Springtime Storylines: Is anyone gonna want to watch the Blue Jays this year?

Leave a comment

Blue Jays old logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Ah, the Blue Jays.
The lambs to the AL East slaughter . . .

The
big question: Is anyone gonna want to watch the Blue Jays this year?

I’m not gonna lie to you, bunky: it’s going to be an ugly, ugly year in
Toronto. Doc Halladay is gone. Vernon Wells is still here. Edwin
Encarnacion has a whole season in which to show Jays fans how poorly a
fellow can play third base. Cito Gaston is going to spend less time
going over lineups and spray charts than he will spend looking over the
plans to the little cottage he and the missus are going to retire to at
the end of the season or when he gets fired, whichever comes first. 
Some promising young arms are going to get shelled because that’s what
happens to promising young arms, but only sick and twisted pitching
junkies like me are going to enjoy it for the learning experience that
it will be.

But that’s the nature of rebuilding, isn’t it? I lived with it — and
even grew to love it — in the mid-to-late 80s with the Braves. Sure,
Vernon Wells isn’t as likable as Dale Murphy was, but a rusty anchor is a
rusty anchor. Cito Gaston and Chuck Tanner may not look much alike, but
given that they each have an old championship ring laying in an ashtray
on their dresser at home and a fairly obvious case of short-timer’s
disease, they may as well be the same guy. It’s too early to tell if any
of the Jays’ young pitchers are a Tom Glavine in the rough, but there
are probably a healthy number of Kevin Coffmans and Derek Lilliquists
hanging around.

It’s hard to watch a team that finds itself in these dire straits, I
know, but if anything a true Jays fans will be better off watching every
single game
this team plays — to eat, drink, sleep and breathe the
whole messy experience in — than they are to check in once a week and
be disgusted from afar. For one thing, there’s high comedy in bad
baseball, and you’ll laugh a lot. For another, if you keep close tabs
you’ll know later when the GM is blowing smoke about the progress of the
rebuild. Casual Braves fans might have thought that German Jiminez was a
big deal when they signed him from the Mexican League in ’88. My
fellow dead-enders and I knew we were being lied to. I’m sure that experience
helped me at some point over the past 22 years. When I figure out how,
I’ll be sure to tell you.

But to answer the question: no, no one is going to watch this team. Jays
fans have had at least some glimmers of hope over the past few years
and, of course, they had Roy Halladay to look forward to every fifth
day, and that’s all out the window now. I predict small crowds at the
Rogers Centre and poor ratings on the telly for a team that wisely
chose to allow itself to hit bottom and do a proper rebuild than to stay
in third-place limbo indefinitely. It happens. Hopefully the Canucks
within the sound of my voice will resist the urge to look away, however,
and take in an experience — rebuilding — that fans in Boston and New
York haven’t seen for years.  It’s actually kinda enjoyable in a sick, twisted sort of way.

So what else is going on?

  • All of the above notwithstanding, there are some good players on this team. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are Silver Sluggers (and Hill plays good defense too).  Travis Snider will get a wide open shot at starting from the beginning of the season. He raked in hitter-friendly Las Vegas for 50 games last season and was kind of meh upon being called up, but he is just 22. He’s been hanging around so long that it’s easy to forget that. Ricky Romero will be fun to watch. There could be a Kyle Drabek sighting as the first chill winds of autumn blow in off the lake.
  • The rotation is going to be where all the action is this season. Shaun Marcum, Romero and Brandon Morrow seem set. Others who will cycle through this year include Mark Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brian Tallet, David Purcey,
    Dustin McGowan, Dana Eveland, Jesse Litsch, Shawn Hill, Kyle Drabek, Scott Richmond,
    Robert Ray, Dave Steib, Brad Mills, Zach Stewart and Reider Gonzalez.  If you can tell me what’s wrong with that list, you’re paying closer attention to this preview than I figured you would. Congratulations.
  • The Vernon Wells release watch. I don’t need to remind anyone that Wells’ contract is just about the worst in baseball history (pfun pfact! He’s only making $12.5 million this year! It doesn’t start getting really ugly until next year, after which he’s owed $21-23 million each year through 2014!). He wouldn’t be worth the money even if he went back in time seven years and replicated his best season ever. And it’s not like he’s some big name draw or anything. The fans resent his very presence on the team.  Unless he starts the season on an absolute tear, is there any reason to not simply release him? Sure, the White Sox picked up Alexis Rios last year, but the odds against anyone taking Vernon Wells off the Jays’ hands are astronomical. And I don’t mean simply long like surviving overnight on Hoth with nothing but tauntaun guts to keep you warm or successfully navigating an asteroid field. I mean effectively impossible.
  • There’s been an ongoing, much-publicized race for the closer’s role, with Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Kevin Gregg battling it out.  Of course a 90+-loss team without a closer is like a fish without a bicycle, but at least covering this race has kept the Blue Jays writers off the streets.  Probably should have kept them off the track too. Sorry, Jordan.

So how are they gonna do?

My mother taught me four things when I was a kid: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who
has the same first name as a city; never get involved with a woman
with a tattoo of a dagger on her body; and never, ever bet on a rebuilding team who just shipped off the best pitcher in baseball and is paying Vernon Wells $126 million to do anything but finish last in the AL East.

Prediction: Last place, my friends. There’s really no escaping it.  Leafs camp opens in September.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
6 Comments

It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.