After Offseason Moves, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays Are Trending in Opposite Directions
By Robbie Knopf
When the Rays traded James Shields, it was widely viewed as an excellent trade for them based on the four prospects they received: outfielder Wil Myers, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, lefty Mike Montgomery, and first baseman Patrick Leonard. Those four prospects have the ability to be a major part of the future of the Rays, with Myers ready to contribute significantly as soon as next season, and even as the Rays move on without Shields and Wade Davis, this trade could very well make them a better team in the long-term. However, for next season, the Rays looked to have taken a slight step back and possibly more. The Rays are renowned for their pitching depth, but it’s one thing to replace a back-of-the-rotation arm and another entirely to replace a number two starter. David Price is an outstanding pitcher at the top of the Rays’ rotation. But after him, the Rays will be depending heavily on Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and Chris Archer to all step up their play and keep the Rays’ rotation as one of the best in baseball. If Hellickson and Moore don’t take the steps forward that the Rays are expecting from them, the Rays will almost surely miss the postseason for the second consecutive year. The Rays’ chances of making a postseason run next season are still high. But uncertainty remains and the Rays will have plenty of questions to answer once the season begins.
The Blue Jays’ 2012 rotation was horrible. There is no disputing that. Collectively they managed a 4.82 ERA, 25th in baseball, with a 1.74-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio that was the worst among the 30 MLB teams. Brandon Morrow was excellent when healthy, going 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA, a 7.8 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 21 starts and 124.2 innings pitched. Who was good after him? No one. Not a single Blue Jays pitcher other than Morrow who made a start managed an ERA under 4.50 as a starter. Was it just terrible luck? Maybe, but just two pitchers other than Morrow managed a FIP under 4.50 either: J.A. Happ, who made a grand total of 6 starts, and Drew Hutchinson, whose 4.48 FIP was still nothing to be proud of. The Blue Jays’ starting pitching was nowhere near playoff-caliber. They knew that- and did everything they could to fix it.
The Jays acquired Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in their blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays. And now it’s being reported that they have acquired 2012 NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, catcher Josh Thole, and a prospect from the New York Mets for top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, promising right-hander Noah Syndergaard, catcher John Buck, and another prospect. The Jays are depending on Johnson to stay healthy and deliver his first good full season since 2010. Dickey will not be as good moving from the NL East to the AL East and from a pitcher’s ballpark in Citi Field to a more hitter-friendly stadium in Rogers Centre, and of course he’s a knuckleballer and we don’t necessarily know what to expect. That being said, the Blue Jays expect him to be a frontline starter and pair with Johnson and Morrow to give them as good of a top three in their rotation as any team in baseball. Buehrle gives the Jays a dependable innings eater who will likely top 200 innings like he has done the last 12 seasons. And if the Jays can find one solid pitcher between Ricky Romero, Carlos Villanueva, J.A. Happ, and the rest of their starting pitchers, suddenly their rotation might be right up there for the best in the AL East. The Blue Jays are depending on a lot of things to happen tight. Josh Johnson and Morrow both staying healthy and pitching like aces is far from a given, knuckleballers like Dickey are unpredictable even if Dickey delivered arguably the best season ever by a knuckleballer in 2012 and throws a harder knuckleballer than anyone has ever seen, and the Blue Jays’ 5th starter options still look entirely unimpressive and it may be foolish to expect more than that from them.
Even if the Blue Jays’ starting pitching comes together, they need significant improvement from their offense as well. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are excellent, but after them not a single Blue Jays hitter minimum 150 plate appearances managed an OPS+ of 100 (which is exactly average when adjusted to ballpark). However, the Blue Jays acquired Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio in the blockbuster with the Blue Jays and also signed Melky Cabrera, and they’re hoping that Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus can show improvement at the plate next season. The Jays need Reyes to stay healthy, Cabrera to prove himself as a great player without performance-enhancing drugs, and several other hitters to make strides. The bottom line with the Blue Jays is that they’re going to need a lot of things to go right with both their pitching and hitting in order to contend next season. But it’s undeniable that they have made major strides to improve their ballclub and at least on paper will look to contend for the AL East title next season.
At this point, the Rays look to have lost something for next season while the Blue Jays have vastly improved. That doesn’t mean that the Blue Jays are a better team than the Rays- after all, the Rays won 90 games in 2012 while the Blue Jays won just 73 and will both teams’ offseason moves cover the 17-win difference? Probably not, but anything is possible. Right now as the Hot Stove cools down fans of all 30 MLB teams are dreaming of their teams making the 2013 Postseason. For fans of most of those teams, those dreams are probably unfounded. But Blue Jays fans have reason to be excited as their team has made significant strides for next season and upped the ante in an AL East division race that may be as tight as ever. They need plenty to go right for their team and the Rays, Yankees, and Orioles will all have a say in determining who wins the AL East next season, but their offseason acquisitions will make things interesting.
People are already comparing the R.A. Dickey trade to the Rays’ trade of James Shields to the Royals. The fact that the Rays were the team trading a star in their deal while the Jays were on the receiving end of theirs makes it as clear as ever that the two teams are operating in entirely different ways right now. The Rays are still making moves geared towards them contending in 2o13, acquiring Yunel Escobar and James Loney with an acquisition of a designated hitter and possibly a catcher still coming, but their focus remains on the future and they were unafraid to pull the trigger on a trade that may set them back somewhat right now but will likely improve them in the long-term. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have had a great minor league system for years and are now trading those prospects to acquire major league players that give them the ability to go for it all right now. Is it the right move? Will the Blue Jays’ recent actions offset 19 years of mediocrity since they won the World Series in 1992 and 1993?