Yup, that is your Toronto Blue Jays ranking 4th in Beyond the Box Score's mathematically-derived power rankings. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts.
Credit to Alex Anthopoulos and his team for doing their best to avoid the candy & nuts aspects of his job. As he told John Lott (after mentioning that Aaron Cibia will get the bulk of the playing time):
"We want to create depth at premium positions,” he said. “At shortstop and catcher, we feel like we have that now. Even in centre field, although it’s lower down the rungs, there are guys like Gose and Jake Marisnick [a third-round draft pick last year].More than depth, they have ceilings. They have two players who, if they're tools develop into skills, could become high-end major league baseball players.
“From a position-player standpoint, those seem to be the most difficult positions to either draft or acquire in a trade.”
Which brings me back to the Mop Up Duty piece I linked above. Of course scouting is important, more important than ever as the cost of doing business is now so very high. The biggest driver, in my eyes, of this approach isn't a Scouts versus Stats, Us versus Them battle. It is about the difference between being a good team and a great one.
If you look at the numbers compiled in the aforementioned Beyond the Box Score post; you'll see the Jays are either a good team or an average team playing over its head. The debate could go all night long, but nobody would ever argue the Jays are great. And that is what they need to be to sate the playoff!!!1 lust of this fine city.
The Jays traded up this year, building progressively to improve pieces and solidify the team moving forward. But plugging holes with league average guys like John Buck or Fred Lewis is one thing, the Jays needs are going to change in the next few years. The days of replacement-level scrubs popping up here and there are, or should be, nearly over. Now1 is the time to write some checks and install high-end players into important places.
And for that, they must pay. Upfront or down the line, the marginal value of a scrap heap finds and somethings for nothings compared to the value of securing top-line talent is the next challenge. Obviously free agency is a fool's errand with far more risk than reward. So it comes to the kids. Gose or Marisnick or the next toolsy kid they find in Cuba or Venezuela or Japan, somebody needs to develop into a 6 win type player.
It is a similar story in the rotation. The common refrain "there isn't a number one in this group" might be tired but there is something to it. With only 25 spots on a big league roster, having two 3 win guys isn't as good as having one 6 win guy. So you have to pay for the privilege. A staff of four 4 win guys is pretty good (damn fine actually) but finding an true stud — and his extra three wins — is the kind of upgrading Alex Anthopoulos stays up nights thinking about.
It isn't that building an 85 win team on a budget is easy, it surely isn't. Building a sustainable 85 win core then building on those extra 6 or 7 wins is the real challenge. I think AA and his team are on the right track but the hard work is still very much ahead of them.
1 - Now is relative. Not now like today, but now like whenever you plan to make the next step.
Image courtesy of Beyond The Box Score