Reasons for optimism on the Melky front

There’s some bad vibes coming out of Jays land these days, as players and media types seem to be setting us up for disappointment for everyone’s favourite Melk-man.

Comments from Jose Bautista in pieces by Shi Davidi http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/bautista-on-2015-the-talent-is-still-here/ and John Lott http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/sports/mlb/blog.html?b=sports.nationalpost.com/2014/09/29/toronto-blue-jays-jose-bautista-melky-cabrera-is-gone-but-dalton-pompey-has-just-arrived&pubdate=2014-09-29  suggest the slugger doesn’t believe Cabrera will be back next year. Meanwhile, Jeff Blair was beating that drum pretty heavily yesterday morning on the radio.

But fear not! For I remain optimistic. And I have reasons – which may or may not be coming from a ridiculously hopeless optimist – that the quotes from Bautista aren’t all bad.

  1. The GM’s excited. Surely, after last year’s fiasco where Alex Anthopoulos went into the offseason with a goal of acquiring two starting pitchers and a second baseman, and then going a big 0-3 on that front taught him a lesson. Either he forgets how that blew up in his face or he’s quite confident this offseason will be different, because he has once again ratcheted up the anticipation. AA told reporters recently that he’s really excited about this winter as the team has flexibility. So, bad memory or legitimate reason for optimism? I’ll take the latter.
  2. It’s a public pressure tactic. I wonder if Bautista made those comments as a way to put a little pressure on the front office and ownership to pony up this winter. He hasn’t been afraid to voice his displeasure when the team failed to make moves last offseason and during July’s trade deadline. His most recent comments seem to strike an interesting balance between excitement and assumption Melky’s gone.
  3. He’s just spitballing and helping his buddy. Players look out for players. Could Bautista just be drumming up interest for his friend and fellow union member Melky? Sure, this one seems a little out there, but is it totally unreasonable to think he’s trying to remind everyone how good Cabrera is? Maybe not the greatest reason of optimism for the Jays, but not a sure sign that he’s gone.
  4. Kung Fu Panda! Just because the Jays don’t get Melky resigned doesn’t mean they can’t improve the team. Sure, Cabrera going elsewhere makes the challenge that much tougher, but it doesn’t make it impossible. In recent days many have pointed out Cabrera’s WAR this year (3.1 by Baseball reference, 2.6 by Fangraphs). While strong, it’s not irreplaceable. And with at-best average defence, many wonder how he’ll age. Is Melky leaving maybe a blessing in disguise? Maybe the Jays redistribute that money and make a play on one of the other big name free agents? Enter Pablo Sandoval. The Kung Fu Panda could mean a huge upgrade in the infield for the Jays. He provides solid defence, important when Reyes will likely be manning shortstop and you’re dealing with the carpet infield, and a solid bat. And moving from San Francisco and the NL West to the more hitter friendly Rogers Centre and AL East could see his mid-teens home run total take a substantial bump. Then maybe find a cheaper option in the outfield, either through free agency or trade, and suddenly the roster construction actually looks better.

So there you have it, some reason for optimism in light of Cabrera’s possible departure.

Where has October baseball gone?

I vaguely remember it. Though, I’m not even sure if it’s a real memory, or just one my brain’s constructed over the years after having watched, listened to, or talked about that beautiful evening countless times.

“Touch ’em all Joe.”

The phrase should give any Blue Jays fan, any baseball fan in fact, goosebumps. I know it does to me, and I can’t even be sure I remember when those words were first uttered by the immortal Tom Cheek. The call of Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to seal the 1993 World Series is a moment in time that’s up there with Gehrig’s speech, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, and Don Larsen’s perfect game.

I had just turned six when he cleared the left field fence. I’m now 27, having spent far too much time during the past two-plus decades focusing on the team I’ve always loved. And not once during those years have I had the chance to experience the thrill of postseason baseball. I can’t say for certain that I know what’s it’s like to watch the Jays int he postseason, the memory’s just too foggy.

Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates ended a 21-year playoff drought. This year the Kansas City Royals will end a streak of 29 years without playing postseason baseball. That leaves Toronto as the team with the longest postseason drought, not just in baseball, but in the four major North American sports.

I have friends who cheer for the Red Sox and Yankees (ew, gross, I know). October baseball has come to be more or less expected for them. There are also Rays and Orioles fans I know (seriously. OK, just one O’s fan), for whom postseason baseball is a more recent experience, but an experience nonetheless.

There’s even a guy I know who cheers for the Royals. I’m sure he’s through the roof with excitement these days.

At times it seems strange to devote so much time to a team that’s so often disappointed. I watch the vast majority of the 162 regular season games. I write about the team as often as I can. I visit blogs and websites, share opinions in comments sections, or talk to friends and family about the team.

And while the years of futility are not something we as Jays fans should be happy about, there’s both nothing we can do about it and no reason to lump it all together into one stew of ineptitude. The failings of past teams, of past front offices, have little to no bearing on the 2014 Blue Jays. You can argue the former GM left Alex Anthopoulos with a bare farm system that has plagued AA as he tries to rebuild it by drafting younger, higher upside high school players who are only now ascending to the upper levels of the minor leagues. But that’s it. The ghosts of Gord Ash and Carlos Delgado don’t haunt today’s clubhouse.

So perhaps that’s the secret. There’s always next year, as they say.

This season was exciting, perhaps the most exciting season since ’93. What’s more, this team is exciting. Two of the best hitters in baseball, a handful of exciting, homegrown and young arms, two veterans in the rotation whose stories are equally amazing. There’s a young outfielder who grew up in our own backyard who surprised everyone this year and is hopefully on the cusp of becoming Canada’s next great Major Leaguer.

It’s a long, cold winter, only made longer by another year of being on the outside looking in. But echoing the words of the team’s GM, it’ll also be an exciting winter. There are holes to fill, but this team seems to almost be there.

I’m heading into the offseason with a quiet confidence. It’s not the crazy hype from two winters ago when The Trade happened. While that was fun, this seems better. There’s no flash, no hype.

The team’s not selling the sizzle this year, you’ll just have to wait to enjoy the steak next spring.

Go Jays.

Drew Hutchison’s deceptively good year

With five solid innings Friday night against Baltimore, Jays starter Drew Hutchison wrapped up his 2014 season.

And it was a season that was deceptively good. In a year where Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and to a lesser extent Daniel Norris, grabbed all the headlines, Hutchison put together really good, and full, year.

He struck out nearly a batter per inning and walked fewer than three per nine, good enough for a 3.07 K/BB ratio. That places him 40th overall in baseball among qualified pitchers. His 184 strikeouts puts him ahead of guys with names like Burnett, Shields, Wainwright and Gray. And he did that in 30 fewer innings than any of those guys. His K/9 rate is the same as Johnny Cueto, who happens to be a Cy Young candidate for the National League.

While his 4.48 ERA isn’t sexy, all the metrics like him. FIP (3.85), xFIP (3.82), and SIERA (3.59) all say he pitched better than his ERA indicates. By WAR, Fangraphs has him at 2.7, while Baseball Reference is a little more bullish, pegging him at 1.5.

Overall, looking through his numbers there’s not much to dislike. His velocity was higher on average than when he came up in 2012, averaging a healthy 92.1 mph on his fastball. He threw his first pitch for a strike nearly 60 per cent of the time and had a swinging strike percentage of 10.8 (good for 13th in all of baseball). He also made guys chase, sporting a 34.1 O-swing%.

The only thing I could find that wasn’t the greatest was his groundball percentage, which sat at 36.1.

And the main thing is he’s healthy. Though pundits wondered at points in the season if he was tired or worn down – he did have a few lousy stretches – Hutchison took the mound 32 times and threw 184 innings.

