Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)
It's that time of the year where things start to "matter," in a baseball sense.
Or at least, that's what I like to tell myself. Although I watch practically every Jays game from the start of the season until the very end, the unwritten rule of thumb amongst aficionados of baseball is that things start to really fall into place after the All-Star break. Basically, it's suggested, that at this time it's pretty fair to evaluate the state of a given team and it may even be easy to predict which teams are capable and likely to contend and which teams are not. We've reached the week in which, for the next few days during the break, the record will remain unchanged and will stare back at us, regardless of whether it's favorable or not. Some people, somehow, just "know" that their team is "out of it" and trending towards the wrong side of playoff contention. Others hold out hope that it's certainly possible to witness a bounce-back if things break right and management makes a move or two to boost morale within the club-house and within the fanbase.
It's important to recognize that neither of the aforementioned takes regarding how you feel about the Blue Jays - as they stand right now - makes you a better or worse fan. I think that's what hasn't been stressed enough, so allow me to do so. If you think the teams can and/or will bounce-back and make a playoff run, it's certainly an optimistic and admirable approach, but it does not by any means make you more of a fan than those that think the opposite. Moreover, if you come to the conclusion that the team is simply out of it and void of any hope to reach the postseason, this doesn't make you a better fan than those that don't think this, either. Yet, for some reason, amongst all the talk surrounding the Blue Jays, it seems that if you are of the mindset that the product on the field shows that this team is incapable of making a postseason run and the better days of Martin, Tulowitzki, Bautista, and Morales are unfortunately behind them somehow equates to not being a real fan or part of some bandwagon that passed through in 2015 and 2016. This is flat-out wrong.
I'm not suggested that the Jays are incapable of making such a run to put themselves back in the postseason discussion, not even close. In fact, what I'm saying regarding what they can and will do after the All-Star break is simple: I have no idea. But, to say that the Blue Jays have not played to their potential, that their season thus far has been a disappointment, that the product on the field can at times deflate our spirits, and that as a result it makes it increasingly hard to have positive aspirations for the postseason is simply calling a spade a spade. Having some blind faith that they'll completely revert back to the form we witnessed during the past two years is great, but it by no means makes you a better or more loyal fan than those that do not possess it. Moreover, coming to the conclusion that perhaps it may serve the Blue Jays better for their future aspirations to remain competitive if they were to sell off some of the expiring contracts does not make one stupid should he/she reach it. This is where it gets exhausting when it comes to the fanbase of the Blue Jays. Everyone has an opinion and they seem to want to express it in the most aggressive and condescending way possible; as if surely they and they alone know what do with this organization half-way through the 2017 season.
However, if we are to really look hard enough, there are positives to both of the approaches of selling assets or persevering with what the Jays currently have. This is the point that people want to ignore. Instead of looking at how either approach can benefit the Jays, we're so dead-set and stubborn with what we believe to be right that we think that if they Jays were to do the contrary, there will be another 23 year playoff drought and that baseball in Toronto is doomed once again. Spare me.
Don't get me wrong, I get it. I get that a 23 year drought is more than a considerable amount of time and I would hate to have history repeat itself. But based on what we saw with this team over the past two years in terms of growing interest, attendance, and passion for the sport, Rogers, Shapiro, and Atkins would be incredibly stupid to not realize how much potential the team has to generate money. And, as we know, the best way to generate the most revenue is simple: win.
Although I wouldn't trade the 2015 and 2016 seasons for anything, it's sort of hard to not admit that we've been spoiled. As I've mentioned during the most recent episode of The Weekend Hangover, the majority of my fanhood - at least during my formative years - the Jays would do little to nothing during both the off-season and at the trade deadline. I would wait and refresh whatever site I was on to see if JP Ricciardi would do anything to make the Jays better, only to be left feeling empty and with the realization that, like life, baseball won't give you everything that you want. This is especially true of this year, right? The Blue Jays haven't given us what we've expected of them and as a result we're left trying to figure out how to handle it because, in the back of our minds, we're maybe coming to the realization that we won't get to experience the same magic in October that we did the previous two years. Like life, that's baseball. It happens.
So here we are. With the string of losses two weeks ago, along with the split against the best team in the American League (or baseball. Whichever you prefer), with only one series win in between, we're left wondering what the Jays should do. Do they rebuild? Do they retool? Do they refresh? Do they restock? Whatever "re" word you want to use, the fact remains that something needs to be done. The front office can't sell us on the notion of their attempts to try to put the Jays in a position to contend on a yearly basis without having any sort of action to back that up, and I don't think that they will. But when you start to look at the state of the Blue Jays from a business point-of-view, you come to the understanding that it's going to be a pretty tough sell for Shapiro and Atkins to ownership to invest more dollars into the club. Given that they're currently 8.5 games back (also in last place) in the division and 5 games back in the Wild Card - trailing 7 other teams for the 2nd spot - I don't envy their positions.
