North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘blue jays

Price, at what Price (or: Why Are You Hate-Reading the Papers?)

Optional soundtrack to this post: “Do you know what I’m telling you? Is there something you don’t understand?”

A couple of days ago, David Price signed one of the biggest contracts in Major League Baseball history. Like, it’s huge: $217 million over seven years. For comparison, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park cost $216 to build. We’re past talking about regular money here, we’re into the world of gobs of liquid capital.

So, was anyone surprised Toronto didn’t re-sign Price? That they didn’t offer him a contract? That, allegedly, ex-General Manager Alex Anthopoulos would’ve offered him a deal? Apparently, yeah, a lot of people were.

I’m not really here to argue the merits of ignoring or non-signing or whatever you’d like to call what Toronto did; personally, I’d call it smart roster management, but that’s just me. After all, Price is 33 years old and will now be on the books until he’s 40. Toronto is a win-now team, sure, but seven years is a long ass time and who know where they’ll be in three or five, let alone seven, years anyway?

Besides, they’re still good. I guess not as good as they were last August, but remember: Toronto didn’t have Price or Stroman last season until the back-end of the year and they were still pretty damn good going into July. They have Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. They’ve finally added a lefty starter: JA Happ, who was a fun Jay back a couple of years ago. Let’s not start grinding our molars here.

No, what I’m interested in is the media and the doom and gloom attitude around the Greater Toronto Area around this signing. It’s in the media and it’s on Twitter. It’s probably on the radio, too, but I’ve recently transitioned into a person who listens exclusively to 680 News because there’s less bullshit on a 30 Minute News Wheel. And man, the takes just keep on comin’.

Let’s start with Cathal Kelly. He’s best known for purveying steaming hot takes as a way to establish his brand as the new lead voice for the Globe and Mail (see here, here and here) and really topped his usual fare with his Dec. 1 column! To wit:

If (the Blue Jays) were seriously committed to winning now, they would have. They’d have enjoyed those good early years in the deal, and eaten the rest.

Since the Jays are not committed to winning – not in the dictionary-definition sense of the word – they chose not to bother.

Ah yes, Toronto doesn’t care and they’re not committed to winning. He reminds his ideal reader – someone who can’t handle more than one sentence in a paragraph, I assume – never to mix up winning with turning a profit, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure the Jays turned a profit when they sold out every game in September and October, when their ratings were higher up here than in the United States. But Kelly has the inside scoop, sources telling him exactly why Rogers doesn’t want to spend money. Oh wait, no, he’s actually got a lot of subjective opinions. Almost the same thing.

You remember that feeling you had in September? That queasy, unfamiliar tingle? An all-over nervous tension that came on in waves in the evening?

In all likelihood, you won’t be feeling it again any time soon.

Mmm, yes. That tingly feeling. I get that every time I read a Kelly column, too. I think it’s called “anxiety.”

But wait, there’s more! A story broke today suggesting Anthopoulos would have offered Price a deal. This’ll feed right into the baser elements of the Toronto media market, which liked AA because he talked to them (even if he didn’t really say much) and because it gives them a new spin on things: an American guy kicked out a Canadian and decided to let the best player they had ever walk.

It’s all pretty “ugh” and “oh boy” with little revisionism mixed in. For all the cool moves AA made, he also made a lot of clunkers. Sure, he brought RA Dickey to Toronto and gave the rotation a solid 200-inning guy, but the pieces he sent to the Mets were a big part of a team who made the NLCS. Sure, he brought in Tulowitzki and Donaldson, but the deals that brought in the players whom he traded? That big deal with Florida, for example, doesn’t look so good now.

In sum, AA made some good moves, but he made some bad ones too and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he really raided the farm system, particularly this year. At the same time, he saw an opportunity to make a World Series run and he exploited what he had. Flags fly forever, as the stock line goes. But he’s gone and nothin’s going to bring him back.

Which is what makes this current media cycle almost unbearable. Both AA and Price are gone and instead of being happy for what they had, the media is getting people mad over what could’ve been, if things worked out perfectly. It misses the point and almost undermines what Kelly might call that October Feeling: instead of remembering how goddamn fun playoff baseball was, the media wants to do is get mad and read the latest hot take. It’s a cycle, feeding off itself and cycling ever downwards. It reminds me a lot of another media-made scandal from about a year ago, when the columnists riled everyone up because the Leafs wouldn’t raise their sticks after games.

