TORONTO – They were chosen 34 players apart in the 2004 draft, Adam Lind in the third round with a compensatory pick from the free-agent departure of Kelvim Escobar, Casey Janssen in the fourth round.
Janssen broke in first with the Toronto Blue Jays, making his debut April 27, 2006 before becoming a regular in 2007, Lind reaching the majors Sept. 2, 2006 and settling in for good midway through the 2008 season.
Together they’ve been through a build-up, a tear down and a second build-up, and now they’re facing the possibility that this week will be their last with the only big-league organization they’ve known.
“Adam came to my locker (Monday) and he says, ‘So, has it hit you yet?’” Janssen recalled Tuesday before the Blue Jays pounded Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners 10-2. “Honestly, no. It’s weird because I’m not (feeling) anything. Free agency is going to become reality here pretty quick and either the Blue Jays are going to offer me something that I would entertain or they aren’t.
"Then it’s a matter of, yeah, I’m going to embrace the fact that I’m going to meet 25 new guys and embrace a new city and try to bring a championship to wherever that next stop is."
While the uncertainty of what lies ahead is new for Janssen, it’s not for Lind, who once again is awaiting word on whether or not the Blue Jays will exercise his option, this one at $7.5 million for 2015.
Last year Lind spoke to GM Alex Anthopoulos in September about his status and was told vaguely that he’d put himself in good position to have his $7-million option picked up. The Blue Jays are expected to do the same thing this time, although Lind is taking nothing for granted.
"I’d like to get a little more clarity than I had last year," he said. "I think I’ve been here long enough that I deserve a straight answer. Just tell me, just let me know. We’re all on the same team here, right? I played injured a lot this year, unknowingly, I guess, if you want to call it that, and we’re all on the same team. I know it’s front office and clubhouse, but you want players to be happy."
Dustin McGowan, the only Blue Jays player more tenured than Lind and Janssen, also has an option for 2015 worth $4 million, as do J.A. Happ ($6.7 million), Brandon Morrow ($10 million) and Josh Thole ($1.5 million).
None of them, however, including McGowan who’s missed so much time because of injuries, have lived through the club’s up and downs the way Lind and Janssen have. Both felt the past two seasons were full of promise like none previous, and that this year the opportunity was at hand.
But like every season since 1993, there will be no trip to the playoffs. Kansas City’s victory Tuesday over Cleveland mathematically eliminated the Blue Jays from the second wild card.
"It leaves you shaking your head," said Janssen. "We were in first place for those 40 games, we had what I thought was starting pitching that exceeded expectations, we knew our offence was going to be our offence. When you add it all up, you look at the win-loss column, I truly believe there should have been more.
"The easy thing to say and the easy excuse is injuries. But every team has injuries, every team has things not go their way for a time. We had some impact players go down but good teams overcome that. Baltimore has had a few guys go down and they kept going forward and they’re as good a team as I’ve ever seen them have. You come back from a tough road trip and you go, ‘How the heck did we lose that? How did we get swept by this team?’ You just go back and shake your head because it could definitely have been different. At the same time, that’s why you play the games."
The Blue Jays led the AL East by six games on June 6, and held a three game edge in the wild card race on July 31. A 9-17 August, among the worst in franchise history, irreparably damaged their chances, although last week’s 1-6 swing through Baltimore and New York was the final dagger.
"I’m not a jealous person but I’m jealous that I’ve seen a lot of teammates play here that I’ve enjoyed go on to experience the playoffs," said Janssen. "I’m a baseball junkie and I love watching baseball, but the playoffs eat me up because I truly believe it could be me out there. It eats me up that these guys are getting the opportunity to win a World Series and I haven’t experienced that. Once you get into the playoffs anything can happen, we just haven’t found a way to get into the playoffs."
During May and June a trip to the post-season felt like a given. A 27-5 stretch during that time had them riding high, but turned out to be unsustainable.
"We were finding ways to win instead of finding ways to lose, we all believed in what was happening," said Lind. "I honestly believe at the trade deadline we didn’t need someone to compete, but it might have given us a psychological boost. Whether that’s important or not, if you believe in that, who knows? But it wasn’t that we needed a player, it’s just mentally, with a lot of the comments that were made, that was when it all fell apart."
The August collapse highlighted the organization’s lack of depth as stronger teams capitalized on the absences of Lind (broken foot), Edwin Encarnacion (quad strain) and Brett Lawrie (broken thumb/oblique strain) from the Blue Jays lineup.
Danny Valencia was the only pre-July 31 non-waiver deadline pickup, while John Mayberry Jr. was acquired just before rosters expanded Sept. 1. They weren’t nearly enough.
"It was a weird season because there were moments when we were all in, and then there were moments when we were essentially developing," said Lind. "It was a weird two-sided coin, we’re trying to win and we’re trying to develop – what are we? Next year, what are we? Do we go make a splash in free agency or a trade?
"One of the positives was this year we beat the teams we were supposed to beat, we beat around Boston, we beat around the Cubs, we did pretty well in interleague play which normally doesn’t happen. Those are positives. But Yankee Stadium, didn’t do anything there, still didn’t do much against Tampa, Baltimore is a very, very good team that’s underrated for how good they are. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. We’re essentially a .500 team, that’s where we’re really at.
"We’re closer than we were, but we’re still really far."
Janssen’s potential departure would leave the Blue Jays with a significant hole at closer, a role he assumed early in the 2012 season and has excelled at since, save for a rough patch coming out of the all-star break this year.
Re-signing him would certainly resolve that, but Anthopoulos is believed to have been, at least in part, speaking about Janssen last week when he said, "we may have had discussions with players in the past, whether it’s spring training, whether it’s during the all-star break, whether it’s in-season, and maybe we couldn’t come to terms."
The Blue Jays under Anthopoulos have rarely spent heavily on the bullpen, although Janssen did sign a $5.9 million, two-year deal with an option for this year worth $4 million in February 2012.
Other long-time relievers like Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Carlos Villanueva all found new homes once they hit free agency.
"Toronto will always have a place in my heart," said Janssen. "I feel like I’m a recognizable name in this city withstanding the test of time a little bit. But Jason Frasor, I saw him be the appearance leader as a pitcher and life goes on, he landed on his feet in another city. If I have to go that route I’m ready to."