While everyone’s excited about the future of Stroman, and seeing Sanchez in the rotation sometime next year – rightfully so, I should add – Drew Hutchison rounds out a pretty exciting threesome of young pitchers.

And with a full year in the Majors under his belt, it’s quite possible he takes another step forward.

I’ll take that.

I don’t give a flying fuck about Derek Jeter retiring

Sorry, but this post is going to be riddled with curse words.

Ya know, if you didn’t guess that by the headline.

But seriously, I don’t give a shit that Derek Jeter is retiring. Not. One. Flying. Fuck.

He’s a great player, one of the better shortstops to ever play the game. He’s not fucking Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Nolan Ryan all wrapped up in one. He’s not perfect, though so many insufferable fucking fans seem to think he is. He congratulated Dalton Pompey on Pompey’s first Major League hit, what a great fucking guy!

He singled through the hole on the right side cause he’s too god damned old to pull the ball. Fucking superstar.

What’s your favourite Derek Jeter memory? Let’s talk about him for three innings in the fucking Toronto-Seattle game.

For all the fans of Jeter, enjoy it. If he’s your favourite player, great. I had a favourite player retire, just last year in fact. Roy Halladay retired, had a press conference, I spent a day thinking about all the years I watched him take take the mound like a fucking boss, then went on with my life.

But for the love of god, the rest of us don’t need to hear it all. This nonstop, season long love fest with the shortstop who had a good bat and shitty defence (hey, that sounds like another shortstop I know! Are we gonna do this when Reyes calls it quits?) is just too much. I thought I was going to make it through without losing my shit. Yet, here we are so close to the end and I just can’t do it anymore.

A few years ago I came to the realization that it wasn’t Jeter I disliked. It was the combination of everyone loving him far more than he deserved/was normal, with the fact he played for the rival of rivals.

And while there really isn’t anything different now, I don’t dislike Jeter as a person or a player (outside of being a Yankee, anyway), I simply can’t wait for this season to be over so we can maybe get a break from all the Jeter talk.

There are plenty of other great players, who will still be playing and still be great next year. Hell, there are guys playing right now who are better than Jeter ever was. Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre have collected more WAR, per baseball reference, than Jeter has. And that’s despite playing six and three fewer years in the league, respectively. Chase Utley, Robinson Cano, and Miguel Cabrera will likely all pass Jeter’s WAR in the next couple years.

Then there are the young guys. The McCutchens, Trouts, Harpers, Kershaws and Stantons of the world. Maybe, with the wonderJeter retiring, they’ll start receiving the recognition they deserve.

Congrat, Jeter. Helluva career. Now get the fuck off my TV screen.

Is Adam Lind worth the roster spot?

He was awesome, then awful, then awesome-ish again.

Adam Lind has had a bit of an up-and-down career with the Toronto Blue Jays. He came up as a well regarded prospect. Baseball America named him the top Jays prospect and 39th overall prospect in 2006. After two underwhelming part seasons in the big leagues Lind broke out in 2009. He hit 35 home runs and had a .396 wOBA. It also marked the last time he managed to be even league average against left handed pitchers.

Though he continued to hit okayish against righties, his overall numbers sagged.

When John Gibbons came on as manager he came with a pretty bright idea: don’t bat him against lefties!

Avoiding southpaws like the plague, Lind has put up solid numbers in the past two years. Last year he hit 23 home runs, with a .368 wOBA. This year, though the home runs have gone down, his wOBA has actually increased to .381. His slugging percentage is actually similar to last year (.497 last year to .489 this year). His ISO has dropped but is still a respectable .168.

He also has an $8 million team option, with $500,000 buyout next year.

While that certainly doesn’t seem like a ton of cash for a team like the Jays who it appears are facing a payroll crunch at least for 2015, is it money well invested?

