Letters of Intent
The Blue Jays 2014 season:What went wrong (Part I) ….
By Bob Elliott
There are a number of significant dates to the lost 2014 Blue Jays season.
A closer look at three of the most important days of the year to see if there is a common factor.
1. Wednesday, March 12 — Ervin Santana signs with the Atlanta Braves.
For the previous five days the Jays had talked contract with Santana’s agent, Jay Alou, to bring the free-agent to Toronto.
Management had talked with left-hander Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, right fielder Jose Bautista, right-hander R.A. Dickey and slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who all agreed to defer some of their future monies, so that cash could be rounded up to pay Santana.
The Jays were in contact with the Player’s Association in New York working out the complicated contract. Toronto thought that the two sides had a deal.
Buehrle earns $18 million US this season as the top-paid Jay, while Reyes is paid $16 million, Bautista earns $14 million, Dickey makes $12 million and Encarnacion earns $9 million. Deals were restructured, so all five were to benefit in one form or the other and Santana would be in the fold. Win-win.
The best comparison was Kansas City Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie. In January, he had his 2014 salary reduced from $11 million to $8 million. In his restructure, he was given a $10 million option for 2015, with a $3.2 million buyout. Net gain for Guthrie in a worst case scenario: $200,000.
Atlanta’s opening day starter, Kris Medlen, had walked off the mound on Sunday shaking his forearm. Medlin joined Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor on the disabled list. The Jays had five months to sign Santana and went to the hurry-up offence trying to sign him in five days while re-working five contracts.
Santana was 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA in 30 starts for the Braves walking 61 and striking out 174 in 1901 1/3 innings.
He likely won’t be back with the Braves next season after ripping teammates on Sunday, telling Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “It’s tough because we haven’t been playing very good lately. As a pitcher, we have our confidence up, but at the same time you have to either throw a complete-game shutout to get a win. It’s tough, very tough.”
Those lousy Braves hitters failed to score 11 runs. Santana didn’t throw a complete-game shutout allowing five runs in five innings on six hits and two walks in a 10-2 loss to the New York Mets.
Would Santana have helped the Jays in the early going?
Would Santana have made the Jays a post-season club?
Unsure. But they may not have been 12-15 and in fourth place, 3 1/2 games out of first, on April 30.
It wasn’t known until April 3, four games into the season, that players were willing to defer their salaries. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.com, as usual, had the news, writing: “It was as if the Toronto Blue Jays passed around a hat, trying to collect enough money to sign Ervin Santana.”
Best line of the aftermath belonged to Buehrle who confirmed the story was accurate but said he wanted to defer ALL of $14.1 million for Santana from his contract so that the next year when the list of highest paid players was published he’d be on top.
“And I don’t even throw 85 MPH,” said Buehrle.
From all of this running around as if collecting for a baby gift or a retirement party, we learned Rogers Communications was not giving the Jays one cent above the $132.6 million US opening day payroll.
Was that the turning point of the Jays season?
The moment when players realized no additional cash would be spent?
“You’re right, but don’t put my name next to it,” said one veteran.
Bottom line: Rogers was not spending.
2. Monday, March 24 — Blue Jays annual President’s dinner.
The Jays played an afternoon game, losing 6-3 to the Philadelphia Phillies before 4,658 fans at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. The game was called due to rain with one out in the top of the eighth.
Colby Rasmus doubled as Brandon Morrow took the loss, allowing four runs in five innings. The Phillies scored a run off both Sergio Santos and Tony Davis, while Cody Asche and John Mayberry each had two hits for Philadelphia.
Then it was to the clubhouse and condos to change for a night at the Bon Appetit Restaurant in Dunedin, which offers “waterfront dining at its finest” according to the restaurant’s web site.
Jays players, manager, coaches and staff gathered to hear words of wisdom from president Paul Beeston and ownership, a tradition under Beeston.
It’s an off-the-record, pep-rally style evening.
Although some springs, details filter out. Like the time Beeston said “never mind Red Sox Nation. We win, we’ll have a whole country behind us, like in 1992-93.”
