2014 Toronto Blue Jays: Middle of the road

Ernie Whitt

Ernie Whitt was the left-handed part of the Blue Jays’ catcher platoon through the 1980s, normally with Buck Martinez. Whitt broke in with the Red Sox for 20 at-bats in 1976 and was taken by the Jays in the expansion draft. Whitt was up for good by 1980 and hit double-figures in home runs, but never more than 19, in every season from 1982-89. Spent 1990 withe the Braves and ’91 with the Orioles. Played only twice in the postseason, going 6-for-37 as the Jays lost the ALCS in ’85 and ’89. His final totals: a .249 average, 134 home runs, .410 slugging percentage, .734 OPS, 33% of base stealers thrown out and a 18.5 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: In the 20 months or so pitcher Marcus Stroman has been a Blue Jays prospect, he’s fanned better than a batter an inning, been suspended 50 games (amphetamine product) and complained when he wasn’t called up to the majors last September. “That feeling of being overlooked bothers me like nothing else. I’m hungry! If you’re not starving, I can’t relate,” Stroman tweeted. We can’t wait to see what the next 130 innings of Stroman brings, because he’s going to be a buffet of fun, if not for batters. Stroman, like Tom Gordon and Tim Collins, is undersized but overpowering. He’s just 5-foot-9, but fanned 152 in 131 innings, most at AA. He was a No.1 pick in 2012 out of Duke, which has him about a level ahead of 2010 No. 1 pick Aaron Sanchez, who is also highly regarded but throws far fewer strikes. Stroman is also fond of tattoos and has one of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. Something about letting strikeouts roll down like water from a mighty stream, we’ll guess.

Trivia: Who was the first Blue Jays pitcher to win a Cy Young Award? Hint: It was the first of three straight Cy Youngs won by the Blue Jays, who have won four in all. You can also name the four Cy Young Awards won by three Blue Jays pitchers. Answer below.

What he said: Blue Jays president Paul Beeston: “But there was no way that you could just go out and spend a lot of money and not improve your team … ” What he meant: “We went from 73 wins to 74. That’s not getting better?”

Outlook: The Blue Jays spent $42 million more in payroll in 2013 than 2012, and a half million more fans came out to watch. Here’s hoping they enjoyed the extra win.

The Blue Jays did everything to make over the team, adding a Cy Young winner, three starters in all, an All-Star shortstop and the previous season’s most notorious PED user. It didn’t help.

Everyone assumed the Marlins were tanking and the Blue Jays were stockpiling when the former traded Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to the latter. Everyone ignored that the Marlins added Reyes and Buehrle in 2012, and won three less games.

Alex Anthopolous begins his fifth year as general manager and someone is sure to notice soon that whatever he’s doing, it’s not working any better than anything J.P. Riccardi did.

The Blue Jays are like an NBA team that is never good enough to get past the first round of the playoffs or bad enough to get the high draft picks that will help them. Maybe the Marlins have the better idea.

The Jays had five players hit more than 20 home runs, yet had trouble scoring runs, finishing eighth in the AL. It didn’t help that Reyes and Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera played anywhere from 88 to 118 games.

But if the offense was mediocre, the pitching was boo-able, if Canadians booed baseball. R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball didn’t pass through customs, because his ERA was 4.21, and Buehrle’s 4.15 led the team’s starters. Injuries limited J.A. Happ, Johnson and Brandon Morrow to 44 starts, which might not have been so bad given their ERAs of 4.56, 6.20 and 5.63, respectively, but their replacements were worse. Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers made 34 starts, which is how you win one more game and finish one spot worse in the AL East.

It’s easy to understand why they Jays are impatient, but not why they acted on it. A year ago they dealt minor-league catcher Travis D’Arnaud and minor-league pitcher Noah Syndergaard for Dickey, who had just won the Cy Young at age 37. It was a classic prospects for aging veteran deal only a desperate team would make, and given Anthopolous’ record — 85 wins to 81 to 73 — the Blue Jays were that. Imagine how they are now having won all of 74 games last year.

Eighteen months ago, the Jays had J.P. Arencibia, prone to home runs and strikeouts, and D’Arnaud at catcher. This year they’ll start the season with a platoon of Dioneer Navarro, two good seasons out of nine, and Erik Kratz, who at age 33 has had just two major-league seasons. And Josh Thole. And it may not be long before Syndergaard (3.06 ERA, 133 Ks in 117.2 innings at A/AA in 2013) is a better major-league pitcher than Dickey.

Like the Anthopolous years, it’s hard to sell that as an improvement.

Trivia answer: Pat Hentgen (20-10, 3.22 ERA) was the first Blue Jays pitcher to win a Cy Young, in 1996. Roger Clemens won the next two for the the Jays, and Roy Halladay won in 2003. If you guessed Dave Stieb, his best finish was fourth in 1982, although he should have been first. Stieb was 17-14 with a 3.25 ERA in 288.1 innings with a .658 OPS against. Pete Vuckovich, who won the award for pennant-winning Milwaukee, was 18.6 with a 3.23 ERA in 223.2 innings and a .740 OPS against. Stieb’s 7.7 WAR far oudistanced Vuckovich (2.8), runner-up Jim Palmer (4.8) and third-place Dan Quisenberry (3.3). Fifth-place Rick Sutcliffe (5.7) was closest to Stieb.

Team song Scott Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag

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