Consider Lind doesn’t offer much defensively, as shown by his being a sub-2 WAR player each of the past two years. He can play a little first base, but with a chronically bad back the Jays have been hesitant to put him in the field too often.

Also, consider the fact that having Lind requires two roster spots for any team serious about competing. And with the way the Jays roster is constructed there isn’t much opportunity to have a dual-purpose platoon partner. The Danny Valencias and John Mayberrys of the world don’t have much use other than being platoon guys.

So if you have one roster spot taken up by your Lind platoon, another one is the backup catcher, you’re not left with much after that.

But it’s more than that. With a core roster of guys who aren’t getting any younger (as opposed to those other teams with players are are getting younger), does it really make sense to carry two roster spots that only serve as DH?

Perhaps it makes more sense to re-purpose those dollars to an infield spot. The general consensus around the team seems to be that they’ll likely have enough to resign Melky (or sign someone similar) and address one of the infield or centre field holes. But by shedding Lind’s contract you might be able to address both positions.

Now I don’t mean declining his option. I’d say pick it up and try to flip him to address another need. It seems plausible that another team would be interested in a player like Lind.

That leaves the DH spot open for Cabrera, Melky, Bautista, Reyes and Encarnacion to get some time off the harsh Rogers Centre concrete floor. And with the added roster flexibility you can carry more useful tools on the bench.

I’ve always kind of like the Man from Muncie. He seems like a good dude and is a pretty strong batter against opposite side pitchers.

But I’m also thinking that the roster just might not be the right fit for Kittenface.

What to do with Brandon Morrow

Ever since Brandon Morrow went down with a finger injury – just the latest in a string of injuries he suffered since coming over to the Jays – it was sort of assumed that his days with the Jays were numbered.

The team holds a $10 million option on him, with a $1 million buyout. When the deal was signed many thought the option was a no-brainer, as Morrow seemed like a pitcher on the verge of being a perennial all star. But since 2011 his innings pitched totals have decreased every year from 179 to where it will finish this year, somewhere in the 30s.

Morrow has made it known that he wants to start, and if the team declines his option he’ll likely seek a team that will give him a legit chance to start. Declining his option and signing him to a smaller dollar amount would be ideal, but considering the $1M buyout you’d have to go down to $5 or $6 million just to make it worthwhile. Some other team, and likely a team where Morrow starting is a better fit, will surely give him that at least.

I totally wouldn’t be against picking up his option. A one-year, $10 million lottery ticket is probably worth it. Hell, Josh Johnson got $8 million this year.

Now this is all predicated on the assumption the team can spend that money on him and still have enough to resign Melky and get a solid upgrade in the infield. Those two certainly take precedence over Morrow’s option.

So, assuming that’s all doable, I’d pick up his option and tell him he’ll have a chance to compete for a rotation spot. Maybe you catch lightning in a bottle and finally get that full, healthy and productive season from him – which would go a long way for the Jays next year – or you throw him in the bullpen, where he likely becomes a productive, yet expensive bullpen piece.

And while it’s certainly high, $10 million for a reliever isn’t otherworldly.

But you don’t have to spin it that way. Assuming JA Happ’s option gets picked up you could look at it as spending $15 million on a reliever AND and rotation piece. Things become a little more palatable looking at it that way.

Brandon Morrow’s always been that tantalizing “if only” type player. Although his return this year has been brief, he’s shown he still has the arm. His fastball is averaging nearly 98 mph, and he’s sporting a nifty 2.13 FIP.

I’d take that gamble.

Prioritizing the offseason needs

Bullpen. Melky. Centrefield. Infield. Depth.

Melky. Infield. Centrefield. Depth. Bullpen.

Melky. Centrefield. Bullpen. Depth. Infield.

Bah, I don’t know.

Those five issues are basically what the Jays need to address if they want to compete in 2015. I’ve been flip-flopping back and forth on where each of them should rank on Alex Anthopolous’ to-do list. So, instead of going crazy in my brain, I’m hoping putting these thoughts to print er, type, will help sort them out.

