Cathal Kelly has an interesting, uncomfortable piece in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail that looks back on what was supposed to be the Jays’ transformative trade with the Miami Marlins two years ago. It’s certainly worth a read, provided you’re ready for the uninspired shine he puts on comments from Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle about the future and being here in Baseball Siberia to begin with, and if you can get through without raising too high an eyebrow over the assuredness of comments like “Nobody’s talking in the clubhouse any more. There is no particular mood at all, good or bad. Everyone’s just trying to get to the end.”
There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff in there — valuable stuff — though at times it feels as if the whole of the piece isn’t maybe as great as the sum of its parts. Particularly, that’s because of one of the central tenets Kelly lays out as the wistfulness really kicks in and he approaches the end. “Who knows what they’ll be next year,” he writes, “but there are two options: very similar, and therefore doomed; or very different, and therefore having moved on.”
The absolutes sure do inject some delicious pathos into the club’s situation, and maybe I’m getting too hung up on the meaning of “similar” — a semantic question — but it really busts my balls that so many people make the assumption that 2015 will fail because 2014 failed and 2013 failed, as though they’re the same thing.
Why not? Well, most glaringly, all those starts made in early 2014 by Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and Liam Hendriks, and all the ones in 2013 from Morrow, Josh Johnson, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Chien-Ming Wang, and Ramon Ortiz ought to go to far more capable pitchers in 2015, inexperienced as they may be.
Yes, the team has major challenges ahead and in 2015 will need to replace the production that Melky Cabrera provided in 2014, and Colby Rasmus provided in 2013, just to get back to the level on the offensive side of the ball that has yet to be good enough, but to say that if the Jays are similar they’re doomed? Especially when considering the question through the prism of their core and The Trade? As tough pill as it is to ask a lot of fans to swallow, it’s genuinely not necessarily the case (though the usual that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be doomed either caveats apply).
It was a great idea, and well worth the risk.
It failed abysmally, as risks often do.
The only mistake would be using this transactional face-plant as an excuse not to try the same thing again.
A slight addendum: Perhaps the next time, we might first ask everyone involved if they’re keen on the idea.
He’s certainly not wrong that the Jays shouldn’t be afraid to make big, bold moves again, but did the trade fail abysmally? Did it matter whether anyone was keen on the idea?
Obviously the Jays have missed the playoffs in each of the two years since the deal happened, so ultimately it’s going to be judged as a failure by most. But the reality is more complicated than that. While Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio obviously did not, Buehrle and Reyes, whether they seem keen on being here or not, have more or less held up their end of the deal. In his two years here, Reyes has been worth five total wins by both FanGraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, while Buehrle has been worth closer to six. That’s not great, but it’s not far removed from any reasonable, conservative estimation of what those two would have provided. And it’s certainly not a reflection of some negative disposition, either.
No, it’s not what you expect of guys who next year will, together, take up $42-million of payroll. But what the sourpuss fans bitterly mumbling “not a $20-million player” sometimes forget is that in 2012 and ’13, Reyes wasn’t a $10-million player either. Nor was Buehrle a $7-million and $12-million player in those years (note: I’m including the $1-million per year of his deferred signing bonus in the total salary).
The deals were backloaded, and taking them on after letting Miami reap the benefits of their ultra-cheap first years was a necessary part of the transaction for the Jays. Neither player was going to come here as a free agent after 2012 — not Reyes, because of the turf, and not Buehrle, because of the pitching environment — so the Jays did what they had to in order to add their talent. Tying our evaluation of those players so directly to their current salary isn’t terribly fair. The Marlins, in fact, paid $8.5-million as part of the Buehrle portion of the deal (per Cot’s), meaning that, in terms of average annual value, the Jays are really paying him $14.1-million. (Reyes, in terms of AAV, doesn’t look nearly as rosy — factoring in a $4-million buyout of his $22-million option for 2018, which there’s no way in hell the Jays will pick up, and his average annual value as a member of the Jays is $19.2-million).
None of that changes the massive percentage of payroll that these two players have taken up, and are slated to take up in 2015 (and in Reyes’s case, beyond), and clearly it is a problem. But that’s kinda the rub. There’s a very well understood reason why that’s a problem, and to me it speaks to a far bigger failing of the 2014 Blue Jays and the moves the preceded this year, and a far more likely reason than keeping much of the same cast that the 2015 version of club may be doomed.
It is, of course, the failure of corporate support.
And now here’s where we can go through the same exercise we always do, listing the reasons why Rogers might have been justified in closing the purse strings, or trying to point fingers about how the situation was allowed to become what it was in 2014, etc. etc. But whatever explanations we come up with, it is an incontrovertible fact that giving Alex Anthopoulos the funds to add more talent, either last winter or at the trade deadline, could have a long, long way towards un-dooming the club. Just as additional funds this winter could well do the same.
In order to obtain the sort of financial flexibility Rogers seems unlikely to grant them, it’s more likely that the club will look to move one or both (though, realistically, probably just Buehrle) this winter. But they may not — they may not have to, or they may not find any takers, even if offering to eat a big chunk what’s owed Buehrle in his final year — and if they end up not having to, finding cheap solutions to their roster issues on the trade market, or actually being given access to the resources that can extract them from their back-of-the-roster mess, that’s the way in which we could absolutely see in 2015 a roster in many ways similar to the one fielded this season, yet not see a team that’s doomed to fail.
In a post Tuesday at Ghostrunner On First (which is obviously excellent), Drew hits on simple mantra for the not-so-simple task Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays will face in the coming winter months: be better. But the crux of what he’s saying surely isn’t that the Jays need to be better in the areas where their roster is already strong, it’s that they need to be better in the areas where glaring holes of a year ago weren’t addressed, and where foreseeable problems then (Brett Lawrie getting hurt, Colby Rasmus laying an egg and his backups being unsuitable for regular big league duty) and now (Melky Cabrera potentially leaving via free agency) still don’t have proper contingencies.
In other words, the root of the demise of the 2014 Jays isn’t so much a bold trade that fell in on itself, but:
Too many at bats given to players who simply cannot — or could not — hit. Look at this list. It is one of infamy. The names on this list represent more than 1000 plate appearances from guys unable to muster offensive production even %* of league average. That’s a bad list to be on. There are seven names on it.
That’s not all that Drew says, of course, but to me this is key. Those seven players — Gose, Kawasaki, Valencia, Pillar, Kratz, Thole, and Goins — represent 20% of the total plate appearances the Jays have taken this season. That is indeed bad.
But he isn’t merely pointing the finger at those players. The simple fact of the matter is, he says, “the other teams were better. Better balanced or better in one dominant facet of the game.”
That is entirely true. And it’s also entirely true that Kelly’s statement that the 2015 Jays could be “very similar, and therefore doomed” if we’re talking about keeping the detritus of the kind singled out in Drew’s piece. But if we’re talking about the core of the roster? If we’re talking about guys involved in a trade being casually labelled an abysmal failure and a transactional face-plant? It’s not nearly so simple, and not nearly so definite.
Maybe Cathal is right in that Anthopoulos and Beeston bet too much of a too-easily-restricted payroll on the wrong guys, but there is still a lot of good here, and a lot that can be worked with — and a lot of questions that wouldn’t exist with better support from ownership. Let’s not overthink what the problem is.
* In the original GROF piece he used 80% of league average, but Kawasaki and Pillar crept up over the threshold over the last two days. Also, if you don’t limit the list to just guys over 50 PA there are even more, FYI.