Toronto Blue Jays: 5 Elements Missing in Becoming the Next "Rays" of the AL East
While the Jays spent the past decade fielding very respectable and competitive teams without post-season success, the Rays lay low in the basement of the AL East, happy being the doormat of the division before emerging as a yearly World Series contender.
"Why not us", Jays fans asked.
However, since the departure of JP Riccardi from the Jays' front office, new general manager Alex Anthopoulos has embraced the Rays method of developing baseball talent.
With a strong core of upcoming prospects and an aggressive drafting strategy, just a few things are missing from the Jays becoming the new "Rays" of the most competitive division in sports.
Carl Crawford: A True Lead-off Man
The Blue Jays have lacked a true lead-off hitter since Shannon Stewart was traded to Minnesota in 2003.
Since then, the team has gone through a carousel of half-decent replacements, but no one has emerged as a top-end spark plug. For whatever reason, Reed Johnson, Fred Lewis, Rajai Davis or anyone else has felt like a legitimate lead-off man.
That's not to say that the team has struggled to score runs since Stewart left but it's implied that to be successful, team's typically need a consistent performer at the top of the lineup.
The Rays were an incredibly frustrating team to play against during Crawford's time in Tampa, because he'd always seem to get on base and promptly steal second.
The Jays don't need someone to steal 50 bases a year, but bringing in a guy with a high on-base percentage, great speed and other intangibles would be a huge step forward.
A Top-Notch Rotation
The Rays' rotation has been spectacular for the last five years and, let's be honest, the Jays simply don't match-up, yet.
The Rays built their rotation from the ground up. After having some struggles drafting position players in the earlier rounds, the Rays found a few late-draft gems. Matt Moore, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson were drafted in the eighth, sixteenth and fourth rounds respectively.
Depending on your opinion, that's either lucky or smart draft strategy with a clear emphasis on developing starting pitching; taking high-risk, high-reward picks rather than staying conservative.
The Jays have adopted the same strategy. It's clear that Alex Anthopoulos wants to construct a world-class starting rotation through the draft. That's why he hasn't traded any of his pitching prospects to fill an immediate need and that's why he's willing to take a chance on players with question marks.
If the Rays can show Anthopoulos anything, it's that starters need time to develop. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow prove that.
For now, the Jays aren't on the same level as the Rays, but if they wait for prospects like Drew Hutchison, Noah Syndergaard and Daniel Norris, they will get there.
Fernando Rodney: A Closer
Yankee fans will have no clue what I'm about to talk about.
They've had the incredible luck of having Mariano Rivera finish games for the last decade. They have no idea what it feels like to be up a run going into the ninth inning and have no confidence that your team will win the game.
Unfortunately, Sergio Santos has been injured for the majority of 2012 after a few absolutely terrible outings in April. Some may argue that it was for the best that Santos got hurt, since he was so shaky at the beginning of the year. However, in all likelihood, Santos would have provided a bit stability to the Jays bullpen.
Instead, the patchwork bullpen has been captained by Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen, both of whom are not bonafide major league closers.
As great as Janssen has been filling in for Santos, the Jays need a closer like Rodney or Rivera, who can not only shut down the opposition late in games but also solidify the bullpen. It's something that can be huge for team confidence when a closer is lights-out and without confidence, the Jays will have trouble competing in the intimidating AL East.
Watching the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays, it sometimes seems like it's just not their year.
With all the injuries sustained to the already-questionable starting rotation, combined with the surprise emergence of the Baltimore Orioles, maybe the time just isn't right.
While many fans and writers will argue that adding a veteran arm, and potentially Justin Upton, would propel the Jays into the playoffs, but jumping the gun on a couple of big trades could come back to bite the team.
Many connected, educated baseball minds have spoken on record about how the Jays success is simply a matter of time. With a plethora of young pitching prospects, it's very hard to argue that.
It may not please fans, but with a little bit of time—which everyone knows is needed to develop pitching talent—the Jays will be the new, young force of the American League.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago where I wondered on paper whether the 2012 Blue Jays are the most unlucky team of the year.
And considering that the team's injury problems have only gotten worse since publishing that article, it would be hard to argue against it.
First of all, teams not from New York or Boston that play in the AL East need luck to be successful. At some point, they need the pieces to fall into place in one particular year in order to finally emerge as a threat to those two big teams.
The Jays need to avoid injuries, have a few young players develop into legitimate big leaguers and simply have the stars align in order to live up to their potential and crack the postseason.
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