Blue Jays’ season coming to end with more questions than when it began

Toronto Blue Jays' Cavan Biggio (8) celebrates with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. after scoring on a bases-loaded walk during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, June 22, 2019. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

And so we begin the final week of the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays season still puzzling over food for thought presented in a conversation with Dan Shulman: Was this the first phase of something new or the final phase of something old?

Head-scratcher, no?

You will hear all about the Blue Jays rookies this week, which is good and proper because that’s what the season was supposed to be about. You will hear about how they are the first team in Major League history with six rookies to hit double-digit home runs … but everybody hits homers now. They have been cheapened. Ten homers means … well, it means jack. Sorry.

It must be said that of the rookie entries it was Bo Bichette’s that was the most electrifying because, well, who was the last homegrown rookie with that style and flair and verve and dash? Vernon Wells? Maybe? Orlando Hudson? Perhaps.

The Blue Jays of recent vintage have never seemed to be really comfortable with who’s leading off. It’s why Ben Revere, frankly, played a bigger offensive role in 2015 than Troy Tulowitzki. Not to mention that since Alex Gonzalez was traded in 2001 the Blue Jays have had 44 different players start games at shortstop. Of those, Ryan Goins and Chris Woodward have the most homegrown starts.

What’s exciting about Bichette is his track record of working on a specific skill in the off-season and translating it into improvement. That’s why I’m willing to bet right now that he stays at short.

As for the other cornerstone kids? I expected more offensively from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s rookie season, both in terms of numbers and approach. I pretty much saw what I expected defensively: He’s not good enough to play the position on a playoff-calibre team but not bad enough to demand a move to first base in the off-season. Damn, though, he’s young. And he has had no lineup protection.

Right now, I’m OK with Cavan Biggio at second base because to be a true utility player you need to be more comfortable on both sides of the diamond. A scout who has seen him at every level for three years thinks first might be a better spot for him, but the Blue Jays already have about 15 default first baseman.

Whatever, unless the answer to the team’s offensive issues is found via a trade for a second baseman, let’s see if he can take a step towards turning into another, say, Neil Walker. He’s useful and, in 2020, useful will have a place.

Yet here’s the thing: Despite those scenarios and the growth of the Blue Jays platoon behind the plate in the persons of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire and the remarkable reclamation of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., it’s difficult not to see this season ending with more questions than when it began. I mean, Bo and Vladdy were expected to keep their head above water and, to different degrees, they did.

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Still … at this point it’s a stretch to say this team has the right defensive pieces at third, second, first and centre to win with a pitching staff that might leave a lot of balls in play. What if Guerrero, Biggio, Rowdy Tellez and Teoscar Hernandez are all best served as DH/first basemen?

The pitching is god-awful, and 2019 has been a significant step back. Ryan Borucki’s season was stillborn going back to the time in spring training that he decided to throw harder to impress a front office that wanted more velocity.

The notion that one of Marcus Stroman or (more likely) Aaron Sanchez might stick around and be productive until the start of next season or be so good they’d bring back a king’s ransom that might include immediate help in 2020? Didn’t happen, and the best pitcher acquired, 18-year-old Simeon Woods-Richardson, could be two to three years away. Awesome!

True, prospect Nate Pearson throws a bazillion miles per hour but does he have enough of an arsenal to get him through the New York Yankees lineup three times? Oh … and he’ll be on an innings limit when he gets up here next season.

The bullpen – well, let’s just say that the notion that anybody can relieve and that you can put a ‘pen together by throwing blindly at a dart-board is going to be tested in these parts, especially if Ken Giles is traded.

Bottom line? Right now it looks like they have a bunch of fourth starters at best, and if the Blue Jays were to operate in a bubble and focus on developing the pitchers they have, by late 2021 they might be able to cobble together a decent rotation. That won’t likely happen, so at some point in the next two winters the team will need to add Major League-ready pitching, either by bringing in more Matt Shoemakers or swallowing hard and trading some of their youth on the cusp.

