There were two disasters in the city of Toronto in 2013 — Rob Ford and the Blue Jays. One was an out-of-control mayor who could have starred in “Animal House” given his behavior, and the other a baseball team that strangely crumbled after being anointed the one to beat.
We understand not living up to expectations because it happens a lot in baseball. The devastating injury to shortstop Jose Reyes, falling short in the pitching department, including the dreadful performance of Josh Johnson, the big-name hurler in the infamous Reyes deal with the Marlins that also landed the Blue Jays Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio.
In a separate deal with the Mets, general manager Alex Anthopoulos landed National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, and he signed free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera. This was after he had traded manager John Farrell to Boston for Mike Aviles, who was flipped to Cleveland for Esmil Rogers.
In the process, Anthopoulos gave up some of his best prospects but at the time we praised him for going for it. It just didn’t work out.
The repair work should have been underway this offseason. But the Jays are still broken.
At this time last year, American League East teams were wondering, how can we beat Toronto? I remember one AL East GM telling me, “If things go well, they’ll run away with it.”
Talented rotation. Power lineup. Talented left side of the infield with Reyes and Brett Lawrie. Probably no one was more shocked at them winning 74 games — one more than they’d won under Farrell in 2012 — than Anthopoulous and his capable assistant, Tony LaCava. Jays fans bought into it. Season-ticket sales soared.
In trying to rebuild, it’s tougher for the Jays because while they’re in a great city, players would rather sign with a team based in the United States, for various reasons. Many players don’t understand how good it is to play there until they actually get there and the team is strong.
And while there are still viable free agents that could benefit Toronto — from pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza to Ervin Santana and Masahiro Tanaka — as of this writing there’s no reinforcements on the way. The Jays will have to overpay to get someone.
Right now, the Jays are banking on a healthy Reyes, Lawrie, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion. They’ll get an offensive upgrade behind the plate with Dioner N avarro over J.P. Arencibia, but Navarro isn’t known for his defense.
The starting rotation is where Anthopoulos needs to get to work. Right now, it’s Dickey, Buehrle, and injury-prone Brandon Morrow. There’s J.A. Happ returning from a knee injury, while Rogers and Todd Redmond could fill back-end roles. Ricky Romero? Who knows?
If the Jays try to go with this group, then they’d better hope Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek (Tommy John surgery), Sean Nolin, and Marcus Stroman eventually fill rotation spots. But Anthopoulos knows he needs front-end starters to compete in the AL East.
And then there’s the subject of attitude.
The Jays had a lousy attitude at times last season. At least that’s what my sources on the team tell me. The personable Bautista, for one, needs to be more like David Ortiz. He’s a player other players respect, but he’s too disengaged.
Reyes has the fire and intensity that’s needed. On that awful turf at Rogers Centre, he needs to be careful about playing too much without a day off. The defense was awful. The pitching got bad as injuries mounted. The Jays went through 13 starters. John Gibbons, who had been rehired to manage, couldn’t stop the bleeding. Was he too lenient after being too tough in his first tenure? Gibbons will have to find a happy medium.
As of now, Toronto’s biggest signing has been Roy Halladay, who re-signed with the Blue Jays and then retired. For a team that probably needs two starting pitchers, Navarro has been their biggest acquisition. So, what’s going on?
Anthopoulos likes to strike in secrecy. Sometimes his own talent evaluators don’t know what he’s doing. We know through sources that he has been in on Jimenez, Garza, and Santana. Hush-hush, too, is his stance on Tanaka. The Jays have inquired about David Price and Jeff Samardzija. The Jays’ staff last season had a 4.81 ERA, thanks to Johnson’s 6.20, a slow start by Dickey, and the annual injury to the talented Morrow.
Anthopoulos has tried to make things happen with trade proposals, including a recent Sergio Santos/Brett Anderson swap with the Oakland A’s, but it never materialized. Teams inquired about Bautista and Encarnacion earlier this winter, but the feeling is the Blue Jays would rather build around the power bats. Yet dealing one of them would bring a good haul to fill other needs.
Gibbons, for one, feels rookie Ryan Goins at second base will improve the Jays’ defense. Gibbons thought there was quite a difference in the defense in September when Goins was playing.
