The 2017 MLB non-waiver trade deadline came and went Monday and to the dismay of some, the Blue Jays are still pretty much still in tact. General Manager Ross Atkins and co. made two shrewd moves, dealing Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith and their expiring contracts in separate deals for prospects (which you can read about here and here).
Obviously, the 2017 Blue Jays are still an old, underperforming ball club who appear to be well out of both the American League East and Wild Card races. So over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to coworkers and talk radio and scrolling through my Twitter timeline for Blue Jays takes and have seen a number of them suggesting that the go on a full rebuild. However, I’m not sure that the whole “tear it down and start from scratch” approach would work for this team, especially not in a big market like Toronto.
For those lucky (or new) enough to be unfamiliar with the term tanking, it’s punting a few seasons for high draft picks and usually, trading any usable piece from your team for young players to help out in the future. The problem is that it’s painful. If you thought the Toronto Blue Jays and their incompetence was bad now, wait until players you don’t know can’t score against the Joe Random’s of the league! For example, look at the Houston Astros at the beginning of the decade. The Astros shipped out Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Matt Lindstrom, Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn, beginning the worst three-year run a team could possibly have. Between the 2011 and 2013 seasons, the Astros were a .333 team. Just for reference, that’s lower than Ted Williams’ career batting average of .344. They went from averaging just under 35 thousand fans during their 86-win season to around 25 thousand in 2011, to about 20 thousand in 2013.
Now, there are some arguments that the Blue Jays should just “give up” until 2023 or so, and again, the Astros are a great example! They’re one of the best teams in the league right now. They used those high picks to take George Springer 11th in 2011, Carlos Correa 1st in 2012, Mark Appel, first overall in 2013 who was used to acquire closer Ken Giles from Philadelphia, and after failing to sign 2014’s first overall pick Brady Aiken, took Alex Bregman 2nd overall in 2015. So it looked like the risk and the embarrassing level of baseball over those three years paid off.
After all, top 10 picks usually pan out the way they should, right? Well…maybe not.
Here are all the players drafted in the top-ten from 2000-2010 that failed to play in 100 Major League games (excluding players that were unsigned by the team that drafted them).
2nd overall (Twins): Adam Johnson, RHP – 9 MLB games, 26.1 IP
4th overall (Royals): Mike Stodolka, LHP – 0 MLB games
5th overall (Expos): Justin Wayne, RHP – 26 MLB games, 61.2 IP
8th overall (Tigers): Matt Wheatland, RHP – 0 MLB games
9th overall (Padres): Mark Phillips, LHP – 0 MLB games
10th overall (Angels): Joe Torres, LHP – 0 MLB games
3rd overall (Devil Rays): Dewon Brazelton, RHP – 63 MLB games, 271 IP
6th overall (Expos): Josh Karp, RHP – 0 MLB games
7th overall (Orioles): Chris Smith, LHP – 0 MLB games
8th overall (Pirates) John Van Benschoten, RHP – 26 MLB games, 90 IP
9th overall (Royals): Colt Griffin, RHP – 0 MLB games
1st overall (Pirates): Bryan Bullington, RHP – 26 MLB games, 81.2 IP
3rd overall (Reds): Chris Gruler, RHP – 0 MLB games
4th overall (Orioles): Adam Loewen, LHP/OF – 77 MLB games, 189.1 IP
5th overall (Expos): Clint Everts, RHP – 0 MLB games
10th (Rangers): Drew Meyer, SS – 0 MLB games
3rd overall (Tigers): Kyle Sleeth, RHP – 0 MLB games
5th overall (Royals): Chris Lubanski, OF – 0 MLB games
6th overall (Cubs) Ryan Harvey, OF – 0 MLB games
1st overall (Padres): Matt Bush, SS/RHP – 99 MLB games, 100 IP*
3rd overall (Mets): Phillip Humber, RHP – 97 MLB games, 371 IP
4th overall (Devil Rays): Jeff Niemann, RHP – 97 MLB games, 544.1 IP
5th overall (Brewers): Mark Rogers, RHP – 12 MLB games, 49 IP
6th overall (Cleveland): Jeremy Sowers, LHP – 72 MLB games, 400 IP
10th overall (Rangers): Thomas Diamond, RHP – 16 MLB games, 29 IP
8th overall (Devil Rays): Wade Townsend, RHP – 0 MLB games
2nd overall (Rockies): Greg Reynolds, RHP – 33 MLB games, 123.1 IP
9th overall (Orioles): Billy Rowell, 3B – 0 MLB games
3rd overall (Cubs): Josh Vitters, 3B – 36 MLB games
4th overall (Pirates): Daniel Moskos, LHP – 31 MLB games, 24.1 IP
8th overall (Rockies): Casey Weathers, RHP – 0 MLB games
9th overall (Diamondbacks): Jarrod Parker, RHP – 62 MLB games, 384 IP
6th overall (Marlins): Kyle Skipworth, C – 4 MLB games
3rd overall (Padres): Donovan Tate, CF – 0 MLB games
4th overall (Pirates): Tony Sanchez, C – 51 MLB games
5th overall (Orioles): Matt Hobgood, RHP – 0 MLB games
6th overall (Giants): Zack Wheeler, RHP – 70 MLB games, 371.2 IP*
9th overall (Tigers): Jacob Turner, RHP – 97 MLB games, 362.1 IP*
2nd overall (Pirates): Jameson Taillon, RHP – 32 MLB games played, 180 IP*
7th overall (Mets): Matt Harvey, RHP – 96 MLB games played, 590 IP*
10th overall (Athletics): Michael Choice, CF – 96 MLB games played
*active player in the MLB
Out of 110 players that were drafted, 36.3% didn’t suit up for at least 100 Major League games. Factor in players who were drafted but didn’t sign and that number goes up to 40.9%. In fact, 18.4% of those top ten picks who signed never even played a SINGLE game. And these numbers are just appearances. They don’t include the countless high picks that got into 100 games but did nothing notable throughout their careers. High draft picks are great, but if you aren’t hitting on them, it will drag on an excruciating rebuild.
This isn’t an anti-prospects or anti-draft thing, either. Prospects are the most valuable commodity a team can have. Don’t believe me? Look at what the Red Sox gave up for Chris Sale. If you’re a small market team that doesn’t have many real assets, I get the whole wait and see approach. If you have nothing to play for anyway, why not wait a few more years and build up your farm system and hope to get lucky in the draft? This described those early 2010s Astros perfectly. They had no path to contention without a full blow up.
That’s not Toronto, though.
The Blue Jays are in a big market and still feeling the effects of back to back ALCS berths. The team, despite being in last place in their division for the entire season, are still drawing just over 40 thousand fans per game and once again lead the American League in attendance. I’m not sure ownership would want to blow everything up and sacrifice the next few seasons for a chance to win in five years. As we saw with the Astros above, rebuild take a large toll on fan interest. There were some mitigating factors (such as the Astros fans not being able to see them on tv), but a blow up WILL hurt the team’s bottom line. On the baseball side of things, the Blue Jays still have young, valuable players with years of control remaining around whom the Jays can build winners. Those Astros didn’t have anybody like that.
What the Blue Jays can and should do is keep being creative. Look at what Drew Hutchison fetched the team just because the team was able to add salary, which is very similar to what happened with Francisco Liriano. The increased following for this team allows them to use money to improve the team instead of giving up assets – whether they’re on the big league roster or in the minors. Does this team desperately need some new faces and a retool? Absolutely. But that can be done with shrewd moves and free agency. They shouldn’t take a huge step back and alienate all of the new fans in the process, especially with the draft still being such a hit or miss system.
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