But, like I've mentioned, there has been such a surge of energy from the fanbase that it would be tough to tear it all down from a PR perspective, and I think this is the biggest fear amongst Jays fans. The Blue Jays have become so engrained in the Toronto culture that the risk of losing that might not be worth it to ownership. Like I've mentioned, the recipe for making money off of the Blue Jays is simple: win. On the flip-side, the recipe for not making money off of the Blue Jays is just as simple: lose. Why would ownership not want to continue the steady flow of cash from merchandise, ticket sales, and television ratings and, instead, burn it to the ground? It makes no sense. Afterall, this is a business. Thus, instead of a full-on rebuild or retool or whatever you want to call it, the Jays may be best served to find some sort of middle ground. In other words - and again, I don't know that they'll do this -, perhaps it's in their best interest to sell off the expiring contracts of Estrada, Bautista, Liriano, and maybe guys without a lot of years left like Happ, Morales, and ::gasp:: Donaldson to get whatever prospect capital that they can in order to get right back in it the following year. Of course, this assumes that the prospect capital they get in return is major league ready, if not just about, and can really make a huge impact for the Jays in the long-term, so it's not the most robust of plans. But it's something.
One could argue that this was the formula that Anthopoulos tried to develop but a good portion of the minor league depth that AA had wasn't quite major league ready when he acquired them (not to be confused with when he traded them away). Should the Jays be able to get something back that is almost ready to make an impact in the majors, Atkins and Shapiro will be able to A) have something that they have built, B) maintain the "consistent contenders" status that they've been selling the fanbase on, and C) escape the risk of losing interest from a growing fanbase by telling us that the best has yet to come, thereby continuing the flow of cash for ownership.
The problem here is the assumption that the Jays will be able to get such young talent in return for - let's face it - damaged goods (save for Donaldson and maybe Happ). Players like Bautista, Liriano, and Estrada aren't really what they used to be, so asking for something high up on the list of rankings in terms of prospects may be a bit overambitious. Also, aging/injury-prone players like Martin and Tulowitzki will be incredibly hard to move as their contracts aren't that palpable for teams that don't have a lot of money to dish out for players that are exiting (or about to) their prime years. It's a lot easier said than done, but this is why I'm not a GM.
The point is (I think?) that there isn't a sure formula for fixing the season, or a sure-fired way to get the Blue Jays in the postseason. Maybe that's just it, though. Maybe we're missing the point. Maybe instead of looking at it in a vacuum by asking ourselves how the Jays can be fixed right now, we ignore the likelihood that we're going to maybe (read: probably) run into this problem next season or the season after if things stay the same. Putting a bandaid on the issue doesn't make it go away. Perhaps we should admit that what is plaguing the Jays right now may plague them in the long-run if it's not addressed as quickly as possible. Thus, perhaps it's best to temper your expectations during the trade deadline and maybe convince yourself that the Jays may in fact do little to nothing at all. Maybe their plan is to wait until the off-season to address the issues that they're facing and legitimately want to wait out the remainder of the 2017 season. There's nothing wrong with this approach, either, but it's also not good for the long-term. Sooner or later, the Jays have to get on the younger side if they want to maintain the "constantly in contention" bill of goods the front office has sold.
Regardless, it's important to note that although it may not have been the season that we expected it to be so far, that shouldn't give you reason to abandon the ship. Disappointment and the deception of it being "the year" for your favorite team is part of baseball and is nothing new. However, down times such as these make moments like: the bat-flip, or Edwin hitting a meatball courtesy of Ubaldo Jimenez, or Carlos Delgado hitting four home-runs in one game, or Roy Halladay pitching gem after gem on a consistent basis, or John McDonald making defensive plays that leave you in awe (ok you get it) - so much more enjoyable and valuable for Jays fans.
So whichever "re" term you want to use, whatever the Jays decide to do, let's just see it through. It's true that the season isn't over, so anything can happen. But, if the Jays do something that counters what you think is best for the team, instead of bitching about it, maybe try to rationalize it. I promise you, the front office does not want to see this team lose and aren't trying to purposely put them in a position to fail. To think this is asinine (this sort of goes against what I preached in the beginning, doesn't it? Oh well!).
Keep that in mind.
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