Today a piece on the Blue Jays was released by SB Nation, a network of fan-centric sports blogs. Written by San Francisco Giants blogger Grant Brisbee, “The premature burial of the 2014 Blue Jays” discusses how the Blue Jays decided to “go for it” in the off-season of 2012: the assets the Blue Jays parted with, the assets the Blue Jays acquired, the payroll implications and how the moves worked out for the Blue Jays in 2013 (spoiler alert: not good). It’s a post-mortem of sorts, and is similar to a view that is not uncommon in the blogosphere and American media: the Blue Jays would be better-off had they not made those trades and signings, they finished last as a result of those transactions and since the roster is more-or-less the same as 2013, the team will continue to under-perform.
Brisbee himself states that the goal of the piece isn’t to irritate Jays fans, but to engage in a thought exercise. It’s a pretty good size-up of the Blue Jays’ transactions and assessment of players involved, but it begins to go off the rails when it reaches the “thought exercise” part – an exercise based on his “feeling that the Blue Jays want some of those players back.” He wonders “is this the worst spot the Blue Jays can be in? Did they do irreparable damage to their abilities to contend in the present and future?” He attempts to “rewrite history” and does so by describing the “best alternate reality” and “worst-case alternate reality” before heading into a post-mortem.
The author’s “best alternate reality” in a nutshell has Noah Syndergaard still in the organization and he’s the staff ace. Travis d’Arnaud is the starting, power-hitting catcher. Henderson Alvarez is a cheap rotation piece with a great strikeout-to-walk ratio. Yunel Escobar is solid at short. The money spent on all of those Marlins could be spent on a stud who could make an immediate impact – a pitcher like Zack Greinke. The Blue Jays contend, and they control Syndergaard for six-seven years.
Although it sounds nice, there are many flaws in this scenario – so many that I would prefer to call this a “best alternate fantasy” instead of “best alternate reality.” Firstly, there is no way Greinke is coming to Toronto on a straight up free-agent deal. Not with the way the roster is constructed in said alternate reality, not with the Jays being in the AL East, not with Greinke – a premier free-agent – having to deal with the hassles of Canadian living and taxes.
Noah Syndergaard isn’t ready to be the staff ace of the Mets. How could he be ready for prime time in Toronto?
Travis d’Arnaud is not ready to be that power-hitting starting catcher just yet. He also needs to be an effective game-caller in order to push the pitching staff to succeed. We’ve got that now in Dioner Navarro.
True, Brisbee makes a good point when he says the Blue Jays could use a cheap pitcher for the rotation, and Henderson Alvarez is probably an upgrade on what they have now. Then again, Alvarez pitches in the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park while playing in the weaker National League. In three starts so far this year he’s not looking very studly, and neither is his strikeout-to-walk ratio (small sample size alert!). The Blue Jays also have Drew Hutchison to fill that need, right now.
In my opinion, it’s quite simple what the “best alternate reality” is. It’s health. We don’t need to “rewrite history” and take a mulligan on the Marlins and Mets deals. The only history that needs to be re-written is the medical history of the players. In the best alternate reality, Jose Reyes doesn’t miss nearly 70 games due to injury. Brett Lawrie doesn’t miss 55. A tumour doesn’t grow on Melky Cabrera’s spinal cord. Colby Rasmus & Jose Bautista don’t miss nearly 40 games each. JP Arencibia doesn’t have the worst OBP of any qualified hitter with over 400 plate appearances in the history of the game (ok, there’s no injury excuse for that). RA Dickey doesn’t go to the World Baseball Classic and doesn’t hurt his back resulting in diminished velocity on his knuckleball. Josh Johnson’s elbow is free from bone spurs. JA Happ doesn’t get hit in the face with a comebacker while injuring his knee. Now that I think about it, what happened in 2013 sounds A LOT like the worst-possible alternate reality. And it happened just like that. Those who don’t follow the team closely, and many of the American media (except Jayson Stark) fail to recognize that fact.
Brisbee’s worst-case alternate reality involves the Jays signing BJ Upton and Josh Hamilton. True, that would suck. But it would suck only because the Jays wouldn’t have another chance to win in 2014 with that 2013 core that were sucked into a black hole of bad luck. Fortunately for fans of the team, they do.
And Brisbee realizes this in his “post-mortem.” Although the conclusion is peppered with such pearls as “…makes it seem like the Blue Jays are hopelessly adrift” and “it doesn’t look good. Some would say it looks awful, stupid, short-sighted, completely debilitating, devastating, impulsive, unrealistic….” there is an admission that the Blue Jays were built beyond 2013. While there is no mention that injury is what caused such a horrific and deflating 2013 season, the same roster built to win in 2013 might very well be good enough to win in 2014. It doesn’t take a “best alternate reality” to make it happen – it’s happening right now. And if Jose Reyes’ “hamstrings of polenta” (well played, Mr. Brisbee) can perform on the unforgiving AstroTurf from the time he gets off the DL until the end of the season? Look out.
Featured image courtesy of Lee Hiller Nature Photography