The Blue Jays needed pitching in the offseason and instead went out and upgraded at two positions that didn't necessarily require change. With a little over two months left in the campaign, Toronto's need for pitching help remains. But instead of grabbing an arm, the club's first big in-season move was to bring in someone new to play a position that once again wasn't the most pressing need on the team.
Brett Lawrie and Dioner Navarro would have been suitable regulars for the 2015 Blue Jays, as they were the previous year. Jose Reyes, while becoming painful to watch in the field and declining at the plate, was more than adequate at a weak shortstop position—in fact, he was above average. But none of that stopped Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos from acquiring better players than the ones he had employed to field a dream-team lineup that's scored more runs than any club in baseball and is unrivaled across the game.
Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin made the American League All-Star team in the their first season with the Blue Jays. Toronto's latest addition, by way of yet another blockbuster trade orchestrated by Anthopoulos, made his fifth All-Star team earlier this month. He's Troy Tulowitzki, the best shortstop in baseball. Even in a down year and in the midst of an 0-for-20 skid at the plate, he comes to Toronto hitting .300/.348/.471. And though Tulowitzki has benefitted like any player would from playing his home games at Coors Field, he still mashes on the road and is coming to a park that also favours hitters.
While Anthopoulos passed on pitching help during the offseason, instead trusting rookies Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris in the Opening Day rotation, the moves for Donaldson and Martin are primary reasons why the big-bashing Blue Jays are in the playoff race. Tulowitzki further bolsters the chances that this perennially mediocre franchise could snap the game's longest postseason drought. Toronto hasn't been to the playoffs since winning its second consecutive World Series title in 1993. The team has barely even sniffed the playoffs or been in the hunt come September. Things feel different, though, this season. Having the best offence in baseball and a stockpile of young arms to dangle before Friday's trade deadline certainly doesn't hurt.
Help can come in a number of ways, even if it means surprise moves that fail to plug the most glaring needs on the roster. Pitching help should remain a top priority, but it's not like Anthopoulos hasn't been busy making improvements to the club—he's acquired three stars who play both sides of the field in less than nine months.
The Blue Jays are a better team today and next year with the acquisition of Tulowitzki, a two-way player who's been in a class of his own offensively at the shortstop position since entering the majors. He also plays exceptional defense—that aspect of the upgrade shouldn't be overlooked, either. He's on the unofficial shortlist of the best players in the game, a place fellow teammates Donaldson and Jose Bautista also occupy. The three will now occupy the middle of Toronto's potent batting order.
Tulowitzki comes with risk, no doubt. The contract is large, running until 2020 with a club option for 2021, and he's had trouble staying on the field throughout his potentially Hall-of Fame-worthy career. But that risk is essentially worth $50 million and three extra years for a better shortstop on a team that doesn't have much in terms of payroll obligations post-2016. Reyes has also battled injuries and is owed $22 million in each of the next two seasons, which is slightly more than Tulowitzki will earn over that same time period. Reyes isn't Tulowitzki, who will join forces with Donaldson to form the most dynamic left side of the infield in baseball. Expect much stronger defense than you witnessed last week and a lot more bringing of rain.
Getting better means getting better—it doesn't matter how you do it. And moving intriguing power arms like Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro doesn't mean Toronto can't or won't acquire the pitching help it needs. Regardless, this is a better team because the man who used to patrol shortstop for the Colorado Rockies and the one who helped lead the club to its only World Series in franchise history now calls the Rogers Centre home.
Tulowitzki, passed on by Toronto and going one spot after Ricky Romero in the 2005 draft, was someone Anthopoulos admitted he had long been trying to acquire. He finally did. Alex Anthopoulos' latest shock and awe demonstration has made Troy Tulowitzki a Toronto Blue Jay.