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.