The Bullpen: Blue Jays’ cost of building instant contender is a weaker minor league system
Unfortunately, the cost of doing business, of building an instant contender as Alex Anthopoulos has seemingly done over the past off-season, is inevitably the weakening of a franchise’s farm system.
As such, following trades over the past eight months, that have sent away nine of last year’s Top 30 prospects, according to the authoritative Baseball America, the Blue Jays have dropped from being ranked as one of the six most highly regarded farm systems to somewhere in the 20s. Hindered by restrictive rules on spending internationally and accumulating draft picks, it won’t be as easy to rebuild.
Gone from the 2012 Jays Top 30 are catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard to the Mets for R.A. Dickey; outfielder Jake Marisnick, pitcher Justin Nicolino and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to the Marlins for all of their stars and pitchers Asher Wojciechowski, Kevin Comer and Jose Musgrove, plus catcher Carlos Perez to the Astros for J.A. Happ. That’s a steep price.
In fact, as per this year’s just-published Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2013, only 12 names that were on last year’s Blue Jays list appear again in 2013. That’s after removing d’Arnaud and Syndergaard, who were ranked 1-2, because the publication date arrived before the Dickey trade. That is a huge turnover. Also gone from this year’s Jays’ rankings is outfielder Wuilmer Becerra (No. 25), also in the deal with the Mets. But the Jays’ cupboard is far from bare, just different and younger.
According to the age numbers in Baseball America, 25 of the Jays’ Top 30 prospects were born in 1990 or later. That number of youngsters ties the Red Sox and Rays for the most on the list at 23-years-of-age or younger. The Diamondbacks and Royals each have 24, while the Rangers and Mets have 23. Interestingly, the five AL East franchises rank among the Top 12 in the majors in that regard.
Starting on Friday afternoon, at the Mattick Training Center, the Jays will stage the club’s third annual elite mini-camp, inviting 30 of the organization’s most highly regarded prospects to three days of intense instruction prior to the official opening of minor-league camp on March 3. It’s impressive to go over and be able to watch the future of the Jays on display. This year will be no different.
A total of 17 of this year’s BA Top 30 have been invited, including outfielders D.J. Davis, Dwight Smith, Jr. and Jesus Gonzalez. Anthony Alford, who was playing football at Southern Miss, was booted off the team and has enrolled at Ole Miss, is not invited.
Among the pitchers who are Top 30 Jays’ prospects will be Aaron Sanchez (No. 3), Roberto Osuna (No. 4), Daniel Norris (No. 8), Matt Smoral (No. 9), Tyler Gonzalez (No. 12), Alberto Tirado (No. 15) and Chase DeJong (No. 22). The former first-round draft pick Deck McGwire, now fallen to No. 20 overall in the Jays’ system will also be in attendance following a couple of seasons at major-league camp.
There are four players among the Jays’ elite 30 that are participating in major-league camp — catcher A.J. Jimenez, plus pitchers John Stilson, Chad Jenkins and Sean Nolin.
And don’t forget No. 5 prospect, right-hander Marcus Stroman, a hard-throwing reliever from Duke University selected high in the 2012 June draft. Stroman, who was projected by BA as possibly the first to reach the majors out of last summer’s draft, is currently serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs at the end of last season and is ineligible to participate.
If you’re in the area, the weekend of Feb. 22-24, drop by for a glimpse of the Jays future.
The Blue Jays’ likeable 32-year-old outfielder, the effervescent Rajai Davis is one of just six current major-leaguers born in the state of Connecticut. Former Jays’ fan favourite John McDonald is another. One thing that the two men have in common is a keen sense of family and a strong belief in God. As such, it must have been particularly distressing when the news was announced of the killings of 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 young children, in Newtown, Conn., back on Dec. 14, 2012. The memory, from just over two months ago, still shakes Davis to the core.
“That’s unfortunate for those families,” Davis said. “Especially being so close to home. The whole state was in mourning. It’s just something that you don’t want to see happen, but it happened and the best thing we can do is try to move forward from there.”
You can easily observe the connection Davis has with young fans, whether it’s visiting schools as part of the Jays Care efforts during the summer, or interacting with fans at any ballpark his team is visiting. But in terms of what can be done moving forward to protect the children, Davis is at a loss.
“I’m not so sure as a society we can protect from something like that,” Davis said. “It comes down to we have to look after our families, pay attention to problems and see how our families are doing. It’s more than just protection. I think it helps, if it’s harder to get supplies (for the weapons), but ultimately if somebody wants to obtain something, it’s hard to stop them.”
