As you know, the Premier loves surprises.
Another spring training is upon us and the cruel baseball-less months of winter dwindle as we laugh cautiously at its departure. From the championship contenders to the sure fire basement dwellers, there's a universal excitement shared among every team, that childlike anticipation of knowing it's almost time to go out and play. We're here to talk about the Blue Jays, a team with so many variables it's tricky to get a feel of how dangerous, on a scale from cute puppy to angry bear, they're going to be.
Let's first acknowledge the elephant in the room, as it dances and occasionally trumpets into a nearby microphone (who leaves that lying around, seriously). This has been a strange offseason for MLB free agents, especially the many notable ones still unsigned by teams (the "why?" an entirely different but important issue of course). Would the Blue Jays be a better team if they added Jake Arrieta tomorrow? Or Alex Cobb? Absolutely. Likewise, Greg Holland could look real nice setting up Roberto Osuna, as would Jonathan Lucroy backing up 35 year old Russell Martin. These are good players, just on the tray for the taking, who could help any team in baseball get better. Thing is, to steal an analogy, free agency in sports doesn't work like a trip to the grocery store, even in a buyers market. It's more like speed dating: everyone gets the chance to meet each other and make their case, but if the mutual match (and yes in many cases the money) isn't there, it's not going to work out. (Not to mention, coming across as desperate is clearly more of a turnoff than ever).
All that considered, it's still frustrating to see moves your favourite team could still make to improve themselves, even marginally, when all it costs is money. But at least we can all agree that the Blue Jays have made moves to improve, unlike certain other teams *cough* *cough* Florida teams *cough*. By the way, the fact that the Florida/Miami/Whatever Marlins have won as many World Series championships as Toronto is your Official Annoying Thought of the 2018 season. But while the Bluebirds haven't sold away any superstars this winter, they haven't exactly added any either, unlike their rivals. Instead they've made a bunch of smaller moves, like forgoing an entree and just ordering a bunch of appetizers at a restaurant. Any of them by itself is extremely unsatisfying, but combined together you've assembled a filling meal of spare parts. A Frankendinner of sorts, without the revulsion. For instance:
Your best shortstop behind a brittle Troy Tulowitzki is Ryan Goins? Well that's not gonna be good for business (that's not gonna be good for anybody), so lets make an upside play on a young Cardinals infielder. He may not be nearly the defensive equal of Goins, but can by most accounts play the position decently and has an offensive floor matching Goins' ceiling.
Your second baseman is an exciting young player but he also can't stay healthy? And your previous depth behind him was a significantly worse hitter than Goins? Well frankly upgrading that at least a little wouldn't be too challenging, but the Blue Jays aimed higher and brought in Yangervis Solarte, a legitimate above average big-leaguer who can cover multiple positions, has power and is escaping a home park that snuffs home runs. Solarte, like Aledmys Diaz, is surely not the defensive equal of Goins/Barney, but that won't stop Buck and Tabby from raving about how "he's a ballplayer. Yeah he's been doin' this a long time". Dan Shulman, a nation turns it's desperate eyes to you.
To the outfield, say last year you got nothing defensively (excepting Pillar) or offensively (including Pillar?). Well ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Curtis Granderson! If you Jedi Mind Trick his stint with the Dodgers away, Granderson in 2017 was the player he's usually been, minus a tiny bit of batting average (You know I think someone may have written about it at the time). If Curtis has another nice season (entirely possible considering how he's moving from the cavernous Citi Field into the launching pads of the AL East) he'll be a nice trade chip if the Blue Jays are out of contention in July. But honestly, this guy has been here a month, hasn't played a meaningful game yet and I already want him to stay forever. Just save time and make him the 2022 Jays Care Ambassador right now.
Granderson seems like a great dude and all but as a player this age, his ability is limited. So go out and get a much younger outfielder who is a strong defender, has serious untapped power and years of cheap team control left. All you give up is a talented but struggling pitching prospect and a breakout reliever. Honestly though I'm not sold on Randal Grichuk, the plate discipline stuff worries me. But, I always love a high upside play when you're not giving up really anything that can't be quickly replaced. Unless Conner Greene turns into the next Wainwright (it's the Cardinals so yeah, totally possible) I'm cool with giving Grichuk a long rope and living through the whiffs.
Well now you're asking, "Hey Knuckler, these offense upgrades are all well and good, but what about the pitching staff? The rotation is seriously thin after the top four and two of those guys missed significant time last year. And a third has chronic back issues!" First of all, my moniker is Eephus but hey, it's cool we're all friends here. And second, your totally real question was an very valid concern a few weeks ago, so they went out and grabbed lefty Jaime Garcia. Garcia at this point is a fairly average-ish MLB starting pitcher, which is valuable, and it's a really good situation if he's A: your fifth starter and B: not Andrew Cashner guaranteed twice as much money.
There's the common thread of these winter additions for the Bluebirds really: a really good situation if they're not the marquee attraction. No superstar storming in to blow the doors off, just a number of smart depth moves with considerable individual upside that strengthen the specific areas the team needed help. Added all together, it's a tidy bit of quiet wheeling and dealing the front office has done this winter, and it continues even now with former closer Seung-Hwan Oh potentially on board (basically while I was writing this blasted article). And speaking of that, it's time I cut my ramblings short and let the hope and optimism of the spring take us away.
If this all works out and the team contends, I'd say GM Ross Atkins, Mark Shapiro and his team deserve some serious kudos. If it doesn't work out, well don't blame me I only voted for Kodos.