  1. Resign Melky. Hah, this is easier than I thought. Melky Cabrera had a fine season that was unfortunately derailed a little early. He hit 16 home runs and batted to a slash line of .301/.351/.458, good for a .354 wOBA. Though not great defensively, he’s pretty ok in left field, and should be able to hold down a spot for most of the next four to five years, what seems to be the consensus length a deal would last. While the Jays appear to be dealing with payroll constraints in 2015, pressures ease of immediately after that. And from what I’ve read, it doesn’t appear a contract for Melky is going to be unwieldy. Four to five years at $15-17 million per? Give ‘er.
  2. Infield. Ok, it’s gotten tougher already. Based on what route you want to go I could almost see the Jays putting the last four in any order. I’m going to go with infield, though, for a few reasons. First, there’s a glaring hole at second (or third, depending where you put Lawrie) that needs to be addressed. And there’s no help coming from the farm anytime soon. Second, Lawrie and Jose Reyes have both dealt with their fair share of injuries. True getting Maicer Izturis back next season helps a bit. But you’re still looking at a lot of meh should either or both of those players get hurt again. Signing a legitimate infielder goes a long way. And as I pointed out in one of my rambling posts
    (https://thejunkballs.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/well-damn/) yesterday, there are some solid options on the free agent market. Having Izturis on the bench could provide the starters, Reyes especially, with some more off days to keep the fresh and productive.
  3. Bullpen. It was a disaster this year, and their #proven closer Casey Janssen is likely gone through free agency. However, bullpen never really worries me. You can find guys that’ll work pretty easily. And if you find that’s the only ting holding you back come next June, there’s always a reliever or seven available through trade. Still though, they need more production from that group next year, so it is important. I just can’t be arsed into really worrying about it.
  4. Depth. Once I put infield way up at #2, the need to address centre field became moot, in my opinion. Figuring there’s not enough money to upgrade at both positions, I’m ok with letting Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose and Dalton Pompey figure out centre field. However, even if they sign a solid infielder, the depth for the team isn’t strong. Sure, Danny Valencia can help, and John Mayberry seems capable. But after that there’s really nothing. Now I know, few teams can go down to their 27th or 28th man and produce a gem. But I’d like to see something more. Especially someone who could play decent shortstop should Reyes run into injuries again. And it’s not just on the position player side. While the rotation is promising, with a number of young guys looking like they’re ready to go, there’s not much to fall back on. Stroman, Buehrle, Dickey and Hutchison seem safe to pencil in. I imagine JA Happ gets his option picked up, while it appears Brandon Morrow won’t. That leaves the young guys, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, as the only legitimate backup. Acquiring a starter likely bumps Happ into the bullpen (and won’t he be happy about that?) and gives you that added depth. It might also serve the dual purpose of putting one of the young guys into the bullpen. The thinking there would be that you’d have time to stretch them back out as a starter should the need arise.
  5. Centre field. I’m willing to give them another shot. True, the offensive numbers of both Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar haven’t looked great this year. But as mentioned, assuming they solve the infield issues I’m ok with using those two to patch up centre field. As I also mentioned, having an all-glove guy in between Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera is maybe a good idea. And you can then hope that Dalton Pompey is the real deal, and who knows, maybe he’s the guy that goes all Marcus Stroman next year and becomes a legit big leaguer?

So there they are. The priorities as I see them. And since it’s never too early to start, the 2015 opening lineup-ish.

SP
Stroman
Dickey
Hutchison
Buehrle
FA signing

C – Navarro
1B – Edwin
2B – Lawrie
3B – Sandoval (or realistically, some other signing)
SS – Reyes
LF – Melky
CF – Gose
RF – Bautista
DH – Lind

Bench – Pillar, Mayberry, Izturis, Thole

Bullpen – Cecil, Loup, Norris or Sanchez (the other will be in AAA in the rotation), Happ, McGowan, Delabar? (maybe John Stilson?), Acquisition

We’d all be better to watch the broadcast on mute

I’m sitting here tonight listening to another Jays broadcast. As someone who’s spent the past few years trying to gain a better understanding of the sport I love I hardly even notice Buck or Tabby – or really, any broadcaster – speak. They’re mostly white noise to me.

