TORONTO - It’s hard to know what drove the engine of Blue Jays hope and passion that became, ultimately, frustration and anger this week.
Was it all about Yu Darvish, the pitcher? Or was it more about Yu Darvish, the idea?
If it was about Yu Darvish, the pitcher, then by being outbid by the Texas Rangers, the Blue Jays may have dodged a bullet. Sure, it’s possible Darvish might step in and knock the American League on its ear, because a lot of people believe he’s that good. But was it worth $125 million to find out if Darvish is going to get lost in translation or not?
We tend to think the Darvish watch was more about an understandably impatient Blue Jay Nation looking for a sign that the team is finally ready to make the bold moves it has talked about making when the time is right. The anticipation reached a crescendo Monday night and when that sign didn’t come, there was a colossal letdown.
“This one took on a life of its own, for whatever reasons,” said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos on a conference call Tuesday morning.
“Certainly not from anything I came out and stated or that anybody from our club came out and stated.”
You can be sure there was nothing haphazard or scattered about how Anthopoulos and his staff prepared for the Darvish posting. Typically, the GM is not even acknowledging that they made a bid but he did describe how they made their way through the process.
“What are you willing to allocate, total, for the player?” said the GM. “How many years? How much do you allocate for the contract? How much do you allocate for the posting?
“And can you be competitive enough to win the post and then sign the player? If you don’t win the post, you don’t even get to the second part of it.”
You can be sure that the Jays were comfortable with their valuations and have quickly moved on. Anthopoulos always has multiple balls in the air.
“We need to add a lot of things,” he said. “The bullpen, we absolutely need to improve there. We’d like to improve the rotation if we can, if it makes sense. We’d love to add a bat, as well. We’re going to continue to explore those options and probably be more active in the trade market than the free agent market.
“We are going to continue to try to add core pieces to this club.”
Many of the fans who staked their hopes on Darvish will now be rooting, in vain, for a Toronto pursuit of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, probably more of a sure thing than Darvish, but not without significant risk.
We came across an observation made last week by Andrew Stoeten on the Drunk Jays baseball blog that resonated. He made a rather chilling comparison between Fielder, a free agent at 28, and a fellow named Vernon Wells who, you may recall, the Jays signed to a seven-year, $126-million contract, also at the age of 28.
“Wells’ 162-game average over the four years prior to signing was 32 home runs, 42 doubles, with a .292/.344/.509/.853 line. Fielder’s previous four years have seen him average 38 HR and 32 doubles per 162 games, with a .284/.400/.537/.936 line,” wrote Stoeten.
“Vernon, of course, played above-average defence at a premium position at the time, which narrows the significant gap with the bat. According to FanGraphs, Wells had been worth 16.8 WAR (wins above replacement) over the four year period, while Fielder has been worth 17 WAR.
“You can feel so good about a player that you’re ready to give him crazy money, that you think it’s worth the risk he declines, that it’s worth the risk he gets hurt, that he’ll be so good on the front end that the back end won’t matter so much, that he’s young enough that you can’t possibly take such a hit. And you can be really, really wrong.”
When all is said and done, Darvish is going to cost the Texas Rangers in the order of Vernon Wells money. They’re already in for more than $51 million and a five-year contract at $15 million a season brings the tab to $126 million and change.
No matter what anybody says, they don’t know how this is going to turn out for the Rangers. It is a massive gamble, just as it would have been for the Jays.
So, what next for the Blue Jays, now that Yu Darvish’s ship has sailed?
“From my standpoint, trade talks haven’t slowed down at all,” said GM Alex Anthopoulos.
“There was a slow start to the off-season in November but in Dallas (winter meetings) things really got going. People had a lot of dialogue and we’ve taken a lot of information and carried it through. It continues to be very active on the trade front.”
If it’s pitching that the Jays have prioritized, then there remain several obvious targets. The Oakland A’s are in the process of blowing up their pitching staff and lefty Gio Gonzalez, still under control for four more years, is an attractive target.
The Cubs are looking to find a home for Matt Garza and he would be a comfortable fit for the Jays, having pitched well in the AL East pressure-cooker with Tampa Bay.
The Jays might even be able to take advantage of the Rangers surplus of starters now that they have Darvish. Lefty Matt Harrison might be available. Righthander Scott Feldman, who missed significant time last year recovering from knee surgery, could also be moved. He won 17 games for Texas in 2009 before his injury problems but pitched well in the 2011 playoffs in long relief. Feldman has one year left on his contract at $6.5 million, with a club option for 2013.