Dan Norris and Dalton Pompey — and, perhaps surprisingly, not Aaron Sanchez — who made the grade.
Norris jumped from outside their pre-season top 100 into the 25th spot, ahead of Sanchez (previously 32nd), and ahead of guys like Kyle Zimmer (Royals), Alex Meyer (Twins), and Hunter Harvey (Orioles), slotting in just behind the injured Jameson Taillon. A “lefty with three potential plus pitches (fastball, slider, change) and an average curve,” is what they call him, which sure sounds good to me.
Pompey (47th) also jumped from outside the top 100, placing the 16th rounder ahead of first-round outfielders Stephen Piscotty (Cardinals) and Brandon Nimmo (Mets), as they write that the “toolsy center fielder’s bat has caught up to rest of his tools in a breakout start in the Florida State League.”
For Baseball Prospectus, Sanchez (29th) still reigns among Blue Jays, but it’s with a heavy dose of cold reality — as has been the norm of late. “It’s been a familiar tune for the right-handed starter this season: electric overall stuff clouded by concerns as to whether the fastball command is going to grow enough to lead to consistency at the highest level. Sanchez has moved a few spots, but given graduations to The Show his status has probably moved a bit backward. This arm tends to tease visions of a legit frontline arm with his stuff, but the clear-headed line of sight points to a mid-rotational starter,” writes Chris Mellen.
Mellen also provides the write-up for the ninth-ranked Syndergaard, FYI. Ugh.
Norris (33rd) is nipping at Sanchez’s heels for the top spot in the Jays’ system because of the “ a developmental step forward” he has taken over the last calendar year, which shows “no signs of slowing.”
There are intriguing pieces in the low minors, too, and ones that were just drafted (one, Roberto Osuna, just about to get back on the mound after last year’s Tommy John) — and, obviously, a pair of excellent arms already in the big leagues — that make it a still-intriguing collection of talent, but it’s the upper level talent that matters most. That’s where the Jays will likely be forced to trade from if they choose to make major upgrades for the 2014 season, but that’s also where the foundation — small a base as it may currently be — for the future may lie.
Much of the talk about the necessity of doubling down on the all-in moves that the Jays made prior to the 2013 season has centered around the idea that it would be smart to build around the ever-fleeting peak years of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Reyes, and that the upper levels of the farm system won’t be ready to produce talent that matches the timeline. However, with the strides made by Pompey and Norris this year, both now in New Hampshire, one wonders if that all still necessarily makes sense. After all, it’s not like teams with youthful rotations can’t be very successful, as last year’s Rays and this year’s Cardinals can attest.
Let’s think about 2016 for a moment.
That’s probably the last thing anyone wants to think about right now — especially the front office — but the Jays could be in an interesting spot. Right now they have just $27-million committed to payroll for that season, prior to arbitration raises, guys making the league minimum, and some key options to be exercised: Jose Bautista (35) at $16-million, Edwin Encarnacion (33) at $10-million, and R.A. Dickey (41) at $12-million. Not to be a negative suckhole, but let’s assume from here that they’d pick up the first two (Edwin’s is a slam dunk), but not the third. Because of buyout commitments already factored into the $27-million figure, that would be $50-million.
That roster, then, would have declining stars in Bautista, Encarnacion, and Jose Reyes (33). But it also has Brett Lawrie (26) still. It has Stroman, Hutchison, Sanchez, and Norris (all 25 or under). It potentially has Pompey (23). It still has team control on Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, and Steve Delabar. Maybe it has potential impact guys currently in the low minors or from the most recent draft knocking at the door. It surely has enough resources to have kept Casey Janssen (34), Melky Cabrera (31) and Adam Lind (32) around, if they felt it was warranted.
It’s a club that should have the payroll to fill in the roster holes not yet filled internally, too. But what kind of a roster is it?
It’s an aging roster, but also a roster very dependent on very young and untested players (presuming all these players even make it to 2016 healthy and without major bumps along the prospect highway). It’s also in a division with a Boston team that’s way ahead of them in terms of prospects right now (and already looking to be sellers this year), and resources, and a Tampa organization that constantly manages to churn out successful major leaguers. It will also be a Jays club that hasn’t yet solved its stadium/grass issue, and that most likely has continued its long run of futility, meaning that no matter how much freed payroll space they have (and it may not be that much — I think we all know that we can necessarily expect Rogers to continue running payrolls like this year in perpetuity) they’re still not going to be anything close to an A-list destination for free agents.
