By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Aug. 1) – Perhaps there’s a simple reason why the Toronto Blue Jays were inactive at the non-waiver trade deadline on Thursday. Maybe – just maybe – Alex Anthopoulos and his staff recognized the club wasn’t good enough to contend this year. That seems like a stretch with the Jays on 11-4 run since the All-Star break. But, let’s review some facts:
First, it is obvious to any baseball eye that the club has taken some big steps in 2014. No person familiar with the calamity of last season would think otherwise. Even in the ebb-and-flow of the marathon season, any club that puts together a monster streak of 20-4 – as did the Blue Jays between May 12 and June 6 – has to be taken seriously. The ebb-and-flow, however, cannot be overlooked. In a 162-game schedule – with the recently rare exceptions of the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48) and the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46) – peaks and valleys are inevitable. As such, the Blue Jays followed their 20-4 run with a sickly 11-24 mark between June 7 and July 13. During that slump, apologists for the club increasingly cited injury to key players Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind – all of whom remain sidelined. This was also a stretch.
Again, some facts:
? Encarnacion, though clearly among the most valuable players in the American League, was healthy and in the Blue Jays line-up for one full month of the downward spiral – June 7 to July 6. During that time, Toronto’s record was 9-19. In Encarnacion’s absence, the club is 13-8.
? Lawrie, sidelined since June 23, provides the Blue Jays vacuum-like defense at third base. His fielding is paramount to the club’s success. Yet the Jays were a paltry 4-11 with him in the line-up from June 7-22.
? The absence of Lind is more difficult to gauge. Before his addition to the disabled list on July 8, he was hobbling on a foot-fracture for the better part of a month. Still, he missed only four games between June 7 and July 7. In the games he played, the Blue Jays were 8-17.
EDWIN ENCARNACION WAS AN AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP CANDIDATE BEFORE GOING ON THE DISABLED LIST JULY 6. BUT, THE JAYS WERE NOT PLAYING MIGHTY BASEBALL WITH HIM HEALTHY AND IN THE LINE-UP FOR A FULL MONTH PRIOR TO HIS INJURY. TORONTO STAR IMAGE
So, as you can see, the club’s mid-season swoon was well underway before losing the bats of Encarnacion, Lawrie and Lind. This would indicate, to a neutral observer, that the Jays simply aren’t yet good enough – even when healthy – to compete with the true contenders in the A.L. Two of those contenders – Oakland and Detroit – have starting pitching that no teams in baseball can match. Why then should Anthopoulos have thrown away more prospects for an attempted quick fix? Have we not seen the perils of such strategy with the Maple Leafs over the years? Yes, hockey is different in that a higher percentage of teams make the playoffs. But, baseball prosperity is so much simpler to achieve when you can build a team around homegrown talent.
That’s what the Blue Jays did leading up to their World Series triumphs in 1992 and 1993. The additions via trade and free agency of such players as Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, David Cone, Dave Winfield, Dave Stewart and Paul Molitor put the Jays over the top, but the development system allowed it to happen.
Homegrown players Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff were dealt to San Diego in December 1990 for Carter and Alomar (McGriff was drafted by the Yankees but played four full seasons with Toronto before the trade).
Speedy center-fielder Devon White was acquired from the California Angels two days before the Carter-Alomar deal for Junior Felix and Luis Sojo – both of whom were originally signed by the Jays.
Starting pitcher Juan Guzman (4-1 in the ’92 and ’93 playoffs) came here from the Dodgers in a 1987 trade for draft pick Mike Sharperson.
Catcher Pat Borders (MVP of the ’92 World Series) was a Toronto pick.
Third-baseman Kelly Gruber was a Cleveland pick in 1980 but grew up in the Jays system after being acquired in the 1983 Rule-5 draft.
Expendable prospects Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson enabled the Jays to acquire pitching ace David Cone from the Mets in a monster deal before the 1992 playoffs.
And, all-star first-baseman John Olerud, the American League batting champion in 1993 (.363 average), was also a Toronto draft pick.
THE GREATEST PLAYER IN BLUE JAYS HISTORY – HALL-OF-FAMER ROBERTO ALOMAR – WAS ACQUIRED FROM SAN DIEGO IN DECEMBER 1990 FOR HOMEGROWN PLAYERS.
This is how the champion Blue Jays were built. The general manager was frequently derided as “Stand Pat” Gillick, but he knew exactly what he was doing and when to start adding the finishing pieces. Perhaps that is why Alex Anthopoulos chose this week to not jettison either of Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez – considered throughout baseball as among the top pitching prospects. There comes a time to pull off such a deal. If, however, it is made prematurely, a team can suffer interminable consequence. Anthopoulos did well to say “no thanks.”
The Blue Jays have picked on American League weaklings (Boston, Texas, Houston) to build their post-All-Star Game hot streak. Again, factoring the ebb-and-flow of the long season, the club was overdue for an upswing. When last seen against contending teams (Oakland and Los Angeles Angels), the Jays were 1-6. It is best, therefore, to maintain some perspective here and try to understand why Anthopoulos felt it the wrong time to sell the farm. Once the Jays are deep enough from within, they can start peddling their prospects. But, not until then.
A DARK AFTERNOON
The sky above Toronto grew rather frightening in late-afternoon today – Aug. 1, 2014. Here is the evidence from my mid-town apartment balcony:
BUT, THE SKY CLEARED LATE…
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