How Close Are the Blue Jays to Contention?
|Image courtesy of The Star|
Remember the fabled “five-year” plan? It’s something we can joke about now, but during the previous regime, it felt like an empty promise. It sounded similar to something a politician would say to win over indecisive voters.
For J.P. Ricciardi, the plan worked … at least for a while. Admittedly, I even bought in to it and was thrilled to see the Blue Jays ramp up their spending on player salaries past the $100 million dollar mark.
Even when all those things came together, it never really felt like the Blue Jays were close to contention. Rather than being proactive and bolstering their farm system and scouting, it seemed like they were waiting for either the Red Sox or Yankees to fall out of contention for their window of opportunity.
Fast forward to 2011 and things are even more competitive than ever. What used to be a two horse race in the AL East has now become a three horse race. As the Red Sox can surely attest to, the margin of error is slimmer than ever to reach the post-season.
After watching the contrasting styles at the helm of J.P. Ricciardi and Alex Anthopoulos, one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t structure your entire strategy around what other teams are doing around you. The Blue Jays certainly should be cognisant of what the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are doing, but their plan shouldn’t be based on external factors.
With the way things are proceeding for the Blue Jays, I think most can agree that the Blue Jays are on the path to success, but the real question is – how long will it take them to get there? Personally, I believe it’s sooner rather than later.
If you asked me at the beginning of the 2011 season when I though the Blue Jays might be ready to make a run for the playoffs, I likely would have answered 2013 or 2014 at the very earliest. With all the acquisitions and trades this year alone, I’d say that timetable might have been moved up to 2012.
The thing that really indicated the Blue Jays might be pushing for the playoffs now was the acquisition of Colby Rasmus. Toronto already had a centre fielder in place with Rajai Davis (albeit a very streaky one), so the upgrade in the outfield to me signaled a slight shift in AA’s plan.
One thing is for sure, the bar for excellence has been raised in the American League East. And it takes a culmination of every aspect of the team (pitching, hitting, defense) clicking on all cylinders at the same time to even have a shot at the playoffs.
The Yankees and the Red Sox pitching staffs have left something to be desired, and yet despite those shortcomings, they are poised to capture a couple of playoff spots. So for the Blue Jays to surpass them, Toronto has to be that much better.
As for areas where the Blue Jays can improve, obviously the bullpen and the starting rotation are the two major concerns. I’m not certain whether that means they need to bolster the bullpen and rotation with free agents or offseason acquisitions, but as it currently stands, there are just too many question marks on the pitching staff for the Blue Jays to be contenders.
Maybe like the Atlanta Braves, everything will just click with a young bullpen and not much will have to be done at all. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters seemingly came out of nowhere and become the equivalent of Ward/Henke from the Blue Jays glory days.
As far as the starting rotation is concerned, I think the Blue Jays need solid efforts from at least three of their five starting pitchers. Ricky Romero can be counted on, Brandon Morrow is working his way back into the good books, but after that it’s a lot of “what if’s”.
Sometimes, even the best laid plans go awry. Alex Anthopoulos could go out and sign C.J. Wilson and Jonathan Papelbon and both could have horrible seasons. History dictates they would probably be okay, but you never know what could happen with free agents.
Nobody can say for certain whether it will take two years, five years, or ten years for the Blue Jays to put together a squad that can compete with the elite of the AL East. But I think we can all agree that AA is going about things the right way.
Bolstering the scouting staff, developing players in the minor leagues and acquiring high-ceiling talent is a much more sustainable strategy than just plucking the best free agents off the market and hoping for the best.
Even with the most highly-touted prospects, there are never any guarantees whether or not they will develop into the superstars they may be billed as. But the more high-ceiling players the Blue Jays have like that in their system, the better the chances at least one or some of them will actually pan out.
Nobody wants to shoot themselves in the foot and guarantee that the Blue Jays will make the playoffs within the next five years. As comforting as that might be to hear, I’d rather see the Blue Jays go through their growing pains in the short term to so long as it leads to long term improvement and success.