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Phillips: Blue Jays should make run for AL East title

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Steve Phillips
5/23/2014 1:14:23 PM
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1) Rumors about Jeff Samardzija being available and the Jays perhaps considering making a play if they are in contention near the end of July. The reported price for the Jays was Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Would you make that deal?

The Blue Jays are in first place in the AL East. Read that again! The Blue Jays are in first place in the AL East!! I have visions of thousands of people outside of Rogers Centre just like there were for the Raptors outside of the Air Canada Centre. How much fun would that be?

The AL East will be won by a general manager; not by players or managers this year. Who will make the moves that will give his team the advantage to separate from the pack? When is the last time we saw the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays as vulnerable as they are this season? This is the best chance in the last two decades that the Jays have to win the division. 

When I was in the front office of the New York Mets, John Gibbons was a manager and coach in the farm system there. When I got the Mets' GM job it was Gibbons who made a statement that impacted me tremendously.  He said, "Go for it. You don't know how long these jobs last or how many opportunities you will get to win, So Go For It!"  That stuck with me and when I had chances to be a playoff team I did what I needed to do to get there and win.  That included trading away some very good prospects to bring in winning players. I never regretted trading away prospects in years I made the playoffs. 

I searched "Toronto Blue Jays" online and went to the Jays' Wikipedia page. Interestingly, the chronology of the Jays history is broken down by the era of the general manager.  There is the Pat Gillick era, Gord Ash era, JP Riccardi era and now we are in the Alex Anthopolous era. 
It is time for Alex to write his legacy for his era. Go For It Alex! 

Prospects can get general managers fired. We all have waited for top prospects to impact our major league team and have seen many of them fizzle away. This is the year to go for it. Trade away what it takes to get Jeff Samardzija.  He is darn good. If it takes both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez then so be it. Do it now. Don't wait. Get Samardzija for as many starts as you can. He is still young and in the prime of his career and you control his contract next year as well. Don't wait until the trade deadline. Be the team that people are trying to catch at the deadline. 

This is the year that will define the Alex Anthopoulos Era.  I hope he goes for it!

2) Did you like the decision to send Stroman back down to continue starting in AAA, or should the Jays have kept him to help the struggling pen?

It was definitely the right decision to send Stroman down to the minors to assume his spot in the starting rotation. It is the best thing for Stroman and the best thing for the Jays. 

Stroman pitched like a youngster in his first stint in the majors. He got knocked around a bit coming out of the bullpen. He isn't an obvious solution out there. He has more value going back to AAA as a starter in case he is needed in Toronto's rotation. 

The main reason he needs to go back to AAA and start though is for marketing purposes. He is a chip for Samardzija or any other starting pitching deal that the Jays will consider. Toronto needs Stroman to go down and pitch successfully at AAA so another team's scouts and general manager can dream about him in their rotation. 

It is not a matter of IF Stroman will stick in the big leagues, it is just a matter of WHEN and with WHOM.

3) The Jays swept the Red Sox, who fell to 20-26, 4th in the AL East. What's wrong in Boston with the champs?

This is an interesting question because in some way it means that we are surprised that the Jays could sweep the Red Sox. The Sox clearly have issues but in detailing those I don't want to take away from the Jays who outhit, outpitched and out defended the Sox. The Jays won by playing Blue Jays baseball the way the team was built to play. 

The Red Sox are struggling and those struggles are indicative of some serious issues. They are not nearly the team they were a year ago. In 2013, the Red Sox led the AL in runs scored by a wide margin (+57 runs on second place Detroit). They also were in the upper half in pitching with their starting rotation ranked fourth in the league. 

This season not much is going right for the Sox. They are ranked a respectable sixth in the league in pitching but only because their bullpen is significantly outpitching their rotation. The starters have a combined 4.50 ERA which is ranked 12th among the fifteen AL teams. The Red Sox find themselves trailing in games quite often since their starters give up early runs. That ultimately impacts the quality of the at bats of the hitters as they feel more pressure to produce.

The offence is the biggest issue for the Sox. They average 5.26 runs per game in 2014 and just 4.04 per game this year. That tells you all you need to know. 

The Sox won 97 games in 2013 because they could score in any number of ways. They had great team power (fifth in HR) and great team speed (third in stolen bases). This season they are 10th in HR and 14th in stolen bases.

This is a team wide struggle and is most prevalent against right-handed pitching. They are just 10-20 against right-handed starting pitching whereas they were 65-43 last season. 

Certainly the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees couldn't have been this substantial or is it? 

Consider that Ellsbury's stat line last season vs. right-handers was .328/.374/.489.  Plus he stole 39 bases in those games. The Red Sox are barely on pace to steal that many bases as a team this season. Ellsbury's replacements in CF, Grady Sizemore (.233/.307/.344) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.209/.313/.279) are not doing much to make Red Sox fans forget about Ellsbury. 

It is not solely the loss of Ellsbury that is hurting the Red Sox against righties: Davis Ortiz is significantly less as well but that may be tracked back to Ellsbury too. Without Ellsbury on base in front of Ortiz he is getting much different pitches to hit. 

The Red Sox need much better starting pitching if they are going to win the division. They are also going to have to find a catalyst offensively (and it won't be the recently signed Stephen Drew) and they are going to need David Ortiz to have his best season ever. 

I thought Ellsbury was significantly overpaid by the Yankees but maybe he was worth it….to the Red Sox!!!


4) When we were kids growing up, we all played baseball and at times imagined ourselves as major league players. I have four boys and love to ask them what they want to be when they grow up. "I want to be a baseball player," says one. Another says, "I want to be a football player." During basketball season I get, "I want to play in front of Raptors fans." Another son says, "I want to be a baseball analyst."  He is my favorite. 

Most sports fans at one point or another dreamed of playing professionally. When we grow up we all want to be general managers. We call in to talk radio shows with opinions about players and trades and free agents. It seems like such a great job doesn't it?

The first two months of this baseball season has made me remember the pain of being a general manager. John Steinbeck wrote in his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Well isn't that the truth.

You all want to be a general manager but there are days that I would have rather been raking the field than making decisions about the team. So often in baseball you can have the right design and configuration of your roster but stuff happens: injuries, underperformance, marital problems, etc. There are so many unpredictable variables that can impact a team's results.

The Dodgers started the season with the best one-two punch in baseball with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but Kershaw hurt his back and has missed time. The A's and Rays started the season with great young starting pitching depth but both have two starters out from elbow surgery. The Pirates and Indians both made the playoffs last year with very young teams. They came in to 2014 expecting their young players to take another step forward and to be competitive again for a playoff spot. Both clubs are struggling. Weren't those fair expectations? 

Heck the Red Sox won the World Series last year. Even though they lost a player here and there they should still be among the best in baseball…right?

The Nationals were a very popular pick to represent the NL in the World Series this year. They have been just mediocre, but who would have predicted that Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman would miss weeks of the season and that Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez would spend time on the DL. 

It is the most frustrating part of being a general manager. Your thinking and decision-making can be spot on yet the results can completely collapse. So much happens that can't be predicted. Stuff that is completely out of your control. I am breaking out in hives just thinking about it. 

Having been in the room when my kids were born I have always wondered why women go back for more after having one. It hurts so much why would anyone want to do it again. Women say they have "selective memory." They have the ability to move away from the pain and only remember the joy of childbirth.

I guess being a GM is kind of like that too. The anguish of seeing your plans blow up before your very eyes can be painful. Yet GMs go back for more year after year. 

As for me…no more kids please!

 

 

 

John Gibbons (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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