The Blue Jays had some pressing needs in the off-season, including two starting pitchers and possibly a second baseman. They decided to put their faith in Ryan Goins at second and either through budgetary constraints or trades that fell through were unable to get the needed arms.
Still you've got to give Alex Anthopoulos credit for some of his bargain basement pick-ups that have shored up the Jays in a couple of areas. Let's start with Juan Francisco, who was picked up on waivers from Milwaukee in April.
Though not nearly the third baseman Brett Lawrie is, his presence and bat have allowed skipper John Gibbons to shift Lawrie to second, at least for the short term, to give the Jays a stronger all-round lineup. Francisco is hitting .292 and is nearly halfway to his career high of 18 homers of last season. He's slugged eight so far with 19 runs batted in. He's also insurance at 1B and DH if Adam Lind's back acts up again.
Steve Tolleson was signed as a free agent back in December to provide some middle infield depth. On the days, Lawrie is at third (mainly against lefties), Tolleson has done a solid job at second, and even showed a flare for pitching in that 15-4 blow-out loss to Cleveland last week. His presence also allows for more developement time for Goins in Buffalo.
Dioner Navarro has been a big upgrade behind the plate over J.P. Arencibia and has developed a great chemistry with lefty Mark Buehrle, who's off to the best start of his career at 7-1 with a 2.11 ERA. Navarro, who was signed as a free agent in December, has also knocked in 17 runs.
Erik Kratz, who shares the back-up catching role at least for now with Josh Thole, helped guide Drew Hutchison through the best start of his career Friday night at Arlington in a complete game 2-0 victory over the Rangers.
Kratz, who came over from the Phillies along with reliever Rob Rasmussen for reliever Brad Lincoln, keyed a two-run rally against Texas with a bunt single. He's also shown a little pop in his limited role with two home runs.
Another bargain pick-up who might have an impact is 25-year-old Australian-born righthander Liam Hendriks. With Marcus Stroman returning to Buffalo to hone his abilities as a starter, Hendriks is the odds-on favourite to be called up and fill the vacant spot in the rotation on Saturday against Oakland.
Hendriks, who went 2-13 with a 6.10 ERA in brief stints with Minnesota, went through a whirlwind two months in the off-season. He was claimed by the Cubs from Minnesota, then by the Orioles and finally in February, the Blue Jays picked him on waivers. He has been off the charts good with the Bisons, going 5-0 with a league-leading 1.48 ERA. He's also walked just three batters in just over 48 innings. He's also pitched into the seventh inning three times in his seven starts.
So as disappointing as the Blue Jays off-season was in terms of a lack of big-name pick-ups, it clearly wasn't a total loss.
Update From The Minors
The immortal Cy Young pitched well into his 40's and when he ultimately retired, he said it was nothing to do with his arm. He said he had plenty of pitches left. It was his legs that wouldn't take the rigors of pitching anymore.
The same thing may be happening with the beleaguered Ricky Romero, who had stem cells injected into both of his knees back in October. But he told the Buffalo News he still has good days and bad days with his knees and, although he wasn't making excuses, that might explain why his control is getting worse instead of better.
On Friday, Romero walked a Bisons' franchise record of nine in just two-2/3rds innings in what became a 4-1 loss to Gwinnett at Buffalo's Coca Cola Field.
In his last four starts, Ricky has walked 24 batters. He's leaving the team for a few days to go back to California for his younger brother's college graduation at Long Beach State. He's hoping to rejoin the Bisons this weekend in Louisville, but hoping to is the operative phrase. Anthopoulos told the Buffalo News that numerous options are being concidered, including sending Ricky to Double 'A' New Hampshire, or maybe even extended spring training in Dunedin, or possibly even putting him on the disabled list to deal with his knee issues.
Kyle Drabek hasn't exactly turned it around at Buffalo, either. He also pitched in that doubleheader on Friday ande didn't walk anyone, but gave up eight runs, six earned on 11 hits in five innings in a 9-3 loss in the second game of the twinbill.
Lefty Sean Nolin, who pitched briefly with the Blue Jays last season, might have been a call-up candidate, but he's on the disabled list with a groin strain retroactive to May 14th.
Not Missing a Beat
You might have thought the Tigers might stumble a bit this season in the wake of the retirement of skipper Jim Leyland and the Prince Fielder trade to Texas. Not at all. They've won six in a row and have the largest division lead in the Majors at 6.5 games over Kansas City. They just finished sweeping a three-game series at Fenway and haven't missed a beat under new skipper Brad Ausmus.
Ian Kinsler, who came over from Texas in the Fielder trade, is doing a stellar job out of the lead-off spot and is hitting .315. He went 4-for-5 Sunday against Boston. An unsung hero for Detroit is suddenly heathy as DH Victor Martinez is hitting .331 with 10 homers and 25 runs batted in. He's hitting clean-up right behind Miguel Cabrera and helping Detroit to the best road record in the Majors.
All About Timing
The Blue Jays might be hitting Boston Tuesday at just the right time. The defending World Series champions have dropped four in a row and have fallen to 20-23, fourth in the AL East, two games back of the Blue Jays.
An odd stat, no team in the American League East has a winning record at home, heading into Week 8 of the season. The first-place Yankees have the best mark and they are only 11-11. To take that a little farther, only two teams in the other two divisions have losing records at home: Seattle and Houston.
Miami has the strangest home/road splits. They have a Major League best 17-5 record at home, and a Major League worst 6-17 record on the road, for a total record of 23-22, the same as the Blue Jays.