The Blue Jays: New Management, Talented Players, Same Mediocre Results

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The Blue Jays have to start winning some games.

Going back to the J.P. Ricciardi years, they’ve been on the verge of something special only to have circumstances on and off the field sabotage them. During that time they were unfortunate enough to be trapped in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox when those clubs were at the height of their rivalry and powers. Then from 2008 onward, they not only had the Yankees and Red Sox to deal with, but the young and hungry Rays rose to prominence as well.

The Ricciardi Blue Jays teams are seen as a retrospective failure in the context of Moneyball because Ricciardi was widely quoted in the book and was the one GM who closely approximated the strategies therein. They also spent money to try and win and didn’t.

Objectively those Blue Jays teams—especially the 2003, 2006 and 2008 squads—would’ve made the playoffs had they been housed in a less imposing division. Sometimes it breaks that way.

Ricciardi was perceived negatively because of Moneyball blowback; due to his un-GM-like proclivity for speaking his mind rather than in the circles favored by the new age GMs; and that he had public dustups (most of his own doing) with media members, players and coaches on his team and others. He made mistakes; he wasn’t a bad GM.

When Ricciardi was fired after the 2009 season, his replacement Alex Anthopoulos immediately made his presence felt with aggressiveness; a less polarizing personality; and fearlessness. He knew the numbers and was also willing to take chances on talented players who might not light up a rotisserie league team, but could contribute to his club in other ways.

The first year of a new regime is generally a freebie but in 2010 as they moved past the days of Ricciardi and the traded Roy Halladay, they rode Jose Bautista’s shocking rise to 54 homers, a power-laden and homer-hungry lineup and a pretty good starting rotation to an 85-77 finish.

Anthopoulos began to put his stamp on the club following 2010 as he hired his own manager, John Farrell, to replace Cito Gaston. He traded for Brett Lawrie; amazingly found a taker for Vernon Wells’s contract while only paying $5 million to cover a portion of it; and signed Bautista to a contract extension.

The 2011 Blue Jays ended at .500. They were a team to watch for 2012.

The original idea was to watch them as they rose in the standings. Instead we’re watching them and wondering why they’re still at .500.

It’s June 14th and they’re sitting at 31-32, tied for last place in the AL East with the Red Sox.

Injuries have robbed them of closer Sergio Santos and starter Brandon Morrow. Kyle Drabek left his start on Wednesday with a popping sensation in his elbow. Adam Lind didn’t hit and was dispatched to the minors, unlikely to return. Colby Rasmus is playing identically to the player who was the rope in a tug-of-war between his former manager with the Cardinals Tony LaRussa and his dad Tony Rasmus. Manager Farrell allows his players to run the bases with abandon and steal bases at odd times.

Are these excuses or are they reasons?

The American League East has five teams that are either over .500 or within one game of .500. But earlier this season, the division was wide open with the Yankees pitching failing them and Mariano Rivera out for the season. The Red Sox were playing terribly and infighting. The Rays lost Evan Longoria for an extended period.

And the Blue Jays didn’t take advantage.

Again.

What should be most galling to the Blue Jays and their fans is that it was the Orioles—that perpetual doormat—that jumped to the top of the division with a stunning run of solid fundamental play and led by a far superior strategic manager to Farrell, the experienced Buck Showalter.

At what point does the Blue Jays’ building and rebuilding end and do expectations and demands replace the mantra of “patience”?

There was enough talent on the Blue Jays during the Ricciardi years that they could’ve made the playoffs 2-3 times with a little better luck and a less difficult division. Now they have as much if not more talent in a weaker division and they remain trapped in the vacancy of mediocrity.

When does it stop?

Eventually the Blue Jays have to get past the “we’re building” excuse and start winning some games; to become a legitimate contender when there’s an extra playoff spot to be won and they have the talent and the opening to win it.

Yet here they are at .500 and looking for that missing piece to put them over the top.

Over the top of what is unknown. Is it over the top of the “mountain” of .500? Or is it over the top of their divisional rivals to make some noise in the regular season as something other than a cool pick for the prognosticators who’ll repeat the process from November to February and fall back to what they are?

I don’t know.

And nor do they.

//

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4 thoughts on “The Blue Jays: New Management, Talented Players, Same Mediocre Results

  1. As a long suffering Jays fan, I thank you for your insightful analysis. A further issue re. the team is ownership: the wealth of the team’s owners, the size of the market–not only Toronto, one of the largest, richest cities in north america, but the TV market of the entire country of Canada, the value/contribution of the team to the owner’s media enterprises, and the absurdly low payroll the owners have saddled the team with.
    The problem with the Jays is the same as the problem with the Leafs and any other Toronto clubs. Stuff that ownership does (i.e not spending money) that would inflame another city’s fanbase gets basically a free pass with the residents of Toronto, who have an attitude of resigned acceptance of failure, deference to authority, and PollyAnnishness. As someone who has lived in both New York and Toronto, I find the contrast between the two cities’ fans to be striking.

    1. They have spent money though. They may not have the cash or willingness to go after the Prince Fielders of the world, but they were in on Yu Darvish and in the past spend money (stupidly) to keep Vernon Wells. They’ve gone after free agents and been legitimate players in the market.
      Much of their perception as being hopeless stemmed from the Yankees and Red Sox during the Ricciardi years. But now, they’re a player or two away from being a title contender and they still haven’t taken the next step on the field to justify ownership opening the coffers to bring in that star player and possibly overpaying him to get him to come to Canada.
      They may have to do that to make the next step stuff a reality.

  2. It took Gillick and Co. many years to build up the required base back in the 80’s. I think the base is looking good. With the rotation that we had (prior to losing Morrow, Hutchisson and Drabek) and with the bats coming around as expected, I think we would have had a good build up year perhaps good enough to put us in a position to hire a big arm for next season. I still approve of the direction AA is taking. As for this year…it all depends on how all the pitching stop-gaps and Romero do in the coming months. Although unlikely, we may yet contend.

    1. I like Anthopoulos, but the designation of him being a “genius” was absurd. The media is constantly looking for someone new to anoint with that ridiculous term, but it’s based on their perception of how a team should be run and whether what the executive is doing works.
      It’s a shame about Drabek and Hutchinson, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that all pitchers get hurt and the frequent cases of Tommy John surgery are a byproduct of throwing a baseball.
      They have a lot of talent. Eventually that talent has to result in on-field success. It hasn’t yet.

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