The Blue Jays have really emerged as a potential force to be reckoned with in the vaunted AL East, and look like they could be very close to competing for the division title. Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter was nice enough to sit down with us for our 5 Questions series to talk about the Blue Jays.
On General Manager Alex Anthopoulos:
MLBDD: General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has been on the job for 2 years. How do you feel about the job he has done to this point?
TD: I really like the job he’s done so far. The most important thing he’s done, so far, is to improve our minor league system. A couple of years ago, when we did our Top Prospects list for Bluebird Banter, we made a list of 20 prospects and, in reality, it was a stretch to call a few of those guys prospects. Last year we had a Top 40 prospect list and, even with 40, we missed out on some good players. In a couple of years, Alex has turned a system, which was ranked as one of the worst in baseball, into a top 5 system.
We have several potential impact players in our system now. Add in that he traded away a contract that I thought was totally untradeable. For that trade alone, he deserves a statue in front of Rogers Centre. Trading Vernon Wells saved the Jays something like $75 million dollars. Most of the trades that he has made have been to bring young players with high ceilings. Alex has brought in Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus in trades.
He’s also been collecting draft picks. We had 7 picks before the end of the second round this year and he should end of with some extras this season too as we have Type-B free agents in Jose Molina, Kelly Johnson, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, and Shawn Camp. A couple of them could be resigned or might accept arbitration, but we should get at least 2 or 3 extra draft picks.
My Thoughts: It's hard to argue with the results to this point, even if I wanted to. Moving the Vernon Wells contract and not having to eat all or nearly all of the remaining money was a stroke of genius, but it's hardly the only great move he has made. He came in with the unenviable task of trading away staff ace Roy Halladay, and the return appears to have panned out to this point. Travis d'Arnaud is an up-and-comer, and hopefully Drabek will be able to find his control again.
Follow after the jump to read about Tom's thoughts on Brett Lawrie, the minor league system, and being Canada's team...
On the Performance of Brett Lawrie:
MLBDD: Brett Lawrie was called up by the team in early August, and proceeded to hit .293 with 9 home runs and 25 RBI in just 2 months. Did you think he would do this well this fast, and what kind of performance do you think he will provide in 2012?
TD: I was in Florida for a bit this spring and got to see him play in a few games, I would have liked the Jays to have taken him north with them at the end of spring training. I don’t think I was alone on that. I understand the Jays coaching staff wanted him with the team right from the start of the season. Maybe management was right to let him work on his defense in the minors, but I’d have rather watched Lawrie than the 151 plate appearances the Jays gave Jayson Nix.
Did I expect him to be that good? Well, I expected he would be exciting. He is surprisingly fast; I guess the 4 triples in 150 at bats points that out. He also stole 7 bases in that time, with 1 caught stealing. But no, I didn’t expect a .283/.373/.580 line in his first 150 at bats. I was also surprised with the range he showed in the field. Next year? I expect more of the same, Brett has a good eye at the plate, and he has good power and good speed. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t hit at least .280 with 25 homers and roughly the same number of steals. Mostly I expect him to be exciting and fun to watch.
My Thoughts: Lawrie looks like a legitimate superstar in the making. I want to see what happens as the league makes adjustments to him, but I could very easily see him posting the numbers that Tom suggested (.280, 25 HR, 25 SB) in 2012.
On the Minor Leagues:
MLBDD: System wide, the Blue Jays have really concentrated on player development from within. Are there any prospects you are specifically very excited about?
TD: Anthony Gose, we likely won’t see him next season but we might see him in 2013. I saw him a bit this spring and he has more speed than anyone I’ve seen. And, I think, he’ll have a little bit of pop in that bat.
Adeiny Hechavarria has scouts drooling over his glove and he suddenly started hitting when he was moved up to Triple-A Vegas, late in the season. In Vegas he hit .389/.431/.537. It was a small sample but then Vegas hitting coach Chad Mottola said that he made a change in his swing that caused the improvement. He only hit .235/.275/.347 in Double-A.
