Ten names. I can’t be arsed to actually look it up, but I’m pretty sure it’s been a long, long time since the Toronto Blue Jays so forcefully took advantage of MLB’s rules allowing for the expansion of rosters on September first. And there are still more players that could theoretically been brought to the majors by the club, who might have had some utility as they hope to make a titanic last-ditch push to get back in the playoff race. Kyle Drabek. Steve Delabar, and Rob Rasmussen won’t be returning to the Jays — barring a change of heart from management, or perhaps an injury situation that forces them into action — nor will A.J. Jimenez, or — as was discussed in a post yesterday — Brett Lawrie.
And yet still the Jays have added a number of intriguing weapons that fans will be looking to get a taste of down the stretch.
Some of the moves are pretty basic: George Kottaras was added as the club’s third catcher, while Dan Johnson returns from injury to add another left-handed bat off the bench, while John Mayberry Jr. does the same from the right side. Sean Nolin, who has been on the 40-man roster since his call-up last year, understandably has finally rejoined the club. Brandon Morrow has been activated, likely to complete his Blue Jays swan song — that’s because, with a $10-million club option for next year that’s undoubtedly going to be declined, he’ll hit the free agent market over the winter, possibly looking exclusively for an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot that simply isn’t going to be available here — and, as expected, Ryan Goins and Anthony Gose have also returned to the club.
You could nitpick the decisions on some of the relievers, I suppose. Delabar, for example, is a power arm who may still have a future with the Jays and has put up some gaudy strikeout numbers with Buffalo. But he has also walked at least one batter in eight of his last eleven appearances, and at least one hit in five of his last six appearances, none of which lasted more than an inning.
The bigger story though, obviously, is the other names — Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, and Kendall Graveman — though it’s maybe not quite as big as the knee-jerk cynic would like you to believe.
Hearing the Sportsnet broadcast talk glowingly about the future we’ll be seeing on display this next month certainly raises the ol’ hackles, making it rather easy to feel that the rush to get this trio to the big leagues — and, more crucially, in terms of asset management, onto the 40-man roster — has as much to do with optics as baseball, and with selling hope at the end of a dismal August that has likely been a season-killer.
Not only that, but it might even seem more egregious — perhaps even like a flagrant misuse of some of the club’s key assets, forcing them to burn options too soon, to accrue service time too soon, and potentially creating related issues farther down the line. And I don’t think any of us needs to be reminded what a handcuff it can be to have a roster full of too many out-of-options players.
Yet I don’t think it’s really as big a deal as the negative-minded might want to make it out to be.
Take Pompey’s case, for example. Wikipedia explains eligibility for the Rule 5 draft thusly:
Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization’s 40-man roster and:
– were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or
– were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.
Pompey was just 17-years-and-five-months old on June 5th of his draft year, 2010, making the 2014 Rule 5 draft the fifth one since he’s been in the organization. So, as much as it seemed odd and rushed and perhaps cynical that he’s has been added to the club’s outfield glut — they’re currently rostering Bautista, Cabrera, the out-of-favour Colby Rasmus, Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose, and John Mayberry – the fact is, he needed to be added to the 40-man roster this winter regardless. And his addition isn’t even necessarily a stunt, either. As we saw in his first game, he can at the very least help the club on the base paths while they’re still nominally in it, and will likely pick up some at-bats later in the month, assuming it eventually becomes apparent that the Jays are finished.
There’s definitely risk still in adding Pompey, or any of these guys, given that if any of them ends up picking up a long-term injury he’ll have to be placed on the big league DL, earning big league money and accruing big league service time — things that should especially be of concern to a team that seems to operate under occasionally sever budget constraints — and maybe that’s a legitimate reason for the cynics to be upset here. But the Jays also very clearly value giving their young players a late-season taste of the level they’ll be expected to move to in the following year, and one supposes they value it enough to take that risk, especially with a little bit of instant goodwill baked into the process. (Maple dick flavoured, in Pompey’s case!)
Norris and Graveman are slightly different animals, as neither of them needed to be added to the 40-man at this stage. But — and those of you sharpening your pitchforks probably won’t be surprised to hear this — in the abstract they’re probably reasonable additions, too, given that they’re the best young pitchers on the staff of the Triple-A team, and the Jays have been struggling to find consistency in their bullpen — and, if we’re being honest, probably a little over-reliant on Aaron Sanchez.
