The Growth of Aaron Sanchez

This is the Aaron Sanchez that as a Jays fan I thought was getting.  The most important starter currently in the Blue Jays rotation. He is also the biggest wild card.  He has grown leaps and bounds in just a handful of starts.  Realizing that he doesn’t need to clock it up to 97 every time that he wants to get somebody out.  Whether it’s been Russell Martin, Pete Walker, or maturation, it really doesn’t matter.  Sanchez is learning how to pitch.

Sanchez is the one guy in this starting 5 that can match up with another ace and go toe to toe in a must win game.  Hutchison is going to be a dependable starter, but is not a true ace.  And you can’t roll out Dickey or Beurhle in a winner take all game.  So it will fall onto the shoulders of a 22 year old starter.  It was a beautifully executed game against the first-place Astros yesterday.  Knowing that this is an all or nothing team.  If you can throw strikes, and not give up the long ball they will struggle.  The Jays had a perfect game plan put in place, and it was executed flawlessly.  Sanchez was constantly getting ahead in the count.  Keeping the Astros off balance.  Not trying to over power them; giving them nothing that they could knock out of the park.

Even against the Nats the starting pitching was out in full force.  Dickey was a hard luck loser against Jordan Zimmerman, but he pitched well enough to win that game.   Beurhle has thrown complete games in three of the past four starts. The rotation is beginning to come around.  Estrada and Hutchison have been consistently throwing 6-7 innings each start.  This game becomes easy when you have a rotation that continually gives you quality starts.  Slowly, this team is starting to gain confidence that they don’t need to win every game 10-8.  Knowing that any pitcher that takes the mound can throw up some zeroes after they have put up a few runs on the board makes a world of difference.  The walks have been cut down, which stops the big innings from happening.  It can be a beautiful game when you throw strike one.

As bad as the pitching has been prior to the past two weeks, they actually measure up against each starting rotation in the division fairly well.

New York Yankees:  CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Adam Warren

Baltimore Orioles:  Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Mike Wright

Tampa Bay Rays:  Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Nate Karns, and Alex Colome

Boston Red Sox:  Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, and Eduardo Rodriguez

Toronto Blue Jays:  R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison, Mark Beurhle, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada

When you compare all of these starting rotations you don’t see much difference talent wise.  You see a couple of aces on the Yankees in Pineda and Tanaka, and another ace in Archer in Tampa, and that’s about it.  The Jays and the Red Sox have far and away the best two offenses in the AL East.  If these quality starts continue by the starting 5, the Jays could be right there in September.

There isn’t much waiting in the wings as far as pitching goes. Daniel Norris is pitching fairly well in Buffalo, and would be the call-up in case of injury. But it pretty much ends there.   It would be really nice to see J.A. Happ in a Jays uniform right now.  This is the rotation that will need to get the Jays there.  Will it be enough to get them into a wild card game, or a division win?  I have about as much confidence in that as I do in Ricky Romero to throw a strike.

The Evolution of the MLB Superstar

Thinking back a few years ago, and watching Bryce Harper struggle; he was a 21 year old slugger. There were whispers that he could never fulfill the prophecy that was stowed upon him. Murmurs of a bust. This is a 21 year old player. How did we get to this point to expect so much out of such a young man?

It’s a mixture of the media and fantasy sports. Over hype, expecting the player to become the franchise’s savior. Years back it was common for an early draft pick to play in the minors for the first five or six years of his pro career. Gain his stripes and come up seasoned. Ready to produce at the pro level. The ages and expectations have become ridiculous.

Baseball is the rare sport where you generally can’t come straight out of your draft year and begin to produce. The NBA has draft picks that have the ability to carry a team to a playoff position. The NHL have instant producers. We don’t generally see first round picks carry the team, but we do see them produce from day one. In the NFL they throw the 1st round picks directly into the fire. I am positive that the NFL has wrecked multiple quarterback’s by just dropping them off of a cliff and seeing if they could fly. Teams are so desperate to find the next Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson.

MLB hasn’t quite become the same as the previous three, but you do see the odd player come straight to the major leagues without any seasoning. Mike Leake didn’t play one minor league ball game. Was Bryce Harper ready 3 years ago when he came up? I don’t think he was. He was arrogant and cocky, and was getting thrown out of ball games when things didn’t go his way. Harper not only had the pressure that he put on himself, but had the pressure of the entire city. The media and fans made him out to be the chosen one. The one that would bring championships to Washington. This could have wrecked him. Harper seems to be thriving now, but you see many superstars come into situations and fail to produce. They just can’t handle the pressure. They are not ready for that type of burden. They are only 20 years old.

