The Toronto Blue Jays front office took a huge gamble at the trade deadline. Rather than try improving the club in increments, GM Alex Anthopoulos decided in the last year of his contract to go all in by acquiring David Price and Troy Tulowitzki at high costs to the organization. With Price and Marco Estrada headed to free agency, it’s time to pay the check. Does Toronto have the resources to restock its rotation and compete for a World Series title in 2016?
Toronto’s high-stakes dealing started before the 2015 season with the signing of Russell Martin and brilliant coup that nabbed AL MVP Josh Donaldson in a trade with Oakland. Those two strokes made the Blue Jays relevant almost immediately, but the March 10 injury to Marcus Stroman sapped the rotation of one of its key pieces. It wasn’t until the blockbuster deal for Price that the Jays had their ace and were capable of making a run.
Between the many deals — including those for Tulo and leadoff man Ben Revere — the front office handed over 13 pitching prospects in a calendar year, effectively gutting the system from Double A on up to the big leagues. Along with Price and Estrada, Mark Buehrle will be the third member of the rotation without a contract after the World Series. Despite not making the postseason roster, Buehrle delivered 15 wins and threw 198.2 IP (including an AL-best four complete games) at a 3.81 ERA.
All told, the three starters leaving for free agency went 37-17 across over 450 innings. Replacing the three will be the top priority for Toronto’s front office, but it is unclear if ownership is willing to invest nine figures in a pitcher like Price, Johnny Cueto, or Zack Greinke. In fact, there’s no guarantee the team will make a qualifying offer to Estrada in order to keep one piece or get a draft pick should he walk.
There will be financial flexibility headed in Toronto’s near-future, as the departures of the three starters equals $31 million shaved off next year’s payroll. Unfortunately, that cost will only cover about one year of the next Price or Greinke contracts, give or take a few ticks on what are guaranteed to be enormous sums for both Cy Young candidates.
Pulling off the types of deals that brought Donaldson and the deadline pickups to the Jays will be much tougher without high-level prospects populating the system. So it may be free agents or bust moving forward, and the cost may be worth it. (Toronto played below .500 before acquiring Price.) So far, the 2016 rotation boasts R.A. Dickey, Stroman, and Aaron Sanchez, who will make the transition from the bullpen.
Was creating a fever pitch of excitement for Canadian baseball and winning the AL East worth the investment in 2015? At the end of the day, Toronto only won one series in the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 1993. The pitching didn’t hold up under the pressure of the relentless Royals lineup. Most painful of all, Price ended the postseason with just one win (in a shaky relief outing) and a 6.23 ERA across four appearances.
In fact, several key members of the vaunted Blue Jays offense withered in the spotlight, with Edwin Encarnacion (.227, 0 HR, 2 RBI) and Martin (.091, 0 HR, 0 RBI) unable to crack Kansas City pitching. For the zillionth time, we saw how great pitching will get the best of a feared lineup in the postseason. Toronto’s staff couldn’t counter, and eventually it was Roberto Osuna, the young closer, who took the loss in Game Six.
The lineup will be menacing once again in 2016, but without a crafty reloading of the rotation, the Blue Jays will have a hard time competing for a World Series title. Fallout from the high-stakes dealing may come sooner than expected.
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