To say that the Toronto Blue Jays were a disaster in 2013 would be an understatement. In case you've forgotten, they traded their top three prospects (who also happened to be the #23, #54, and #64 prospects, respectively, in all of baseball), along with several other solid minor leaguers and a certain controversial shortstop, for, essentially, three starting pitchers and another shortstop.
Those pitchers combined for a 4.50 ERA and 5 WAR in 509.2 innings, and the shortstop, while effective (2.2 WAR in 419 PAs), spent a good chunk of the year on the DL. At the beginning, they had championship aspirations; by the end, Navin Vaswani was writing this just to cheer himself up. The obvious question is, what should the Blue Jays do now?
So far, they haven't done much of anything. Adam Lind's option was picked up, meaning he'll contribute for one more year. Josh Johnson — one of the pitchers acquired in the Miami trade — has signed with the Padres, and J.P. Arencibia and Rajai Davis — two players that received a good amount of playing time last year — have signed with the Rangers and the Tigers, respectively. The only major move they've made is inking Dioner Navarro, a backup catcher who will provide an upgrade over Arencibia even when pressed into full-time duty.
Overall, it's safe to say that the Jays are looking to be pretty conservative this year — the antithesis of last year. One might go so far as to say the Blue Jays are rebuilding. It's not uncommon for a team to rebuild after a down year; we're seeing it this year with the White Sox.
The only problem is, the Blue Jays — unlike the White Sox — don't need to rebuild, because they can, and should, rebound next year.
Why? It's simple, really. First of all, rebuilding is generally only done when the team in question has a poor farm system. In the case of the South Siders, this would certainly be true; in the case of the Jays, it's really not. Despite the aforementioned trades last winter, Toronto still entered the offseason with the 11th-best minor league system in baseball. While that's nothing spectacular, it's not as poor as Chicago's (24th).
Second of all, the Blue Jays' miserable season can be attributed, at least in some part, to injuries. Toronto's players spent the fourth-most time on the DL last year, and the team was second in the total number of DL stints. While the Blue Jays have had some injury problems in the past, it's reasonable to expect a healthier year in 2014.
None of this means anything, though, if the product on the field isn't good enough. This is where the main argument against rebuilding lies. Steamer is one of the most widely used projections in baseball, and it has some interesting thoughts about Toronto in 2014 — namely, that their team WAR should improve by quite a bit. See for yourself:
|Team||WAR -- 2013 (FanGraphs)||WAR -- 2014 (Steamer)||Differential|
Even with the dearth of action in free agency, the Jays are still expected to see the third-largest improvement in the American League and the two teams ahead of them, the Mariners and Astros, have been fairly active.
Some of this can be attributed to our old friend regression to the mean. As you can see on the table, most of the teams projected to advance were bad last year, and most of the teams projected to decline were good last year. Moreover, the WAR range in 2013 was a very large 54.4, but that figure is only 21.2 for the 2014 projections; basically, Steamer says that the best team in the AL next year will be only 21 games above the worst team, when that figure was more than double that in 2013 (46, to be exact).
Regardless, it's probably fair to say that the core of this team is pretty good, and if they can live up to the WAR projected by Steamer, they'll win 87 games — a massive improvement over the previous year. That's still not great, though, so the obvious move would be to improve the team further, perhaps by signing a free agent of some sort. Alex Anthopoulos has been given permission to upgrade payroll by up to $30 million, and the moderately strong minor league system could probably withstand the loss of a first-round pick. So why haven't they done anything? In fact, the argument could be made that the Blue Jays are at the exact right place on the win curve for a big free agent splash to make sense.
Perhaps Anthopoulos doesn't want writers to get carpal tunnel syndrome and is just waiting for things to quiet down before making a move. Or perhaps, the Jays have gotten sucked into the rebuilding trap. It's unlikely, given the erudite reputation of the front office, but it might be the case. How else can you explain the team's silence during these last few months when they have so much to gain from a big move?
. . .