ANAHEIM, California - There he sat, the morning of August 4 before the conclusion of a disappointing series with the Los Angeles Angels, discussing the wreckage of a lost season and looking ahead to 2014.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos certainly couldn't have envisioned such a conversation so early, if at all this year, but with his team in another tailspin rooted in poor starting pitching and shoddy fundamentals, it's his reality.
“I don't know that we have the answer right now,” said Anthopoulos when pressed on his club's defensive play. “We continue to work at it and hopefully it's going to improve. The same way as everybody was talking about Brett (Lawrie) and how he was struggling to swing the bat. You work with him, he's starting to turn it around a little bit and hopefully it continues.”
Entering Sunday's play, the Blue Jays' 78 errors ranked fourth most in baseball. Errors can be calculated but they don't tell the whole story. A boxscore doesn't show the number of times opposition runners have taken extra bases because an outfielder has thrown to the wrong base or on how many occasions the Jays haven't turned the routine double play because of a bobble or double clutch.
Anthopoulos says the club is “looking at everything” it can do to improve, including rethinking its spring training approach. The belief that a predominantly veteran core could go out, get its work done and then check out hasn't produced results.
Then again, it could simply come down to the players.
“Sometimes guys change defensively and it's hard to tell why they're not the defenders they once were,” said Anthopoulos. “I think it comes down, sometimes, to having the players on the field that are plus defensive players.”
The starting rotation and second base top the list of positions in need of upgrade. There are internal options for the former if the Jays count on some combination of the return to health of Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek, Ricky Romero bouncing back, or the emergence of youngsters like Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin.
Mark Buehrle garnered praise from Anthopoulos and the general manager believes R.A. Dickey, if he puts it all together, can resemble version 2012 more than what he's provided the Blue Jays so far.
The waters Josh Johnson is swimming in get murkier by the start. It's not out of the question that another blow up in his next start, Tuesday in Seattle, could force him out of the rotation.
“Right now he's scheduled to make his next start but there's no question it's been about six starts where he has been getting hit,” said Anthopoulos. “I know he's working hard and he's not making any excuses at all, he continues to battle.”
“But it's something we continue to talk about. We have to look at alternatives at some point if this continues. It's really start to start at this point. It's really the only way to characterize it. Right now, he's going to make one more start and we'll see how he does but we'll continue to evaluate it each time.”
Anthopoulos' flexibility will be dependent upon the emergence of young talent. The Blue Jays have almost $110-million committed to 12 players next season and with the likes of Colby Rasmus, J.P. Arencibia and others due for salary arbitration, the cost of doing business will increase.
“Ownership was aware, and ownership understood where the commitments would be going forward and they green-lighted everything,” said Anthopoulos. “So from a financial standpoint, the resources will be available for us. It won't mean we won't change some things and reallocate money as you do any time. It's not like those contracts are sneaking up on us.”
Anthopoulos assures club ownership hasn't been spooked by the Blue Jays' disappointing season and remains committed to maintaining one of the league's higher payrolls.
“What I would say is that we won't be going backwards,” he said. “That's not in the plan at all. What the number is is developed at the end of the season. That's our conversations with Paul (Beeston) but the understanding is that we will be able to financially handle those contracts so that was why we were able to do the deals. That was a big part of our discussions. 2013 was going to be fine. It was ‘14 and beyond. Everyone was aware of that. Ownership was aware and that's not going to be an issue."
Happ to Return
Left-hander J.A. Happ, who went on the disabled list in May after being hit in the head by a line drive, will be activated in time to make Wednesday's start in Seattle.
When he toes the rubber August 7, it will mark three months to the day since the frightening incident.
To make room on the active roster, reliever Steve Delabar was placed on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder.
Delabar is eligible to come off the DL on August 18.