Another week, another dip into the ol’ mail bag, as we’re about to embark on a journey together, hijacking the latest edition of Richard Griffin’s mail bag from over at the Toronto Star. Hold me.
As always, I have not read any of Griffin’s answers.
If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, email it to email@example.com and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!
This might be one of those pointless ‘what if’ questions (and I’ll get hammered by DJF I’m sure), but I’m curious to get your opinion on what the state and future of the Jays might have been if the Florida and Dickey trades had not been made in the off season. There would have been some tinkering with the lineup of course, but would we have been in a better position going into 2014 if they had never happened? I was really buying into the build for the future concept, but also bought into the trades.
Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia
Certainly not a question anyone around here would bash, Rob, because the answer is exactly the key to understanding why they Jays did what they did last winter.
Thing is, the guys the Jays gave up in those trades, while terrific prospects to varying degrees, for the most part cannot be expected to be impact MLB players until after Jose Bautista’s contract expires, after Edwin Encarnacion’s contract expires, and after Colby Rasmus, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and Adam Lind all hit free agency. There may be some overlap in 2015, or because of additional option years on some of those deals, but, for example, Noah Syndergaard is only 20, and has pitched just 114 innings this year, so even if he does make a big league rotation next year– and, out of Spring Training, that’s hardly a guarantee– he’s not going to be able to put in a full workload as a starter anyway. He’s looking like he could be a terrific piece beyond that, but I think it’s safe to say it would have taken some exceptional circumstances for him to be a difference-making arm for the Jays in either his age 22 or age 23 seasons. Meanwhile, Justin Nicolino is 21 and has struggled since moving up to Double-A at mid-season, and Adeiny Hechavarria reached the Majors this year hitting about as poorly as advertised.
Travis d’Arnaud and Jake Marisnick are closer to providing value at the big league level, but had he remained in the Jays system, Marisnick would next year be battling with Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar to maybe win a roster spot in the outfield, depending on what happens with Melky Cabrera (assuming he’s even still on the roster in this hypothetical). Of course, given how poorly J.P. Arencibia has played this year, Travis d’Arnaud is the one who really hurts, but again, that’s one of those prospects who might be a really impactful guy– if he can stay on the field– and that’s more likely to be in Bautista’s age 34 season of 2015.
Why does Bautista’s age and contract status matter so much? It’s not just him, but he was the club’s most important player and also the one farthest along the aging curve. By the time you’ll be starting to maybe, if you’re lucky, see truly impactful seasons from the prospects dealt away, Bautista will either be in a pretty solid decline, or heading towards one last big free agent payday. Encarnacion will be 33 in 2016, himself, and without those two guys at the height of their powers you’re relying a lot then on the development of the kids. It might have worked, and the team certainly could have dealt the likes of Jose, Edwin, Morrow and Rasmus along the way for other, younger pieces to help the full-on Cubs-like rebuild, but those folks who were once pencilling in Travis Snider, Anthony Gose and Kyle Drabek for stardom right about now know that’s hardly an exact science. Neither is building a team through trades, obviously, but the route the Jays have taken has at given them a much better shot in the near term, with Bautista and Encarnacion in better places age-wise, innings eaters in Buehrle and Dickey helping the rotation, and their other core pieces still here– plus they’ll have financial flexibility following 2015, with big dollars only guaranteed to Jose Reyes beyond that point, especially given the new commitment from an ownership that finally has been forced to see winning, not its slice of the revenue sharing pie, as the most savvy method of doing business.
Had it not have been for the deals of last winter the lineup going forward would still look pretty alright on paper, but maintaining the status quo in the rotation would mean something like Morrow-Happ-Hutchison-Drabek-Redmond, with Romero, Rogers, and eventually Nolin and Stroman as depth. Not a lot of hope there.
Sure, the Jays appear to have made a pretty giant misstep in terms of when and how they spent their money and so much of their prospect capital– Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish would go a long way right now towards making that rotation look downright respectable– but that doesn’t mean at all that the cupboard is now bare, and in the meantime the club will have a couple of years to really make a push. Now it’s just… hopefully the next two chances at that don’t go as feebly as this year’s try has.