It’s time for Blue Jays to become more stable

Josh Donaldson is a believer that the Toronto Blue Jays are a playoff team, and that a few key tweaks to the line-up could be all that they need to secure their chances at baseball in October.

CINCINNATI – Josh Donaldson chose his words carefully. The Toronto Blue Jays third baseman said he wasn’t interested in playing general manager, felt uncomfortable trying to suggest what Alex Anthopoulos should do, and instead pointed to things the team needs to do better.

Eventually, he was asked whether the 45-46 club had shown enough over the season’s first 91 games to merit the use of prospect capital on pre-trade deadline reinforcements.

“I truly believe we have a team right now that can win,” he said. “But I can also see where with this team, you make a couple of different additions where it could make it even that much more potent. That’s really all I can say.”

Really, that’s all that needs to be said.

In many ways, the Blue Jays arrived at the all-star break as baseball’s wildest ongoing party, eventful and entertaining every time, often resulting in a nasty hangover the next day. They bash better than anyone, they pitch worse than most, have endured several severe shots to the gut yet come back strong for more.

Typically, teams, not to mention parties, like that don’t end well.

These Blue Jays? Man, who knows.

“Honestly, you look at the past couple of weeks, it’s kind of been how our season’s went a little bit so far this year,” said Donaldson. “We had a run, but we’ve been winning games and then they come back and we haven’t been able to get over that hump per se. I really think it’s starting to get closer to where we’re going to get hot and get over the hump, just because I feel like we have guys that have roles that have been successful, but for the past two weeks it’s just been a little off. I feel like it’s really starting to get close to where you start rolling, you start rolling, you start rolling and the ball is so big it keeps going.”

The thing most likely to keep it rolling, of course, is better pitching, and the Blue Jays would love to add a couple of starters before the deadline hits. Easier said than done, when word is they’re being regularly asked for Marcus Stroman in return by potential trade partners, even for rentals.

That ain’t happening.

While the starters the Blue Jays are most often linked to are the usual rental suspects – Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake – the trade history of GM Alex Anthopoulos suggests he’s more likely to use his prospects on a pitcher who comes with more contractual control in return.

If you’re looking for a model, think of the deal the Oakland Athletics swung last summer to get Samardzija, who came with a season and a half of control, and Jason Hammel, a pending free agent, from the Chicago Cubs for Addison Russell, at the time an on-the-cusp blue-chip prospect, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily.

The San Diego Padres, should they look to refashion themselves as significantly as the whispers suggest, might fit the mould there, with a mix of potential free agents like Ian Kennedy and Joaquin Benoit, plus starters like Andrew Cashner, with one season of control after this year, or Tyson Ross, with two more years of control.

Failing something like that, the Blue Jays may have to swallow hard and pay more than they want for a rental, with Hisashi Iwakuma and Mat Latos, two pitchers Anthopoulos has pursued in the past, other possible targets.

Acquiring a starter or two would allow the Blue Jays to bring Aaron Sanchez back from his rehab assignment as a reliever to bolster a shaky bullpen, although trade opportunities exist on that front, too.

Jonathan Papelbon, likely trying to expedite his escape from the Philadelphia Phillies, used the all-star game’s media day to urge his employers to “you know what or get off the pot,” and deal him. When prompted, he also indicated that he’d waive his no-trade clause for the Blue Jays, describing them as “a good fit.”

“What the Phillies are going through right now and trying to make things happen, it’s not easy,” he said. “We’ve got a new interim president, an interim manager, a lot of changes are going on so I think it’s not like the old days where you could say I’ll give you Heathcliff Slocumb for (Jason) Varitek and a handful of minor-leaguers and I’ll buy the drinks, you know? It doesn’t work like that.”

No, it doesn’t, especially when there’s big money involved, and Anthopoulos, who’s believed to have about $5-6 million to work with in available payroll, is looking to make multiple moves.

Whether or not he’s able to make it happen, is another thing, which is why Blue Jays players must look inward as much outward.

“You watch our games you see what happens,” said Donaldson. “We definitely have one of the best offences in the game, that’s not uncommon for anyone to say. There were definitely spots throughout the season where our pitching hasn’t been where we wanted it to be, but there’ve also been spots throughout the season where they’ve pitched well. It’s being able to put it together with some kind of consistency.”

Fellow all-star Russell Martin echoed that sentiment.

“From my past experience what helps to win is definitely pitching and defence, they play hand in hand, and I definitely think we can be better, especially when it comes to pitching and all the little things,” he said. “If you want to beat good pitching you have to play small ball and you have to do little things, move guys over and produce runs that way. So we still have room for improvement in some of those areas, but it’s a battle. We’re going to have to go out there and compete, and want it more than the other teams.”

Donaldson and Martin have joined Blue Jays incumbents like Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey in helping to up the club’s want factor, so that’s not the issue.

The issue is that they can’t always outhit their flaws, be it the erratic defence and base-running over the past few weeks, the inconsistent starting pitching or the shoddy bull-penning that’s allowed so many winnable games to slip away.

Their run-differential of plus-82 suggests they should be 53-38, eight games better than their actual record. Split the difference and the outlook right now is totally different.

“There’s going to come a point and time when the back end of our ‘pen, we’re going to have to get those guys to really believe in themselves and believe that they’re capable of getting the job done,” said Donaldson, “and going out there and doing the job.”

The Blue Jays are pretty much there already. The crazy parties have been fun, but they can’t go on forever, it’s time for them to become more stable, and take a real step toward the future.