Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Blue Jays and Decision Making

Being a Jays fan is frustrating. Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of Jays players I really like and even the ones I don't like … well … I kinda like them. It is easy to cheer for guys like Happ and McGowan who are fighting the odds just to be in the league. It is exciting to watch Lawrie run out every ground ball and be amazed at his fielding … even while one might wonder if he will ever be healthy for an entire season. The frustrating thing with the Jays is not that they've hit a bad stretch. That happens; its part of baseball. The frustrating thing is that it is difficult to tell where the organization is going. I suspect the last few games actually saved some people their jobs but the team is in a desperation mode. They are throwing things at the wall, as it were, to see if anything sticks.

What do I mean? Well, the six man starting rotation idea (nixed because of Morrow's injury); the eight man bullpen, which limits bench options; the revolving door at second base; the decision to put Sierra (once a touted prospect) through waivers; the decision to carry three catchers. What all of this shows is an odd mix of a lack of decision combined with making a whole bunch of decisions to see if something can work.  Decisions are an important part of baseball. Winning teams have decisions made before they leave Spring training. Winning teams tend not to decide on their final rotation spot on the last day of spring training; they have this figured out in advance. One could go down the list: winning teams don't begin the seasons with a hope and a prayer at a key infield position or keep extra guys in the bullpen because they don't want to risk losing one. In other words, teams that win tend not to make decisions "on the fly": they know what they are doing; they have things planned out.

This is not the Jays, at least not this year. Instead of making the decisions they should have before the season began the Jays are making a bunch of decisions now in an effort to try to find some winning formula. I hope it works. I'd actually like to know if Lawrie can play second base, because I don't think either Getz or Tolleson are their future at that position (OK, that is an easy conclusion to reach). And, if Francisco can play third competently, then the upgrade compared to the cast of thousands at second is appreciable (in effect, one is making an offensive exchange between: putting Francisco in the lineup instead of Diaz or Goins or Getz, etc.). And, I would love it if Happ could look like the young player he was in Phillie all those years ago. The Jays would be a better team and could even finish above .500, perhaps even more.

In some ways, I think the spate of changes the Jays are making makes good sense. Leaving aside the merits of any one decision, the fact that the Jays management recognizes that there are problems is a good sign. Only a fool would stick with a losing decision for the sake of sticking with a decision.  The frustrating thing with the Jays is that this series of rapid fire decisions points to a larger problem: a lack of organizational direction. The problem the Jays confront is that they are neither a good nor a bad team. A bad team rebuilds and asks its fans to stick with them, watch young players develop, enjoy the David v Goliath battle. A good team looks to add the necessary bits and pieces to take that next step. The Jays find themselves in neither situation. Their core players -- the guys who are supposed to shoulder the offensive burden -- in their prime or veterans (Reyes, Encarnacion, Bautista, Cabrera, Rasmus). What this means is that they are not going to get any better. That is not an insult. It would be hard to ask Bautista to be any better than he has been. But, what happens when your best is not good enough on the level of the team?

The lack of organizational direction makes not simply for frustration but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Who is their starting rotation in a year or two years time? Who is their second baseman? Who is their catcher or left fielder? These are the kinds of questions that the Jays need to answer to create a direction for the team. Until they do that, I fear that the Jays will be a bit like free jazz … exactly where its going is mystery.
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