Lawrie and Reyes should team to be the best defensive left side of the infield. The Jays are hoping center fielder Colby Rasmus breaks out into the player they feel he can be, and that Cabrera comes back strong from his injuries.
Except for the free agent departure of Johnson, the loss in free agency of speedy outfielder Rajai Davis, and the cutting loose of Arencibia, Anthopoulos hasn’t abandoned ship on his moves. The perception is he just hasn’t done enough, which leaves Jays fans skeptical about a possible Red Sox-like turnaround.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT
System for free agency working fine for now
Since there are few big-name free agents out there tied to draft-pick compensation, all of sudden we have a rash of stories and concepts about how the system needs to be tweaked so that teams signing these players aren’t penalized as much by surrendering draft picks.
I say, keep it the same. I like the fact that teams have to make tough choices to build their teams. We all agree that astute draft picks is the way for teams to build for the long term. But sometimes you have to make tough short-term decisions, and this process puts every team in position to make those choices.
The Players Association would certainly love to see players get signed immediately in free agency, but then again this is the system they signed off on. When a union and a company enter into a contract agreement, it is what it is until the next negotiation.
The Orioles, as we’ve maintained for some time, are on the verge of contention and need to make the decision of whether to give up a pick to sign first baseman Kendrys Morales, a hitter who would make a big impact in their lineup.
If you’re the Red Sox and have just won the World Series, you can afford to be picky about what you do. The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury and will get a draft pick. The Yankees had to make the tough choices of replenishing their team for now. While the Yankees need as many picks as they can get, they also have to survive and potentially contend in 2014. Of course, that’s the market. You need to win in New York especially the Yankee side of New York.
The Rays will protect their picks because that’s the way they do business.
So perhaps there’s a little angst for Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Bronson Arroyo right now. But that’s the system for free agents. There’s a price attached to the freedom of free agency, and right now the teams seem to be saying these pitchers wouldn’t impact their teams enough to pull the trigger.
Apropos of nothing
1. Interesting to see who emerges as the new president in Seattle. Joe Garagiola Jr., Andy MacPhail, Pat Gillick, Jeremy Kapstein, and Mark Shapiro come to mind.
2. Thought there might be blockbuster deals for Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, but neither developed. We’ll have to settle for the Tigers-Rangers deal with Prince Fielder going to Texas for Ian Kinsler.
3. Love these sophomoric arguments over whose Hall of Fame ballot is “right” and whose is “wrong.” If you’ve covered baseball for 10 consecutive years for a major written-media outlet, you qualify. I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t consider voting to be an honor. The baseball writers I know — the ones who are around players and teams for six weeks of spring training, 162 games, and perhaps the postseason year after year — take it very seriously.
4. This note courtesy of Lenny Megliola: The only father, son, and daughter to all have played at Fenway Park? The Gedmans. Rich, sons Matt and Mike, who played in the Baseball Beanpot when they were at UMass, and now daughter Marissa, the Harvard women’s hockey team captain who practiced there before Thursday’s game at Fenway was canceled.
5. Plymouth’s Jerry Applefield was a successful hedge-fund manager, became a Boston University economics professor, and then started a lifelong mission more than 30 years ago to improve fundamentals on baseball teams. Applefield’s system of instruction applies to underachieving major league teams. He feels he can add 20 wins per season to a poor-performing team based on the research and numbers he’s devised. It’s a common-sense approach to fundamentals and preparation — the simplest things — that baseball teams just don’t do. One thing Applefield preaches is runners tagging up from first base on a deep fly ball. But that’s just one of the “simple” adjustments Applefield would make. There’s plenty more. Teams should listen to his presentation. It’s fascinating.
6. In studying Larry Walker’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame (I elected to pass on him this time because there were too many others to vote for), it was amazing what he did in 1999, when he led the National League with a .379 average while playing for the Rockies. At Coors Field, Walker hit .461 with 26 homers and 70 RBIs with a 1.410 OPS, a .531 OBP, and .879 slugging percentage that season.
