So where is this thing going to go from here? By my estimation, there are three options.
The first, and most likely, is that the Toronto Blue Jays listlessly play out the string, winning some games, losing some others, and being effectively ordinary between now and the season finale against the Baltimore Orioles on September 28. That would leave the team at about the .500 mark they hold today—the first time they haven’t had a winning record since mid-May, mind you—with somewhere in the neighbourhood of 79-83 wins.
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If that feels familiar, it’s because the team was exactly that for much of the last decade, when they consistently posted win totals in the 80’s that simply weren’t enough. There have been a number of good baseball teams to play on Bremner Boulevard that won a lot, but, for one reason or another, didn’t have what it took to reach the post-season. We’re likely watching another one of them right now.
But the difference between this team and those ones is the flood of young pitching talent spilling into the majors. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison and Daniel Norris could form part of a very young, very affordable, very exciting rotation for the Toronto Blue Jays next season. And no matter how cynical you’re feeling after Tuesday night’s dispiriting extra inning loss, that young talent is a reason to believe.
The second option, one that would probably require an influx of injuries, indifference, or both, would see the team continue the tailspin it’s spent much of August unable to pull out of (there have been only six wins since July with four games until September). The Blue Jays would stop bothering to pull up on the controls and continue plummeting towards earth as the losses piled up into the 80’s and 90’s; many everyday players would bow out of the season, retiring to the disabled list in order to save their bodies for 2015; the daily scrums with manager John Gibbons would grow more and more tedious by the day; the only thing preventing Steve Tolleson from effectively converting to a reliever would be the expansion of roster sizes in September.
And then there’s the third option, which, if you’ve been watching this team for the last three weeks of so, you likely feel isn’t an option all. It would see fortune and good performance returning to the Blue Jays favour as the team rattled off 10 wins in its next 12, or 15 in its next 20, or 22 in its final 30, and bum rushed it’s way back into the playoff picture. I’m not here to tell you that’s going to happen—just know that crazier things have. If you’re going to make a case that the team’s postseason chances are dead and the losing will continue, you have to accept that there’s a chance of the opposite happening as well. That’s how probability works.
You, too, have three choices, Blue Jays fan. You can presume the first or second scenarios above and check out for the rest of the season, assuming the final 30 games will be marked by disappointment and turning your focus elsewhere. It’s the waning weeks of patio weather, after all. The NFL kicks off a week today.
Or you can continue being positively engaged by the team, entering each game day with the renewed hope of a Blue Jays win and maintaining the belief that maybe, just maybe, if they string enough wins together they can make the next month of baseball worthwhile.
Or, finally, you can rage into the night demanding this player be traded and that player be released. Which is fine. It’s a natural reaction to want a pound of flesh in return when you feel you’ve been wronged. But if we’re being honest—this is likely to be the least satisfying of your options.
That’s because it doesn’t make much sense for the team to make a dramatic, landscape-shifting move at this time, or even in the offseason. Dramatic would be a rebuild, and if that’s what you want then you’re signing up for anywhere from three-to-five seasons that are far, far worse than this one has felt. If one disheartening month of baseball is enough to send you over the ledge, a half-decade of futility and woe can’t possibly be your desired alternative.
This is all to say that the answer to the Blue Jays burdens is not to trade Jose Bautista. He’s the best player on the team—full stop. Losing his output would create a much more immediate, pressing problem than the Blue Jays currently face. No return would possibly replace his productivity and now isn’t the time to sell a generational talent for prospects, unless you’re fully committing to a rebuild.
If you’re trading Bautista, you’re trading them all. And this team is still too good to do something like that. Playing as well as the Blue Jays did earlier this season and being in first place for as long as they were is something that the vast majority of major league teams won’t do this season. There is promise here, no matter how much the frustrating lows have blinded many to that fact. With such talented young pitching entering the picture, this group may only need a few tweaks and adjustments to the starting lineup and bullpen to contend in 2015.
And what if Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera leave in the off-season? It’s far from a guarantee, but certainly a fathomable scenario. Moving Bautista would completely blow up the outfield. Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar—who have had two underwhelming major league careers so far, by the way—can only play two of the three outfield positions. Meanwhile, outfield prospect Dalton Pompey has had a terrific breakout season across three levels of the minors, but he’s just 21 and there’s no indication he’s ready for a major league role.
That would leave the Blue Jays to try and find a Bautista replacement from outside the organization; a player that would likely never dream of matching Bautista’s 4.2 wins above replacement and counting in 2014. Which isn’t to mention the fact Bautista is earning just $14 million this season and next, a rate that makes him one of the best value plays in baseball.
There’s just no sense in losing a commodity like Bautista in return for either major league talent that pales in comparison to his abilities or prospects that carry absolutely no certainty of ever panning out. There’s still reason to believe the Blue Jays can be competitive in 2015. Even if it hard for fans to see that today.