“Time to put some adults in the room.”
Those are the final words from a column posted today by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, who suggests that the Toronto Blue Jays turn towards developing a younger core over the last few years may have left them a tad too young up the middle, and that the team would benefit from aggressively filling out the open positions in the 2013 roster with complementary veteran players, to fill something of a leadership void in the clubhouse.
Was the team’s youth thought to be a problem at the start of the season? Probably not. “That was then, and this is now”, Rosenthal continues, pointing out that while injuries have been the story of the Blue Jays’ 2012 season, the team has not been without its attitude problems. Incidents like Yunel Escobar‘s eye-black slur, and even JP Arencibia‘s tweet-gone-wrong at the beginning of the season may be saying that the team should have someone on it who knows better, who can carry on their business whether they’re succeeding or struggling and provide guidance to younger players instead of having them carry the team themselves.
“The Jays are short on veterans who provide such direction, and it’s a problem.” Okay, but who does the team go after to try and solve the problem? Rosenthal goes on to suggest that impending free agent Torii Hunter would be a good fit in left, should he not resign with the Los Angeles Angels. Let’s look at that name a little closer. Hunter, at 37-years old and undoubtedly in the twilight of his career, is going through a BABIP-inflated (.378, a career-high) minor resurgence this season, with a .797 OPS that would represent a significant improvement over the team’s current left-fielder, Rajai Davis (.665 OPS). Hunter’s power has been in decline for 3 years in a row, as has his strikeout rate (career-high 23% this season); if the team were still going with the idea of finding high-upside players to fill the position for the long haul, they won’t find it in Hunter.
There might be a bit more to it than numbers though. Whatever the intangibles are Rosenthal talks about in his column, Hunter – long thought to be one of the good guys in the game, and a clubhouse leader through his years in LA – probably has it. Sure, there are risks. Maybe age-38 is the year Hunter’s production really drops off a la Michael Young. Maybe the Blue Jays get him, and he performs so poorly that the team decides to go with Anthony Gose there halfway through the season – is the whole thing a loss? Maybe not. For one, the Blue Jays are unlikely to have to pay too much of a premium for Hunter’s intangible qualities like other teams have had to pay their veterans. Hunter is in the final year of a big contract, and has already said he’ll take a paycut to stay with the hometown Angels. If that happens to fall through, I don’t imagine he’ll be asking other suitors anywhere close to his $18 million salary. Especially given the Blue Jays’ in house options, Hunter could be a very capable one-year complementary piece, even if his job is to guide someone else into the LF job.
I think it comes down to a couple of things – one, is the team more comfortable, in the first year where the rebuild is “complete” and they’ve really put the focus on competing for the division crown, to go with another young guy like Gose, or Moises Sierra to contribute full-time next season? There’s been such a shift of focus into building the team with young, high-upside talent, perhaps the biggest challenge for Alex Anthopoulos now is to find pieces to offset the volatility that comes on the bottom end of that high-upside spectrum. “I don’t think it ever hurts to have as many veteran complements as you can”, as Anthopoulos says.
The other factor is simply availability. As Rosenthal said, Hunter is likely to stay in LA, and the free agent pool isn’t filled with many players who might qualify as leaders. Who else could the Blue Jays go after in the outfield? Shane Victorino, perhaps? He’s 5 years younger, and would cost a fair bit more (with multiple years) than Hunter might. A resurgent Ichiro Suziki might be a fit, but not the pre-trade Ichiro of the last couple of seasons. Risks are abound in the FA class this off-season, and there really isn’t a player who has surface as an ideal fit for the Blue Jays as far as steady veteran leaders go.
So while Anthopoulos suggests that filling that veteran role is “that’s something we’ll definitely look to do if we can”, he may have to get a little bit creative with his off-season moves to do so.