For the truest of the believers, the most optimistic of the optimists, yesterday’s news that prized free agent phenom Masahiro Tanaka was signing with the New York Yankees was a kick in the pants, another true disappointment in Blue Jay land.
Not that it came as a shock to most realists. Tanaka was never coming here – not a chance in hell. If you were one of the most sought after baseball players on the market, would you be itching to join a last-place team whose ownership steadfastly clings to a phony policy where they refuse to give players more than five year contracts? Didn’t think so.
The bigger question is this: what does this mean for Toronto?
The fact that Tanaka decided to plant himself firmly in the AL East for the next seven years is obviously not ideal. But for those that have gone ahead and anointed the Yankees as 2014 AL East Champions, you might want to think twice.
Are the Yankees better today than they were yesterday? Absolutely. They will pose an even bigger challenge to the Jays with Tanaka onboard. But as Matt Snyder of CBS Sportsline pointed out yesterday, the Yankees roster has far more questions than answers.
New catcher Brian McCann is good, but getting older and has had injury problems. With the departure of Robinson Cano and the suspension of A-Rod, the infield has holes. It currently consists of Mark Teixeira, coming off a serious wrist injury, at 1B; former Jay Kelly Johnson and forever injured Brian Roberts platooning at 2B; a 40-year old, brittle Derek Jeter at SS; and a variety of bench players at 3B. An outfield of Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran sounds terrific, until you realize that Beltran is 37 and debuting in the East, and Gardner and Ellsbury are incredibly inconsistent and injury prone. Behind Tanaka, the rotation consists of a rapidly declining CC Sabathia, 39-year old Hiroki Kuroda (who tired significantly at the tail end of 2013), the erratic Ivan Nova, and then nobody at #5. On top of that, they lost the greatest closer in the history of the game to retirement, and will replace him with David Robertson, a guy who flopped spectacularly the last time he was asked to close.
The Yankees might very well win 120 games next year and romp to the World Series. They could just as easily lose 90 and finish last.
But that is the Yankees. What we really care about are the fortunes of the Blue Jays. Without a doubt, the biggest weak spot in Toronto heading into 2014 is the starting pitching. When a team’s top three starters consist of a 39-year old and a 35-year old each coming off down years, and a power pitcher who missed almost two full seasons due to injury, things are not good.
So yes, Tanaka would have been a coup, but it’s time to move on. (As an aside – Tanaka might be an amazing pitcher, but nobody knows anything about him. All I keep thinking about is Daisuke Matsuzaka, his unhittable “gyroball”, and his awful MLB career.) There are still a few very good pitchers left on the market – so what should the Jays do now?
The top pitchers remaining in free agency are Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana. Despite the fact that Santana follows several Jays fans on Twitter (including yours truly), his reputation as a fly ball pitcher doesn’t bode well in the homer-happy Rogers Centre. In terms of the other two, to be honest they both scare me. Garza has had proven success in the AL East when he pitched with Tampa, but that was many years ago now, and he really hasn’t been all that great lately – especially last year with Texas (4.38 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 84.1 IP). Jimenez went from being the top pitcher in the NL for Colorado, to one of the worst pitchers in baseball, before finally rediscovering his form in Cleveland last year. Is that a sign that he has figured things out, or is it just another peak on his career rollercoaster ride?
Ranking them in order of personal preference, I would place Jimenez at the top, followed by Garza and Santana. Though in reality, any of them would be an upgrade over who is currently pegged for the back of the rotation (two of Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, and maybe Sean Nolin or Marcus Stroman).
But there are others out there as well. For one, I have a fondness for Bronson Arroyo. He pitched well in the AL East back when it was the big, bad AL East, and has been incredibly consistent through his career, both in terms of durability and production. Other pitchers, such as Jason Hammel, A.J. Burnett (if he doesn’t retire), Scott Baker, and Jair Jurrjens might not be the sexiest of names, but I’m sure would come fairly cheap, with short terms, and immediately improve the #5 slot – at least more than knuckleball reclamation project Toma Ohka is likely to.
The bottom line is this: the Jays missed out on Masahiro Tanaka. Does that sting? Yes. But are there still ways that they can improve their pitching staff? Absolutely.
It’s up to Alex Anthopoulos to go out and bring somebody in.