I think what I’m trying to say is be happy for the good times and look forward to what could be, not what you can’t have. Rather than getting mad about losing Price, look forward to a full season of Stroman and Donaldson. Instead of hate-reading Kelly, Simmons or the other outrage-purveyors, go read Andrew Stoeten or Stacey May Fowles. Go follow Ruhee or Chill Kessel on Twitter. Ask yourself: why would I spend my days getting all mad about the Jays when they’re literally as good as they’ve been in over two decades.

The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The Jays in June

A little over a month ago, things looked pretty bad for the Jays. When I last wrote about them, they were 13-15, writers were calling for John Gibbons’ firing, and Bautista was getting thrown under the bus for some reason. Now? Things are a lot better and the chorus has slowed down a little bit.

Going into Monday’s game against the Mets, the Jays have won 11 games straight. They ripped into Boston, staging a late-game comeback on Friday, an extra-winning win on Saturday and a crushing 13-5 win on Sunday. It was pretty cool and couldn’t have come against a better opponent; by weekend’s end, there was drama between the Red Sox and their manager John Farrell.

So things have been good. The Jays are hitting, even as injuries limit the amount of at-bats Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion get. But the rest of the order is hitting. Take Josh Donaldson: he hit a dinger in the 11th on Saturday to put the Jays ahead for good. And this month he’s hitting .327/.357/.462. And Russell Martin is hitting .324/.395/.676, too!

But really, the guy I keep thinking about is Jose Reyes. Right after the win streak started, the big story was over some dumb comments from Jays broadcast Jerry Howarth made on the dumb Fan morning show hosted by a guy once fired for being a homophobic jerk on the air.

Essentially, Howarth said Reyes was declining by the game and it was really tragic and so forth. And while Reyes isn’t the player he once was, he’s still been a decent player for the Jays. At the time of Howarth’s remarks, Reyes was hitting .284/.299/.353. This month alone, he’s hitting .333/.393/.490, with his only two home runs this season.

It goes deeper than that, too. Just a couple of days after Howarth’s remarks, Reyes’ basically won a game for the Jays. Down 4-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Reyes knocked in Munenori Kawasaki, stole second and third, then scored on a Chris Colabello single. And he’s supposed to be depressing to watch? Hell, I find even reading the game log exciting.

Indeed, the Jays are finding new and exciting ways to win. They walked off the Marlins on June 9, won a slugfest against Boston and finally recorded a save on the 13th, their first since early May.

See, the thing about this team is that it’s pitching sometimes isn’t all there, but it can hit its way out games when that happens. Between Donaldson, Martin, Bautista and Encarnacion, Toronto has a wealth of slugging, not to mention complementary bats that Gibbons can platoon and use depending on the opposing pitcher.

Which is what I’m finding I love about this team. I enjoy good pitching as much as the next fan, but truthfully, it’s rad to see the Jays hit a bunch and knock in a ton of runs. As cool as it is to see Buehrle pitch a succinct, quick game, it’s a lot of fun to see Donaldson hit one into the former Windows Restaurant or Martin knock one into the seats. It’s even cool to see Kawasaki – someone who isn’t really all that good, really – hit a ground-rule double in the ninth of a close game.

And that’s maybe the thing to remember about this team: they’re at least one arm short of making a real run for the AL East (probably), but when they’re hitting, they can really hit. And frankly, it makes them a lot more fun to watch right now than the Yankees or Rays.

 

Written by M.

June 15, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Mapping The Jays Across Canada

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A few days ago, The Atlantic ran a story about MLB fandom across the US and included a map that broke down fandom by region in a pretty in-depth appearing way.

And frankly, I’ve been fascinated by it for a a couple of days now. There are all these little pockets here and there and big wide patches of what I might charitably call bandwagoning around the US. You know, the places where the Yankees dominate, even though they don’t play anywhere near there. I’m looking at you, Louisana. But there also weird little pockets here and there in Oklahoma, Idaho and Nebraska, too.