Admittedly, I like to point out some of the more ridiculous things they say. Tabby calling the White Sox manager Robin Williams shortly after the actor’s tragic suicide was among them.

Of course there are also the mispronounced names by Buck, or Tabby’s homoerotic descriptions of players. One of my favourites is when they call so-and-so “a ball player.”

No kidding they’re a ball player. I wouldn’t watch them play baseball otherwise.

Those mistakes are excusable. In all truth, they’re on the air for threeish hours a night, 162 nights a summer. It can be tough to fill all that air time.

I wonder, though, what would it be like without announcers? I have an idea, having watched the postseason last year on MLBtv, and it’s actually pretty cool. Give me the sound of the crowd, crack of the bat and an umpire yelling safe on an exceptionally close play.

I’m all for that.

But watching a game without announcers might go even further than that. Forcing people watching the game to actually pay attention to what’s happening and make judgments about what’s good and what’s bad based on their observations might actually make people a little more aware about baseball.

The people who man the booth have credibility. We naturally consider them to be knowledgeable baseball people. And while guys like Buck and Tabby, who actually played in the big leagues, have experience of the game most of us will never come close to understanding, they all too often delve into a part of the game in which they have no understanding.

Using numbers and results to evaluate the talent level of a baseball player is not something a fellow baseball player is ever asked or required to do. It’s not their job.

It is, however, the job of the rest of us who weren’t born with the god-given talent of hitting the shit out of a moving baseball.

And yet, when we hear utter ridiculousness from the likes of the play-by-play and colour commentators, we think they must know something.

Baseball fans might be better off to hit the mute button when they watch baseball.

Remembering the Mathis trade

I remember that night quite well. It was a Monday. I know that because I was sitting in Port Colborne council chambers waiting to cover what was sure to be another enthralling city council meeting.

What I don’t remember, is what the hell any councillor, the mayor or staff member said the entire evening. That’s because just as the meeting was about to start, Twitter exploded with news of some blockbuster trade between the Jays and the Marlins. Buehrle, Johnson, Bonifacio, Buck and Reyes. They were now all of a sudden members of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The front office paid a steep price, trading away a number of promising young players. But. Holy. Shit.

I spent the rest of the evening and ensuing months as excited as ever about the upcoming season.

Yada, yada, yada, another season down the drains. And despite the fact you can still take a fairly strong positive out of this season – young pitching looks good, Bautista and Encarnacion remain among the best hitters in baseball – the glee of The Mathis Trade has long since vanished.

But let’s play a quick game of What If. Namely: what if Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio produced anywhere close to what was reasonably expected.

Well, if that happened, and if the Jays were able to resign Johnson (big if) you’d have a great team. Johnson was coming three of four healthy seasons, ranging from very good to downright dominant. Bonifacio, though lacking any power, had exhibited enough of an ability to get on base to make his formidable speed useful.

So, just considering those two being somewhat close to what they had been, you’re looking at quite the different 2014, eh? Suddenly you have one of Happ or Hutchison (or possibly Stroman) in the bullpen, improving both the rotation and the bullpen. And you have a legitimate second baseman.

If only.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I wrote this. Perhaps I enjoy the misery. But, I think perhaps it’s because I’m trying to make the point that this team is very close to being a contender.

It’s not time to blow this team up, as many seem to want. As constructed, you shouldn’t expect much difference in the lineup next year. Bautista and Encarnacion will be another year older, true, but it doesn’t appear either is on the verge of a sharp decline. Reyes could be a worry. But I think if they’re able to add some legitimate infield depth and give Reyes some more days off then he could return to the .350-plus wOBA player he has been.

