Toronto Blue Jays: Built To Win Yesterday

In one of the more bold offseasons by a small market franchise in recent memory, the Toronto Blue Jays attempted to catapult themselves to success in 2013. With the Red Sox coming off of a horrid 2012, and with the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays only on the edge of contention from a projections standpoint, it looked like the AL East was ripe for the taking. In one fell swoop, they looked to be the favorites. They picked up Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle to round out a roster that, according to preliminary ZiPS projections, would have ten 2.5+ fWAR seasons in 2013.

Well, we all know what actually happened; the Jays put up a dismal and disappointing season of 74 wins and 88 losses. Here is (what should have been) the Blue Jays starting lineup and rotation, their ZiPS Projections for 2013, their actual performance, and the difference between the two:

mpro chart

There are obviously a few bright spots here, like Encarnacion, Lind, and especially Rasmus. But as you can see, there are so many players who underperformed, many due to injury like Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera. In a desperate attempt to “win now,” the Blue Jays didn’t fully do their due-diligence on players they were obtaining. Melky Cabrera just came off a 50-game suspension, and it’s unclear whether his previous season with the Giants was a show of true talent or PED’s. Jose Reyes has had flashes of utter brilliance, and may in the future, but it is unclear whether that level of play will really continue for five more years. R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award in 2012, but is at the tail-end of his career. And Mark Buehrle, too, is in his twilight years.

The worst sin of all, though, is not that they acquired these players. It’s that they did so at the expense of future value. The acquisition of R.A. Dickey was certain to add immediate value to their team in 2013, and it did, but at what cost? They traded away both Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, the two top prospects in their organization, the latter being the top pitching prospect in baseball. Had they retained the two, they could have maintained the possibility of having both a career starting pitcher, something you couldn’t even get in Dickey, and a catcher to fill the black hole that was Arencibia and Thole. And what will they get in total–maybe 4-6 fWAR over two years? I wouldn’t say that that is worth what they gave away.

But this team obviously still has some talent–can they compete in the near future? The problem with the Blue Jays is that they have quite a few contracts on the books, and they are not good enough to compete right now, but not bad enough to wipe the slate clean. It is well known that the Blue Jays organization was an early adopter of sabermetrics and they do have an analytics department and excellent scouting and development, so I don’t think that they are as bad off as the Phillies. But they certainly aren’t ready to win in 2014. There’s certainly hope, though. They are still the organization that drafted Syndergaard, Roy Halladay, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Hill, Alex Rios, and Vernon Wells. Up until the 2013 season they had built the shell of a “core” that was relatively close to contention, and just a few pieces away from success. The Blue Jays knew this but pulled the trigger a little too hastily, as they traded away the stars of tomorrow to acquire those of yesterday. And because of this mistake they may have to pay in the form of another rebuild. That will hurt, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t turn it around in a flash.

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