There are many ways in which a baseball team can get broken, and spend years wandering the baseball wilderness. MLB has tried to give those teams a lifeline with the draft and IFA pools, but some teams, despite themselves, seem permanently stuck in the second division. Poor scouting, inadequate development, and huge contracts to players clearly on the downside of their careers have been the catalysts in the past for multiple 90+ loss seasons. Teams are starting to wise up as far as the latter is concerned, but there are huge differences from top to bottom in regard to acquiring and grooming talent.
The Blue Jays took a beating both on and off the field yesterday, and probably deservedly so. We can debate how much longer the Elvis Luciano experiment should go on (maybe his sides are going extremely well – we don’t know), but one thing is for sure – the team was hammered from a PR standpoint for not having AL Player of the Week Vladimir Guerrero Jr in the lineup, and those who argue that wasn’t merited are few and far between.
Was this a blunder? Certainly, the High Performance group, which monitors the health of the players, using metrics and technology that we’re not privy to, had mapped out a schedule for Guerrero long before he was promoted. This is a player who came to spring training not in peak shape, suffered an injury part way through the exhibition schedule, missed time due to injury last year, and has not played more than 119 games in a season before. Some will argue that at 20 years of age, Guerrero is not in need of an off-day (like Buck Martinez, owner of a .465 winning percentage as a big league skipper), but that flies in the face of the latest sport science research. Recovery is an essential component of athletic performance, sleep in particular. Having just come off a week-long road trip through a couple of time zones for the first time in his career, Guerrero may have been worn out, as any of us would have been. Those who suggest a day off in Chicago would have been a good idea, given the travel (again, a new experience for a player used to riding a bus) it may have not made much of a difference.
Did whoever made the schedule not realize the importance of Victoria Day in Canada? Perhaps, but given the meticulousness of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, that seems unlikely (if you’ve seen either of their offices, you are instantly put to shame when thinking of your own organizational habits).
If anything, this was an unfortunate glitch in the Blue Jays schedule. Taking a few steps back, most fans would agree that a young player – a valuable asset – would be due a day off after the first road trip of his career. With today’s expanded bullpens, benches are shorter, and the demands on everyday players are greater. And the toll it takes can’t be ignored: Josh Donaldson (who, granted is not 20 years old) averaged 157 games for four years, and now sports an .860 OPS after two injury-plagued seasons.
The Blue Jays blew their international budget four years ago to sign Guerrero, and while that amount is a pittance compared to today’s contract, it was a significant investment, and the Blue Jays – right or wrong, from the fans perspective – were protecting that investment.
One of the ways in which teams get broken is to push the panic button, and not adhere to the plan. Shapiro himself has gone on record as saying, “there is no shortcut,” when it comes to building a contender. Say what you will about the Blue Jays management group, but they have a plan, and they’re sticking to it. This is not a front office that’s going to rush things.