Monday, May 04, 2015

Jays Rant #1

At the start of the season, much was made about the Blue Jay's bevy of rookies. Seven rookies made the team out of Spring training and, we fans were told, this was because they were the best players. This was an important point emphasized by the broadcast team, as is there wont, over and over again: the coaching staff chose the best players. The implicit message was this: this is not a rebuilding season. We have a lot of rookies (making the Jays, by my reckoning both one of the oldest and youngest teams) but we are "in it to win it."

A month into the season and, amid serious signs of panic on the part of the Jays managerial team, four of rookies are gone.  This is further evidence -- evidence that has been mounting for some time -- that the Jays as an organization simply don't know how to develop young players, how to transition players from the minors to the majors. Or, even what players should be on their team.

Think about this: Hynes, Norris, Pompey, and Castro have now all been sent out. So … how were these the best players out of Spring training? If they were the best players, why are they not with the team right now? If they weren't the best players … why take them? Why take players only to send them out at something approximating the first signs of trouble.

The answer, clearly, is that they Jays don't know what they are doing and don't trust their own judgement. They yo-yo players and up and down to address what are short term problems while leaving long-term problems unaddressed. They have duplicate skills all over their lineup but serious deficits in other area.

Consider this. The Jays have the following players who can play first base reasonably well:

Encarnacion
Smoak
Valencia
Batista

But, they broke camp without a fourth outfielder and so messed around with Valencia, Goins, and Tolleson in the outfield.

The truth of the matter is no self-respecting contender actually breaks camp without a backup outfielder. Detroit, you recall, last year signed Raj Davis away from the Jays. Good call on their part; bad on ours for not taking him because outfield depth was a problem for the Jays all season. The point is that Detroit knew that to contend, they needed a backup outfielder who was something much more than a stopgap emergency measure. The Jays didn't know that … although exactly why is not clear.

Same thing if you look at third base. At one point the Jays had Tolleson, Valencia, Donaldson, and Encarnacion (with Batista a possible emergency sub) who could play third but no one would could come in as a defensive sub in LF or play more than a few innings at Short. From a baseball perspective this does not make a great deal of sense.

The Jays have addressed their weaknesses by bringing players up and down from AAA to the point where someone must be getting some serious frequent flyer points. Last year, it got to be a joke. Its like a treadmill, which has the effect of burning options and creating instability on the team.

The cause of all of this is the desire to compete without, frankly, having the talent to compete. The Jays have good players but that is something different from having a team that will be playing baseball after the regular season is over. Everyone wants to be competitive, everyone wants to win. Good management has to dispassionately look at a team and decide whether or not it can win this year. If it can or it can't, that affects the decision one makes.

For example, a rebuilding team will let young players work out problems in the majors. They will let young starters get roughed up and not worry about it, providing coaching and positive reinforcement. It will let rookie relievers take a few hits and keep trotting them out there. That is what rebuilding is all about. The Jays, however, can't do this; they can't -- won't -- take the time to develop players because they focus is on *now*.

Teams that want to contend strive to avoid these the problem of learning on the job en masse. They tend not to load themselves down with young players. For instance, a team that will contend will make space for a guy like Delabar (because there is less of a chance he will implode than a rookie). Likewise, Jenkins. Delabar has had problems but … he's now in the majors as the solution the Jays rookie woes problem.

The real problem with the Jays so far this year is that they thought they could have their cake and eat it too … whatever that means. They thought they could win while they rebuild. Or, perhaps this was just wishful thinking.  This does happen, but it is rare.  The Jays moves suggests that they now see things that way, too.  That they recognize how rare it is to rebuild and compete at the same time.

I do hope the Jays get their act together. I'm a fan. We will have to see what the future holds, but moving players around at light speed is almost certainly not the right course of action.
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