Shi Davidi has an interesting, informative piece up today at Sportsnet which has been titled, presumably by an editor, “Lack of trust impacted 2014 Blue Jays all season.” It’s certainly something that’s going to get people talking, even if Shi himself is careful not to overstate the impact of the human element on a not-great team playing not-great baseball.
In fact, if one were so inclined, as much as anything it can be read as an indictment of Rogers and the way the budget for this club has been so badly mismanaged either by a front office who left themselves absolutely no room to breathe after the big additions prior to 2013, or an ownership group failing to recognize how suffocating it is to have made such a quick about face with respect to payroll.
The Ervin Santana mess is a put forth as a catalyst for the trust issues that plagued the club in this doomed season, but it’s framed, essentially, as a failure of ownership. “Had the Blue Jays not needed to muddle through the various layers needed to pull off the [deferral] scheme –negotiating a contract with the right-hander, earning union approval on compensation for the players, gaining the green light from ownership – Santana would have been theirs long before Kris Medlen suffered the elbow injury that prompted the Atlanta Braves to act,” he explains.
We’re also told about the now-infamous remarks from higher ups — reported elsewhere as being uttered by Edward Rogers III himself — at a team function, when “the players received what they interpreted as a promise of money for a contender at the deadline if needed.” When the time came, of course, the money was nowhere to be found. And as much as we can all agree that it’s probably a good thing that the Jays didn’t trade any of the young pitching depth that materialized for them this year, maybe if they hadn’t so ineptly handled the Santana situation — if they had been given the resources to do it right and he actually wound up in their rotation — they could have been comfortable enough with their depth to do so, putting themselves that much farther ahead and eliminating this layer of distrust.
Later in that same section of the piece Shi brings up the example of Martin Prado, who “would have cost the Blue Jays nothing but a token prospect and money, and while at $27 million for the rest of 2014 plus the next two years he’s expensive for what he is, the versatile infielder would have provided a needed upgrade at second base or third base plus strong roster depth in the seasons to come. The New York Yankees picked him up instead.”
We had a lot of discussion about Prado around here at the time, and though I was not entirely sold on him as a player — and, believe it or not, a little vocal about that — ultimately the issue was what it always seems to be with this organization. On August 1st, I wrote a piece titled Let’s Think About What Happened At The Deadline and addressed it:
The Yankees getting Martin Prado (and the $3.67-million he’s owed this year, plus $22-million for the next two, plus a $1-million trade bonus) certainly is a move where the mythical financial resources Alex Anthopoulos always insists that he has — as he did again Thursday, speaking with reporters in a post-deadline conference call — may have come into play. But let’s maybe sit back and think about all this for a moment.
Let’s think about Prado and the money he’d add to what’s strongly presumed to be an already tight 2015 budget, which to this point hasn’t yet found room to accommodate a Melky Cabrera extension. Let’s think about potentially blowing the ability to resign Melky in order to take on the age-31 and 32 seasons of a right-handed 3B/LF whose last four seasons by wRC+ have looked like this: 89, 117, 104, 81. Let’s think about a guy whose best defensive position is already manned by Brett Lawrie, and a guy whose value is strongest against left-handed pitching, where the Jays are already quite strong with the much cheaper Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia.
Prado was a guy who made perfect sense for a team like the Yankees — a team that consistently has the resources to go out and fix the sorts of mistakes that are utterly inevitable in this business — and little sense for the Blue Jays, who need to be far more mindful of their resources and of cost-benefit analyses.
That predicament is what also necessitates all the scrap heap moves that Alex Anthopoulos frequently makes. It’s not that “he has no plan” or whatever bunk fans want to invent to justify how crazy it makes them when the club takes a simple flyer on a guy, it’s that he doesn’t have the resources to go get a Prado, so he has to constantly try to spin straw into gold.
This, according to another section of Davidi’s piece, has implications in the clubhouse, as well.
“Anthopoulos was understandably grinding to find every incremental gain he could, but by so frequently shuffling out player A for player B – like going from Kevin Pillar to Brad Glenn to Cole Gillespie to Nolan Reimold only to eventually end up back at Pillar; or bringing in Brad Mills to get pounded – all he did was leave guys looking over their shoulders, unsure of their status,” he explains. “True, they were being given opportunities, but they were often of the swim-or-sink variety.”
I don’t doubt this is true, but let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. Is the problem Shi is talking about really the shaky trust of ballplayers impacting their performance because they’re constantly having to look over their shoulders, or is it that the Blue Jays had little other option but to field the likes of Pillar, Glenn, Gillespie, Reimold, and Mills?
Is it that the players felt betrayed by the lack of trade deadline activity, or was it that the front office didn’t have the resources to make anything but small, cash-neutral moves?
Is it that the players felt uneasy and disgruntled because ownership wasn’t committed to winning, or was it that ownership wasn’t committed to winning?
The tidbits from within the room are plenty interesting. The intangible, human element stuff will always create passionate discussion because it’s impossible for anyone to say just how much impact such things actually have on a team or a player’s performance. But as cute a device it might for a piece like this, painting the 2014 Jays’ problems as being anywhere near rooted in issues of trust and psychology would completely miss the mark.
Fortunately, I don’t think that’s really quite what Shi is doing here at all. I think that, apart from the piece’s title, he’s being appropriately cautious and evenhanded in how he addresses all the intangible stuff and how entirely peripheral it really is. But I also think there are a lot of people who aren’t going to see that way.
Image via Best Of Toronto. Consider this your Playoff Post.