Major League Baseball is approaching its All-Star break, traditionally thought of as the midpoint of the season, though the Toronto Blue Jays
will have played 94 of their 162 contests when the break begins on Monday.
Semantics aside, what should we expect from the Jays in the second half?
Barring a miracle, we can't expect them to work their way into post-season contention. Heading into Friday's game in Baltimore, Toronto is 11.5 games behind AL East leader Boston, and eight games back of wild card co-leaders Texas and Tampa Bay.
I hope the Jays will use what's left of the season to identify the positions where they are weakest and start planning to improve them for next year. The spots most in need of upgrades are starting pitching, second base, catcher and left-field.
Let's take a look at each.Starting pitching
Toronto has three starters who will likely return to the rotation next year: R.A. Dickey
, who should use the second half of this season to show us he can be somewhat consistent; Mark Buehrle
, who looked awful at the start of the season but has been the team's most consistent starter for the past month; and Brandon Morrow
, who should be back after the All-Star break as he looks to stay healthy over the second half of the season.
The Jays should figure out which of the following pitchers could make up the rest of the 2014 rotation, or else pursue a trade or free agent in the off-season.
- Esmil Rogers: It's hard to believe that a guy who looked so bad as a reliever could turn into a good starter. Since joining the rotation, he has a 3.27 ERA, but he must show the Jays that his arm can stand up to a starter's workload over the second half.
- J.A. Happ: The lefty was part of the rotation until a line drive off the head on May 7 put him on the DL, where he remains as he recovers from a sprained knee suffered during the same mishap.
- Drew Hutchison: The young righty is starting a rehab assignment as he battles back from the Tommy John surgery that ended his rookie season last July. Most pitchers can come back from Tommy John and be just as good as they were before.
- Marcus Stroman: Toronto's first-round pick in 2012 has looked great in Double-A New Hampshire, putting up a 5-2 record with a 3.26 ERA. He has 58 strikeouts with just 12 walks in 49 innings. Some think that he would be better off as a reliever, but the Jays would like to see if he can start. If he continues to pitch well, we could see him in Toronto before the end of the season.
- Kyle Drabek: Also coming back from Tommy John surgery, Drabek has to prove his arm has recovered, then prove to the Jays that he can throw strikes, which has been a problem for him.
- Ricky Romero: It's going to take more than three good starts at Triple-A Buffalo to prove himself, considering how bad he's been, but it's a step in the right direction. The Jays still owe him $8.1 million US, so he's going to get every chance to show he can earn it.
This position has been a black hole for the Blue Jays this year, with Emilio Bonifacio
, Maicer Izturis
, Mark DeRosa
and Munenori Kawasaki
combining for a major-league worst minus-2.0 WAR
and .227/.269/.345 slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) at the position. A change will have to be made for next year.Brett Lawrie
has been playing second during his minor-league rehab stint, with the thought that he could be moved there when he returns to Toronto. I'm not a fan of the idea. Lawrie has proven himself to be pretty fragile, so I don't want to see players sliding into him to break up double plays. And moving Lawrie to second might fill the hole there, but it would open another one up at third base.
GM Alex Anthopoulos is going to have to work the trade or free-agent market to find a solution at second (or third if he wants to move Lawrie) this off-season.CatcherJ.P. Arencibia
thinks his problems have been discussed too much, but he does need to improve. Right now he ranks second from the bottom in all of major league baseball in on-base percentage at .255, his batting average is just .220, and his defence is poor. Yes, he can hit home runs, but he should be so much better than he has shown. Arencibia called out his critics
in the media, but he needs to be told that he has to improve or the Jays will have to look for someone else to be the starting catcher. Left-field
The Jays signed Melky Cabrera
to fix the hole they had last year in left-field. It hasn't worked out. Cabrera has put up a .278/.321/.362 slash line and a minus-0.4 WAR. In Melky's defence, he has been trying to play through leg problems that have landed him on the DL. Hopefully when he gets back it won't be so painful to watch him run. Rajai Davis
has done a nice job filling in, but he isn't the player I'd like to see out there full time.
Cabrera's other problem is that he has been named in the Biogenesis scandal
and he may be looking at another suspension in the near future. If he were to get a 50-game ban, we wouldn't see him again this year. If the commissioner's office were to hand 100-game suspensions to the players named in the scandal, Cabrera would miss a significant part of next season as well.
If Anthony Gose
was showing well in the minors, missing Cabrerae wouldn't be as big a deal, but Gose has been very disappointing this season, hitting just .226/.313/.307 at Triple-A Buffalo. If Cabrera is going to miss significant time next season, the Jays may have to look outside the system to replace him.
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