7. Dustin Pedroia says his thumb surgery rehab is going great.
8. Mark Mulder’s comeback with the Angels would be one great story after his being out of the game for five years.
Updates on nine
1. Stephen Drew, SS, free agent — Sometimes baseball surprises me, and I must admit to being surprised by the lack of interest in Drew. Here’s a solid player who played for a championship team with no bites in early January. The Mets and Red Sox are at least thinking about him, while the A’s, who had him at the end of the 2012 season, would have to be thinking, is Jed Lowrie a good enough shortstop or should he be moved to second base? One theory about the lack of activity is Drew’s 6-for-54 (.111) postseason performance. Drew picked a poor time to get cold. But his defense was stellar.
2. Nelson Cruz, OF, free agent — Would a one-year pillow contract be best for Cruz? That’s what a few general managers we spoke to seem to think. Some of the rumored four-year deals at $75 million don’t seem to make sense for a player coming off a PED suspension. It seems Cruz needs to reestablish his value. It would open more opportunities for him in places such as Seattle, New York (Mets), Toronto, and Baltimore, among others. Cruz remains one of the best power hitters out there, but teams are wary about PED guys after they’re off the stuff.
3. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers — GM Ned Colletti reports that Kemp is coming along well in his rehab from ankle surgery and a shoulder ailment. “His upper body is strong, he’s jogging and getting comfortable with his lower half,” Colletti said. Kemp could still be trade bait as he starts to show what he can do in spring training. Said one scout familiar with Kemp, “I think he’s going to be a guy who will be OK this year, but you’ll get the best of Kemp the following year as he’s recovered completely from the ankle.”
4. Mike Carp, 1B/LF, Red Sox — The Brewers need a low-cost first baseman and Carp appears to be a good fit. Whether the Red Sox would deal him remains to be seen as they enjoyed his off-the-bench contributions last season. Carp deserves a chance to play every day and won’t get that opportunity with the Red Sox unless there’s an injury to Mike Napoli. The teams made a deal in December when the Sox received reliever Burke Badenhop for a minor league prospect.
5. Chris Denorfia, OF, Padres — While the Red Sox don’t believe they can carry another outfielder, they have expressed some interest in Denorfia, a righthanded bat with a little power who can play center field. The Red Sox might be able to swing a move like this if they deal Carp or Daniel Nava somewhere.
6. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, free agent — The Twins are still very high on signing Arroyo, but the question is what Arroyo would accept and how much the Twins have left to spend. They’ve upgraded their staff with Ricky Nolasco, Mike Pelfrey, and Phil Hughes. They’ll try to get more from Vance Worley and Scott Diamond, but Arroyo would be a nice final piece.
7. Johan Santana, LHP, free agent — We reported last week that Santana was nearing a minor league deal and he’s still sorting through where the best opportunity would be. The Twins have discussed it internally and it seems a natural with a low-risk deal. Santana started his career with the Twins and lives in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Twins hold spring training.
8. Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds — The Reds have been very quiet this offseason, but Bailey’s name has come up quite often as possible trade bait. In fact, the Reds could possibly bring back Arroyo if they can deal Bailey.
9. Don Baylor, hitting coach, Angels — Baylor may become one of the more important coaches in baseball this season. Baylor, who left the Diamondbacks to join the Angels, will have the task of straightening out Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, at one time two of the more feared hitters in the game. He’ll also be Mike Trout’s hitting coach. The hope is also that Baylor can make Howie Kendrick that batting-champion-type hitter many thought he’d be.
From the Bill Chuck files: “The pitchers who have allowed the most hits over the last two seasons are Jeremy Guthrie (442), Joe Saunders (427), and Jon Lester (425).” Also, “No batter swung at a higher percentage of pitches last season than A.J. Pierzynski (60.2). No batter chased more pitches out of the strike zone last season than Pierzynski (46.5 percent).” And, “ Mike Napoli saw 667 fastballs with runners on base last season, the most in baseball. He was followed by Joey Votto (655) and Dustin Pedroia (640).” . . . Another reminder about the Jan. 23d Boston Baseball Writers dinner at the Westin Copley. Tom Glavine is the main honoree, but there will be a host of Red Sox there, including World Series standout Jonny Gomes and rookie infielder Xander Bogaerts, winners of the Jackie Jensen Hustle Award and Greg Montalbano Award as Red Sox’ Minor League Player of the Year, respectively. This is the 75th annual dinner. Tickets are $200 each and can be purchased online by credit card at The Sports Museum website or by calling 617-624-1231 . . . Happy birthday Jose Iglesias (24) and Juan Nieves (49).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.