Yesterday, the Blue Jays got Jose Reyes back from a cracked rib that had kept him on the disabled list for almost a full month. They need him, too, as they sit in last place in the AL East, with a roster whose window to compete is rapidly closing without even a single postseason appearance to show for it.
Now, admittedly, having Reyes on the field would not have made a huge difference for that month. Ryan Goins posted a .674 OPS in his absence and played well defensively in his absence, and even healthy Jose Reyes has not been the same player since leaving the Mets. Still, having Reyes back will at least allow Alex Anthopoulos to see whether his team, at full strength, can finally make a run for the postseason, or if it's time to break it up.
Since 2009, Anthopoulos' term at the helm of the Blue Jays has been defined by big moves. It started with a teardown, as he was instructed to purge the Jays of some of their most expensive players and past mistakes. He sent Roy Halladay to the Phillies for what wound up being Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Brett Wallace, and then sent League to the Mariners for Morrow in an exchange of Brandons. He succeeded in trading Vernon Wells, and got a valuable player in Mike Napoli for him, only to immediately trade Napoli for Frank Francisco. He also managed to get Brett Lawrie from the Brewers for Shaun Marcum.
Around the AL East
Sensing an opportunity to redefine his team in one fell swoop in November of 2012, A.A. sent bevy of players to the Marlins for Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck. Then d'Arnaud went to the Mets with Buck and Noah Syndergaard for NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. It was an all-in play that didn't work. The Jays still lost 88 games and finished last in the AL East. He also essentially gave away Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles for nothing.
The Jays are still paying for these mistakes today. Buehrle (5.13 ERA) has finally started to show his age now that his fastball can't crack 84 miles per hour. He has talked about possibly retiring after his contract is up in October. Right now it's hard to envision anyone begging him to stay. Dickey, too, has struggled since coming to the AL East. His strikeouts are way down, and while he's young for a knuckleballer at 40, his velocity is also way down. The difference between his hard-knuckler and his fastball is getting smaller all the time, and his strikeouts have dropped precipitously. Johnson, of course, was never healthy and has since moved on.
Meanwhile, Gomes has become one of the better catchers in the American League. d'Arnaud has established himself as one of the best young catchers in the National. And Syndergaard has debuted and is pitching well for the Mets. Henderson Alvarez is hurt, but was an All Star last year. Anthony DiScalfani is starting and pitching fairly well for the Reds. Adeiny Hechavarria has an OPS+ of 101 for the Marlins and Jake Marisnick has been one of the most valuable players for the surprising Astros.
Without those disastrous moves in that fateful offseason, the Jays could have been starting Marisnick in center field for Kevin Pillar, Hechavarria at short instead of Reyes, and Syndergaard in the rotation in place of either Dickey or Buehrle. With Gomes and/or d'Arnaud behind the plate, the club never would have had to sign either Dioner Navarro or Russell Martin, freeing up money for a run at a free agent starter. The Blue Jays would be a drastically different and younger team, and perhaps better.
Don't get me wrong, Anthopoulos has done well at finding talent to retool in 2015. Martin has been a huge success. So have Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis and Marco Estrada, who were all acquired in trades this offseason. He has done well bringing in guys like Chris Colabello, Danny Valencia, Liam Hendricks, and Goins, who can be successful in limited roles. And putting his trust in Roberto Osuna in the bullpen has paid major dividends.
But Alex Anthopoulos has not been able to escape the ghosts of that fateful offseason. Toronto has the worst ERA, worst FIP, and second worst runs allowed/game of any team in the American League. This team has one more year with the aging core of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Dickey, and they need to be worried that the nagging injuries and diminishing performances will destroy whatever trade value they have left if the Jays can't turn the ship around. Indeed, if the Blue Jays are still in the cellar come July, it will be time to make more big moves to revamp the club yet again. And at that point, you will have to wonder whether A.A. is the right man to do it after years of failing to get over the hump.