February 01, 2015

Let's Not "Lynch" Carroll over Playcall

Two years worth of work. A decade since an NFL team had repeated as champions. A four-second play ends Seattle’s dream.

Watching as the Seahawks let immortality slip from their fingertips, we observed just one of the three possible ways a Super Bowl can play out, each with its own pre-determined public reaction. The first two receive the positive type of media spin. When Tom Brady marches down the field as time expires, willing his team to victory, this remarkable achievement is celebrated, even heralded as an historic moment in the games history.

Same goes for a blowout win, ala Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. As the quarterback kneels for the last time, the praise rains down on the victors, who will be ranked among the best ever to take the field. The focus is always on what the winners did right.

Except today. This is the third category of Super Bowls: the choke. And when the title game is lost rather than won, somebody has to take the blame.

The moment New England’s cornerback Malcolm Butler got his hands on Russell Wilson’s pass into the endzone, the sports tradition known as scapegoating took over social media. What else is there left to do after a championship is decided by a single mistake?

It seemed so simple. The Seahawks had the ball on the 1-yard line. With 30 seconds left in the game, a touchdown seals it. A single yard is all dynamic halfback Marshawn Lynch needs to rumble for a Lombardi Trophy. Instead, Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball, and that ball was intercepted.

So there you have it. Carroll is the newly crowned “easiest man to ridicule” in the world. Hindsight is 20-20, so everyone can clearly see the wrong play was called. Every self proclaimed expert from the pressbox at the University of Arizona stadium, to the guy hanging out in his buddy’s basement, strangely falling ill on Super Bowl Sunday, unable to attend work; everyone now has the right to berate Pete Carroll’s unorthodox decision.

Of course thats what we do. We need to pump our egos. What could be easier that waiting to see if the play works, then judging it accordingly. No matter how futile it is to form an opinion based on the result alone, the hoard of incredulous armchair coaches is growing larger by the second.

So hold on, what if the play had worked? What if the Seahawks receivers successfully picked the Patriots coverage with their crossing routes, as designed? What if Ricardo Lockette caught the ball wide-open in the endzone, effectively ending the game?

Here’s what would have happened, Pete Carroll would be kissing his second Lombardi Trophy, while social media hailed his play call as ingenious. Of course they would. Fans and journalists alike have the luxury of watching everything play out before they make up their minds. NFL coaches aren’t so lucky. They have to make a choice without knowing the consequences.

So why don’t we judge this decision the same way? Have we forgotten how effective the Seahawks have called plays that defy convention, only to fool defenses and convert key downs? Seattle has made their living on offense by rushing the ball when they are expected to pass, and vice-versa. With a run-first attack that lacks the balance of a true offensive juggernaut, what choice does Carroll have? Since week 1 he has needed to find creative ways to put points on the board.

We saw it two short weeks ago, when punter Matt Ryan threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal, pulling Seattle back into a game they were losing badly to a talented Green Bay Packers squad. Without that shot in the dark, it would have been Aaron Rodgers and the boys taking the field against New England today.

The Seahawks even pulled it off today, earlier in the game, when Russell Wilson threw the ball on 2nd and goal from the 3-yard line. Rather than handing it to Lynch, he found Doug Baldwin all alone in the endzone to put Seattle up by 10 in the 3rd quarter. It was an identical scenario to the one that ended the ballgame. The first time, Carroll’s decision to throw the ball paid off handsomely.

When in a goal-line situation, Seattle prefers not to simply pound the ball down the middle. A pass on first or second down, besides the opportunity for an aerial score, plants a seed of doubt into opposing defenses. They are forced to prepare for a passing play, no longer able to stack the box against a run. That opens up lanes for Marshawn Lynch, and thats why he lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns this season.

Yes, throwing the ball in the red zone introduces the possibility of an interception, as we found out the hard way today. Typically, Russell Wilson is adept at throwing the ball away, rather than jamming the ball into tight spaces, risking a pick. He chose the wrong day to try to force one, and he paid the price.

