Jays early season return on investment underwhelming
Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 26 April 2013
The Blue Jays made a lot of headlines this offseason and at least on paper turned themselves into favorites in the American League East. So far the return on investments both in terms of talent sacrificed and money spent doesn’t look all that good. However it’s probably premature to start writing an epitaph for the the Jays' season.
The reality is that it is still April, not even the end of April, and the mountain the team has to climb to get back to the front of the pack isn’t exactly Everest. As I write this the Jays are 8-14, dead last in the division, 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. Like I said not exactly Everest.
Yet the return on the Jays' investment is still worth looking at. In the offseason GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays took on a ton of salary by acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonafacio from the Marlins (We'll get to Dickey and Cabrera further down the page). Of this bunch the acquisition of Reyes was the key one, with the steady Mark Buehrle being of second importance, Josh Johnson coming in as somewhat of a gamble and Emilio Bonafacio being pretty much a low-ceiling offensive player who could serve as a substitute defensively as needed.
And of the four, so far the biggest issue has been Reyes, who the Jays brought in to be the leadoff hitter the team has lacked for years. He could be the one who costs the Jays the most in terms of what they’ll lose.
In his first 10 games, Reyes was pretty much everything the Blue Jays had hoped he’d be. He was hitting .395 with a home run, five steals and a .465 OBP. He was doing everything but getting driven in -- and that wasn’t within his control. Then came the injury when he badly sprained the ankle on an awkward slide into second.
He’ll miss at least another 10 weeks, maybe even more, and the question of just what he’ll be able to provide after that injury is one that should concern both fans and the front office. Any time a guy whose big value is in his legs gets foot, ankle or knee injuries, the chance of losing some of that ability becomes much more pronounced, especially for a player like Reyes who is on the wrong side of 30.
While he is expected back before the All-Star break the likelihood of his being “off” for the rest of this year remains high. He’ll probably protect that ankle a bit and I’d expect it to be at least a little ginger going forward in 2013. It’s next year, the year after that and the following year that will be of bigger concern if the ankle is never the same. If that’s the case the Jays will be paying a lot of money for a man whose primary trait will be hitting for average and might no longer be as well suited to a leadoff role.
Of the pitchers acquired in the trade, Buerlhe is the kind of guy that every team needs. He’s not flashy, not an ace, but a reliable inning eater who keeps you in ballgames while doing the same thing consistently year after year. He’s done nothing so far to disabuse us of that notion. Unless the wheels fall off he’ll win his 12-14 games and post decent but unremarkable numbers while giving the Jays offense the chance to do its thing.
Johnson is another matter. Once the ace of the Marlins Johnson has spent the last few seasons dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness. His days of throwing at 94-96 mph seem to be behind him, but he’s managed to get his fastball from the high eighties back into the low 90s (he was topping out at about 91), which is adequate though not great for a pitcher. That, coupled with control and a good catcher calling the games, should at least give Johnson a shot at being an effective pitcher. His better than 2:1 K:BB ratio is a looking like a step in the right direction, but the 15 earned runs he’s yielded in 19 2/3 innings is a caution in the other direction.
The final player in that deal, Bonafacio, has gone from being an everyday player to being a supersub. He’s doing a bit everything -- except hitting. He’s batting just .185 and has struck out in one-third of his at bats.
Unfortunately that’s really who he is, and who he’s been every season except for his career of 2011 (.296 striking out just 20 odd percent of the time), when he looked like he could be a top of the order guy. His speed isn’t that good, his baserunning isn’t that good and his hitting will never be. So long as the fans and front office realize he’s all about the glove there really shouldn’t be much disappointment.
Then there was the trade with the Mets, where the Jays acquired R.A. Dickey who they hope will be the team ace. So far he hasn’t done that. He’s got an ERA of 4.66 and suffered what appears to be a minor injury. While some are already writing this deal off as a bad one, there is plenty of reason to believe that Dickey won’t be labeled as just another “erratic” knuckleballer who failed to live up to the hype. Knuckleballers depend a lot on the weather and warm and humid both tend to help a bit in making the knuckleball move. Given a little time, things may well take a leap forward. Additional reason to be optimistic is that his ERA right now is well in line with last year’s April for the Mets. That being the case the best is likely still to come.
The last of the Jays' major moves was the free agent signing of Melky Cabrera off his 2012 suspension for PED use. This was a gamble, the Jays weren’t sure just what the Melkman could bring to the table. But if he could be 75 percent of the PED Cabrera, with his .300-plus batting average, double-digit power and solid on-base percentage, he’d be a steal at the price they signed him for.
Unfortunately the early returns on this one don’t look that good. While Cabrera is leading the regulars in batting average at .266, he’s not exactly blowing the doors off. There is no evidence of the power and the OBP looks more like the pre PED version of Cabrera than the one the Giants had last season.
It’s way too early to give up on him but the truth is we still don’t know what the Jays are going to get from Cabrera. The team on the whole isn’t hitting a lick, but it's possible that Cabrera will bounce back. It would sure be nice if he has shown us some sign that he is better now than he was during his Yankees and Braves years.
On the whole the Jays return on offseason investments here is a mixed bag but trending far more towards the negative. If it turns around in the next two or three months management will look pretty smart and the Jays will find themselves well into the eastern mix. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised to seem some changes before the year ends.