MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Workout

It was not even that long ago, about one year if I recall, that the Toronto Blue Jays were the darlings of the baseball world. Heading into a the season riding a massive wave of momentum, the Blue Jays were picked to advance fall into the playoffs by every pundit from Tijuana to Thunder Bay. Toronto made big moves and cashed in their prospect bitcoins for real live big leaguers and also Josh Johnson.

The 2013 season famously ended in tears for Toronto, as the off-season spending spree bought just enough goodwill to last through the first prolonged slump. The happy vibes eroded quickly. The Jays limped to a 74-win year while their former manager, the one who begged out of town to take his dream job in Boston, hoisted the World Series trophy.

One year later, the Blue Jays are just another team. They’re another team trying to figure out how they can improve at multiple positions after they taught a master class in the perils of a stars and scrubs philosophy in 2013. Second base, catcher, and left field were all black holes last season in addition to a patchwork pitching staff with one of the worst starting staffs in the league.

The team upgraded behind the plate and hope health and divine providence will guide their pitchers and left fielders. But second base? That remains a serious question mark.

Maybe question mark is a little too kind. Punchline? Whipping boy? The second base competition in Dunedin comes to Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis, with some non-roster invites and super mascot Munenori Kawasaki thrown in for flavor. Those options? A little bit less than appealing.

As far as projected production goes, the Jays rank dead last in baseball at second base, using the options listed above. The Marlins plan to run 36-year old Rafael Furcal — who didn’t play in 2013, who was basically replacement level as a shortstop in 2012, who has all of four innings at the keystone since 2004 — out at second base. And even he figures to out produce the Jays group.

Ryan Goins acquitted himself as a wonderful defender at second base during his brief September cameo with the Jays. His defense was a sight for sore eyed Jays fans who suffered through the Emilio Bonifacio Infield Nightmare after the utility man COULD NOT adjust to life on the Canadian carpet. Maicer Izturis, meanwhile, turned in one of the worst seasons in all of baseball and easily the worst season of his career. Most folks in Toronto have no memory of him even suiting up for the boys in blue, as the memories are deeply repressed in a haze of PTSD.

The Blue Jays could well believe Izturis isn’t this bad while hoping Goins is bound to improve on his .252/.264/.345 big league line at the plate, complete with two walks against 28 strikeouts at the game’s highest level. This hope flies in the face of his minor league results, as Goins posted a less than inspiring triple-A slash line of .257/.311/.369. There are only so many miracles a hitting coach can be expected to perform.

Toronto’s challenges are two-fold: finding an acceptable upgrade so late in the game and finding the scratch to make a deal happen. The team’s payroll is much higher than your brain will let you to believe and there is some question as to the club’s ability to extract more money from their corporate overlords. Stephen Drew is an option, as the good people at Boras Corp deign to allow second base and Drew into the same sentence these days.

It would be a stunning move, frankly, for Stephen Drew to come off a season in which he was at worst a league-average player at short to suddenly agree to a position change. The walking, talking proof that the Qualifying Offer system is an ideal tax on mid-level player salaries. Even if Drew considers a one-year pillow contract and a season slumming at second, getting Boras and the Jays on the phone together remains easier said than done.

Even if Drew isn’t an option and trading for (enormous question mark in his own right) Nick Franklin isn’t an option, spit and polish on the existing second base options might not be the nightmare scenario when we look at the big picture. The Dodgers reached the National League Championship series and won 92 games running Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker, and Nick Punto out at second base last year. Only Ellis figures to be the defensive equal of Ryan Goins and their collective offensive numbers (.264/.327/.338, good for a 92 wRC+) don’t inspire backflips.

This year, the Dodgers look even thinner at the position now the Ellis is in St. Louis and the other two are…sliding into first base for other teams. The group behind Alexander Guerrero is no great shakes and the Cuban himself is a significant unknown commodity. Los Angeles has advantages the Toronto club obviously does not, as the $100 million payroll gulf suggests.

Shellshocked Blue Jays fans will continue clutching their pearls all spring long as inactivity gives way the looming dread that yes, this is it. Perhaps Ryan Goins took his lessons from Kevin Seitzer to heart and will slap and punch his way to a passable offensive season. Maybe his defense IS as good as it looked at the end of 2013. These are the straws at which Blue Jays fans must grasp.

