With three months of the season nearly in the books and the dog days of summer on the horizon, it’s a good time to step back and take stock of where the Toronto Blue Jays stand and start assessing the moves they made prior to the season.
Coming out of their weekend series at home against the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto sits in third place in the American League East and a couple games back in the Wild Card race. After entering the week on a double-digit winning streak, the Blue Jays dropped their last two to Baltimore to finish the week 3-4 before heading to Tampa Bay for three against the division-leading Rays.
The Jays are first in on-base and slugging percentage, third in batting average and fourth in home runs this season. They have the second-most hits of any team in the American League, have knocked in the most runs in baseball by a wide margin and after Baltimore put seven on the board in the second on Sunday, Toronto came right back with six in their half to make it a game again.
This team can flat-out rake, but just as it has over the last few years, the pitching staff is what is holding this team back. The bullpen has been shaky all season and the starters have been inconsistent, which explains how this team can be both amongst the league leaders in every offensive category and outside of the playoff picture right now.
Although the trade deadline is still several weeks away, this is the point of the season where teams start sniffing around for deals and working on moves, and prior to Sunday’s game, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopouos told MLB Network Radio that improving on the bump was a priority for the club, with the rotation taking priority over the bullpen right now.
But looking back at what this club did over the winter, it’s tough to not question why some of these issues weren’t addressed prior to the season.
Toronto’s big deal was signing Canadian catcher Russell Martin to a multi-year deal and while Martin has been a great addition, the Blue Jays already had a quality everyday catcher in the fold, Dioner Navarro, so you have to wonder if that money wouldn’t have been better served being committed to adding depth in the bullpen?
Ex-Yankee David Robertson and current Yankee Andrew Miller got four-year deals worth $44M and $36M respectively, with Anthopoulos admitting that the latter was on the team’s radar had they not inked Martin. Houston signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek for a combined $31M and they’ve been key contributors in the surprising turnaround that has the Astros in first place in the American League West.
Or what about handing that money to front-end starter James Shields? The 33-year-old got $7M less and one less year from San Diego than Martin cost the Jays. Wouldn’t having “Big Game James” on the bump every fifth day be real nice right about now?
Now, there is the possibility that Toronto kicked the tires on all these arms and none were interested in moving north of the border come baseball season, but to let long-time steady hand Casey Janssen walk and not really bring in anyone – not even a low risk, high reward type like Canadian John Axford, who is excelling in Colorado this season – seemed like a misstep at the time and stings even more now.
And that’s to say nothing about trying to move a bat, some prospects or a combination of both for a front-end starter in the offseason.
At this point, however, everyone knows Toronto is looking for pitching and that gives possible trading partners all the leverage in negotiations. The Jays have wisely been hesitant to overpay for some of the options currently available, but will that remain the case if they’re still within arm’s reach of the playoffs in two or three weeks?
This season is shaping up like a “win or you’re gone” year for Anthopoulos and everyone on his staff, so it will be interesting to see what steps – if any – he takes between now and the July 31 deadline to try to end Toronto’s playoff drought and potentially save his job.
The Week Ahead: Following the aforementioned three in Tampa Bay against the division leaders, the Blue Jays come back home for three games against the American League West’s other surprise team, the Texas Rangers.