I relate a lot of this to the movie Bull Durham. Arrogant and cocky pitcher is sent down to the minors to be taught by the veteran catcher to play the right way. Ends up coming back up into the pro level and thrives. I am not sure how much this happens now. So much money is wrapped up in this player that they need him producing right away. There is no question that a lot of players are ready to contribute much sooner than in years past. But how good would Harper have been if he had some time to grow up a bit? You play with fire when you put a world of pressure onto a kid of that age. Generally they are pretty well equipped to handle it. Being brought up from a young age knowing that they were going to be a star. You do see it backfire from time to time. Brett Lawrie came into Toronto as a fire cracker. Canadian boy that had a world of talent. His face was all over Toronto. Injuries and the constant pressure got to him. He was dealt to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson trade, and is still trying to figure things out. Jason Heyward was the next big thing for Atlanta. Brought up to the majors at the age of 19. He has scuffled, and was dealt in the Shelby Miller deal. Heyward is now struggling at the bottom of the order in St. Louis. Some players will thrive in this type of atmosphere and some will be buried. Why not see what you have for a few years? Allow them to develop in every way. They will generally produce straight out of the gate. Not having those years that they are doubting themselves. This is the way that it’s always been done. Impatience can cost you. Just ask all of those former first round QB’s that are just thrown into the recycle bin.

What the Josh Donaldson home-run meant to the Jays season

That game winning home run that was hit last night didn’t feel just like a game winning home run. It felt like a wake-up call to a team that has under-performed for the past three years. One of the most important things that I took from last night’s game was that they were for once able to get by a terrible start from a starting rotation member. Usually this is the type of game that the Jays lose. Dickey gets roughed up. Ruin a night of production from both Bautista and Donaldson. This changed with one swing of the bat.

Now we have seen what Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin can do for the Toronto Blue Jays. They lead by example. Show intensity when it’s required. Battle with each and every pitch. It’s a confidence that hasn’t been seen with the Jays for quite a while. A couple of proven playoff performers. They know how to get there, and are trying to get the Jays back into the race.
There is nothing more infuriating as a Jays fan than watching a bunch of high priced talent goofing around in the dugout when the team is five games under .500. Watching a player flip his bat after a long home run when the team is down by five, or watching the outfield jump into each other after their lone win on a 1-5 home-stand. There is a time for playful fun in baseball. When Donaldson cracks a game winning home run to start a bit of a winning streak is a great time for that. This is a team sport and the Jays have been playing as individuals for far too long.

I am cautiously optimistic. Keeping tabs on other teams in the AL East it seems as though this division is winnable. Even with a mediocre record it is ripe for the taking. Every team in the AL East is floating right around .500. Injuries are piling up for multiple teams. The Red Sox already fired their pitching coach. If the Jays can pull off any kind of run they can play some meaningful games in September. They really need the starting pitching to put up a streak of quality outings. You know the offense will be there.

We have sung this tune before. The Jays are always a game away from a complete over haul of the lineup or a player away from competing for the division. Again they are at the same crossroads. If they don’t feel as though they can compete in September then they have to start dealing. As a fan I just want some consistency. I don’t want to hear Dickey talk for three years about how he is just about there. I don’t want Bautista to whine about the strike zone. A stuttering John Gibbons having a non-chalant interview that starts with his over-used “well.” Just shut up and start winning. Have some owner ship over what’s expected of this team. One thing that I do know is that Martin and Donaldson have both been there before. They are battle-tested. You are starting to see the mark that they are putting on this team. Here’s hoping that other players will continue to follow their lead and the Jays can make a bit of a run.

Billy Beane’s Lightning in a Bottle Theory

As you look up and down at the Oakland A’s lineup year after year it really has a resemblance to the movie Major League. “Who are these fu***** guys?” Every year Billy Beane gets players off of the scrap heap from other teams. He deals his proven stars for unproven prospects. He signs players coming off down years to cheap contracts. Beane is a mastermind. We have seen it in the movie Moneyball, and we see it year after year. The A’s always seem to be in the running for the division or the wild card.

Beane has always been an against the grain kind of guy. You have seen multiple teams steal his Moneyball on-base percentage idea. Billy had to evolve again. Dealing proven stars that have a couple of years left on their contract for highly touted prospects. Finding players that fit his mold that he can sign to cheap deals. Signing players from other countries to below market prices. Last year Beane thought they had a chance to win it all. He went out and paid a fortune for two aces to come in and try to be the last piece of the puzzle. Then the hitting went dry. Lester had one bad inning and *poof* the season was gone.

Again this past off-season Billy had to change things up. He had rolled out a very similar lineup three years in a row and couldn’t get it done. Whole sale changes came. Lester, Samardzija, Moss, Donaldson, and Norris are gone. In are Lawrie, Graveman, Zobrist, Semien, and Butler. Younger cheaper talent. This is the way that the A’s have to do things. Always have to be a step ahead of every other team. The A’s are off to a sluggish start this year. This is to be expected with the whirlwind of moves that he made. I have a feeling that the A’s are going to compete this year once all the pieces are in place. You have one of the best hitting catchers in Steven Vogt (who they received for a player to be named later.) Josh Reddick is a 5 tool player that is just starting to hit his groove (received from the Red Sox for Andrew Bailey.) Jesse Chavez is a reliable back end starter (received from the Jays for cash.) Drew Pomeranz is a middle of the rotation former top prospect (received from the Rockies for Brett Anderson.) They are close to getting back Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin. All of these players come in and thrived in the A’s system.

