So long Canadian Jesus, so long.
Yet another major move by Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was announced last night, and it was another move that caught people by surprise. Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson is coming to Toronto and bringing his MVP-calibre play along with four years of control with him. Heading out is the aforementioned Canadian Jesus, Brett Lawrie, pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Gravemen, and highly regarded prospect Franklin Barretto.
For a team looking to win now, the move is huge for the Jays. Donaldson brings a supreme talent, huge power, and strong defence, not to mention a durability Lawrie has yet to display.
With the trade of Adam Lind, the signing of Russell Martin, and now the acquisition of Donaldson, next year’s narratives have already pretty much been written. Clubhouse change, culture change, leadership, #GRIT. That’s what we’re going to hear about next year, especially if the Jays do well.
And a good chunk of that is bullshit. Sure, there’s something to be said for changing the atmosphere – we really don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of the clubhouse, so to say definitively one way or the other is stupid. Lind was often seen as kind of lazy, while Lawrie came off as an immature little shit. But consider last year. Lawrie played his last game on Aug. 5, just as the team was embarking on a stretch that would kill their playoff hopes. He was on the field during the team’s great run in May, playing everyday.
Strangely, so was Lind. Kittenface missed time in July, when the team did okayish and returned for the awful August. During August he was brutal, hitting to a .297 wOBA and 85 wRC+, which given his inability to do anything else rendered him essentially useless. Lind returned to form in September, putting up a .393 wOBA, in a month where the Jays turned it around.
They were both on the field, and presumably in the clubhouse, when the team was doing well.
So, while culture change or whatever you want to call it may be a part of the reason AA has been making these moves, it’s a reason that’s far down on the priority list. The durability and flexibility arguments, quite frankly, carry far more weight. But even still, those aren’t the biggest issues at play.
At the end of the day, these moves should excite fans simply because the team has drastically increased its talent level, without giving up an exorbitant amount. With Martin, it was only money. And while we can’t really be sure where the payroll threshold is located with the team, the contract is structured in such a way that it shouldn’t hamper plans for next year and shouldn’t become so much of a burden in later years that the team is handcuffed.
With Donaldson, yes the team gave up some pieces. Lawrie still has the potential to be an awesome player. Nolin has long been seen as a solid back of the rotation piece. Graveman came out of nowhere last year and looks like he might be something.
And of course, Barretto is seen as a very strong prospect, and if he can stick at shortstop might turn out to be the best player the Jays gave away.
But that doesn’t mean much for next year. Barretto’s still a couple years away from even sniffing the big leagues, if he even makes it. Nolin and Gravemen were quite far down on the depth chart for Toronto, given the surplus of starting pitchers the team has.
Finally, Lawrie’s absolute upside potential for 2015 is likely around Donaldson’s absolute floor. And given Donaldson has one extra year of control than Lawrie does, it’s a no brainer.
What I’ve found interesting about the moves so far, though, is that AA has made two substantial trades and one big signing, and has yet to address the areas of need we all wanted addressed heading into the offseason: bullpen, second base and left field.
But maybe he sort of has. With Donaldson and Martin coming into the fold, are we perhaps a little more comfortable going with some sort of Ryan Goins-Maicer Izturis-Devon Thomas group at second base? Given the presence of Danny Valencia and John Mayberry, could the Jays cobble together enough to have a strong infield without anymore moves? Not ideal, but I’m certainly more willing to answer in the affirmative with Donaldson at third base as opposed to Lawrie.
Even the outfield seems like less of a concern. As Shi Davidi reported in an article put up overnight:
“I notice a lot of people are focused on positional needs,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said on a conference call late Friday. “I know people can say, ‘Well, you had a third baseman’ and that’s true, we did. But I don’t know that we had another middle of the order bat to go with (Edwin) Encarnacion and (Jose) Bautista and now we do. That was a spot in the lineup of need if you want to call it that.”
So while signing Melky Cabrera would still be great, the urgency to get another middle-of-the-order-bat left fielder isn’t there anymore. The team has more flexibility to sign, say, a Nori Aoki or even Alex Rios type.
There’s still work to be done for the Jays and Alex Anthopoulos, but by improving in other areas he’s in part addressing the glaring holes we all talked about heading into the offseason.