Or in 2009 when Beeston returned after A.J. Burnett opted out of his contract. With Tony Viner and Phil Lind, the Rogers honchos, Beeston told the group: “we’re not looking for a quick fix, we’re going to get through this year, then the goal is go on another 10-year run.”
In the spring of 2013, with additions like former National League batting champ Jose Reyes, former NL ERA champ Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck from the Miami Marlins; acquiring former NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole from the New York Mets and free-agent sign Melky Cabrera, talk was of how “this was Year One of a three-year window to win.”
This spring we didn’t hear of any bold prediction about wins as the revamped Jays were coming off a 74-win season … one better than the year before under John Farrell. The final month of 2012 did not go well, as Yunel Escobar took marker to eye black, Omar Vizquel knocked Farrell’s managerial skills to our Steve Simmons, and soon after the season was over Farrell told the Jays he didn’t want to work in Toronto.
By adding Buehrle, Reyes and Dickey, the 2014 team payroll went up $20 million due to Dickey’s extension and the other two whose contracts had been back loaded by the Marlins.
The most memorable words in the players’ memory banks came from Edward Rogers, son of the late Ted Rogers, when he told the assembled group that if player help was needed at the July 31 deadline funds would be made available, according to eight players who recall his words.
Bottom line: Rogers was all in if the Jays were in the hunt at the deadline.
3. July 31 — The non-waiver trade deadline.
The Jays went to the coast eight games over .500, lost a four-game series in Oakland, dropped two of three in Anaheim and two of three at Tropicana Field … a 2-8 trip. Already without Brett Lawrie (sidelined June 22), they lost Edwin Encarnacion in Oakland July 5 and Adam Lind July 7 in Anaheim.
The Jays added infielder Danny Valencia from Kansas City July 28, picking up the remaining 1/3 of his $532,500 contract.
Lefty Rob Rasmussen, who was earning the pro-rated amount of the major league minimum of $500,000, was demoted to triple-A Buffalo. So, the expenditure for the Jays was 1/3 of $32,500.
After Buehrle beat Boston 6-1 at Fenway Park on July 30 to complete a sweep, the Jays had won 10 of 13. They were now nine games over .500, 2 1/2 games back of the Baltimore Orioles, owners of the second wild-card spot, three games ahead of the Seattle Mariners.
“We were told that if we played hard, if we hung in there, help would be on the way,” said one veteran.
The Jays awoke in Houston on the July 31 deadline.
One player explained how the Jays needed the cavalry to show up. No one came.
Management claimed money was not an issue in adding talent. It was a case of the asking price being too high.
Another said after complimenting the starting staff, “it’s not a shut down staff, it’s a pitching staff you need to score runs for and we didn’t have enough offence, we could have used another bat.”
Some players said they completely understood not parting with a package that included the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Daniel Norris. One asked why the demand from the Jays was so great when Tampa Bay did not get three similar prospects in return for Price?
“I know fans are angry, I know they are frustrated,” said Beeston, “but they are better emotions than apathy which would have been the case a few years ago.
“We tried, it wasn’t from a lack of effort.”
Bottom line: Rogers did not use funds to bring in the help.
“Maybe,” said one player, “they were saving the money to spend on hockey.”
Post-season jinx: Remember that epic 19-inning win over the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 10?
The win put the Jays seven games over .500, only 1 1/2 games behind the Kansas City Royals for the second wild-card berth.
The next day the Jays sent out an e-mail to season ticket holders about “the possibility of hosting games at Rogers Centre in October,” with instructions of how to buy up post-season tickets online until Aug. 25.
Offers to fans with four season’s tickets were to purchase four tickets, as well as four additional tickets.
Credit cards were charged a $75 deposit for each pair of tickets, $25 for the division series, $25 for the American League Championship Series, and $25 for the World Series.
Ticket holders had the option of leaving the $75 on their account or having the money refunded
The Jays opened a three-day series in Seattle that night, and were swept by the Mariners starting a stretch where the team dropped 10 of the next 14.
– Follow Bob Elliott on Twitter @elliottbaseball