After beginning the season with a series split against the AL East powerhouse Tampa Bay Rays I was beginning to think of what it would take for the Toronto Blue Jays to really become an annual contender themselves. I fully expect this season to be up and down and if the Blue Jays finish the season around the .500 mark I don’t think most fans would be shocked.
But no I am talking about becoming extremely competitive, year in and year out.
How can a team truly consider themselves a contender when you hear the words “if he stays healthy” for 60% of the starting rotation? Yes health is a key equation for any potential success league wide but if health will almost completely dictate your fate then you were defeated before you even began the season.
The key to this current season for me isn’t Brandon Morrow, RA Dickey or even Jose Reyes. This season the key players will be the development of Drew Hutchison, Daniel Norris, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez. In short development of the most volatile commodity in baseball will be the real key for the franchise going forward.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the model organization in baseball and when they lose a key member of the starting rotation there is no panic, just a replacement. James Shields would have been the best pitcher the Blue Jays organization has had over the last decade not named Roy Halladay.
The Rays rotation not only continued to thrive in his absence but they were able to parlay Shields into a potential all-star in right field. Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi make it easy for a team to simply trade their ace and if not for injury they would have stud right handed prospect Taylor Guerreri knocking on the proverbial major league door as well.
The Blue Jays need to take a step back and reassess what is working and what is not. The current major league team is not a contender and when Josh Johnson and RA Dickey proved to be less than Ace 1 and Ace 1a this team never had a chance as currently constructed. Alex Anthopoulos right or wrong took his shot and unfortunately appears to have come up short.
I don’t doubt his intentions and neither did a majority of the fan base. While I don’t think anyone in their right mind thought the trade of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for RA Dickey was shrewd the notion of contending in 2013 can somewhat justify the move. Of course in hindsight it could turn out to be one of the most lop-sided trades in the Alex Anthopoulos era.
I think it was simply a case where the Blue Jays made their move about one season too soon. If they had Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman all knocking on the door ready to contribute to a major league roster it makes filling out a winning roster much easier.
Bringing in Ervin Santana would not have been the answer. If the team had been close to the playoffs last season I think you could justify if not promote bringing in that extra piece or as a replacement for Josh Johnson but when a season goes so off the rails and was nowhere near good enough the entire roster is likely due for a major tune-up.
If the engine of a race car just can’t match the output of other race cars there is no sense buying expensive tires to compensate. Though it will be painful and a sign of defeat the engine must be rebuilt. This isn’t to say that there is a complete blow-up of the current team but until we can roll out a young quartet of starting pitchers that Tampa Bay possesses or we decide that no price is too great to sign Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke or David Price then we are not in a place to contend.
Mark Buehrle was brought in to be the number four or five starter but is now seemingly our only reliable option every five days. That should tell a team everything it needs to know. The path to major league success is not linear and I hold out hope that one or two (or more) of Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna take a big step forward in 2014.
If the trade of either Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion can speed up the quick retool with a too good to pass up offer of young cost controlled pitching prospects than I think Alex Anthopoulos has to give strong consideration to pulling the trigger. I love both hitters but the market has shown you can add veteran sluggers (maybe not at their level) on the cheap. Nelson Cruz was barely able to land a contract and Stephen Drew continues to sit out waiting for an appropriate contract.
I have enjoyed the early season Blue Jays action because I am a loyal fan of the team and they have looked sharper with the gloves and have shown some resolve playing in a house of horrors. Like anyone else I am quietly optimistic that the team plays above expectations and fights for playoff contention.
But I am also a realist who gets discouraged when I compare our current organizational depth chart with our rivals from Tampa Bay. Pitching has to come from internal development, astute trades and occasionally free agency. The team has had a very difficult time drafting and developing legitimate major league starting pitchers and that is still very concerning.
Until we roll into Tampa Bay with a starting rotation that can match or exceed the Rays it will continue to be a house of horrors. The balance of power in the AL East has shifted considerably over the last decade and it certainly hasn’t proved advantageous to the Toronto Blue Jays.