Hey, who thought the Baltimore Orioles would return to the postseason before the Toronto Blue Jays? Remember when everybody thought the Blue Jays were on the right track, and it was just a matter of time?
Well, in 2012 the Jays finished fourth for the fifth straight season, with their worst record since 2004. Worse, they received few meaningful contributions from young home-grown players. But it's not one of those farm products that I've chosen as the single player who best symbolizes the Blue Jays' 2012 campaign ...
In 2012, 17 Toronto Blue Jays finished the season with at least 100 plate appearances. Go ahead and guess how many of them were at least average American League hitters ...
I'm not saying the Blue Jays had three good hitters. Well, actually the Blue Jays did have three good hitters. Or two great hitters and one good hitter. But nobody else was even average, as measured by OPS+ (where 100 is dead-average).
This was a problem. As good as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (when he wasn't hurt) and David Cooper (when he wasn't in the minors) were, that's no way to build a hitting attack, and in fact the Blue Jays did not have much of one; they finished eighth in the league in slugging percentage and 13th in on-base percentage, and thus were quite lucky to finish ninth in the league in scoring.
Let me also point out that Cooper was an afterthought -- he spent most of the summer with Triple-A Las Vegas -- while Encarnacion and Bautista were, not so long ago, veterans just trying to avoid getting released.
Blue Jays management deserves a great deal of credit for sticking with those two guys, and also for creating an environment in which both could succeed. When it comes to just about every other non-pitcher, though? In 2012, at least, management is the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. Were Omar Vizquel and Jeff Mathis really missing ingredients?
The Blue Jays have two obvious problems: Their home-grown hitters simply haven't developed, and none of the players they've brought aboard from other organizations have done much, either.
Seamheads applauded when the Blue Jays traded for Yunel Escobar, when the Braves were just looking to dump him. That hasn't worked out. We applauded, too, when the Blue Jays traded for Colby Rasmus, when the Cardinals were just looking to dump him. Look at his minor-league statistics! Just imagine what he'll do once he's out from beneath mean old Tony La Russa's thumb!
Well, let's look at what he's actually done. Last year, Rasmus played in 35 games after joining the Jays and batted .173. This year he was better, but a .223/.289/.400 line certainly doesn't suggest future stardom. He's a pretty good fielder and he's still cheap, so he's worth keeping around. But to this point, Blue Jays management, led by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, simply hasn't demonstrated any real ability to identify hitters who can play championship-quality baseball.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.