It’s not easy to forecast from this far out, obviously, but it’s tough to say that the club is setup for great success in 2016 by holding their chips, and with two of the three aging offensive stars on the roster in the final year of their contracts (and Reyes up the year after), it doesn’t necessarily bode well beyond then, either — though right now it doesn’t feel like it will be terribly difficult to keep guys like Bautista, Encarnacion, and Lind here in Toronto beyond their current deals, and it’s certainly not setup poorly either.
So, it might not even be so bad. However, the willingness of those guys to stick around could change if the Jays miss their moment here in 2014, as they very well might without intervention from the front office… which, on the other hand, would then deplete the club’s prospect stock — though a trade-off for that is how a successful year might make them a more viable free agent destination, and playoff and stretch-drive revenue should keep the club’s budget more robust than it would if they chose to fold up the tent now and hold onto hope and prospects for 2016. It’s a conundrum, and is complicated by the fact that the current front office certainly can’t expect to be around to see the fruits of their drafting if once again the club fails to meet expectations — especially if Paul Beeston leaves at the end of the year, which is totally not a whisper I’ve heard *COUGH*. If they’re going for it, they need to make the playoffs, and if they don’t, well…
Inaction on the trade front in these next three weeks would very possibly be a gift from Alex Anthopoulos to a successor more likely to appear sooner than later if the GM were unable to find some other way to stem the current bleeding. Some fans, especially those who never seem to quite be comfortable unless the Jays are rebuilding, might even be forgiven wanting to see it all go down like that, even if it means dismantling the big league roster, more years in the wilderness, and no guarantee of ever necessarily getting as much of a sniff of playoff baseball as they will here in 2014. But it’s hard to see this front office giving that gift. These next three weeks are hugely important to the multi-million-dollar project they’ve been embarked on whole hog for a year and a half, and though I believe that Anthopoulos wouldn’t be so crudely cynical and self-interested as to blow up the farm to gamble on this season (and may not be allowed to be, frankly — because it’s not like his boss isn’t at least a bit mindful of his legacy), it’s very hard to envision them not doing something, or morphing — as those fans of the rebuilding process would surely love — into a seller.
That’s especially so because things just aren’t nearly as dire as they currently seem, hard as that may be to believe for anyone who has witnessed the abysmal play of this club over the last few weeks. Commenter allisauce adds some much needed perspective on the current malaise:
I enjoy how people point to Tampa as some team that could get hot and make a run of things. Why Tampa now? Because they’re playing well at this moment? They had a run of 10-20 from mid-May to Mid-June. Lots of injuries. Sound Familiar?
Exactly. And while that doesn’t mean that the Jays don’t need to address their problems and should just wait for health and expect things to get better, their problems are addresssable, and their position in the standings is still enviable.
It would be easy, then, to suggest that Anthopoulos is perhaps dangerously trying to hedge — somewhat like he did in his “pursuit” of additional pitching this winter — by being too cute in trying to get the additions he needs without giving up the prospects he badly doesn’t want to. Other potentialities would be that he’s crippled by indecision and fumbling the ball at the goal line, that he’s too cognizant of appearing like he’s self interested and simply resigned to going down with the roster he’s got, or that he’s doubly hamstrung by limitations Rogers has placed on payroll increases. Alex himself, though, would suggest that it’s something else.
The Jays GM was quoted heavily in a piece from Bob Nightengale in this morning’s USA Today, in which Cardinals GM John Mozeliak says that he’s “pretty frustrated right now,” and that “There’s no easy solution. There’s just not a lot of players out there period.”
More from Nightengale and AA:
It’s become the most mystifying trade deadline in recent memory.
“Your needs can change in a hurry, from game to game,” says Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, whose club certainly is living proof. “You can’t just be locked into one area. Everything is fluid. Your needs constantly change. It’s just too early to get a read right now.”
. . .
“We’re only halfway there, and just as hot as teams are in the first half, teams get cold in the second half,” Anthopoulos says. “We’ve see teams collapse down the stretch, or play particularly well down the stretch. Any club can get hot in the second half. Look at Kansas City last year. Look at Tampa Bay.
“It’s hard to take away from your big-league club in July, because if you’re not that far out now, you have a chance.”
So, what now? The Jays keep on bleeding with their current roster, forcing them to be even more desperate — or more resigned to their fate — by the time the opportunities to make the deals they really want/can actually open up?
Yep, these will be a big, big three weeks for this organization. Hold on tight.
Image via Baseball Hot Corner.