Toronto Blue Jays: 5 Steps to Make an Oriole-Like Leap in 2013
Jays fans, how much do you hate the Baltimore Orioles?
There is no major sports team that frustrates Jays fans more than the Orioles right now.
The Orioles have been playing spectacular baseball all year and are tied with the evil empire of the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East.
How did this happen? The Orioles weren't supposed to contend for the banner of the toughest division in sports. They weren't hyped-up in spring training talking about how they're the next, young powerhouse in the MLB. That was the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was supposed to be the Jays turn to make a big vault to the status of "perennial playoff team."
It didn't exactly shake out that way though, did it?
Yes, the Blue Jays have many organizational issues, but that doesn't mean they don't have a bright future. This winter will be interesting to see how Alex Anthopoulos attempts to fill the team's holes. Time will tell whether he goes after big names like Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke or stays the course and rolls the dice with his upcoming prospects.
Here's a look at how the Jays can be the Baltimore Orioles of 2013.
Figure out the John Farrell Situation
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If Brian Burke, Francois Allaire and the Toronto Maple Leafs have taught us anything, it's that organizational structure and an established coaching system is essential to success.
That being said, the Jays need to find some closure to the John Farrell-Boston Red Sox allegations.
The Jays have made it explicitly clear that they will not allow their own employees to negotiate for lateral moves; they won't allow the Red Sox to simply "steal" their manager. Farrell and the Jays signed a contract, and both sides should honour that contract.
However, if the Red Sox are absolutely set on Farrell being their next manager, the Jays should negotiate for significant compensation. The Jays could always use more pitching depth, and now might be the time to take advantage of the Red Sox's dysfunction.
Either way, the Jays need to figure out this situation. The organization needs solidity. Either cut Farrell loose or make it clear that he's here to stay.
Improve Starting Pitching
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There is no bigger problem with the Blue Jays than their starting rotation.
Ricky Romero has been awful, and the only thing to do with him now is hope he has a strong offseason and returns to form. It would be borderline insanity to trade him, considering his value is at an all-time low, and his talent and past has earned him a spot near the top of the rotation.
Brandon Morrow, when he's healthy, is a strong No. 1, while Henderson Alvarez struggled in 2012. Both Morrow and Alvarez will need to stay healthy and consistent.
Kyle Drabek showed promise before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He may or may not be ready for the start of 2013.
Re-signing Carlos Villaneuva is a priority as he will likely come at a very reasonable price and has been nothing short of brilliant this season.
But, the fact that Villaneuva was the Jays most consistent starter in 2012 speaks to the Jays pitching problems. GM Alex Anthopoulos needs to add depth at starting pitcher, whether through trades or free agency. The Jays went into 2012 with a four-man rotation and never really had any type of stability due to injuries.
That cannot happen again.
Anthopoulos needs to establish a clear rotation, anchored by Morrow, with his fingers crossed for Romero. Adding another veteran arm who can throw around 190 innings is crucial. It's easier said than done, but it's hugely important to success in 2013.
Appease the Fanbase
The Jays, as an organization, are in danger of losing touch with their fans.
They've done an excellent job in the last few years of bringing in a loyal, intelligent fanbase that cares about the team.
That fanbase is starting to get frustrated with the direction of the franchise. They've been very patient and understanding of Anthopoulos's dedication to re-building, drafting and developing talent, but 2012 was supposed to be a moving year—a year of promise if not tangible success.
2012 has been the opposite. The year has been defined by injuries, player regressions, and now with the Yunel Escobar situation, public relations scandals.
Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston and the organization as a whole, need to re-establish the hope that the team will be consistent contenders in the near future. Many fans had 2013 pegged as the year the Jays would finally "arrive," and those fans are now wondering whether the team will ever contend.
It's time for the Jays to make a big splash in the trade or free-agent market, or at the very least, clearly explain the plan for the next few years. The biggest question that fans have: "Is the organization, ownership and management doing as much as they can to improve the team?"
Anthopoulos and his team need to answer that question this offseason.
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It's hard to win when your best players aren't playing.
2012 was one of the most painful, both literally and figuratively, years in recent memory for the Blue Jays. They spent significant time without several key players including Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie, Kyle Drabek and Jose Bautista.
There were other injuries to less-important players, but if someone told Jays fans that Bautista would play only 92 games in 2012, they wouldn't have expected the team to make the playoffs. Bautista's injury was, no doubt, the biggest blow to the team's hopes in 2012, but pitching health is the most key to success in 2013.
The Jays have a talented, but shallow, pool of starters. Losing Morrow, Romero or Alvarez would be devastating. First, that shallow pool must be deepened through trades or free agency, and secondly, they must stay healthy.
Contending in the AL East starts with strong starting pitching and ends with a little bit of luck.
The Jays will need both if they want to make big strides next season.
Improve the Bullpen
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The Baltimore Orioles have a 65-0 record when leading after eight innings. They also have a 27-8 record in one-run games.
The biggest reason the Orioles are at the top of the AL East despite a negative run differential is because of their bullpen. In close or late games, the Baltimore bullpen has an MLB-leading 2.06 ERA.
In order to contend in a competitive division with a less talented team, you must win close games. That's how the Orioles have managed to make such a move up the standings despite their average talent level.
Shoring up the bullpen is one way the Jays can "steal" wins away from games they may not have deserved to win. Their AL-worst 4.06 bullpen ERA is embarrassing and a clear opportunity to improve.
Casey Janssen has been phenomenal this season, and he should be given the chance to be the full-time closer in 2013. His 0.832 WHIP in 56 appearances speaks for itself.
But beyond Janssen, there are very few certainties in the 'pen. Even a healthy Sergio Santos comes with huge question marks, and while the team will likely pick up their option on Darren Oliver, he'll be 42 years-old in the spring.
Anthopoulos has his hands full with the bullpen, not to mention the rest of the organizational holes that plagued the Blue Jays in 2013.