It was a long season and a very, very long winter in Toronto. The seeds of discontent are taking hold at One Blue Jays Way. One man’s regression is another’s neglect. The Jays might not be able to afford Stephen Drew’s salary demands but it looks an awful lot like they can’t afford to go into the season with this second base mess, as well.

Comments (36)

  1. “… while their former manager, the one who begged out of town to take his dream job in Boston, hoisted the World Series trophy.”

    Wait … You mean that wasn’t just a bad dream?!”

  2. It would be interesting to find out, and I am sure we never really will, what the deal is with this offseason. I am sure everyone is aware of the negative fan reaction that the inactivity this winter has created. Is it indeed Rogers closing the purse strings, which would then make sense why they didn’t tender Johnson, nor apparently make a serious offer to any free agent, or is this truly just AAs aversion to the free agent market? Would love to be a fly on the wall at 1 BJW.

    • I would not be entirely surprised if they were approaching this simply with a “formula”, like in the Moneyball movie (and perhaps book/real life?), that they simply have projected contributions from players (like WAR) and a dollar amount that corresponds to this. Perhaps the players (Santana, etc.) just aren’t matching up based on this system. AA has intimated that there is such a system, but maybe they are being strict about it now, a kind of, “fuck it, let’s just roll with our math.”
      Or maybe they just believe in Hutchison et el. and will wait to trade during the season (even picking up a big contract-type guy) if things don’t work out.

    • While there likely is some truth to the idea that Rogers has tightened the purse strings (how can any profitable company accept the fact that the team won fewer games after such a heavy investment as they made last year), it’s unreasonable to say that the Jays didn’t make any offers for free agents. All we know is that their offers weren’t accepted.

      • You’re correct regarding contract offers, this is why I say ‘apparently’ what we do know from various reports, including AA himself who referred to the value not lining up and things being too expensive, is that they were only interested in F/A pitchers at somewhere around 3/30, or at least they were not willing to go to 4/50, which many people would still argue represents reasonable value. But yes likely it is some combination of the two, but would still be interesting to know exactly how the cards unfolded between AA saying that they wanted two front end pitchers at the end of last season, and now that he is now comfortable with what they have in house.

      • “how can any profitable company accept the fact that the team won fewer games after such a heavy investment as they made last year?”

        Because in business, like baseball, things are uncertain and things sometimes take time to work or don’t work exactly how you’d hope. That doesn’t mean you close up shop when you hit a bump in the road.

        • It also doesn’t mean you throw good money after bad to attempt to spend your way out of the problem.

  3. It seems like AA tried to solve this issue through trade (at least we know he was trying on Kinsler), and it seems as though whatever he was planning did not pan out. I still wonder whether he’s hoping to land Aledmys Diaz on the cheap which probably isns’t realistic at this point either.

    • I think as Jays fans, for future sanity, we need to realize that AA is a thousand times more comfortable acquiring talent in trades than in free agency. Yeah, he’ll scrape the bottom of the free agent market happily, but otherwise he’s not particularly comfortable there unless it’s something that’s screaming value like the Melky Cabrera deal did. For whatever reason he is much more comfortable taking on the risk of losing great players than mis-spending dollars.

      • Yeah, that’s right Bret and I don’t really get it either. I guess he feels that by the time players reach free agency, there aren’t enough years of high level ability left.
        Doesn’t explain why he would trade all his farm system for a bunch of old dudes last year. If he had planned better, could he have signed equivalent (?) guys for (almost) equivalent dollars, and kept the prospects? Did he get impatient?
        Maybe he just likes the intellectual thrill of the trade (is there also some ego involved? reinventing the GM position, outsmarting his counterparts and such?). Perhaphs his early success – Halladay (more or less), Marcum/Lawrie, Wells – got to his head?

  4. I think one of the biggest issues with Drew, other than he wants too much money and that he may not be much better than a league average player, is that for him to make a position switch to second base, Boras has identified he would require longer than a one year deal. I’m not sure how appealing this would be for the Blue Jays and I can’t really blame them.