They also need to be better defensively and add one or two middle-of-the-order hitters who can do more than just strike out, hit .230, and hit 25 to 30 homers. I went into this season thinking this rebuild might be a little quicker than many were anticipating. No more.

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NOW TWEET THIS

• I asked one long-time talent evaluator and senior NL executive what the Blue Jays need most. “Be more willing to listen to what Pat Hentgen and Paul Quantrill are telling them,” was the response #naturalresource

• The Jays passed the 2006 Marlins and the 1958 Giants by having six rookie hitters with double-digit homers. That Giants team had five: Jim Davenport (12); Leon Wagner (13) Bob Schmidt (14), Willie Kirkland (14), and Orlando Cepeda (25) #theyweregiants

• Wonder if Canada Soccer is monitoring Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori, a regular under Frank Lampard who has played for Canada and most recently England at youth levels – and is also eligible for Nigeria – but told the Daily Mail he is keeping international options open #choices

• The Los Angeles Dodgers have flirted with all sorts of silly history, but at plus-249 run differential with six games left they’ll have to go some to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers modern-day record of plus-266 set in 1953. Definitely out of touch: The 1889 Brooklyn Bridegrooms plus-289 #dodgeball

• I poked fun at folks bemoaning Liam Hendriks’ exit from the 2015 Blue Jays. Hendricks’ 118 strikeouts with the A’s (two as an opener) are a club record for relievers, ahead of Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers (115 in 1975) and 13 more than Dennis Eckersley’s high in 1987 #straightA’s

• Who has been the Majors best September run producer the past three years? Step right up, Matt Chapman of the A’s: 26 September homers and 60 September RBIs over that time. He leads the AL in HRs, extra-base hits and is tied for second in RBI this September #clutch

• One Nationals/Expos franchise offensive record that can survive the carnage of 2019: Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s 131 RBIs recorded in 1999 is 11 ahead of Anthony Rendon with eight games remaining #nosamours

• Ronald Acuna Jr. needs three steals to become the fifth 40/40 player (HRs/SBs) ever and the first since Alfonso Soriano in 2006. Barry Bonds did it in 1996 and ‘97 while A-Rod (1998) and Jose Canseco (1988) were the others #movetheneedle

• This makes sense on so many levels: No Major League team has ever finished a season with the most strikeouts and fewest times struck out … but the Astros have a shot, with 1,591 strikeouts recorded by their pitchers and 1,115 by their hitters #otherwordly

• If you had ‘Jason Spezza needs a fire lit under his ass’ on your Mike Babcock Passive-Aggressive Bingo card, congratulations! Mine sure didn’t #hesagoodplayer

THE ENDGAME

Andy Green’s firing by the San Diego Padres this weekend means we won’t make it through the season without a manager getting derricked after all, and my guess is the line will start forming on the right for this job, with Padres special advisor Moises Alou a candidate if he wants it, although I’ve always thought Mo had his eye on a front-office position.

There will be other openings, soon: Bruce Bochy is retiring from the San Francisco Giants and Ned Yost and Clint Hurdle should by right leave long-time jobs with the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, respectively. Joe Maddon’s reputation is being shredded in the dying days of his tenure with the Chicago Cubs and Gabe Kapler and Mickey Callaway will justifiably have a lot to answer for if Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets are out of the post-season.

In my mind, Dave Martinez should be back with the Washington Nationals after their second-half rally. The same, too, for the Chicago White Sox’s Rick Renteria.

The hot names seem to include Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Sam Fuld, the latter of whom is the Phillies’ major-league information coordinator and pulled his name out of consideration for the Blue Jays job last winter.

Former players Carlos Beltran and Raul Ibanez have had front office roles with the Yankees and Dodgers and have cut their analytical teeth post playing days. Either would be a terrific fit with the Mets.

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