What I found most interesting was the Canadian content: the Jays are the favourite team across most of Canada, but not anywhere in the US. I’ve got a few reactions to this:

  1. The Jays are popular across Canada because just about every single one of their games is beamed nationally. It’s hard to escape them if you have Sportsnet, which I imagine most Canadian baseball fans have.
  2. But no US team is as popular, which strikes me as a little odd: don’t the Mariners have a following out in BC? The Red Sox out in the maritimes? And the Twins out by Winnipeg?
  3.  Meanwhile, the Jays are almost never on national TV in the US, which means they’d be awfully hard (or expensive) to people down there to root for exclusively. And they certainly haven’t been good enough for people to pile onto like they do the Giants.

So maybe this is all an exercise in reach: the Jays reach more Canadians, and fewer Americans, than any other MLB team, hence making them more popular. The continual push by Rogers’ PR wing surely helps, too.

But why the Boston crowd in Quebec? Rurally, la belle province seems to be solidly Jays, but once you get into the big cities there’s a sizable Sox contingent. Even Quebec City is a Sox town! It’s curious, but maybe it’s proximity: I imagine it’s easier to pick up Red Sox games on the radio there than it is Jays games. More vacationers, too.

There’s another thing to consider: this map takes it’s data from Facebook. I’m not completely sure how they got that information, though: was it who “liked” the team? Or people who put the team in their profile somewhere? Or just people who post about the team a lot? I’d love to see a breakdown, especially with who came in second place in each country.

Anyway, it’s all interesting stuff and maybe something I’ll dive back into later.

Written by M.

April 3, 2015 at 9:00 am

Looking back at the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

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For a while, it seemed like something could happen: the Toronto Blue Jays could win the AL East! And then, it all kind of fell apart. Well, c’est la vie.

 

I only made it to two games this year, both of them right around the end of June. One was a loss to the White Sox, the other a walk-off win against the Brewers. When I think back to these games, a few moments stand out: an amazing video of Colby Rasmus wearing a straw hat and pretending to fish; watching Edwin Encarnacion hitting a game-winning home run (first time I’ve been in the stands for one of those!); a huge mass of people lined up for the subway at Yorkdale in Jays gear. Oh, and the new, not very good Pizza Nova pizza.

 

It’s been an interesting year for the Jays. Through May they were outstanding: they went 21-9, were slugging their way through games, leading the AL East and separating themselves from the pack. It peaked on June 6, with a 3-1 win over St. Louis: the Jays were 39-24, had won six games in a row and were six games up in the AL east. And then it all kind of fell apart: the hits stopped coming, the injuries started mounting (Izturis went down in April, then Brett Lawrie in June and Encarnacion in early July) . Per Baseball-Reference, Toronto scored 60 fewer runs in June. Combined with Baltimore’s steadily improving pace, Toronto was solidly in second place when I saw my first game in person.

 

The AL East was a little weak this year, but the American League itself was pretty damn hot for most of the year. When Baltimore passed the Jays on July 4, Toronto also fell below the second wild card spot, behind both the LA Angels and Seattle. For most of the year, the AL West was well above everyone else, with the Oakland Athletics looking amazing and two good teams a few games behind.

 

As fun as that was for a casual fan – there was some great stuff happening on the left coast – it wasn’t great for Toronto: even through the end of July, there was a logjam for the second wild card. Most of the Central was in play, particularly Cleveland and Kansas City, plus Seattle and New York. Hell, Tampa was six games out with two months remaining. But by September, Toronto was more or less out of it, even with a nine-of-11 win streak.

 

They had the bad luck to be merely decent in a year when a glut of good teams competed for the second spot. And Toronto was basically just okay: they hit a lot, but they allowed a lot of runs, too. As of this writing, they average 4.4 runs per game, but allow about 4.3 per game. The usual things to blame started popping up on JaysTalk: injuries, underperforming stars, bad management.

 

My favourite is how the Jays didn’t make any big moves at either trade deadline. But to get something, Toronto would’ve had to give something up. It’s a risk/reward proposition; giving up, say, Jose Bautista for, say, David Price (a deal I just made up, I should add) might shore up the rotation, but it’s gutting the team’s offensive production. Does that reward outweigh the risks? It’s a tough call. With prospects it’s trickier: you’re dealing with unknowns.

