With a month left until the non-waiver trade deadline, Toronto Blue Jays fans anxiously grasp onto any hint or whisper of a notion that some significant help could be on the way.
As much as the games on the field and the manner in which they add up in the standings is the essence of what is truly pertinent, the modern fan spends much time with their eye on a needle that fluctuates between “buyer” and “seller.”
That concept is much muddier in the era of the second wild card, and perhaps never more so than this year. In the American League, there are seven teams within three and a half games of the second Wild Card, plus five teams currently sitting in playoff spots, which leaves just three teams who might be considered “sellers.”
But even those three – Detroit, Oakland and Chicago – range from 5.5 to 6.5 games back. Not likely contenders, but not beyond consideration, and certainly not far from competing as soon as next year. Given the current competitive environment, if you can field a .500 team and hope for a lucky win once per month, you can find yourself in the mix in any given year.
With their backslide through the month of June, the Blue Jays find themselves perilously at the back of the pack of Wild Card contenders, as close to the absolute basement of the junior circuit as they are to the coin-flip playoff spot.
In such a competitive landscape, this could be one of the more unique trade deadlines in recent memory. It could actually challenge the specious dichotomy of buyer/seller, and see trades where teams exchange surplus for need amongst contenders.
Maybe it’s the expectations from the past two years, or maybe it is the notion that the team has never entirely played to its potential, but it seems somehow unlikely that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins will undertake a great dismantling in the coming weeks.
On the other hand, there’s little that would indicate that the roster as it is currently playing would merit the high-end acquisitions to put them over the top. Even if the system doesn’t seem as dire as it did when they took over, there’s been few if any indications that this front office is inclined to be spendthrift with their prospect capital.
So, the Blue Jays find themselves caught in a mushy middle, while attempting to wring the last bit of opportunity out of a veteran roster, not the least of which might be the closing chapters of Josh Donaldson’s tenure in Toronto.
Donaldson’s presence on the team, and the rarity of having such a high-end player in your midst, might be motivation enough for the team to find ways to tweak and add around the edges, at least to make a decent run of the final two months of the season.
But when it comes to the deals fans should expect, one could reasonably assume to see more in the Cliff Pennington/Ben Revere mold rather than the David Price/Troy Tulowitzki one.
That’s not to say that nothing will happen in the coming weeks. Certainly, the front office would be well advised not to take a complete stand-pat approach.
While the 2014 trade deadline was not executed on the watch of the majority of the current administration, it shouldn’t be forgotten how profoundly the players and fans lost faith in the direction of the franchise in those closing months. Yes, there are plenty of good arguments for why it did or should have played out in that manner, but it also precipitated the massive sell-off of the system in the following year to chase the elusive pennant.
You obviously shouldn’t make moves just to gin up the excitement in the cheap seats, but it’s worth remembering that the degree of excitement that’s generated from well-timed smaller acquisitions that can help to keep hope alive, keep the turnstiles turning, the TV ratings up and the streamers streaming.
With what has been accomplished over the past two seasons in turning around the perception of the franchise in Canada and across baseball, it’s hard to imagine a complete retreat and retrench would be palatable.
However, at this point, even modest trades could be welcomed with outsized enthusiasm. Who would have figured back in February that Jed Lowrie would suddenly be the fan base’s white whale?