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Offseason Interpretations Aplenty

As the offseason has progressed, and the Blue Jays have continued to revamp their roster, many opinions have been voiced in regards to the direction of the franchise. Although some believe the Blue Jays have quickly transformed themselves into contenders, others do not share their optimism. I'm not certain which one is the prevailing view, as I'm mostly exposed to what those in the media think about the situation. For the most part, however, I find that the arguments critizing the Jays' front office are mostly based on what are, in my opinion, some severe misconceptions about the franchise. On DRays Bay, the SB Nation site dedicated to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Patrick Kennedy voiced his reactions to the Jays' offseason:

The Blue Jays' offseason spending spree left them with surpluses of players at certain positions where each will be pushing each other for playing time, but the only out and out competition will be for the backup catcher's job, where Guillermo Quiroz, Jason Phillips, and Gregg Zaun will battle it out. On top of that, Toronto's top prospect is another catcher, Curtis Thigpen. How do you spell l-o-g-j-a-m?
2006 Outlook-What do you dop when you have a nice 80 win team with a traditionally good farm system, and a nice core of players whose holes can be plugged with homegrown prospects or the right free agency signing? Why, remake the entire roster, of course. Just because you have $210 million to spend does not mean you should waste in foolishly by mortgaging the next five years in an attempt to sign top free agents. I don't know how they do things north of the border, but outside of New York we call that stupid. Alas, the Blue Jays are an improved team for 2006, just one with a terrible defense, patchwork offense, but a good pitching staff. The pitching will be key for the Jays next year. Their staff has the potential to dominate the American League if the hitting and defense will play along. So what should the Blue Jays expect from all of those singings? A third place finish.

Now, I don't mean any disrespect by singling out Patrick, but I feel his argument echoes some of what has been said lately about the organization. I disagree with a number of the decisions the Blue Jays' front office has made this offseason, but I feel that his argument, as well as those similar to his, are overly critical and do not do the team justice.

I'm going to list what I believe to be common misconceptions about the franchise, and then I'll do my best to explain my point of view.

1) The Blue Jays compromised their farm system by:

a) Trading away their future.
b) Blocking the paths of its promising young players with older, more expensive players.

Of all the major acquisitions the Jays made this offseason, only two, Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus, arrived via trade. As a result, the only young farm products the organization lost were Dave Bush, Zach Jackson, and Gabe Gross. Dave Bush and Zach Jackson are talented pitchers, but they both project to be #3-#5 starters. Considering the plethora of similar pitchers in the Blue Jays' farm system, that is certainly a fungible commodity. As for Gabe Gross, he's got some upside, but it was obvious that the team would never be able to accomodate him into its outfield. In the end, he projects to be a fourth outfielder, someone with whom I'd gladly part in order to acquire Overbay.

As a result of this offseason's transaction, two young players, Dustin McGowan and Guillermo Quiroz, will likely occupy reduced roles during the upcoming season.

Based on last season's peformance with the Jays, McGowan might be best suited for long relief. In the past, many teams have eased along their promising pitching prospects by doing just that. The best example, of course, is Johan Santana, who solved his command problems in the low-pressure environment of long relief. Also, he's not currently blocked by A.J. Burnett, who's slated to be the team's #2 starter; he's currently blocked by Ted Lilly, who will become a free agent after the upcoming season.

Quiroz's case is slightly different. Unlike McGowan, he's no longer considered a top prospect, and his 2003 season is regarded as the exception rather than the rule. I'd like to see the Jays give him a chance to prove himself, but the blunt truth is that he simply hasn't done enough to merit such an opportunity. As for the Jays' other young catcher, Curtis Thigpen, he's not ready to assume major league playing time, as he's played only 39 games above A-ball. And if he becomes worthy of an extensive look at the major league level next season, none of the team's catchers are signed past this year, so there will be no one blocking his path.

In the end, the organization isn't blessed with many blue-chip prospects. Instead, it has decent depth, but no one to hinge its future hopes upon. As a result, J.P. Ricciardi was faced with two possible courses of action at the beginning of the offseason: embark upon a period of stagnation in which the team will attempt to rebuild a weak farm system with middle-to-late-round draft picks, or spend available resources to obtain talented, albeit high-priced, commodities. In addition, the team's core, Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells, aren't signed past 2007, which means the front office couldn't sit on its hands forever.

2) The team severely downgraded its offense as a result of this season's transactions.

Obviously, Orlando Hudson is an exceptionally talented fielder, and the Arizona Diamondbacks will benefit greatly from his arrival. However, Aaron Hill isn't all that bad himself. Last season, Hudson had the highest range factor among all second basemen (5.83) while committing only six errors all season. On the other hand, in 177.2 innings at second base last season (about 1/10th of the amount of innings Hudson played there), Aaron Hill posted an impressive 5.57 range factor and an identical fielding percentage to Hudson's (.991). Obviously, the sample size is too small to draw definite conclusions, but it by no means hints at a doomsday scenario in which the team's defense is terrible.

With that said, I'm not completely sold on the team's overall defense. Russ Adams may have been the worst fielding shortstop in the majors last season, while Troy Glaus has historically posted poor results. In 2005, Glaus had the most errors among all third basemen (24). Of those, 15 were throwing errors, which suggests that his arm is too erratic for the position. Although Glaus' range at the position was satisfactory last season (3.01 range factor, 3rd highest among regular third basemen), his career average is much lower (2.68 range factor).

I do have reservations about the team's defense, but they are strong at some key positions (CF, 2B), so they shouldn't be near the bottom of the league in defense.

3) The Blue Jays' success will depend entirely on their pitching, as their hitting is subpar.

Last season, without Overbay, Glaus, and Bengie Molina, the team scored 775 runs, the 5th highest total in the American League. To be fair, according to their underlying statistics, that figure's a little high. Even so, however, they possessed an average to above average offense that is set to improve as a result of this offseason's acquisitions.

4) The team is tying up too much money into too few players. It's too risky.

As with most players, there are risks involved. However, with these particular players, they're almost exclusively health-related ones. Not a single one of them is below the age of thirty, and they've each established a consistent level of production. As a result, none of them is fresh off an unrepeatable fluke season. If they stay healthy, their high-priced contracts won't even be much of an issue; with the league flush with money and contracts on the rise, a talented player could easily be traded for something of value.

In the end, there are pros and cons to almost everything. The Blue Jays did spend an awful lot of money on players who've dealt with health problems in the past. But they're young and supremely talented. As a Blue Jays fan, it's good to see management taking calculated risks in the hopes of catching the Yankees and Red Sox in the standings. I agree with the cynics that they're most likely to be a third place team with an improved record. However, as even most rational Yankees and Red Sox fans will tell you, the Blue Jays have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. That most certainly could not have been said a year ago.