Friday, July 17, 2015

Blue Jays: Second Half

The all-star break is a time for reflection in baseball as teams think about where they are, where they want to go, and whether or not they can get there. It is a time of heightened speculation regarding roster changes. As a Blue Jays fan, we go through roughly the same thing every year at this time because the Jays are roughly in the same position every year at this time. They are in the hunt, but don't seem to have the tools to really be in the hunt. Last year, a few players expressed open disappointment that the Jays did not make a major move to bolster their line up, which is the equivalent of saying "I don't think my team-mates are good enough to win." This is not necessarily good for morale, or at least I assume its not good.

Likewise, a couple of years ago, some sportscasters very loudly suggested that the Jays needed to make a move and bring in some veteran talent to get them "over the hump."

I will confess that I don't really subscribe to either of these approaches ... as a normal mode of operation. But, perhaps the mode of operation should not be normal this year. I don't, for instance, generally like trading prospects. One sportscaster said "prospects were a dime a dozen", which is just not true. Unless you are certain that the veteran player for whom you are trading is *the* missing piece, I don't know why one would sell off the future. Thus, a veteran whose big claim is that they have been in the league for years is not, in my view, a good enough deal. Likewise, I am reticent to make decision "on the run." Team development is a long-term plan; not a response on the spur of the moment. Trades that bring in high-priced talent on a rental basis and gives up potential future talent is useless if one does not win. Thus, one should not shoot one's team-mates down because they might be part of the long-run plan.

Finally, trades need to be "be there." Demanding a trade does not good if there is no one who wants to trade with you. A number of fans are suggesting, for instance, that Reyes should be traded. I don't disagree (in fact, I tend to agree) but who is going to take him, what are they going to give up, how much money will have to be sent along with him? These kinds of questions need to be answered before a trade goes through.

I think this year is different. The Jays are, overall, a much more solid team. That is, in my view, more by accident than design. The upgrades the Jays have made this season over last season that have longer-term potential are numerous. If you look at their lineup, they've upgraded at C, 2B, 3B, CF, and held there own, more or less, at the other positions, with the exception of pitching.

The other advantage is that the problems the Jays need to address have become clear by virtue of the upgrades. For instance, the cast of many at 2B has been replaced by what looks like a good young player. The injury-riddled, similarly large cast at 3B has been replaced by a very good player in his prime. The revolving door at CF has stopped revolving, at least for now and there is a workable platoon in LF/1B/DH. IOW, the Jays problems this year can be reduced more or less to SS and lead off and pitching, allowing that there are no further injuries. Thus, while "everyone needs pitching" it is not clear that accumulating pitching last year would have helped the Jays since they had so many other problems. This year it might.

Here is a trade that could help: one starter and one reliever. The starter allows you to move Sanchez to the bullpen as a set up man. The reliever you get is a closer. This then pushes Delabar, Cecil, and Osuna into their proper roles. Allows one to sit Loup down and figure out who is the sixth and seventh guys out of the pen. A retooled staff might look like this:

Buehrle, Dickey, Estrada, Hutchinson, New Pitcher

Closer, Sanchez (set up), Cecil (situational lefty), Delabar and Osuna (short/middle), Schultz and Hendricks (long/spot)

If you don't like that, you could flip Sanchez and Hutchinson. If I were thinking more in terms of player development, in fact, I'd likely go with Hutchinson in the pen since Sanchez seems destined to be a really good front of the rotation starter and why delay that? This is a pitching staff that instantly gets better and not just better but a lot better. It becomes a staff that can shorten games and win close ones, something that it cannot do now. It is the trade that gives the Jays the best chance of winning down the stretch.

What is more, it is a trade that can be made because the Jays do have pieces to trade. I'd bet the Norris will be on the block and apparently teams are interested in Castro and there was a rumour that someone had asked about Hendricks. I'd be willing to trade these prospects/players in a way that I am normally loathe to do because the Jays do have pitching prospects. To be clear, prospects are not a dime a dozen. It seems like that because each team hypes their prospects (remember when Dubrount was going to be one of the anchors of the Sox's rotation) and because a great many sports commentators wouldn't know a prospect if he kicked them in the butt.

To be sure: Norris and Castro are going to be good pitchers and Hendricks can play an important (if often neglected) role as a long relief guy. He can, in other words, be the kind of pitcher that you don't want until you don't have one and then suddenly you realize that you have to find one ... if you want to win. I'd give them up not because I want to. Indeed, I'd really do everything in my power to avoid trading Castro, but because the Jays have a whole bunch of young pitchers that they are going to struggle to find roles for. Let's assume, for instance, the Hoffman, Sanchez, and Stroman are untouchable. Hutchinson may wind up in the pen and may even, in the longer run, wind up as a closer. That still leaves Osuna (who could also be a closer), Hynes and Jenkins -- who are not young -- (who could do Hendrick's job), and Schultz.

There is a lot of room to debate who would be better to keep; who would be better to trade. Fair enough. The key point is not just that a trade should be made, but can be without serious harm to the Jays longer-term team development.

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