Once again, it’s been a busy offseason in the AL East. Well, Most of the AL East, that is.
The Boston Red Sox signed top free agent pitcher David Price to a stunning mega deal worth $217 million over seven years, and traded four good prospects for closer Craig Kimbrel. The New York Yankees filled holes, added two promising young bats, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks, via trade. The Baltimore Orioles haven’t done much but have been linked to Chris Davis and Yoenis Cespedes. The Tampa Bay Rays have been active, shopping pitchers, and acquired a Ben Zobrist replacement, Brad Miller, in a trade with the Seattle Mariners.
After getting so close to the World Serie and watching Price be ripped away from them without even making an offer, the Toronto Blue Jays have had an unspectacular winter.
Following a breakthrough season where the Blue Jays were the talk of a hockey country, the team has reverted back to its seemingly penny-pinching ways, which is not surprising given the Blue Jays spent more than $138 million in 2015. Many expected them to open their wallets following the success, but Shapiro and company haven’t obliged. This has pissed off fans as with each transaction, no matter how minor it is, there’s disgust.
@BlueJays This offseason has been a total joke so far. You guys had such a huge chance to captivate this country and you've totally blown it
— Mitch Rawluk (@MitchEDM) December 4, 2015
There have been no sexy moves and no surprise Josh Donaldson-like deal. Instead, new president and CEO Mark Shapiro has made necessary acquisitions. He filled out the rotation by re-signing Marco Estrada, bringing back J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez. Shapiro also added a utility infielder, signing former Gold Glove winner Darwin Barney to a major league contract. He’s brought in some minor league depth including Junior Lake, Wade LeBlanc, Brad Penny, and Roberto Hernandez. All safe, non-splashy moves.
Shapiro isn’t trying to make friends this offseason. The former Indians GM told John Lott of the National Post that upgrading the dreaded Rogers Centre turf to natural grass, long seen by fans as something that needed to change and was on the verge of happening, wasn’t a priority, instead wanting to allocate resources towards other stadium improvements (they will have a dirt infield in 2016, however). Shapiro approached the offseason in the same way, making logical choices instead of bombastic ones which could cripple other needs – but still for fans of the team it seems like after a breakthrough year, the team is firmly stuck in the mud.
Toronto enters 2016 with the same powerful lineup which ripped through the AL East last year. That’s not the problem. Losing Price and replacing him with Happ – a fine pitcher who should contribute, but not anywhere at Price’s level – is, although it was probably unavoidable.
As the Blue Jays’ roster currently sits, the rotation is filled with three back-end starters (Dickey, Happ and Chavez), a wild card who may not repeat his success (Estrada), and an ace who only made a handful of starts last season (Stroman). There’s been chatter of throwing Roberto Osuna or Aaron Sanchez in the rotation, but that’s not going to solve the bonafide ace problem – at least not right away. And if you do take one of them away, the bullpen is a bigger mess than it currently is. Osuna, Sanchez and lefty Brett Cecil are the only sure things out of the bullpen, and removing one of them would be tough.
The MLB offseason is far from over, so to judge Shapiro’s work right now should be taken with a Jose Bautista bat-flip sized grain of salt. Even still, he’s made small yet necessary moves. Are they going to push the team over the top? No. Is it going to keep them afloat? Absolutely.
The Blue Jays haven’t fallen off a cliff and should remain as one of the top teams in the league, but standing still, sitting back, and watching teams around them get better does knock them down a peg. Shapiro told Sportsnet that Toronto is “capable of winning the World Series next year,” and he’s not wrong, but the club is sitting in the passenger seat this offseason when they should be driving. This is a method that makes sense, but may be hard to understand after the way 2015 went.