By: Dan Grant
Beginning in 2013, embattled Toronto Blue Jays fan Dan Grant fought his desire to be excited for the season vs. his long standing pessimism towards the chances of Toronto sports teams, ingrained in the very fibre of his being by over two decades of futility. Overwhelmed by the conflict, his mind split into two entities – Regular Dan and Pessimistic Dan. A blood battle has been waged for two plus seasons, as a seemingly talented Blue Jays side has struggled to overcome a combination of injuries and bad luck. With 2015 looking like the most polarizing Blue Jays season yet, the war rages on…
Regular Dan: So are you ready to get back at this, turd?
Pessimistic Dan: Name calling so soon? That’s usually my department! Besides, you’re the one who named this article after a POD song, so who’s the turd really?
RD: We did that together! And I thought I’d try to preempt you. I think my main problem against you so far is that I’ve been so predictable.
PD: Really? I’d argue the opposite.
RD: What? How so?
PD: Well I mean, the Jays are so inherently flawed that my job is really quite easy. I point out the obvious glaring holes in a team with the longest current playoff drought in North American professional sports (22 years and counting!) and you scramble to patch the holes, like a drunken captain trying to patch the bottom of his ship. You’ve only got two index fingers for plugging, pal! This boat has at least four major gashes; the bottom of the sea awaits.
RD: That was weirdly nautical.
PD: I did some sailing in the off-season.
RD: I know for a fact that that is a lie.
PD: OK fine, but nothing else I said is! This team is broken! The off-season moves are window dressing! Nothing has really been addressed!
RD: Really? I see a much more talented lineup overall, coupled with a pitching staff made up of young electric talent and capable veterans. I see massive upgrades at key positions. I see hope!
PD: Of course you do. I see six rookies! SIX!
RD: A rookie is just a veteran that hasn’t played yet.
PD: Oh, well I guess when you put it… wait, what? Of course that’s true. That’s nonsense!
RD: So is you being so down on a team that hasn’t even played a game yet! Look, are there questions? Of course there are. Every team has questions. But by hook or by crook, this team has answered most of the big ones that faced them at the start of spring training. The questions of role have been answered, at least for now.
PD: So you’re saying that you’re comfortable with the situation at first base? With Devon Travis as the everyday second baseman? WITH THE BULLPEN?
RD: Comfortable is the wrong word. I’d go with cautiously optimistic. There are things to like about each of those situations but I’d say the thing I enjoy most is the versatility we’ve got in each of those places.
PD: Versatile, to me, is just another word for ‘crappy’. You know what’s not versatile? A real answer. It’s just an answer! It doesn’t need to be anything else! You only need versatility if there’s a real chance for failure!
RD: Fine, but what team doesn’t have questions surrounding it? The Nationals were everyone’s early pick to win the World Series and now they’re buried in injuries. The Cardinals and A’s are constantly re-inventing themselves but they seemingly always find a way to the playoffs. The best teams find a way to win, and it seems to be that Toronto is trying to copy those models more than any other.
And in the American League East? Boston’s starting rotation is full of holes, Baltimore lost two of their best offensive players, the Rays (as usual) traded two of their longest tenured guys and the Yankees are old as hell. I think our best five position players easily top any of theirs.
PD: Well sure, our top guys are great! I’m not debating the Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson combination. But five guys don’t make a baseball team.
RD: They sure don’t, but they’re a better start than anyone else has. And I like how our secondary run producers have evolved throughout the spring. Dalton Pompey has been solid at the plate and spectacular in the field, which is exactly what we need from him. Love his long term potential. Kevin Pillar should be a decent fill-in until Michael Saunders is ready for left, which should be any time now. Justin Smoak has heated up to finish the spring and with lefty-masher Danny Valencia, should form a half-decent platoon at first base. Devon Travis won that job at second base – the team had options in Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki and even Valencia. If they didn’t think he was their best option, he wouldn’t be there. He might be a rookie but he’s nearly 25 years old. The point is, with our top five, we don’t need those guys to be stars. We need them to be competent, especially on defense. And I think that’s well within the reach for that group.
PD: Fine. This team will score runs, I think that much is apparent. Even with bigger holes in the lineup last year, they managed to finish fourth in the American League in both hits and runs scored, and second in team OPS, suggesting that they may have been capable of even greater things. I can also admit that with the additions of Martin, Donaldson, Saunders and Pompey, that the defense as a whole should be improved, Jose Reyes notwithstanding. But the pitching… I mean, four rookies, two starters 35 or older, journeymen everywhere… by the ghost of Dave Stieb, the pitching has a chance to be horrendous! How can you sit there and look me in the eye and tell me you’re not worried? Don’t you have any sense? Don’t you have a brain? Are you so completely senile that you don’t know what you’re talking about anymore?