So is Russell Wilson the scapegoat then? Of course not. Without Wilson, the Seahawks would have had less than a prayer in this ballgame. Tom Brady methodically picked apart a battered Seahawks secondary all night. Wilson was forced to come from behind. He could no longer count on Lynch to rumble down the field, wasting precious seconds.

He needed to air it out. And air it out he did. Wilson’s barrage of long balls consistently found the hands of his no-name-brand receiving corps. New England’s stingy secondary could not have shut the passing game down any more effectively, yet Wilson kept finding ways to put up points. He was the team’s only hope, and he was a yard away from single-handedly carrying Seattle to a title.

His only failure was that he could not atone for the inadequacies of his teammates. The Patriots won their fourth championship in 15 years because they were simply the better team.

Pete Carroll did the right thing and took the blame for calling a pass on the goal line. He know darn well what his job is after a crushing loss: take the heat off his players. But if you can manage to block out the angry cries of arrogant sports junkies, you might be able to clear your head enough to realise the truth. The Super Bowl was won, not lost. The better team earned it.

April 12, 2014

Defense Winning Games for the Blue Jays

In a sport that has a number, a statistic, and a value to almost everything, defense in baseball remains a mystery. It is, indeed, the most difficult facet of the game to judge objectively. Decades of pondering have gone into answering one question: Just how important is team defense? It’s a question that has defied every one of the brightest minds in baseball.

But in the mind of the armchair analyst who watched the Toronto Blue Jays from his couch last summer, there is no doubt. A team can only kick the ball around so much until it becomes clear that improvement is necessary.

In 2014, there has been a distinct turnaround. Through 11 games of the new campaign, Toronto is the only team in the A.L. without an error. At this point last year, the Jays had already racked up eight errors. The improvement is dramatic.

And the better defense is actually winning ballgames. The Blue Jays are early leaders of the A.L. East with a 6-5 record, despite ranking 7th in league E.R.A. and 11th in nun production. Average pitching, sub-par hitting, above average record? What is the difference maker?

You guessed it. The perfect defense of course has not conceded an unearned run. This alone has boosted Toronto into 4th place in terms of total runs allowed. The Blue Jays are treading water, and their defense is the reason why.

Contrast this to last year, when the defense was horrendous during the anticipated 2013 season. The 12th ranked defense out of 15 American League teams in terms of fielding percentage offered no help to a struggling pitching staff. If the pitching was good, the defense was not. They would take turns letting each other down. And if it wasn't one or the other, it was both who were terrible. It was a dilemma that knocked the hyped-up wind out of their sails by the time April was out.

So the Blue Jays brass had no choice. Improved defense was one of the focuses of G.M. Alex Anthopoulos’ offseason, perhaps the only one that came to fruition. Already cast off at the trade deadline was Emilio Bonifacio, who was a letdown, both at the plate and with the glove at second base. Joining him at season’s end was J.P. Arencibia. Up to that point Arencibia had been kept around for his impressive home run totals among catchers, and not much else.

After three years as backstopper, the front office had finally had enough of his poor defense behind the plate. His 20 dingers every year no longer justified his inability to block pitches and throw out runners, and his .264 on-base percentage over his tenure made matters worse.

So out were Arencibia and Bonifacio, and in are Dioner Navarro and Ryan Goins. The former is the one and only major acquisition of the winter. A veteran who most notably caught the potent Tampa Bay staff during their glory years from 2006 through 2010, Navarro is the opposite of Arencibia in every way.

He has long been a solid defensive catcher. Despite his lack of arm, he distinguishes himself from J.P. by his game-calling ability. Confident in his pitch selection, he is equally comfortable with the glove. He has never allowed more that six passed balls in one year, while Arencibia has never allowed fewer than six in a full season. His tallies stand at 12 PB in 2011, 9 in 2012, and a league-leading 13 passed balls in 2013.

