Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lack of Minor League Depth Painting AA into a Corner ?




    With the sometimes bizarre turns in the Ervin Santana free agent watch that took place this weekend, we can't help but feel that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous was gnashing his teeth behind closed doors this past weekend.
AA, as is widely known, prefers not to do his wheeling and dealing in the media, although after the stunning blockbusters with the Marlins and the Mets in December of 2012, it's becoming harder for him to do so.  And in the case of courting one of the last remaining free agents, it's nearly impossible.
   We can't help but wonder if the mid to upper level talent that Anthopolous dealt in the last half of 2012 has tied his hands in making deals this offseason, leaving him little choice but to go after free agents like Santana.
And it's not, of course, that the Jays are lacking in premium talent in the minors - it's just that the bulk of it is below High A ball.  Talent at that level is highly undervalued, for obvious reasons. Teams looking to upgrade their major league rosters know that those players are at least several years away, and a high percentage of them wash out at the higher levels, or become replacement-level players at best.
   7 of Baseball America's top 10 Jays prospects will be starting the season at High A or lower (the same goes for MLB Pipeline's) , as will 6 of Fangraph's top 10, and 8 of scouting guru Keith Law's top 10.  Now that will mean the Lansing Lugnuts may be one of the most watched Milb teams this summer, but at least as far as last offseason goes, there wasn't much depth for AA to deal.
   For those who don't recall the names Anthopolous traded in the Mets and Marlins deals, let's just say it's highly likely you'll be hearing a lot this season about Noah Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud (# 1 and #2 on BA's list), and this year or next you may be hearing more about Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony DeScalfini (3/4/5 on BA's Marlins' list).  That's a lot of talent - granted, not all of it premium, but still - that's a lot for a farm system to recover from, and maybe  a few years from now we'll truly come to appreciate the jobs the Jays scouting department has done both in the draft and internationally since 2011.
  In the meantime, the Jays front office is experiencing life on a tenterhook, as Santana and his agent take their time in choosing from several suitors.  With JA Happ injured and inconsistent, competition for not only the 5th spot in the rotation, but now likely the 4th as well has intensified.  With Marcus Stroman demonstrating that he's still learning, and Sean Nolin showing that perhaps he's not ready yet, and with Drew Hutchison emerging as the leading candidate to grab one of those last two spots, it's down to Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, and Kyle Drabek for that last spot.  Hence, the interest in Santana, even at an inflated price tag.
   When AA traded that minor league depth in 2012,  it was part of a plan that would see the club contend from 2013 to 2015.  That plan went awry last year, and Anthopolous has been handcuffed in his attempts to restock the starting rotation this year.  He may be in a much stronger position next season (as may have been the plan all along), but that's of little consolation to Jays fans who had expected bigger things.
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