Yankees, Blue Jays Back to Battling for AL East

Toronto Blue Jays

After having Opening Day rained out and Sunday Night Baseball rained out, there’s been way too much rain for the first week of the baseball season. I’m usually nervous about the Yankees going to Toronto where they haven’t experienced much success of late, but with a dome and start times you can count on, going to play the Blue Jays right now isn’t the worst thing.

With the Yankees and Blue Jays picking up their heated rivalry from last season in Toronto, Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter joined me to talk about the Blue Jays’ playoff loss in the ALCS, trading away the farm system for a season that didn’t end with a World Series and what will happen with Jose Bautista’s contract situation.

Keefe: The last time we talked, the Yankees and Blue Jays had seven games left against each other in September. Things didn’t go the way I hoped. The Blue Jays beat up on the Yankees down the stretch the way they beat up on the entire league from the end of July on and went on to win the division.

In the playoffs, the Blue Jays fought back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the the Rangers in six games, but ended up losing in six games in the ALCS to the eventual champion Royals.

Were you devastated by the Blue Jays’ ALCS loss or were you just happy that they were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1993?

Dakers: Well, I’d say a little from column A and a little from column B.  I had tickets and a hotel room for the World Series games in Toronto. I was sad for a few days. But, taking the long view, the playoffs were great fun. I enjoyed almost every minute, minus some terrible strike calls in the last inning of the final game (I can’t wait for our robot overlords to take over the job of the home plate umpire).

It has been far too long since we had playoff baseball in Toronto, so I’m not going to complain about it.

Keefe: To make that run at the playoffs, the Blue Jays made a barrage of trades that included trading a combined 12 players for David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe and Ben Revere. Price is now on the Red Sox, Hawkins retied, Lowe is on the Tigers and Revere is on the Nationals. The only player remaining from all those deals is Tulowitzki.

Sure, it’s hindsight, but looking back and knowing that the Blue Jays did reach the postseason, but didn’t win the World Series, would you still make all those deals?

Dakers: Oh, I wouldn’t have made the trade for Lowe, but beyond that, I’d make the other trades. Tulowitzki hasn’t exactly performed, at least offensively, the way we’d like, but Jose Reyes’ range had disappeared. And he made a couple of bad errors to lose us games. So really, the team needed to find a way to get rid of his contract. Tulo, while he hasn’t hit great, at least can play short.

Price seemed to bring the team clubhouse together. It’s too bad that we re-sign him, but then long term contracts for starters in their 30’s never seem to end well.

Keefe: It was enjoyable to watch David Price get lit up in his Fenway Park debut (along with Craig Kimbrel), but I did want to see Price pitch on Sunday in Toronto. The Blue Jays will have plenty of chances to face Price this season, but it would have been special to watch him try to navigate his way through the top of the Blue Jays’ order in the opening weekend in Toronto in his first trip back there.

I don’t think anyone can blame Price for taking the deal he did since it’s absurd for anyone to be paid $1 million per start let alone someone who isn’t the best pitcher in the league. Here’s to hoping Price fades like CC Sabathia and then choose not to opt out after 2018 and the Red Sox are on the hook for all of the $217 million of his deal.

Price made 11 regular-season starts for the Blue Jays and went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, but went on to give up 16 earned runs in 23 1/3 innings in the playoffs. How will you remember the short-lived David Price era in Toronto?

Dakers: I guess what I’ll remember most is how much he seemed to enjoy being in Toronto. He was great on the days he started, but he was head cheerleader on the days he didn’t start. He seemed to enjoy his teammates and they seemed to like him. Alex Anthopoulos said he was the best guy he’s ever seen in the clubhouse. I’m not sure how much that is really worth, but it is fun to like the players you are cheering.

Of course, now that he’s a Red Sox he’s dead to me.

Keefe: At the beginning of spring training, Jose Bautista made headlines for supposed “contract demands” that have been reported in the five-year, $150 million range or close to that amount of years and dollars. Bautista is 35 right now and will be 36 when next seasons starts, so a five-year deal at that cost would make him a 40-year-old player earning somewhere near $30 million.

What do you think of Bautista’s “demands” and what would you give him?

Dakers: I think players always ask for more than they expect to get, at the start of negotiations. Bautista has been the face of the team, for so long, that I would overpay for him, but not to the level that Jose is suggesting.

Bautista is going to have to be moved out of right field soon. His range isn’t what you would like in right anymore (though it is fun watching him throw runners out at the plate).

Bautista has been doing a lot of work to keep himself in shape and, he feels, that it will keep him a valuable player into his early 40’s. I have my doubt about it, but if it were up to me, I’d ask Jose to share the risk of a long term deal. I’d offer something like $25 million a year for two years (and I’d likely go up from there is he insisted) and then a series of team options, with high enough buy outs to make Jose happy, for the next 3 years.

Jose’s eye at the plate and his power, does make him a candidate to continue to bring value for at least the next couple of seasons.

Keefe: Also, what do you think of all the preseason bat flip talk?

Dakers: I think baseball is a game, and I think players should have fun. The bat flip in the playoff game came after a very emotionally draining inning. It seemed like the Jays were going to lose series on, what might be. the strangest play I’ve ever seen. Then three errors in the bottom of the inning is something that I’m almost sure I’ve never seen before too. The Bautista home run and the bat flip seemed to release of the emotions of that weird inning.

I think the “no fun” police should learn to relax. The line the fun police use is “he’s showing up the pitcher”. Well, in this case the pitcher just lost the series for his team. If he’s more worried about someone “showing him up” than about losing the series, aren’t his priorities messed up. Shouldn’t he be more worried about winning for his team than something that’s all about him?

Keefe: On July 28 of last season, the Blue Jays trailed the Yankees by eight games in the AL East. Just 15 days later on Aug. 12, they led the division by a 1/2 game, and from Aug. 23 on, they were in first place.

The Blue Jays still have a vaunted lineup and maybe the best offense in baseball. Outside of the departure of Price, their rotation is still intact with new ace Marcus Stroman having more experience under his belt. In what should be a clustered AL East, you could make the case for any of the five teams winning it this season, and the Blue Jays will likely be right there again five months from now.

Coming off their first postseason appearance in 22 years, what are your expectations for the Blue Jays this season?

Dakers: I expect them to, at least, be in the race for the playoffs. I expect the Jays will score a ton of runs (though the offense is off to a slow start). I’m hoping the pitching holds together well enough to keep the team winning.