This past Spring Training, the Toronto Blue Jays, coming off a 73-win season, were considered favorites to win the AL East. Less than a month later, things had already taken a turn for the worse. Still, it would be an overreaction to assume that lackluster play throughout the first couple months were indicative of a truly bad team. The team surged in June, winning 11 straight at one point, bringing them two games over .500. But a mid-July swoon that coincided with my honeymoon saw the Jays plummet back down. Whose fault was this disaster of a season?
Part of the reason the Jays entered the season with such high hopes was the fact that they had entered last offseason with a top-ranked farm system. Since they sold off highly-rated prospects for established major leaguers, it was assumed that they'd be getting stars. They certainly got one star in Jose Reyes, but he spent a large part of the season sidelined. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise as the 30-year old Reyes had spent some time on the DL in three of the four previous seasons. Reyes has performed as well as you could expect him to when he's been on the field so there is that. Josh Johnson, when he's been able to pitch, has been victimized by the gopher ball and horrible sequencing to the tune of a 6.20 ERA. Maybe he hasn't been healthy all year. Given Johnson's history, (he's pitched consecutive full seasons just once) though, the assumption that he'd be in tip-top shape likely wasn't a safe one, either. Mark Buehrle is doing pretty much exactly what you'd expect. Emilio Bonfacio was worse than expected but expecting him to be able to hold down a starting role might be a bit unrealistic anwyay. R.A. Dickey has been a far cry from the Cy Young Award winner he was last season but hasn't been all that much worse than he was in 2010 and 2011. With a little bit better luck, he'd actually be a slightly above average starter. Melky Cabrera, who I'm mentioning even though he wasn't brought in via trade, was coming off steroids so there was a lot of uncertainty there. Obviously, he's performed at the very low range of expectations.
So add this all up and the best case scenario for the players the Jays brought in for 2013 has been performing up to expectations. The positive side of this is that we should be able to expect some sort of rebound for many of these players next year (except perhaps Johnson, assuming the Jays don't retain his services for 2014). The Jays were built to contend for at least a few years and it's expected that a team won't win every season within that window. So maybe we should just cut the Jays some slack since that window is still open.
Or maybe not. We bought into the idea that this team would be competitive in 2013. Even assuming that things rebound, we're now talking about a 2- (rather than 3-) year window of contention and plenty of contending teams don't end up making the playoffs. And that's assuming the Jays are able to contend next season. It's kind of hard to improve from a 90-loss team to a 90-win team. Maybe there's a whole seasons of August Brett Lawrie. Maybe Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista keep hitting and actually get some hits on flyballs that don't travel 150 metres. Maybe Brandon Morrow comes back healthy. Maybe J.P. Arencibia won't play baseball like J.P. Arencibia. Maybe the injury bug doesn't bite them quite as hard next season.
Even assuming all these things, the bottom line is that, for this team to compete for a playoff spot in 2014, they're probably going to need to win 20+ more games than in 2013. Between 2011 and 2012, the Orioles improved by 24 wins. They just had to overplay their Pythagorean record by 10 games.
So how safe should Anthopoulos be? Let's put it this way: for all of the Ricciardi hate (much of it is warranted, of course), consider that Ricciardi had the helm between 2002 and 2009. The Jays had three seasons < 80 wins, three seasons with 80 - 85 wins, and three seasons > 85 wins. Anthopoulos has had the team for four seasons and he has one 85-win season, one 81-win season, and two < 80-win seasons (assuming the Jays don't win 30 of their next 42 games). If the trouble is that Anthopoulos inherited a bad team, why has the team been getting worse instead of better?
Thanks to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists for today's post title.