logo image

A Winter of Content

I have stated throughout this winter that content would be a bit light when discussing the Vancouver Canadians.  However, when taking into consideration the parent team, it has been a thousand Christmases wrapped into one.  For two reasons.  Similar to the British winter of discontent, I thought we were in for a long bleak winter heading into this off-season.  With a thin free agent market, and overpayment necessary to entice those on it to Toronto, I believed Alex Anthopoulos would continue to sit on his hands, waiting for the vaunted farm system to mature.  This would have caused a backlash from those that cover the Jays, no matter the outlet, as the perceived unwillingness to spend by Rogers, combined with a lousy 2011/12 season would have people staring into the abyss.

Turns out I was wrong.  Obviously, Anthopoulos has a front row seat and better view, but he just seems to have an innate ability to see the big picture.  He had a plan in place to ‘game’ the entry level systems, re-stocking the organization with young talent, and when he felt the time was right, use the accrued capital to trade for proven major league talent.  In all honesty, we should have seen this coming.  I think it was the suddenness of it all that caught people (myself included) off guard.  Add in the fact that many Blue Jay commenters had become married to these prospects, which few had even seen, and it’s made for quite a bit of content so far this off-season.

Nicolino will be missed. MLB eta? 2014

Nicolino will be missed. MLB eta? 2014

When I say we should have seen it coming, it is part in jest, but in reality, this whole process started back in July when AA flipped two useless mlb roster players and five prospects to Houston for three pitchers.  At the time, I wasn’t at all happy with the deal, writing about it here.  I just couldn’t understand why it took five, albeit middling, prospects to acquire two relievers and a swing man.  Especially when one of those prospects had only just signed for some pretty big dough.

If Jays fans were coming down from the shock of that deal, it didn’t take long to get them up in arms again.  Ten odd days later, the golden boy and future left field saviour was traded to Pittsburgh for another reliever!  And then to add to the disbelief, the man who had beaten Travis Snider out for the left field job in spring training, Eric Thames, had also been traded.  Again, for a reliever.  Commence the internet uproar and cyber teeth gnashing.  What was AA doing?  Why would you trade away your best hitting prospect for a one inning pitcher??!

Again, big picture.  The Jays pen had been a problem for a few years and with the dissolution of Type B free agents, signing veterans to one year deals in the hopes of picking up a draft pick when they left at years end was no longer an option.  Anthopoulos saw the market correction and was going after young, controllable, power arms.  Under our noses, he was re-shaping the ‘pen on the cheap (if you consider the prospects given up as cheap) and taking it off the off-season wish list.

As, apparently, he had grander ideas for the off-season.

First came the twelve player mega deal with the Miami Marlins when two of the Jays top ten prospects plus two young major league ready talents with upside were shipped off to Florida for proven, veteran players.  Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes have the talent to be stars next season while Mark Buerhle and Emile Bonifacio will be core pieces in what is starting to look like a pretty good team.

I didn’t write much on the deal at the time as I was still trying to decide which side of the fence I was on.  There are a lot of pieces to this deal and a lot that can go wrong, for both sides.  Regardless of what they gave up though, the Jays got better for 2013.  Simple as that.  A lot have argued that Yunel Escobar provides marginally less value than Reyes for a lot less money, but Escobar, in addition to having a terrible 2012 on the field, had obviously worn out his welcome in the clubhouse.  Swapping him and Adeiny Hechavarria for a potential 5 win WAR season from Reyes makes sense.  With the Melky Cabrera signing, you have also have re-shaped the top of your order.  Here are two guys that will hopefully get on base at a .350 or better clip, steal at least thirty bases, and set the table for Encarnacion and Bautista.

In Josh Johnson and Buerhle you get two things the Jays needed, albeit in different formats.  Johnson is a legit ace.  Between 2009 and ’10 he put up a WAR of 13.2.  Of course, he is brittle, having only once pitched more than 200 innings.   Toronto was willing to take on the injury risk in hopes that Johnson has a bounceback season and is the complimentary power arm to Brandon Morrow.

Mark Buerhle isn’t a power pitcher like Johnson but he has had twelve straight season with 200+ innings pitched.  Think about that.  Last year, the Jays had ZERO pitchers with over 200 innings.  He may be only a .500 pitcher but having someone that will guarantee you a start every five days is something the Jays have lacked the past few years.

If Anthopoulos had stopped there, I think most Blue Jay fans would have been content.  But again, being content isn’t going to win you the AL East and AA felt that another piece was needed.  Talks were initiated with the New York Mets at the winter meetings and despite, what turned out be, a very steep price, R.A. Dickey was added to the rotation.

Prospect junkies were apoplectic when big Noah was included in Dickey deal

Prospect junkies were apoplectic when big Noah was included in Dickey deal

Prospect junkies, once again, went weak at the knees.  Giving up Justin Nicolino, who many say has a ceiling of Mark Buerhle anyway, and Jake Marisnick, a potential five tool player (although possibly lacking the all important hit tool) is one thing.  To give up Travis D’Arnaud, your number one prospect, and catcher for the next ten years and Noah Syndergaard a huge Texan right-hander who hits 100 mph on the gun is quite another.

By all accounts the Mets got a very good deal here, but, yet again, the Jays are a better team right now with Dickey in their rotation.  Prospect porn is fun, but these kids have yet to play a day in the major leagues.  They are lottery tickets.  I have no doubt one or two of them will succeed at the big league level, but there are a lot of obstacles for them on the way.  Anthopoulos sees a window now, and by trading some of the accumulated minor league talent he is only executing the strategy he had put in place when he was promoted to GM.

How does this affect the Canadians?  Well, if you go to the Nat looking for some sun, beer, and a win, it probably won’t.  If you’re like me though, and salivate over the potential of some of the players that have traveled through Vancouver, it has been a rather sobering off-season.  I never got to see Syndergaard or Nicolino pitch but read enough to know their strengths and weaknesses inside out.  This past season I was swept away by the deception of Roberto Osuna, speed of DJ Davis, and power of Art Charles.  And next year I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the tools of Matt Smoral, Alberto Tirado, and (if he decides his future lies in baseball) Anthony Alford.

One thing I won’t be doing though, is dreaming of a future Jays rotation of Aaron Sanchez, Osuna, Tirado, Smoral, and Daniel Norris backed up by an outfield containing Davis, Alford, and Dalton Pompey.  I’ll enjoy watching and writing about the top prospects that see time with the C’s in 2013, but predicting when they’ll make their Jays debuts?  I won’t be doing that.  Because, if this off-season has taught us anything, minor leaguers are commodities.  They can both increase and decrease in value, wear out, or be swapped for other commodities.

Regardless of whether you believe that the Jays have sold the farm this off-season, in hindsight, AA had made it pretty clear what is strategy for augmenting the big team was going to be.  The plan has been put into action, tickets are being sold, and, for Jays fans, this winter will be remembered for quite some time.

Leave a Reply