His prowess behind the plate are complemented by his talent beside it. As a hitter he does not have as much pop as J.P., but he more than makes up for that by getting on base. Navarro’s career on-base percentage in currently .312, compared to Arencibia’s .257 mark.

Better at hitting and better and catching, Dioner Navarro is a clear upgrade over Arencibia. When it comes to Ryan Goins, however, it is not as clear-cut. Anyone who watched Goins play last September knows how good he looks at second base. He is a natural shortstop, and he looks it when he fields a grounder. His range, arm, and sure-handedness was refreshing to see after watching Emilio Bonifacio boot grounder after grounder for four painful months.

But as young and exciting a prospect as Goins is, he is a definite liability in the lineup. He held his own and hit .252 during his call-up in 2013, but nobody could realistically expect him to post remotely impressive numbers in his first full season. In fact, there is little surprise that he is hitting a paltry .045 so far, which illustrates how low expectations were of him as a hitter.

Anthopoulos knew what he was getting from Goins better than anyone. He was willing to trade hitting for defense, especially at a middle infield position. 2013 could not repeat itself. So Ryan Goins was named an Opening Day starter.

For the Toronto front office, these changes represent learning from their own mistakes. Anthopoulos has claimed to be a numbers guy since his hiring. Maybe the lack of reliable statistics regarding defense factored into his decision to neglect defense altogether last winter.

In his perfect world, good gloves in the field will result in the playoff contender everyone thought he built last year. In reality, a weak starting rotation will likely keep the Blue Jays out of the post-season no matter what. But if nothing else, Alex Anthopoulos will not make the same mistake twice.

January 10, 2014

Blue Jays Can’t Afford to Stand Pat with Pitchers

The last thing the Toronto Blue Jays front office needs is pressure. They have plenty of that already, after a dreadfully disappointing 2013 season, the expectation is that improvements will be made to salvage the new core assembled a year ago after adding Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle. So naturally, GM Alex Anthopoulos is trying to ease the pressure, making it public that he may choose to “improve internally,” or more accurately, “stand pat”, particularly concerning the rotation.

Since the Blue Jays pitching had such a terrible year, almost every starter is a candidate for a bounce-back. The justification is that enough of the rotation will revert back to their effective selves, and pitch Toronto back into playoff contention.

Sounds painless right? No more purge of the minor league system, sacrificing the future for today’s roster. And with the hefty contracts acquired from the Miami Marlins in the big trade, it seems sensible not to push the envelope. Besides, there needs to be money five years down the road for extensions, when our prospects are not so young and cheap anymore.

The problem is, even if healthy Brandon Morrow rebounds like he should, and Dickey fights off age to regain his form, the rotation still looks pretty bland. If the Jays do not add any arms, it will be Dickey and Buehrle at the top, followed by Morrow and J.A. Happ. The fifth spot is there for the taking. With Ricky Romero’s foothold in the rotation now lost, he will need to outperform guys like Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, both back from lengthy Tommy John’s surgery rehab.


If the placeholder fifth starter gives up a relatively replacement-level 125 runs in a 190-inning season, the rotation would pitch a 4.38 E.R.A, assuming each incumbent starter improves to their average over the last three years. In 2013 this would have been 12th in the American League. It’s tough to make the playoffs with the league’s fourth-worst starting pitching. Not impressive.

It’s one of those known as “solid,” which means “below-average.” It might be good enough, but every starter would need to pitch pretty close to the ceiling of their ability. Of course five pitchers all of a sudden having up-years and the same time is very unlikely. The odds of them even staying healthy are almost as minute, that lesson the Blue Jays have learned and re-learned.

So how many games would the Blue Jays win with this staff? Of course, its relatively easy to project their 2014 record using the well-known Pythagorean Record formula. Only two numbers are needed, runs scored and runs against.

To find their runs against, all three ways to concede must be considered: starters, relievers, and defense.

With an E.R.A. of 4.38, the rotation would give up 462 runs in 900 innings (900 innings is about average for A.L. starting pitching.)