Davis, after he suffered a season-ending leg injury in August of 2011, was able to accept the unfortunate accident by explaining it was God’s plan, God’s will and that God works in mysterious ways. But in a case like Newtown, it’s hard for the most God-fearing of men to see anything that makes sense. How do you explain something that makes no sense, teaches no lessons.
“It’s tough to see it,” Davis admitted. “That’s the mysterious thing about God. You don’t understand him. Neither do I. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to learn how he thinks because the way He thinks is different than the way we think. The way we do things, how we would do things is not the way He does things. And that’s the mystery about God. It’s a mystery. You don’t understand it, but it’s going to take a lot of devotion.”
But being back at spring training and looking forward to the season is a comfort for all major-league players. This is their extended family, their safe haven for the next seven months. Davis is realistically looking at a role as a Jays’ fourth outfielder, or perhaps a platoon DH and pinch-runner.
“Yeah, I think the chips are going to fall where they may,” Davis said of his own situation. “I’m going to do my best to help us win and that’s my goal. That’s I believe our team’s goal. We’re here to win and the front office did a great job of bringing the talent here to win. Now we just have to go out and put the pieces together and put what we have on paper on the field.”
Life sometimes renders athletic achievement meaningless.
Baseball and the major-league players’ union simply need to do more for the majority of the players who have never cheated by juicing with performance-enhancing drugs. It’s almost the same brother-against-brother crisis the NHL Players’ Association faces when it defends players who have seriously injured an opponent, trying to minimize punishment to the perp while the victim is ignored.
The fact is that despite the lasting stain to the MLB game brought on by West Coast BALCO, East Coast Biogenesis and those coast-to-coast online pharmacies; despite 67 suspensions in the era of mandatory testing, despite Ryan Braun beating the rap, despite Melky, Manny, Raffy, Rocket, A-Rod and the Bash Brothers, among many others, thumbing their noses at the game, baseball has done a decent job, in cooperation with the players’ union, combining in an effort to rid the game of cheaters.
But they could do more. They could do far more. The dilemma for the MLB Players’ Association is that in defending the abusers of PEDs, especially and particularly those who have cheated since mandatory testing was included in collective bargaining, in ’04, in defending those defiant cheaters that continue to defy and obfuscate, the union is letting down the majority of its constituents, the ones who don’t abuse and are being cheated out of money as the victims of unethical and illegal actions by their own union brethren. Which group deserves to be defended more?
So what could the union do? How about sanctioning with hefty fines and perhaps suspending agents from recruiting new clients for a year, that have had more than one player who fails a drug test over a certain period of time, maybe two years? That would encourage agencies to participate in additional and important drug education to players, sponsored by the people with whom they deal the most, especially in the off-season, their agents. For agents to plead ignorance of PEDs is outrageous.
How about baseball guaranteeing that there would be no further suspensions or repercussion taken against players like Melky Cabrera who have already served their 50 games and, later, are mentioned as part of new revelations concerning old news, if said players cooperate. It sould be a union-sponsored investigation to find out all that they know after their names are mentioned. The results could be shared between the MLBPA and the commissioner so that mistakes are not repeated.
Cabrera and others who were included in the Miami New Times story from Coral Gables and perhaps also listed in the private files of Biogenesis owner Anthony Bosch should be allowed to step up and tell their stories without repercussion, or details being leaked. The knowledge gained would help create a more level playing field for the hard-working majority of card-carrying union members.
But perfectly crafted statements of regret released by their clubs in lieu of any and all probing questions from the media, is a disserrvice to the fans’ trust and not healthy for the game’s future.
IBAF TOP 10 RANKINGS HEADING TO WBC
The following are the world ranking heading to the WBC later this month.
2. United States
5. Chinese Taipei
The Japanese have won the first two WBC tournaments, but some of their star players like Yu Darvish, Dice-K and Ichiro will not be playing. The U.S. would have to be seen as the favourite this year, but in Group D, Canada is the second highest ranked team ahead of Italy (9) and Mexico (11). The rankings do not include major-league players and are from performance in IBAF tournaments only.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN – THE GHOSTS OF SPRING TRAINING PAST
I arrived in Florida on Sunday for my 36th consecutive major-league spring training. The first was in Daytona Beach with the Expos from 1978-80. They moved to West Palm Beach and shared a facility with the Braves starting in 1981. I stayed with them there for the next 14 years, through 1994. Then it was on to the Star during the great strike of 1994. It’s been 19 years for me in Dunedin.
That’s a lot of oranges, a lot of Sunshine State hooey and a lot of exhibition baseball with a lot of players who never made it to the big leagues. It’s also been a lot of fun. On to the next chapter.