It might seem hard to believe, but in every season over the past decade, the Toronto Blue Jays entered the spring with some notion that the goal of that year was at least a post-season berth, if not a World Series.
Given how things turned out, that probably feels like something of an overstatement. The memories of seasons playing out in a series of calamitous narratives could give you the impression that the team wasn’t particularly serious about winning. But when they started out in Dunedin, Fla., at the end of the winter, there was tangible optimism.
Yes, even last season.
From midway through that awful 2018 campaign, though, it became clear that the transition from looking backwards at one competitive window to looking ahead to the next had begun. And now, we find ourselves caught between these two dimensions, having almost completely jettisoned any traces of the 2015 and 2016 playoff teams from the current roster, while some of the brightest lights of the future remain tantalizingly close to joining the club.
All of which raises the question: What constitutes success in 2019?
The PECOTA projection system figures the Jays will be a 76-win team this year, which on its face sounds completely fair and reasonable. If nothing else, it is a step in the right direction after last year’s 73-win season.
Would fans be happy to hit that 76-win total, or perhaps exceed it marginally? While some of us may be able to keep that target in mind throughout the year, it’s fair to say that if you consider your wider circle of friends and relations who are Jays fans, they may find little solace in keeping pace with a formulaic prediction while sitting through the 86-or-so losses.
Are there some of us dreamers who still somehow hold out hope that this year’s Blue Jays could stay somewhere near the outskirts of the wild-card chase? It seems like such a remote possibility, until you consider how few teams in the American League are truly making an effort to compete. The current projections figure the Jays to be ninth out of 15 teams in the AL this season, with the second wild-card slot going to the Tampa Bay Rays and their 85 wins.
A jump from 73 to 85 wins in the midst of the transition that is currently underway might be more than a tad optimistic. Moreover, there are a few teams in the AL West – specifically the Angels and the Athletics – who seem likely to exceed their current projections of 80 and 79 wins, respectively.
And yet, with encouraging pitching performances this spring from Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, does it seem totally beyond the realm of expectation that the Jays could be nipping at the heels of those teams?
Or is any of this year’s success predicated on the standings at all? There is an argument that this season will be about watching closely as the Blue Jays integrate new, young and exciting players into the fold, and we will be perhaps more preoccupied by the individual exploits of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Billy McKinney and maybe even Rowdy Tellez or – fingers crossed – Bo Bichette.
That sounds enticing enough, and watching those players begin their careers on a positive note holds a certain appeal. It would give fans an opportunity to project forward and begin thinking about how some of these players fit in with The Next Great Blue Jays Team.
And moreover, having them stay healthy would be nice as well.
But ultimately, the individual performances of any player only go so far to salve the pain of losing more games than you win. Their personal success presents itself in disjointed moments over a long season. Maybe some of them are memorable, and we’ll reflect back on them positively, but ultimately, the narrative of success is written in wins and losses.
Or maybe, if none of the above measures are appropriate, success this year will be measured in the entertainment value of the team. In 2017 and 2018, the Blue Jays were not just disappointing in terms of their outcomes, but they were dreadful teams to watch. They pitched poorly, were poor defensively and featured painfully slow and uninspired offences.
If this new team, under new management, plays a brand of baseball that is more inspiring and doesn’t make every game feel like a three-plus hour funeral procession, perhaps the fan base can overlook the final record if the team at least seemed to be competitive in the majority of games it played. Maybe success is as simple as finding joy in the 2019 season.