The defense accounts for about 7.5% of all runs, so they would figure to contribute 37 to the previous total of 462, so the Blue Jays starters would give up 499 runs in all.

If the bullpen holds their 2013 form and allow 236 runs, all in all the Jays will have 735 runs against in 2014. In the American League last season, that would have ranked 12th.

Guessing how many runs the Jays will score is no exact science, however. With attractive long-ball numbers, they have deceptively posted very mediocre totals on offense. The best production in the last five years was 2010. Toronto lead baseball in home runs by a healthy margin, but still managed only 755 runs, sixth out of 14 in the A.L. But after stumbling to 720 runs last yea, a reasonable expectation for this talented offense is in the ballpark of 740.

740 runs for, 735 runs against. Convert those numbers into a record, and Toronto would go 82-80. Not a post-season team. An 82 win team is just about what Blue Jays fans have come to expect; an average team, out of contention by the time July winds down.

It makes sense, the way everything adds up. The Toronto rotation should be unremarkable at best. After all, they were second to worst in baseball last year.

It was totally realistic to expect the best starting pitching in the division after reloading with Dickey, Buehrle, and Josh Johnson? Unfortunately, the assumption was also that there would be two aces at the top, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson. In reality, they were far from premium starters. Now, Johnson is in San Diego, trying to re-establish his career.

And while Dickey is still a Blue Jay, he is no longer the Cy Young pitcher he was two years ago. His nagging neck and back problems showed he was not immune to aging after all. He will begin the 2014 season as a 39-year-old, his best years almost certainly behind him.

Still he should be equally, if not more effective than the workhorse Mark Buehrle. With these two quality starters, the Jays’ starting pitching can’t be that bad. It can’t be that good either. The rotation will need help, by trade or by free agency. Only after that can Toronto be somewhat poised to make a run at the post-season.

Alex Anthopoulos knows, with all the money spent and hype encouraged, his critics will expect nothing less. He cannot afford to sit back, saving money and prospects, minding the future. In fact, his own future with the club may rest on the results of the coming baseball season. A playoff birth is the only way to relieve the building pressure. He has to go for it.

April 30, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions

The 2013 edition of the playoff bracket. Winners in green.

April 11, 2013

Blue Jays Give Up on Lind, Add Wells

The Toronto Blue Jays could have acquired a right handed bat this winter to platoon with lefty DH Adam Lind. Instead, they opted to fill every other conceivable need with headline deals and crafty free agent signings, giving Lind a chance to show he can return to his 2009 form.

That year he had career highs in virtually every hitting statistic, batting .305 with 35 home runs. At 27 years old, he had become one of the most feared young sluggers in baseball. Of course, those watermarks have not been approached since. Call it a three-year slump or a return to his true unimpressive form, the Blue Jays have been disappointed with the production they are getting from a man they pay $5 million a year.

The Blue Jays coaching staff, try as they may, have not been able to rediscover his old swing. In the last year of a three-year pact, the Jays hoped Lind would find his form, and show he could hit left handed pitchers well enough to maintain a starting role with the club.

One week into the season, he has yet to show he can hit any type of pitcher. He is a miserable 2-for-17; all but two of those at bats have been against right handers. He has been benched twice already through Toronto’s first seven games. In his five starts and three pinch-hit appearances, he has managed one single and one double.

His early struggles are evidently enough to lose all confidence from the front office. GM Alex Anthopoulos claimed Casper Wells of waivers from the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. The outfielder figures to be the long-awaited platoon righty to pair with the left-handed Lind.

Wells owns a dramatic righty-lefty split, his career OPS against left-handed pitchers is .838, while that number plunges to .675 against lefties. He was started at all three outfield positions last year in Seattle, that versatility makes him an attractive fourth or fifth outfielder alongside Rajai Davis on the bench.

But Casper Wells, main purpose will likely be to shield Adam Lind from the despair of lefty-on-lefty at bats. If manager John Gibbons can maintain favourable matchups all season, the Blue Jays would, between Wells and Lind, effectively have a DH with an OBP of .340 who slugs around .490. Not a bad looking five-spot hitter.

