DUNEDIN, Fla. – Twitter can be a cruel and unforgiving place, so here’s some free advice for Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos: Don’t go near it. Don’t even ask about it. Don’t even get tempted.
Because Twitter is also a place of instant referendums and cold, harsh assessments, and right now some version of “get the hell out Alex” is trending.
When I tweeted out that Anthopoulos kicked off his welcome to Spring Training address Thursday saying it was ‘unlikely’ the Blue Jays would add a free agent pitcher (read: Ervin Santana), the reaction was nearly uniform:
“The end of AA” was one tweet.
“Ya blew it AA” was another.
“This will be AA’s last season,” was a third, and on and on.
Spring Training typically buys even the most downtrodden team/player/manager/executive at least a little grace. It is where optimism and good feelings go to get a tan after a long cold winter.
But the Blue Jays and Anthopoulos won’t get that chance this year, it seems.
There is good reason for this. One of the pillars of Anthopoulos’s “stand pat” approach is the “promising” young pitchers the Jays have in their system, such as the trio of Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek.
“There’s a reason they were drafted as high as they were and as highly touted as they’ve been,” he said “I understand the skepticism, but I think these guys might really surprise.”
Umm, he clearly doesn’t understand the skepticism.
Ricky Romero was once upon a time an elite MLB pitcher whose career has come undone since a disastrous 2012 season when his WHIP was an AL-worst 1.647. He’s so far off the radar now that his name didn’t even come up when Anthopoulos was talking about the Jays pitching depth, even though he’ll be paying him nearly $8 million this season no matter where he throws.
Well, consider that Drabek, nearly two years removed from his second Tommy John surgery, has a career WHIP of 1.683. And he’s the experienced member of the Jays trio, with 37 major league starts. Hutchison, coming off his own Tommy John surgery, has 11 starts while Stroman hasn’t pitched above double-A.
The problem is that Blue Jays fans – at the passionate sharp edge on Twitter, but likely elsewhere too – simply aren’t buying what Anthopoulos is selling, and it’s hard to blame them.
Last year manager John Gibbons was the lightning rod for fan discontent. This year it’s shaping up to be Anthopoulos.
“We did a ton of action last off-season and for me to sit here and try to make promises and sell something – we’ll find out soon enough,” he said. “We’ll play the games and we’ll see [but] I wouldn’t say I feel good about some of the young guys we have if I didn’t believe it.
Anthopoulos is a difficult guy not to like – kid Canadian GM taking on baseball and coming out on top is a wonderful storyline that any Jays fan would love to get behind — but he’s asking a lot for fans or anyone else to buy his view that this is a team that can find the 20 wins or so they need to be taken seriously in the American League East after going 74-88 last season.
Normally the first few days of Spring Training are devoted to getting familiar with the new faces and figuring out how they’re going to contribute.
Except the Blue Jays have no new faces other than catcher Dioner Navarro, who Anthopoulos says he signed for more years and more dollars (two years at $4 million) than he wanted to be but was willing to “stretch” because he was determined to replace J.P. Arencibia.
Other than that, a team that blew up amidst industry-wide expectations for a championship push and so far has done nothing to resolve gaping holes in their bench, at second base and most of all in a starting rotation that posted the worst ERA in the AL last season.
And while injuries were a factor, they don’t explain a team that was so regularly fundamentally poor on the bases and in the field.
There is no indication that Anthopoulos was being less than sincere while making the case that some combination of Hutchison, Stroman and Drabek can do more for their rotation than whatever it would cost – let’s just say five years and $80 million, for argument’s sake – to sign Ervin Santana, the one remaining proven free agent starter available.
But it sounds more like Spring Training talk than anything that will prove viable against the meat of the AL East where the competition just keeps reloading.
There is no argument that everything that could have gone wrong last season did go wrong, and much of it in ways that seem unlikely to be repeated – extended injuries to Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista and Brandon Morrow, to name a few.
So maybe that explains Anthopoulos’s confidence that doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing. He believes in his plan, even if it’s a year old.
However, as marketing slogans go, “Things were so bad last year they can only get better” is less than convincing.
If he’s right the Twitter-verse and everywhere else will quickly forgive his inactivity. If he’s wrong, no one will forget.