Given that we’re still in the safe zone for wishing folks a Happy New Year, allow me to be among the final stragglers to offer those well wishes to you.
And in doing so, let’s maybe agree together to turn the page. To really flip it over, and keep it flipped.
You can understand wanting to cling to everything good that happened over the last calendar year. Seeing Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki and David Price all donning Blue Jays blue at some point in 2015 made the whole exercise feel like a video gamer’s fantasy, as the final three months plus the playoffs felt like some blissfully feverish dream.
(It’s almost inconceivable that the seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALDS really happened, isn’t it?)
But as amazing as 2015 was – and it was really TOO MUCH – it’s time to leave it as a memory, and begin thinking in and living in a new moment, and the new reality.
In previous years, this wouldn’t be an issue. When hope was mostly what Blue Jays fans held on to, the look ahead to the next year would start well before the champagne popped and the noisemakers blasted. It probably started well before the end of the season, once the reality of "wait until next year" clicked in. But given the transitory nature of sports and its yearly competitions, it was never a bad policy to leave the hurt and disdain in the past and push things forward.
So it’s not necessarily novel to say that it’s as important for a fan to make this transition now as it was over the previous 22 off-seasons. It would have been just as important too, if the Jays had missed a step in the last two months of the season, or if they had merely played great as opposed to the out-of-their-freaking-minds pace at which they bowled over the competition from the Tulowitzki trade onward.
It even would have been just as important if the front office had remained intact, bringing the whole band back together for an encore.
But with all of this as context, and the exhilaration of the last campaign and the tumultuous off-season thus far, it can be easy to forget that 2016 represents a crucial point in the history of the franchise.
Sure, this sounds like proximity bias, and maybe we could have made the same argument about last year. In fact, given the precipice on which Alex Anthopoulos’s tenure teetered coming into 2015, we probably did.
But even with that inherent myopia that afflicts all sports fans, knowing the expiration dates on the contracts of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion came due after the 2016 season should have underscored this year’s importance within the march of progress of the team.
That both remained productive only serves to deepen the anxieties. Over the past three years, they’ve established themselves as cornerstones of the current franchise and part of the essential pantheon of the greatest in the history of the organization. That they were also integral pieces of the most successful season in more than two decades only serves to ratchet up the pressure further.
It might have been easier if Bautista and/or Encarnacion stumbled toward the end of their contracts, allowing fans to envision either a hometown-discounted victory lap, or an easier feeling of parting as they follow whichever path free agency takes them.
In fact, part of the appeal of the Donaldson deal was that it seemed to buttress against the possibility of eventually losing one or both of those players. Taking on the remainder of Tulowitzki’s long-term deal could be said to do the same.
But even as great as Donaldson was last year and Tulowitzki has been for much of his career, it should be hard to imagine what the Blue Jays might resemble with those two indispensable power bats no longer ensconced in the middle of the lineup.
If this reads as though you’re being asked to flip well ahead, and skip past 2016, that’s not the intent. But knowing that this might just be the last season of a certain era of the franchise should accentuate its importance, and maybe make us cherish the coming months that much more.
Cherish the memories of Ben Revere, sure. But invest more of your energy looking forward to Drew Storen striding out of the pen.
To paraphrase no less of a philosopher than Ferris Bueller: Seasons and eras move pretty fast. If you don’t look around once in a while, you could miss it.