 

The same proposition goes down through the way the roster’s built. Once players started getting hurt or slumping, the same idea applied to replacements. Rasmus, for example, was hitting awfully all summer: for example, he went .197/.288/.380 in July. By September, Anthony Gose replaced him at centrefield. But Gose isn’t much better at the plate, hitting .221/.310/.270 this season. But he’s better at defense. It’s a variation on the same question: does that defense outweigh the lack of offense? Especially when compared to someone who isn’t producing at an expected level?

 

The same question popped up elsewhere. Does Kawasaki’s merits outweigh his liabilities at the plate? What about Adam Lind: against right-handed pitchers, he’s been outstanding (.357/.415/.548), but against lefties, he’s awful: .061/.162/.223. And here he is, playing regularly at first and DH.

 

When I think back to the 2014 Jays, I keep thinking back to the same few questions: what was happening when it all worked for the team? And why was it so unsustainable?

 

There was a great post on Drunk Jays Fans earlier this season about Dustin McGowan’s pitching. To that point, he’d been pretty good as a mop-up reliever. But a look at his numbers and pitch location showed some dangerous trends: his pitching was regressing and his pitches were often in high-risk areas. Soon enough he exploded on the mound: three hits, three walks and three runs in a blown save against Tampa. He’s melted down a couple of other times, too.

 

That seems to be the Jays in a microcosm this season. In some areas, they were great. Like hitting: for a while, the Jays had scored the most runs in the majors and they’re still near the top. But their bullpen was a mess all season. McGowan struggled, but he was occasionally good, too. But Sergio Santos, brought in as the new closer, barely made it through July before getting the boot. Steve Delabar’s is slightly better ad 4.91. Even closer Casey Janssen, nearly automatic for the first half of the year, has struggled of late: since August, he’s allowed 11 runs and 19 hits in just over 14 innings.

 

At the same time, I’m not sure how much I blame management for this season. I’d hardly call myself a baseball expert, but of the few questionable things Gibbons has done this season, I generally seem to get their logic. Like Gose over Rasmus, like relying on Janssen even after his ERA exploded last month. Some I don’t – what was Frank Francisco doing in the lineup so damn long? – but they don’t seem like something to fire someone over, either.

 

Likewise, Alex Anthopoulos seems generally okay by me. He didn’t add anyone by the deadlines, but he didn’t give up anything key to the team either. This year, there’s some weird tension over spending; who knows what’s been happening upstairs now. And, again as has been noted at DJF, it’s worth noting the Jays have focused on drafting high school players since 2010. Wrote Andrew Stoeten:

“… consider this: a high school draftee from 2010 is now around just 22 years old. Aaron Sanchez is one of them, and he’s just now reaching the big leagues, and one of the youngest pitchers in the majors.  To repeat: a prototypical guy from A.A.’s first draft is now an exceptionally young big leaguer.”

 

It seems unreasonable to fire a guy over 22-year olds not playing like, well, they’re a few years older.

 

For everyone calling this Jays season a bummer, it’s worth pointing out it was a pretty fun year, too. The Jays won a 19-inning game, led their division into June and even had a stretch where Bautista basically carried the team: this month he’s hitting .288/.440/.545. And for all of his crappy starts, JA Happ has also pitched pretty well at times, too. That was maybe my favourite surprise of this season.

 

And for the first time in years, the Jays actually felt like they were in the thick of things. There was a palpable feeling in the air when I went to games, even outside the stadium. When I walked down to see them play the White Sox I was surprised by the amount of Jays jerseys, shirts and hats I saw everywhere: on the subway, hanging out at Yorkdale, even on the street. But then again, when I was in Toronto last weekend, on a day when the Jays played in New York, it was the same thing. There was people milling outside the Rogers Centre, people watching the game at bars up and down Yonge Street and a blue everywhere.

 

It reminded me a little bit of being outside the Air Canada Centre when the Raptors were in the playoffs. That was a big group of great vibes, people not just glad to see the Raptors in the playoffs, but just having a good time to boot. And after last year’s disastrous Jays season, it felt great to have a team winning more often than they lost.

 

Sure, there were rough patches. And the Jays might even finish this season under .500. But I’m also going to miss baseball being on almost every night once it’s gone, too.

Written by M.

September 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm