Is the power shifting in the American League East? If the amount of news generated by the Blue Jays in November is any indication, perhaps it is. While the Red Sox quietly try to figure out and dig out of last year's fiasco and the Yankees, the richest team in the world, suddenly shop at K-Mart, the Blue Jays have made headline after headline culminating with naming John Gibbons today as their new manager. Time will tell if all the moves turn that franchise around. But you cannot help admire the effort.
All a team's fan base can hope for is that the home team does all it can to put a winning team on the field the following season. The Blue Jays, who have long fallen since Joe Carter hit that walk-off homer off of Mitch Williams have spent the last two off seasons piling up minor league talent and used that talent this off season to dramatically remake the major league team.
The Blue Jays via the trade with the Marlins and with a free agent signing have picked up Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck and Melky Cabrera. In the process, from the major league team, they subtracted Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez and Jeff Mathis (along with three prospects).
The best way to summarize their work is to compare the new players to what the Blue Jays fielded at those positions last season:
Jose Reyes versus Yunel Escobar: Reyes is a year younger (29,30) and has averaged 3.68 rWAR over the last seven seasons. Escobar has averaged 3.08 over the last six years. Reyes is noted for his enthusiasm and ability to spark his teammates and his average WAR would be higher if injuries had not shortened two of his seasons. Escobar has now been given up on by his last two organizations amid questions concerning his makeup. Big win here for the Blue Jays ephemerally and a +0.60 win per season. The Blue Jays do lose some on the defensive side of the equation.
Melky Cabrera versus Rajai Davis: Cabrera's addition means that Davis and Anthony Gose fall back on the depth chart. Again, the Blue Jays will give up some defense with the move. But drugs or no drugs, Cabrera is a clear upgrade here. Even if you want to discount his last two seasons with over four wins above replacement in each (and this writer says that is poppycock), Cabrera has averaged 1.9 rWAR for his seven full major league seasons. Rajai Davis was worth 0.5 rWAR as the primary left fielder for the Blue Jays with no on-base skills whatsoever. Anthony Gose finished out the season out there and fared worse. This is at the least, a one win improvement for the Blue Jays and at best, a three win improvement.
Mark Buehrle versus Henderson Alvarez: This is sort of an unfair comparison as Alvarez is only 22 years old. And the two pitchers' approach to the game is similar. Ground balls. Contact. Alvarez could grind out the kind of career that Buehrle has. But it is hard to argue with Buehrle's track record. He has made over 30 starts for twelve straight seasons. His average season is a 4.05 rWAR season. Until Alvarez can pitch with that kind of success and longevity, this is a clear win for the Blue Jays to the tune of three wins gained.
John Buck versus Jeff Mathis: It seems plausible that the Blue Jays will not keep Buck but trade him for another piece. Either way, he is probably a back up and not the starter. Buck did have his best season as a member of the Blue Jays in 2010 but has fallen on hard times since. Mathis is younger but the two catchers have been around for nearly the same length of major league service. Buck has a career OPS+ of 85 while Mathis has a career OPS+ of 58. Oof. The defensive end is not that far apart as Buck has been below average at throwing out runners at 25% while Mathis has been below average at 26%. Buck has averaged 0.37 rWAR per season and Mathis 0.2. A slight gain here by the Blue Jays.
Josh Johnson versus Aaron Laffey(?): The Blue Jays never really did have a fourth or fifth starter. Aaron Laffey gamely tried to hold down the position due to injuries and such. And he did better than expected and garnered 0.5 rWAR for his effort. Josh Johnson's season in 2012 was a bit of a puzzle. He finally found a healthy season and made 31 starts after years of wondrous promise and lack of health. But looking at his peripherals, he wasn't that far off his successful seasons and a 3.83 ERA for the Blue Jays would be super cool for a team that never seems to have enough pitching. Even with the injuries and the tough season last season, Johnson has averaged 3.42 rWAR per season. Again, at the very least, this is a three win pickup and could be even higher if Johnson becomes dominant again.
John Gibbons versus John Farrell: Perhaps this a judgement statement and that's just how it goes sometimes. But from this viewpoint, Farrell was a dead fish in Toronto. His bench body language was awful. His personality a dud. And the team did not seem to respond to him at all. Gibbons was hooted out of Toronto his first time as their manager. But the guy does seem to ooze more confidence and has a much better personality. And geez, how much influence does a manager have anyway?
By count, so far, these deals have at a minimum, added ten wins with their deals so far. A healthy Jose Bautista would add another three wins and now we're starting to cook here in Toronto. Of course, anything can happen and teams will surprise us in both the negative and the positive. Time will tell. But check out the Blue Jays' potential lineup:
- Jose Reyes - SS
- Melky Cabrera - LF
- Jose Bautista - RF
- Edwin Encarnacion - DH
- Brett Lawrie - 3B
- Kelly Johnson - 2B
- Colby Rasmus - CF
- Adam Lind - 1B
- Buck / Arencibia - C
That's pretty darned impressive. Now lets look at their rotation:
Pretty strong one through four there. The team still needs to consider its bullpen, but overall, the Toronto Blue Jays have become a talented and potentially potent team. The fans up in Toronto must be thrilled and excited and who could blame them.