Let’s play a game. I’ll ask a question, and you spit out an answer immediately, with no time to think about it.
Here we go: coming into the 2015 season, name one team you would expect to play six rookies?
I’m sure the majority of the answers would have been teams like Minnesota, Houston, Arizona, maybe the Cubs. In other words, teams that are either going into, in the middle of, or coming out of rebuilds. Teams that will likely finish the season in or around last place and can have their rookie prospects develop at the major league level with little pressure.
The Toronto Blue Jays are not one of those teams.
The Jays are clearly in win-now mode, evidenced by another offseason spent acquiring difference makers. Adding Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, and Michael Saunders to a core of Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Dickey, and Buehrle was meant to push the Jays to the top of the AL East in 2015.
Yet the Toronto Blue Jays are also the answer to my question: the team that entered 2015 carrying six rookies on the major league roster.
It is a decision that goes against conventional baseball wisdom. It is a decision that is both ballsy and dangerous.
And it is without a doubt, the 100% correct decision.
Sports teams are defined by their motives. Some want to build for the future. Others want to tear down the present. Some want to protect their assets by keeping them in the minors. Others want to see gradual on-field improvement.
The Jays want to win. And the best way to win is to put your best possible team on the field. Plain and simple.
Yet so often general managers fall prey to the old ways of thinking, methods that have been used by old baseball personnel for decades and decades. Young players are often labeled by terms such as “raw”, “unseasoned”, and “needs polish”. Scouts and old-school managers prefer experience, prefer to have guys who “have been there before”, and tend to reward past performance.
That is what most fans expected with this year’s Jays team.
Take second base. When Alex Anthopoulos acquired Devon Travis in the offseason, it was widely assumed that he would be the second baseman of the future and would spent most, if not all, of 2015 in Buffalo. The masses expected the 2B job to go to either Maicer Izturis or Ryan Goins.
In the rotation, even after Stroman went down, nobody was expecting Norris and Sanchez to be named starters. One maybe, but not both. No, the role of fifth starter was destined for one of the following: Todd Redmond, journeymen Randy Wolf or Jeff Francis, or maybe even Johan Santana if he was healthy. Memories of John Thomson, Tomo Ohka, and Chien Ming Wang danced through our heads.
The same thing took place in the bullpen. Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna were destroying batters in the spring with an arsenal of downright filthy pitches. But they were both only 20 years old. They needed to “learn how to pitch” still, needed more time to “polish their raw talent”. Despite having a truly awful 2014 season, Steve Delabar made the All Star team in 2013, a feat that meant he deserved another shot to at least start the year in Toronto.
But a funny thing happened. A truly inspirational and gutsy thing happened. Instead of listening to the crusty, old, conventional baseball wisdom, Anthopoulos actually watched the games and saw what everybody else saw. Travis was flat out better than Goins and Izturis. Sanchez and Norris were flat out better than Redmond, Wolf, and Francis. Castro and Osuna were flat out better than Delabar. If the Jays were to truly contend in 2015 they needed to put their best team on the field, so AA went with the kids.
In an era where things like “accrued major league service time” are driving decisions more than wins and losses, AA’s decision is refreshing. And the kids look pretty good so far too. It’s only been one series, but with the extra pressure of opening day, in terrible weather, in Yankee Stadium against vaunted Yankees? Not bad at all.
The rookies make the team more exciting, and more watchable.
And, more importantly, they make the team better.