I think the the fact that both seem very likely to factor with the big club at some point next season lessens the pain of likely burning an option year on each — though, that said, it’s not necessarily a given that they won’t come north with the club next spring (nor is it a given that they won’t be traded, either — especially, I think, Graveman, who may never quite be able to turn heads on the trade marke the way he can now, given the stat line he’s sporting (for whatever little that alone is worth)).
Of course, talking about these two — as well as Pompey — strictly as guys getting called up from Triple-A glosses over a major part of their stories, which is the fact that they all even made it to Buffalo in the first place.
Pompey played just 31 games at New Hampshire this season, Norris made eight starts for the Fisher Cats, and Graveman made only one. To borrow again from Keith Law — who in recent chats has also been clear to note some of concerns about adding guys to the 40-man too soon that I noted above — there is certainly value in having guys go through the league more than once at each level.
We all know this from watching big leaguers closely — there is almost always an adjustment period when a player gets called up, where either he is ahead of the league before they’ve really got a good read on him, or vice versa. Especially at the minor league level, where the same kind of advance scouting as in the big leagues just isn’t possible, common sense alone dictates that it would be good for a player’s development to — in simple terms — have the league get a read on him, adjust, and force him to adjust back.
At the same time, the Jays have “rushed” a lot of prospects in this sort of way, and so far the results have hardly been detrimental for guys like Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez, and Henderson Alvarez. In fact, I’m pretty OK with the club not taking a one-size-fits-all approach if they think a guy is going to be capable of moving up a level and succeeding, one just becomes a bit wary of it when Alex Anthopoulos has spoken on the radio about a guy like Dan Norris “turning a corner” (or some such phrase) in a really short span, and especially when these promotions all fit in rather tidily with the narrative of a club that two months ago saw itself as a playoff contender with a shaky bullpen and few resources with which to make external improvements.
There are concerns about what it will do to their service time, of course — though if Norris hits the ground running in the rotation next season and doesn’t need to be demoted at any point, I don’t think we’ll hear anybody complaining — and even bigger concerns about the pitchers blowing out an arm an ending up on the MLB DL accruing big league service time, but you can see what the plan is/was. Norris is a prospect on whom the excitement really has been building for some time now, and who genuinely could help the 2015 Jays a lot (even if the stuff about him breaking camp in the rotation is a little fanciful), and Graveman? Let it roll! I mean, he was too old for the first two levels he pitched at this season anyway, so the stuff about his meteoric rise is already overblown, and what few reports I gathered when I wrote about him last month suggested he was a relatively finished product who could move quickly through the system (despite a fringe-average fastball), meaning it’s not even as crazy as it maybe looks that he’s here. Shit,. maybe long-term he’s a reliever, even, and he shows some utility in a role like that in this stint.
It’s not like there aren’t more arms still coming behind these guys, either. Roberto Osuna, recovering well from last year’s Tommy John surgery, has pitched 22 innings at Dunedin this year, and tweeted earlier in the week that he’ll be pitching in this year’s Arizona Fall League. Last season Aaron Sanchez picked up 23.1 additional innings in the AFL, and if Osuna is healthy enough to do the same, while it won’t quite put him on track for a huge workload in 2015, maybe next year we’ll be talking about him coming up to help the big club in much the same way as these players are now.
So… yeah, it’s a bit weird to see all these guys up, and it may be a matter of the Jays just following through on plans to give themselves some reinforcements, even though their play in the month of August rendered it too late. And it may have been particularly frustrating that the front office was unable to move some of these sorts of young pieces for big league help, either at the trade deadline or last winter, that could have put them in a better position in the standings than they’re at right now. And it may be an off-putting, Ricciardi-esque display of “look at what our minor league system is producing!” that’s at least partially behind some of these call-ups. But it sure feels fucking good that the future looks so bright. These guys maybe aren’t superstars, but there is definite above average big league potential on this team in the form of a lot of young players who are going to be around — and cheaply — for a lot of years. And it’s going to be kind of awesome to get a glimpse of some of it up close this month, no matter how spurious you feel the justification for some of these promotions may have been.