Unexpected, strategic gamble win-now Blue Jays are making

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 09 April 2015 | 18.18

At a moment of organizational crisis, the Blue Jays are trying something different in the majors in 2015 — putting their best players on the roster.

They ignored age, service time, future costs and protocol. "We told our players it was an open competition and to go out and win a job," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.

"It would have been an injustice not to take them."

The "them" are six rookies. It is not unprecedented. But it is pretty close to that for a team that needs to win as badly as these Blue Jays.

No franchise has gone longer without making the playoffs since Toronto, which won consecutive World Series in 1992-93 and has not been back to the postseason. With the Royals winning the AL title last year after being playoff-less since 1985, the Blue Jays have by far the longest streak without reaching the playoffs. Seattle (2001) is the next longest.

"In baseball the belief is you can't win with so many young players and that generally has proven out over time," Gibbons said Wednesday before his Blue Jays blew a lead and fell to the Yankees, 4-3. "And we are doing this at a time in which we have expectations. Maybe we will defy the odds."

What makes this youth movement fascinating is that it isn't. Not totally.

Of the Blue Jays' 25 players, nine are 24 or younger even without expected ace Marcus Stroman, the 23-year-old who was lost for the season in spring training when he tore up his knee in a fielding drill. Toronto also has 11 players 30 or older. What they lack are guys in what are generally considered their prime years (25-29).

Nowhere is this underscored more than Toronto's rotation. The Blue Jays have a second-year man, Drew Hutchison (24), who won on Opening Day against the Yankees, plus rookies Daniel Norris (21) and Aaron Sanchez (22) to go along with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who at 40 is the second-oldest starter in the majors behind Bartolo Colon, and Mark Buehrle, the active leader in innings pitched (3,084 ²/₃ innings).

Toronto also has two 20-year-olds — Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna — who never had pitched above Single-A on its roster. But as Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, "When we evaluate, we don't put their ages on the board. We took them because they are good."

The other two rookies play up the middle — second baseman Devon Travis, who homered on Opening Day, and defensive whiz center fielder Dalton Pompey.

Of the six rookies, the only one pretty much guaranteed a job when the spring began was Sanchez, but that was in the bullpen, where he excelled late last season. But Stroman's injury forced a reconfiguration.

But what mainly forced the decision was "they stood out," Gibbons said. As Anthopoulos added, "We took the best players, period."

A rival AL East executive said admiringly, "Alex has big [courage] to do what he is doing."

But does it also speak to survival? Anthopoulos and Gibbons are viewed as on the hot seat as this season begins. And, suspiciously, they said the young pitchers would no longer be on the strict innings caps this year.

This could look like a GM taking the best players to try to win now no matter what or to show off the best talent in the system as a way for other employers to notice what he has constructed.

"I get the narrative and all I can say is it is wrong," Anthopoulos insisted.

He said the change in innings-cap philosophy is because what has been used — going slow with innings build up — is not working as the volume of Tommy John surgeries persists.

He also said they were breaking in young players late last season when they did not have to. Norris, for example, did not have to be protected on the 40-man roster last offseason, yet was promoted in September.

In addition, the Jays did not go all quick fix. For example, Toronto could have traded Norris to Arizona for a more-ready-now starter in Wade Miley, who instead was dealt to Boston.

Still, Toronto remains a win-now club. Which is why — as he did with Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to get Dickey — Anthopoulos sacrificed young talent to get star third baseman Josh Donaldson and gave a Blue Jays free-agent record ($82 million) to land Russell Martin. The hope is the two-way skills and leadership of Donaldson and Martin plus the excellence of players such as Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes combine with the youthful talent to finally bring a winner again to Toronto.


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