RD: I wish I could just walk away, like the old man in the clip. Sadly, we occupy the same brain.
Look, we have to stop bandying about all the stupid buzzwords. Throw away ‘rookie’, throw away ‘journeyman’ and just look at the ability and construction of the pitching staff. I see three extremely talented starters in Hutchison, Sanchez and Norris. Two of these guys, Sanchez and Norris, throw 95+ with a nasty secondary pitch. They’ve also succeeded at every single leve l- the only thing that held Sanchez back last year was control, something that he’s had a handle on since implementing his sinker more often. Hutchison, the most experienced of the three, developed a nasty out pitch during the second half of last year, and besides a crap July, actually had a fantastic season. Norris, besides being a lefty that throws 96, is well documented. As for Dickey and Buehrle; are they flashy? No. But they’re as reliable as it gets, and in this Tommy John infested era of pitching, that’s saying something. You’re getting 400 innings and a combined 4.00ish ERA out of them, guaranteed.
PD: But there’s no depth! Are you really telling me that if one of these guys goes down – it doesn’t matter which one, ANY of them – that you’re comfortable with Liam Hendriks, Marco Estrada or Todd Redmond taking an extended turn in the rotation? You’re going to count on Johan Santana to find his form come May? Or Jeff Francis to get called up for a spot start? That sounds like a tire fire, as usual with this team! Even signing Felix Doubront to a minor league deal TODAY, just seems like a blind man throwing darts at a donkey!
RD: Why would a blind man…nevermind. Sure it does! If we were counting on all of those things. But we’re not. Maybe if one guy goes down, one of those things might need to work. Or maybe we’ll make a trade! Who knows? We don’t need to cross that bridge until we come to it.
PD: I think that’s incredibly naive, but fine. What about the bullpen? I don’t mind Cecil in the closer role, he actually whiffs a surprising amount of people, but the rest of it? Yuck.
RD: Yuck? You’re ‘yucking’ at Miguel Castro and his dirty cheese? I can’t even take you seriously with this feeble shit, man.
PD: Well of course, I love having a guy that can crack the century mark on the radar gun…
RD: Yeah, so where’s your problem? Cecil? Solid. Castro? Electric and fun. Aaron Loup? Solid. Todd Redmond? Check out his stats from last year – he was surprisingly strong!
PD: Right, and that’s where it falls off from me. I’ll cede those four to you, though I think Redmond is unlikely to repeat his 2014 numbers- ‘surprisingly strong’ doesn’t instill confidence in me. They’re carrying an eight man bullpen, until Saunders and/or Izturis come off the DL. Beyond those guys, we’ve got Colt Hynes (who?), Roberto Osuna, Liam Hendriks and Marco Estrada. I mean, do I have to wave Pepe Le Pew in front of your face to make you smell the stink?
RD: I just don’t see it that way man. Like the Jays other young pitchers, Hynes has succeeded at every level–
PD: Right, so much so that he’s a 29 year old, who would be a rookie if it wasn’t because of a weird technicality. So that’s seven rookies! SEVEN! Don’t tell me that you’re comparing Hynes to studs like Sanchez and Norris?
RD: So they’re studs now?
PD: Wait! No! I mean… SHUT UP! I meant ‘comparative’ studs! Yeah, that’s the ticket!
RD: (rolls eyes) I get it, but with Cecil closing, they needed another lefty, and honestly, he’s looked great! Hasn’t allowed a run all spring and just look at his strikeout numbers from his time in San Diego. He just needs a shot – also, it has to be said, great name. Osuna, I’ll say that I was surprised he made it given the low innings workload he’s had the past few years, but the kid throws strikes and he throws them hard. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him down in Double or Triple A getting back to starting before the season is out but it’s a nice reward for a guy who did everything they asked him to this spring. Estrada and Hendriks are just innings eaters – mop up men and insurance policies in case there’s an injury to the rotation. I don’t expect you’ll see them in any high leverage situations. And you just know that Anthopoulos will be scouring the waiver wire, looking ways to upgrade this group.
PD: I just don’t see it. The ‘pen, more than anything, really worries me. It’s been a real problem since July of 2013 and really, nothing has been done to fix it except cutting Casey Janssen loose and promoting a couple guys with great talent but zero experience. You’re not going to sway me on this one.
RD: Fine my man. You drown in your doubts. I’m going to enjoy watching you eat your words when Castro and Osuna are giving guys whiplash from the bullets they fire. Nothing you say can bring me down! Season starts Monday! BLUE JAYS! BASEBALL!
PD: And I’ll enjoy being here to tell you ‘I told you so’. As usual.
And so the cosmic dance continues. Join us here at the Same Page at the beginning of each month, as RD and PD hash out the ups and downs of this tumultuous Blue Jays season. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.