The trade that could help the Jays make the playoffs.

The Jays are on a roll. This might an understatement. They are on absolute fire. Everything on this team is clicking right now. When you have Ryan Goins belting three-run homeruns in key times you know things are going just a little too smoothly. Up and down this lineup everything is firing on all cylinders. You know at some point that this has to slow down. They have holes on this team that will hopefully be filled before the gravy train of runs out of steam.

What do the Jays require to make a real run at a division title? They need a top level starter, a closer, and a utility player. Reyes is injury prone. Bautista still doesn’t look right throwing. Colabello is a sore spot in the field. There is a team in the American League that have all of these things, and could be selling at the deadline. The Oakland A’s.

Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard, and Ben Zobrist all in the final year of their contracts. The A’s are a miserable 13 games under .500 and could be looking to deal. Kazmir would instantly become the Jays ace. He has been extremely reliable over his time in Oakland, and can match-up with any pitcher in the AL East currently. Clippard is a solid closer. He throws strikes, and has had a history of closing over the past two years in Oakland and Washington. Zobrist is an ultimate utility player. He can play nearly every position on the field. Having a high on-base percentage and can hit in every part of the lineup. Best part about it. You don’t have to take on that much salary. Reasonable contracts without any term.

What do the Jays have to give up? Well, these are three valuable pieces. This would be a costly trade. It wouldn’t cost them Stroman or Sanchez. But it might cost them Norris, Pompey, and Hoffman. I know that’s a huge return. But look at last year’s deadline and what yielded Lester, Price, and Samardzija? Addison Russell was one of the top prospects in baseball. Drew Smyly is going to be a top of the rotation pitcher, and Yoenis Cespedes was a proven all-star. This is an awful lot to give up though. Especially if they end up not making the playoffs. What’s the alternative though? Aaron Harang from Philadelphia? Kyle Lohse from Milwaukee? How much better are these guys then what you already have? Then there are Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto. They would cost the Jays two to three top prospects on their own.

Say this trade does go down and they end up losing all three players to free agency. What do they receive? The Jays would receive compensatory picks. It could be 3 first round picks. Or 2 first round picks, and a second. Regardless, it’s not all for nothing if you don’t make the playoffs. Is this worth the investment? Hoffman could be a potential ace. Pompey a starting outfielder, and Norris a middle of the rotation guy. I am not sure if I would make this deal. But it’s what it would take to get those 3 players out of Oakland. With so many teams having a shot at post season play it becomes more and more difficult to find rental players. Which is why they have become so expensive. The one thing that I do know is that Scott Kazmir versus David Price sounds a lot more appetizing than Drew Hutchison versus David Price as a Jays fan.

Blue Jays playing small ball to win

Bottom of the ninth, runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. 0-2 count, Colabello has looked lost at the plate, and in the field the whole day. The runners take off, the pitch is in the dirt, blocked by Conger. No play at either base. This isn’t the Jays that I am use to. The well-executed double steal on a 0-2 pitch that you know Gregerson was going to bury to try to get Colabello to strike out. What happens after this? What does this create? Sacrifice fly or wild pitch ties the game, and a single or better wins it. Knowing that Gregerson isn’t a dominating closer by any means, Gibbons played the odds, and won. If I was watching this game a month ago it would have gone like this. Colabello strikes out on a pitch in the dirt. Reyes and Bautista are still at first and second.

This isn’t the John Gibbons that I am usually writing about. The guy that I am usually watching is the laid-back manager that is waiting for the long ball to get the win. In the Astros series I witnessed a change in these Jays. Sacrifice bunts, steals, and hit and runs were key to a lot of the victories over the weekend. Sweeping a first place Houston club out of Toronto. It was exciting baseball to watch. The fans were engaged, and so were the players.

Toronto was able to overcome a key error by Donaldson, and multiple walks in key situations by the pitching staff yesterday. This is rare to say about the Jays, but they are learning how to win. Sometimes you need to go after runs. You need to press the defense of the opposing team. Keep on manufacturing runs, and do not stop until the game is over. It’s complacency that has gotten the Jays into trouble before. They know they have a great offense with an abundance of power. It was the record that was just being put on over and over again by Gibbons. Things will turn around. These players will get hot. This weekend showed that they are not going to wait around anymore. Bautista is red-hot. Other than him we have players doing what they have always done. What’s the difference than? Timely hitting, decent pitching, and smart managing. During the games over the last two days there have been multiple times that I have said to myself. “Smart move or gutsy call.” All of Gibbons moves have produced, catching teams off-guard.

It’s nice to see the Jays playing this way. At the start of last year you were seeing a team that couldn’t maintain what they were doing. They were hitting home-runs at an outrageous pace, and Beurhle was looking like a Cy Young candidate. Everybody was playing at the top of their game. You just knew that the bottom was going to fall out once a few players cooled down, and injuries would happen to key pieces. This team is still a few games under .500, but you can see the tide turning.

It’s easy to go back to bad habits. If they get thrown out a couple of times in key areas, or hit into outs while trying to start a hit and run. They could just go back to what we are accustomed to watching. Big swings in key areas, when all they need is a single. Hopefully they realize that this isn’t a fluke. This is an exciting team when things are in motion. I have to give credit to Gibbons. He has made all the right moves recently. Maybe we are seeing an enlightened man that is managing to the style that is required to win? Or maybe we are seeing a man managing for his job? Either way, it looks like this team has been woken out of its slumber. Let’s see if they can continue this streak against a couple of very beatable teams in the Marlins and Mets. Is this a new Jays team? Doing whatever it takes to get the win. Let’s hope so. If this is the new brand of baseball in Toronto, I am completely on-board.

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.

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.

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?