It is not the way Anthopolous had hoped Lind's troubles at the plate would be dealt with, but judging by his swift action to find a platoon partner, it may be the resolution he expected. Lind is not likely to find his 2009 form this year, he may never play that well again. Clearly nobody wants to pick up his $5 million tab; he went through waivers last year and went unclaimed.

So the Blue Jays will be forced to make use of Lind until he becomes a free agent this winter. And to be sure, Adam Lind can certainly be made useful if John Gibbons plays his hand right. Sure, Rogers is paying a lot of money for a guy who has to splip playing time, but as long as Toronto is stuck with that contract, they have an opportunity to extract as much production as they can squeeze out of his talent.

After this campaign is over, barring a miraculous revival in Lind's career, the Blue Jays will finally rid themselves of his burden on the payroll. Whether that relief comes as significantly cheaper extension for Lind, or as Anthopoulos letting him walk, Toronto will be free to use those funds to find a bigger middle-of-the-order bat if they so choose.

In the mean time, Adam Lind and Casper Wells can team up to provide added protection behind clean-up man Edwin Encarnacion. Sure, Toronto expected, or maybe wished, Lind would be able to fill the role on his own, but he is what he is. The Blue Jays have tried to will him into rediscovering the magic of 2009, it is simply not in the cards.

The only way to keep him contibuting positively is to transform him into a platoon hitter. The acquisition of Casper Wells shows he Blue Jays management is ready to take that step. The mission is no longer to revive Adam Lind, but to recast him.

December 01, 2012

The Problem with the Blue Jays-Marlins Trade

It has been a couple of weeks since the massive 12-player swap between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays, so we baseball junkies have had time to go through the full of emotions.

For Marlins fans, there was really only one sentiment. But we won’t go there…

On the other side of the coin, in Toronto and across Canada, Blue Jays fans have been through a wild ride since that week in November. It was disbelief to begin with, which quickly turned to delirious joy. Then there was the Melky Cabrera signing, which put Canadians back in too-good-to-be-true mode.
Mere minutes later came the surreal, out-of-body realization that the Blue Jays were back in business.

Of course, there was nervousness that Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would overturn the trade, pulling the relevance from under our feet. Gladly, after a weekend of sweating it out, the deal was finally made official, and Blue Jays fans were faced with the painful realization that Opening Day was still in fact four months away.

With so much time on their hands, everyone surrounding the team has since mulled over what 2013 will bring. Scouring over potential lineups, projected rotations, even what the bench will look like in the coming season. They have stormed through every newspaper, television, even blogs to find any little insignificant tidbit to get their baseball fix during the long winter.

So what exactly have they discovered in their trek through baseball media? Most notably, there have been articles written warning the people of Toronto to temper their expectations. They stick out like a dent in your new car. A simple online search of “Toronto Blue Jays” will bring you all the opinions of these buzz kills so eager to tell you anything and everything that could go wrong.

This has led to the next emotion on the rollercoaster: worry. What if it doesn’t work out? What if we get another nightmare injury rampage through our pitching staff? What if Reyes and Cabrera turn out to be busts? What if Hechevarria turns into a superstar?

It has become too easy for fans to feed their angst. They search for every flaw in their home team; most are the silliest concerns over stuff like pit bulls and income tax, reports you normally see on the slowest of news days.

But in this mess of irrelevant information, there have admittedly been some serious questions raised over the future of the Toronto Blue Jays. The most worrisome problem is that of Josh Johnson. The 27-year-old has for many the prize of the entire Marlins trade. The young starter is among the most coveted assets in baseball.

He is one of three or four pitchers in baseball who are on every general manager’s wish list. There are talented young starters, and then there is Josh Johnson. He is not the pitcher Toronto has grown accustomed to taking in, a “B” or “C+” type talent who is a serviceable alternative to the real deal. Josh Johnson is the real deal. He is the “A” level talent on the mound the Jays have been missing since Roy Halladay left.