Assuming they resign Melky, then, there’s little to suggest they’ll get less next year than they did this year. And with any luck, Brett Lawrie can stay on the field and be productive, Adam Lind’s power returns, Dioner Navarro stays healthy and whoever they bring in is better than the black holes at second and centre field.

In the rotation, Mark Buehrle could finally let age and no velocity get the better of him. But other than that, I think you can expect the same or better from the rest of the crew. The excitement of Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, and potentially a few others that are currently in A and AA, only adds to that. And the bullpen is one of those things that can turn around quickly.

If Johnson and Bonifacio panned out then I’m certain we’d still be in this year’s World Series hunt. However, all it’ll take is a Johnson- or Bonifacio-like acquisition to make 2015 a promising season.

Well damn…

After making a teeny tiny bit of a sort of quasi run in early September, the Blue Jays have done an excellent job this past week of crushing any feelings of hope and “well what if” any fan had.

Unless there’s a miracle beyond all miracles there won’t be any play-in games featuring Toronto this year. So where are we left?

Well personally, I’m disappointed. Mostly in the fact that I missed those wonderful two-ish weeks in May when they played wonderful baseball. But I’m also disappointed that the problems everyone knew the team had going back a calendar year are the things that sank them: a black hole in the infield, and a lack of outfield or starting pitching depth.

Of course the bullpen’s collapse was also a big problem.

However, that all ties back to the root of the problem, I think. And that’s the fact they had no flexibility, or perhaps no willingness, to make a move.

This team, despite what many of the negative suckholes say, is not far away. The top four in the order is arguably the best in baseball. Say what you want about Jose Reyes’ season, he’s still a pretty solid leadoff hitter. Melky Cabrera showed this year how much a tumour in your lower spine can affect your ability to play baseball. And the Jose Bautista/Edwin Encarnacion duo is reminiscent of Manny-Ortiz.

It’s the bottom half that leaves a lot to be desired. The problem going into this year was that we all sort of penciled Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus in as being strong everyday players. We knew Adam Lind would do well against righties and that Navarro would probably be okayish. But there was no viable platoon partner for the Man from Muncie, no legitimate fourth outfielder and no second baseman.

I have no problem going into a season with a few question marks. The problem is going into a season with a couple question marks and a couple definite black holes.

Luckily, the farm system seems to have largely solved the lack of rotation depth. Imagine what this season would have been like without Stromania running wild all over the American League?

But getting back to the lineup, what’s so disconcerting is the team really didn’t have to do much, in my opinion, to put themselves in the playoffs. A legitimate infielder, simply someone who can play average defence and be average with the bat, and maybe the $16 million would have taken to sign Ervin Santana. Think of how much Stroman, Happ or Hutchison in the bullpen would have helped.

The nice thing is the needs are still crystal clear, and very doable. Resigning Melky should obviously be a top priority. Then find a decent infielder and decent centre fielder and you’re pretty much set. You could even go all defence with a Gose-Pillar centre field, or Goins in the infield as long as you get a solid option at the other position.

There’s not much on the outfield free agent market, but there certainly are some intriguing infield possibilities. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are at the top of the list, and while I’d love either one it’s hard to imagine the Jays being able to afford them. But still, names like Asdrubal Cabrera, JJ Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Aramis Ramirez could go a long way.

In fact, Ramirez has me very intrigued. Yest, he’s no young pup, but that simply means he won’t cost a lot. You could give him a rest by DHing him against lefties (140 wRC+ against lefties this year) and putting Danny Valencia in at third. With an addition like that I’d be fin with a Gose-Pillar outfield.

Do a little tinkering with the bullpen – they’re the most combustible and volatile area anyway – and voila.

It’s too bad we have to now look ahead to 2015. But hey, at least we got through most of the season before giving up!