    My preferred choice would be for the Jays to try and make a deal for a second baseman. You mentioned Franklin already, but there is also a bit of a glut in Chicago with Semien, and Beckham, either of these guys would be an interesting option though I’ve lost a lot of faith in Beckham’s upside. I’d also check in on the availability of Wilmer Flores of the Mets, Josh Rutledge of the Rockies, or possibly even Brandon Phillips (though that contract is awful).

    If the cost to acquire one of these players is just too much, then it’s probably the smart decision to stand pat until a decent option, at the right price, does come available.

  5. I think I’m just going to close my eyes and yell “positive regression” over and over again until June…

  6. Is part of the apparent willingness to roll with Goins/Isturis on the part of AA et al based on the fact that they project (hope) to have well above replacement level at SS this season with a healthy Reyes? If 2B on the Jays is consider akin to the shortstop position on other teams (i.e., generally favouring defense over offensive production), then maybe you can justify throwing a guy in the bottom of your lineup who will get an out 75% of the time. This is could be even more true given the importance of having solid defense at 2B in the Dome with that damn carpet.

    I am not saying I agree, but I think this is the tradeoff that a team with finite resources would consider. They probably look at the production and defense of the middle infield as a whole and say “on balance, it’s probably good enough”.

    • That’s reasonable, I like that assessment. Reyes is no defensive wizard any more, so if Goins/Izturis/Kawasaki provide superlative defense, this will provide considerable value on the defensive side of the ball, which will offset the offensive shortcomings of the second basemen, especially when balanced against Reyes’ above-average bat.

    • Maybe AA’s just gone overboard considering the mess of defence there was last year at second. Like when you have a horrid controlling bitch of a girlfriend, and you finally escape and you go for one that doesn’t give a shit what you do (which can have its benefits…)

      • I think you are on to something here. AA saw the mess of defence last year and is prioritizing that this year. I think the same could be said about pitching health, he has been scared off of pitchers with health question marks to the point of being adverse to any risk. Just conjecture of course, but seems reasonable given that apparently the Anderson deal got torched but he was still just fine to be traded to Colorado and seems to be on track for them.

  7. Drew, you seem like generally too smart a guy to be referring to Kawasaki as a “mascot”. It’s the sort of thing best left to racist mouth-breathers in the bluejays .com message boards.

    • At least Drew isn’t asking Kawasaki to be the bat boy, like one of the players did yesterday.

    • I sincerely think the treatment of Kawasaki – by fans and teammates – is embarrassing. He plays into it as well but it is REALLY not a good look.

      • I agree. Was fun at first…but it kept going…and going…and going. It just got pathetic at a point.

    • I don’t think it has anything to do with race at all. Perhaps the same thing could (should?) have been said about Kevin Millar to a degree… except that Cito played him far too much.

    • How is that racist? its pretty much what he is. I feel like the club perceives that alot of his value comes from keeping the clubhouse loose, for whatever that’s worth.

      And they called DeRosa and Omar Vizquel mascots in previous years.

  8. If only there was some system the Blue Jays could use to obtain young, amateur position players, sign them and develop them into major league level talent.

  9. Drew, any thoughts on who’s the primary back-up SS to Reyes this year? Jose is 30 and gets another year on the turf in Toronto. Hopefully he won’t pull a slide like last year, but I think some games at DH to save his legs would be useful.

    Is that a sales pitch to Stephen Drew that he’d flip to SS or is Goins way better defensively at short?

  10. I don’t think what they have in 2nd base will make or break the team this season. If you look at the offensive contribution from each position and compare them to the league avg, I would argue that the biggest hole we have is in the 1st base. We have a 1st baseman that is at best a platoon player.

  11. PLAYER A: .252/.264/.345 (2013, SSS)
    PLAYER B: .255/.305/.323 (11 yr career, 2 WS rings)

    Both providing plus 2B defense. Any guesses?

  12. A: RYAN GOINS
    B: MANUEL LEE

  13. Great use of “clutching their pearls” so funny!

  14. I’m one or two of these types of posts away from buying a Goins jersey. Seriously, can expectations get any lower?

  15. In 2014 Blue Jays’ aggregate second basemen posted a .216/.258/.297. With shoddy defense (UZR/150 = -2.5).

    If Ryan Goins is the regular throughout 2014, is he gonna do worse than that?

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