So what’s the catch?

It is not his injury history that keeps the Toronto front office awake at night; health issues are anything but new to GM Alex Anthopoulos. The problem is his contract.

Johnson’s issue is the “Reverse-Jose Reyes.” His deal isn’t too long, it’s too short. Johnson is only locked up for one more season; this time next year the Blue Jays could lose his to free agency, where Johnson’s agent has suggested he might attract the richest contract ever signed by a pitcher.

Now of course, Johnson would realistically sell for a lot less that his agent would have us believe. This is simply standard hype building in hopes of raising his value.

These comments are not meant to say Johnson has no interest in signing an extension with the Blue Jays. He has, in fact, told the media he would be happy to entertain such negotiations whenever Anthopoulos wishes.

But let’s not read too much into the cookie-cutter statements the involved parties are expected to make. Obviously the media is the last place Johnson would reveal his true intentions.

The reality of the situation is that Johnson will cost the Blue Jays a pretty penny to keep long term, anyone of his calibre would. Besides, let’s face it; Toronto is not where most baseball players would choose to spend their career. To keep Johnson from testing free agency, it will cost the Blue Jays will have to pay a premium, likely close to $18 million per year. With Reyes’ contract ballooning to $22 million in 2014 that is not an easy pill to swallow.

With no guarantees ownership will spend that kind of money, or even that Johnson would stay if he was offered that contract, Alex Anthopoulos is faced with a real dilemma. There is a serious chance he could lose the centrepiece of the Marlins trade after only one year with the Blue Jays.

Talk about a tough pill to swallow. Josh Johnson is not the kind of player you want to slip through your fingers. He is the guy you want anchoring your staff for years to come, the last thing you want to see is Johnson doing just that in another city.

If that ominous vision comes to life, if Johnson does end up leaving Toronto at the end of the season, where does that leave the Blue Jays? They want to become a contending ball club this year; they have made that abundantly clear. In fact, they plan on remaining a factor for the foreseeable future.

Suppose the Blue Jays end the 2013 season as an up and coming club, a step away from going over the top and challenging for a World Championship. Losing Josh Johnson would put management in a tough spot. They would have to improve the quality of the club over the offseason, but they would now have to fill a blaring hole in the rotation first.

The Blue Jays know they cannot find all their help through free agency. Yes, ownership did spend a ton of cash recently. Don’t expect this kind of bonanza every offseason. With the payroll rising almost $50 million in the blink of an eye, Rogers is probably not willing to spend much more. With all the back-loaded contracts from Miami starting to kick in, Toronto will not have the budget space or the appeal to land the big fish.

The only other route to acquire talent is the trade market, where Anthopoulos has proved himself to be quite effective. But knowing the Jays GM, he will likely be apprehensive about decimating his minor league system further.

So if you can’t trade and you can’t sign a starter, what do you do? Basically, Toronto would be stuck with the same rotation they have now, minus the best pitcher of the five. That’s not progress, that’s a setback.

If the Blue Jays want to become perennial contenders, a setback is not what they need. Unfortunately, even if Anthopoulos puts forth his best effort to lure Josh Johnson back long-term, you would be hard-pressed to bet on an extension being signed.

But hey, maybe we will be proved wrong. Maybe Johnson falls in love with Toronto, and decides that this is where he wants to spend the rest of his career. If somehow, someway the stars align and he signs that deal, the next emotion down the line might be one Blue Jays fans haven't experienced since the 90's

Boy, this is going to be a long winter.

November 05, 2012

Blue Jays Shouldn't go after Greinke

All signs are pointing to a busy winter for the Toronto Blue Jays. There are holes in the starting rotation, and the management actually looks willing to fill them, even if that means spending some money.

And they are going to have money to spend, too. Kelly Johnson and his $6 million contract is on his way out, which will leave the Toronto payroll in the $70 million range. The speculation is that Rogers will be dropping some cash this offseason, so the extra budget is encouraging.

