The Toronto Blue Jays celebrated their 2013 December Baseball Championship with a sombre, controlled season ticket holder event last night. The natural grumblings of irritated fans after a very disappointing season came through during a ticket holder Q&A with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, president and CEO Paul Beeston, and manager John Gibbons – despite prescreening questions to gently mute any discontent.
More than anything, both the fans and the front office of the Blue Jays seem a little tired. The fans are tired and a little leery after a winter of promise gave way to a season of harsh reality, a fifth-place finish, and the manager who walked away from his contract with the club celebrating a World Series title. The front office seems weary after a season full of worst case scenarios. A season full of injuries and losses and tumors and shredded shoulders and letdown after letdown.
Weary as he might be, Alex Anthopoulos does not appear desperate. All the talent that made his team such a sexy pick for the 2013 season remains in place for 2014. Health is the biggest wild card for his club. It was the biggest factor undermining their aspirations in 2013 and remains the single biggest issue for them going forward into 2014.
The Blue Jays, like every other team in baseball, need their players to be healthy. They cannot afford to dip into the lower half of their pitching depth chart and expect to compete. They cannot, as Anthopolous noted last night, give 30 starts to players who finished with an ERA greater than 6.00.
Alex Anthopoulos took questions from the local media before last night’s fanfest, dodging inquiries about free agents and trade targets as only the evasive GM can. Anthopoulos was asked about the recent Matt Garza, an innovative bit of business featuring options and health-based incentives. Does a deal like his open up different opportunities for a club like yours? Was that a deal you could see yourself working out should the opportunity arise?
The only other deal I’ve seen like that was John Lackey. I think the contract speaks for itself – it’s not common. When you have language like that written into a contract, it’s telling. It’s an element of risk — and how much risk you’re willing to take on.
The Blue Jays know all about risk. They risked their future for their present by trading away three well-regarded prospects for current stars like Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey. Mortgaging the future goes down a lot easier when you see results in the short term.
The Blue Jays haven’t seen that sort of return on their prospect investment. Excellent when healthy, their older players broke down as older players are known to do. Their starting rotation bottomed out as the used more starters than 28 other clubs over the last two seasons.
Numbers of starting pitchers used, 2012-2013
|1||San Diego Padres||20|
|2||Toronto Blue Jays||20|
|5||New York Mets||19|
|10||Kansas City Royals||17|
It is after this kind of experience that a non-rebuilding GM starts looking for more than upside. He needs stability, not a lottery ticket upside play. When so much money is already invested in the on-field product, there is no sense adding variables to the mix.
If you have to build language like that in there (the options and vestments as seen in Lackey and Garza’s multiyear deals) you may just not have interest to begin with. You may have a chance to get some upside and let’s take the risk, other teams might say they’re just not interested, it doesn’t fit.
Put more simply, the embattled GM said flatly “It’s a hard way to plan.”
Planning is all most general managers try to do. Plan to put the best team on the field, plan to leverage your minor league assets and plan to capitalize on the physical and performance peaks of your talent by surrounding them with the best possible supporting cast. That’s it. Trust in your medical personnel to keep your players on the field and avoid overt health risks.
The Blue Jays already have a high-ceiling lottery ticket in the midst. Brandon Morrow has some of the nastiest stuff in baseball but has made 30 starts just once in his career. The Jays have much more depth than a season ago, where Ricky Romero was penciled in as the fifth starter, not an afterthought with a dozen names above him on the depth chart.
Toronto needs better pitching if they hope to compete in 2014. It’s really quite simple. Rather than chasing upside and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, they’re focus this offseason appears to be adding depth and hoping for a return to health for multiple starters. No need to task risks with an injury risk like Matt Garza – there are more than enough questions yet to be answered.