The Jays have several interesting looking young pitchers. Henderson Alvarez started the season in High A-Ball, moved up to Double A and then was called up to Toronto in Mid-August. He made 10 starts, for the Jays, finishing with a 3.53 ERA. He doesn’t strike out many but then he doesn’t walk many (1.1/9 with the Jay) and he is a ground ball throwing machine. 2010 first round pick Deck McGuire made it to Double-A, this year, and struck out a batter an inning. Aaron Sanchez, Asher Wojciechowski, Noah Syndergaard, Nestor Molina and Drew Hutchison all are good looking pitching prospects.
My Thoughts: There are a LOT of prospects in this system, and I would definitely not be surprised if the Blue Jays were rated the top farm system in the league this season. Hechavarria looks like he could be very interesting, although it remains to be seen whether or not the adjustments helped, or whether it is a factor related to playing in the PCL.
On Being Canada's Team:
MLBDD: Another thing that the team seems to be concerned with is building an image of being Canada's team, specifically through acquiring players from Canada. Do you think they will continue to aim for Canadian players, and how do you feel this will serve the team long-term?
TD: I don’t mind them going after Canadian players when they are really good players, like Brett Lawrie, and I don’t mind them taking a flier on a guy like Adam Loewen who could become a good major league hitter. Beyond that we have a couple of prospects Michael Crouse, from BC, and Marcus Knecht from Toronto. Thomas Robson was a 4th round pick from BC in this year’s draft.
I’m ok with them going after Canadians, when they are good players. Signing Canadians just because of their birth certificates is not a good idea. Some folks seem to think that having Canadians on the team will help attendance, but personally, I think having a winning team will be the thing that brings attendance up. Some fans have the idea that trading for Joey Votto (born in Toronto) would be the answer to all attendance woes. I think he would only help if he was part of a winning team.
One of the ways they are trying to be Canada’s team is they are trying to get the country behind them. They did a cross country caravan last winter and had great crowds in every city they went to. They have every game shown on a sports channel that reaches across Canada and ratings were up this year. Since the team is owned by Rogers Corporation, the same people that run the sports channel that broadcast the games across the country, it is only in their best interest to bring up the team's profile across the country.
My Thoughts: I think that they are absolutely going about this in the right way. Signing Canadian players is kind of a bonus, but definitely not vital to this plan. But there is only one team in the entirety of Canada, and the team should definitely try to use this to their advantage. There's no reason, in my mind, why they shouldn't be able to operate like a large market team like the others in their division.
On Potential Moves for 2012:
MLBDD: The team seems like it is right on the cusp of competing with the big teams in the AL East. What would you like to see the team do this offseason to further that goal in 2012?
TD: Pitching wasn’t a strong point, this year, so adding a starter wouldn’t be a bad thing. Alex Anthopoulos has said he would prefer to fill holes with trades over free agents, at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a run at getting Yu Darvish. Beyond that, I wouldn’t try to outguess the guy; most of the trades he makes seem to come out of nowhere. But another big bat wouldn’t hurt. And we need someone to play second base. I’d like the team to sign Kelly Johnson, but I don’t know if he wants to stay with the team. I’m not sure that 2012 is their year, I think it will be a season of seeing which young pitchers are ready to take a step forward. Not that I’d complain if they contend next year, but I think 2013 is more likely to be their time. Alex tells us that he is trying to build a team that can contend for several years, and he’s made the first steps towards that. What he’s done till now is the easy part, putting them over the top will be tougher.
My Thoughts: I don't think that there's one move that would just push them past any of the Red Sox, Rays, or Yankees, and 2013 seems like a more realistic goal. That said, pitching seems to be the thing that would help the most, and an ace would be critical. However, there aren't really any of them readily available, and Darvish may be the best fit for that.
Thanks again to Tom for answering our questions about the Blue Jays. You can find his coverage of the Jays over at BlueBird Banter.