If ownership wants payroll to get back to the Vernon Wells days, the Jays have a good $20 million to burn. Clearly the majority of that will go towards mending the starting staff. It is just too tempting to connect the dots, as the biggest pitcher on the market, Zack Greinke, will probably sign for close to that kind of money.

The though of Greinke filling the number one spot in the rotation is enough to make every Blue Jays fan salivate. In an era when any and every half-decent pitcher gets labelled an Ace, this guy is on of the few true Aces in the game. He is young, durable, and ridiculously consistent. Toronto is desperate for the kind of security Zack Greinke can offer.

Let's try to think straight for a second, though. Is Greinke really the best option for the Blue Jays?

He is the sexiest option, no doubt about it. Every team fantasizes ever landing the biggest fish on the market. But there lies the problem, doesn't it? There is hardly a single club that will not consider going after such a talent. Yeah, that bumps up his salary, but more importantly, there will be a ton of teams that will end up waiting and waiting and waiting on Greinke's decision, just to lose out in the end.

With so many holes to fill, does GM Alex Anthopoulos have the luxury to wait? He would have to hold off on all other free agents, all the money would be tied up in the massive offer. Greinke would almost surely sign elsewhere, the other solid starters would have been gobbled up in the meantime, and the Blue Jays would be pretty much screwed.

Why even mess with that possibility? Anthopoulos would be better off playing it safe and going after the second tier free agents right off the bat. Clearly there are a bunch off players who fall under this category, but for the sake of argument we'll go with a couple obvious ones in Dan Haren and Anibal Sanchez.

Without going into too much painful detail, both Sanchez and Haren are guys you can expect to get 30 starts out of every season, and you will get an ERA well into the 3.00 range to boot. Most importantly, neither of these guys will fetch a lot more that $12 million. That means, theoretically, Toronto can put offers in for the two players at the same time, and be relatively comfortable with their chances or getting either one.

Heck, getting both of them wouldn't be the end of the world, would it? It wouldn't cost much more than Greinke on his own...

Dreaming aside, it would be much easier to reel in either Haren or Sanchez, since most lines will be cast at Zack Greinke anyhow. And as much as the average fan will scoff at the notion of bargain hunting, it makes too much sense for the club long term to leave some financial space.

Don't forget that Edwin Encarnacion's new 3-year, $27 million-deal kicks in next year, that will eat up some budget on its own. Even more ominous, although the Blue Jays control Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero until 2015 and 2016, respectively, by that time the club options will have Morrow making $10 million and Romero making just oven $13 million.

These are three substantial raises all within five year's time. That money has to come from somewhere Even after all these inevitable expenses, surely Toronto will want some flexibility for winters to come. It is impossible to predict what kind of needs this team is going to have in the coming years, but one thing is for sure: the Blue Jays will not remain competitive if they lack the money to improve every season.

If the Blue Jays try keep the core of the team together, all while paying Zack Greinke's salary, they are going to have a tough time staying relevant for very long. Countless teams go down this road; they get their dream-team for the first couple of years, but piece-by-piece the club falls apart, as they can no longer afford a respectable supporting cast.

This is not the vision the Toronto Blue Jays have for themselves. The front office has said it time and time again, they are committed to building a ball club that will contend year-in, year-out. Why sacrifice that dream for a single pitcher?

Having a legitimate Ace is overrated anyway. Yeah, all the experts are going to preach that no team can compete without one, but let's face it, the Toronto Blue Jays had an Ace for years. His name was Roy Halladay. He brought the franchise absolutely nowhere in eleven years with the club. Meanwhile, the Oakland A's and the Baltimore Orioles are playing October baseball with pitchers nobody has even heard of.

Toronto has to ditch the brand name and go for value. Dan Haren and Anibal Sanchez are seriously good pitchers, and, honestly, the drop-off in price will be considerably steeper than the drop-off in performance.