It’s really difficult to describe Beane’s style. I would relate it to a bargain shopper or a stock market player. Buy low and sell high seems to be easiest way to describe Beane’s way of doing things. Generally with teams that don’t have all that much in revenue that they will have a decade of down years while they retool with young cheap talent. The A’s compete year in and year out with a misfit crew. Every year Billy attempts to find that lightning in a bottle that will get him that elusive World Series ring. Tinkering, overhauling, and recycling the roster. One of these years it’s going to be Billy’s year. They have some of the pieces in place. Gray is an ace. They have always had a fantastic pitching staff, but never a pitcher that could go up against David Price or Felix Hernandez. Now they have that. It looks like they have a future all-star in Semien. Lawrie at 3B hasn’t even come close to hitting his peak. It hasn’t come together yet, but I don’t think it’s far off.

The A’s might not make the playoffs this year. They might be a year or two away. The prospect cupboard is full once again after all the dealings in the off-season. It’s just another year for Billy Beane trying to find that right formula that will get him to legendary status.

Toronto Blue Jays minus the off season of 2012

Miami Marlins send Jose Reyes, Mark Beurhle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Jeff Mathis, and Jake Marisnick.

The New York Mets send R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and Mike Nickeas to the Toronto Blue Jays for Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Wuilmer Becerra.

With Syndergaard about to make his MLB debut we must look back upon the two trades that will cost the Jays for years to come. One of the main reasons that fair weather fans do not run MLB teams is the fact that everybody thought that these were terrific trades. Fans were screaming from the highest roof tops in Toronto that this was their year. Vegas had the Jays as the odds on favourite to win it all. There was no way that this could backfire.

Not only did the Jays take back over 100 million in salary. We cleaned out the cupboard of prospects that were masterfully obtained. The Jays were going for it. Having Jose Bautista clamoring for more presence in the lineup and staff probably didn’t help. Antholopous showed an extreme amount of patience for years. He traded away Halladay in a no-win situation. Drafting high ceiling prospects. Making smart signing decisions. Not blowing the budget on any one player. Toronto is a city of we want it all now. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in it. Antholopous thought they had a chance at making that jump before they were ready. Witnessing a decline in both the Red Sox and the Yankees after years of chasing them.
Let’s have a look at the lineup without these two trades being executed. This isn’t exact. It’s what I believe the smartest moves would have been. Yunel Escobar will not be included in this. He would not have been back with the Jays regardless.

1. Travis – 2B
2. Cabrera – LF
3. Bautista – RF
4. Encarnacion – 1B
5. Donaldson – 3B
6. Lind – DH
7. d’Arnaud – C
8. Pillar – CF
9. Hechavarria – SS

Starting Pitchers:
1. Marcus Stroman
2. Drew Hutchison
3. Henderson Alvarez
4. Anthony DeSclafani
5. Noah Syndergaard

The lineup doesn’t look stronger on first appearance. What it does have is a bunch of players with huge upside and a lot of room to add payroll. No need to bring in Martin at a huge price tag. The Donaldson trade might not need to happen either. Adam Lind could still be their DH rather than thriving in Milwaukee. Melky Cabrera could have come back. Nearly every one of the prospects that were involved in both trades are now contributing members with major league teams. This isn’t a told you so. I was on board with both deals. The Dickey trade not quite as much, but I would have made the same trade. Teams that are thriving in ball now are the teams that are able to grow up together. The bringing in high price talent hasn’t worked for about a decade now. Look at the SF Giants and St Louis Cardinals. Nearly every player on both of those teams were drafted by the club. Terrific coaching, and great scouting is now the key to a championship team.

Maybe it’s the being in the AL East that makes it tough for the Jays not to ride it out. You see the Red Sox and Yankees just throwing around money. The Jays if anything should use the Tampa Bay type of strategy. Grow the talent. One thing that the Jays have that the Rays don’t, is fans. People come to their games. They might even be able to keep the talent after they develop it. Keeping up with the Jones’ has been the Jays moto for the past 20 years. It has come with zero playoff appearances.

What do you do now? Unfortunately start over. Encarnacion should have a few more monster years in him. Donaldson will be solid (he will want big money soon.) Travis looks like the real deal. Their young pitching needs a bit more development, but it should be untouchable. They were taken advantage by two National League teams. The quick fix didn’t work. Eat the mistake, and get what you can for Dickey, Beurhle, and Reyes. I would also look at dealing Bautista. He is an aging superstar that is going to have a sharp drop off. You need to develop pitching. Every team that have won rings has had that one ace. You need to start to stock pile pitching talent to find that next Gray, Harvey, Fernandez, or Cole. They might have it in Stroman or Sanchez, but they need more options. Teams have been winning with average lineups, but great pitching. Again the Rays style of play.

Iit’s going to be a lengthy process. It’s not Toronto Maple Leaf lengthy, but it will be about 3 years before they see progress. They have some pieces in place. Their young pitchers are coming along. Do they have the right guys in place to develop them though? As a fan you need to look at the teams that are constantly in the races until the end. What do they have that the Jays do not? It comes down to the right person behind the controls. After witnessing the past three years, do you think they have the right people in charge?