The schedule is waning, and the benches are now bulging from the extended roster. With the two most treasured prospects entering the season on the roster and playing a central role, our thoughts obviously turn towards what we can only hope is a brighter future.
There are certainly reasons for optimism. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has shown some exceptional hitting skills as a 20-year-old, and there appears to remain room for growth in his all-around game. Bo Bichette has been a revelation, and has exceeded expectations while being one of the most entertaining Blue Jays in recent memory. Both players play with a maturity far beyond their years, and would seem to be cornerstones of whatever success might come next for the franchise.
There’s also been positive showings from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and the catching tandem of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. The pitching hasn’t quite arrived, and there are questions about what we can expect from Ryan Borucki or Anthony Kay, but Nate Pearson and Alek Manoah seem promising for the not-to-distant future.
That might feel like the beginning of the core of a competitive team. But a look around the majors will tell you that even a collection of all-stars often isn’t enough to set you ahead of the competition.
The Boston Red Sox just left town having jettisoned their general manager Dave Dombrowski just 10 months after having won the World Series. The Red Sox roster remains filled with an enviable amount of talent, including five recent all-stars, one of the game’s signature stars in Mookie Betts, and a young player in Rafael Devers who seems poised to become an MVP candidate.
But all of that talent this year netted out to a team that is 10 games out of the Wild Card race and nearly 20 back of the Yankees in the division.
On the other coast, the Los Angeles Angels feature the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, and one of the most compelling players in Shohei Ohtani. They also have recent all-stars in Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton, and a number of above average hitters such as Kole Calhoun and Brian Goodwin, and one of the bigger surprises this season in Tommy La Stella.
And yet, the Angels sit just in fourth place in the AL West, more than 20 games out of the Wild Card and just nine games ahead of the Blue Jays.
As we look ahead at what we can expect or hope for in the coming years, these teams should be instructive on one hand, and concerning on the other. To be a truly competitive sometime soon, the Blue Jays can’t merely rely on their young premium players to carry them to success.
The current mindset of the front office seems to have been about collecting post-hype sleepers who may be able to eke out a bit more value than some may expect. The outfield picture is positively crowded with these marginal players, each one seemingly a little more marginal than the last.
There will come a time very soon where decisions will have to be made between Tesocar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, Derek Fisher, Jonathan Davis and Anthony Alford. (The decision on the last of these seems as though it may have already been taken, given the few opportunities he’s had since his September callup.) The Blue Jays outfield collectively is worth five wins below average, according the Baseball Reference.
Picking amongst this calibre of players and hoping that some of them evolve from below-replacement level to perhaps, just maybe as good as Randal Grichuk soon is not ultimately a path to contention. Nor is setting aside any serious discussions on acquiring talent until all of the stars and moons of the future prospects line up ideally.
The Blue Jays’ front office has made assurances that they will add talent to the team when the time is right and it is ready for contention, which increasingly feels like a frustrating chicken-or-egg scenario. Do you add good players once you have enough players to be good? Or do you add good players so that you can be good in the first place?
In a game where there are teams that are already ahead of the Blue Jays when it comes to talent on the big league roster and in the pipeline, it is beginning to feel as though there is a lack of urgency to make the roster better in the short time that Bo and Vlad will be a part of the team. It’s sad enough to watch Mike Trout from a distance excel while the team around him stumbles, but the idea of seeing something similar play out with the Blue Jays should cause some angst among fans, if not the management suite.
Baseball is an increasingly top-heavy game when it comes to competitiveness, and it demands a lot of talent distributed deeply throughout the roster to be successful. Good enough just won’t be good enough.