TORONTO — Ross Atkins will meet with the media Monday afternoon knowing full well that he can’t answer the most pressing question facing the Toronto Blue Jays: where, exactly, does the team’s general manager see it going from here?
For a primer on what I guess would be the nightmare scenario for Blue Jays fans, I’d direct your attention to friend David Cameron’s eye-catching piece for Fangraphs entitled ‘The Blue Jays should rebuild,’ which is not to be confused with the counter-argument by Jeff Sullivan, entitled ‘Against the idea of the Blue Jays rebuilding.’
The obvious is blindingly so: Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are the only free agents among the Blue Jays’ group of 12 anybody wants to see back, although I’d argue Brett Cecil’s worth a look; manager John Gibbons has stated the team is too old and too unbalanced with right-handed free swingers; the starting rotation is the best and most cost-effective in the game; and Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin are by virtue of salary, skills and experience the new ‘core’ of this team.
Cautionary tales abound: Aaron Sanchez broke the 200-innings plateau, and there must be a concern that the piper might have simply delayed asking for a payment until next season; Martin wore down noticeably and neither he or Tulowitzki alone can improve enough to make up for Encarnacion’s absence; the team’s best hitter down the stretch, Devon Travis, can’t stay healthy; and, as of now, Melvin Upton Jr. and Justin Smoak are starters.
My guess is we’ll be reminded in these next few weeks that in president and CEO Mark Shapiro’s first year as GM of the Cleveland Indians he traded Roberto Alomar after a loss in the American League Division Series and then, with his team still in contention, traded Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore — his best deal ever, to be sure, but one that raised a white flag in the 2002 season.
Similarities will be stressed and likely, considering the pathological hatred much of the media has for Blue Jays ownership, overstated. Those who dig will notice that Shapiro later traded cornerstone players within two years of free agency, Lee and Victor Martinez, check Donaldson’s free-agent ETA and break into a cold sweat.
But something to keep in mind about those Indians and these Blue Jays: that 2001 Indians team finished the season with the fourth-highest payroll in baseball, unsustainable in all but three markets in the game, and by the end of 2002 were down to 12th, almost 25 per cent shed. The 2016 Blue Jays, meanwhile, led the AL in attendance with the 11th- or 12th-highest payroll in the game depending on your math.
Look, there is always a point in sports management where philosophy intersects with fiscal reality. I just don’t think it’s the same now for Shapiro as it was then.
STEVE FELLIN IS THE MAN!
Someone had to say this. Fellin works for Sportsnet Stats and has the grave misfortune of having me decide on the spur of the moment that I need some sort of list or graphic or whatever. He humours me, and for that he has my undying gratitude and respect.
So, from the Misery Loves Company Dept., I asked Fellin: now that the Chicago Cubs and Indians are in the End Times World Series — the Cubs for the first time since 1948, the Indians for the first time since 1997 — what are the longest remaining championship appearance droughts by sport?
• NBA: The Sacramento Kings, who won the 1951 NBA title over the New York Knicks as the Rochester Royals that season and have since been known as the Cincinnati Royals and Omaha-Kansas City Royals in addition to the Kings. They’ve never made it back to the finals.
• MLB: The Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals have never made it to the World Series since their inception in 1969 and, based on what happened this season and with Bryce Harper two years away from free agency, may never make it. This could be the new curse, folks!
• NFL: The Detroit Lions, who haven’t been back to the NFL title game since 1957 when, with Bobby Layne nursing a broken ankle, backup and future Toronto Argonauts quarterback Tobin Rote led them to a 59-14 hammering of the Cleveland Browns in the fourth of four title games between the teams in six years. The Lions have won just one playoff game since then, beating the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 in the 1992 division playoff, and are 1-11 in that time including losses in their last seven consecutive wild-card games.
• NHL: As if you don’t know. The Lions and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1967! 1967! 1967! 1967!) have the longest championship appearance droughts among franchises that remained in the same city. Speaking of the Leafs…
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Look, I understand the concern in Toronto about the state of the Maple Leafs goaltending, in particular Frederik Andersen’s early-season difficulties. Nobody expects the young Leafs to contend this season, but now and then a little reward is a good thing for any group trying to figure out what it’s all about.
Kelly Hrudey of Hockey Night In Canada had an interesting breakdown of what he thinks ails Andersen focusing on the goalie’s odd, sweeping method of catching the puck and the overly-aggressive way he plays his angles. Still, if three weeks ago we’d been told that five games into the regular season goaltending would be the most identifiable issue with this team, we’d probably take it. There’s a track record with Andersen, plus he was injured. No need to panic, or pine for the return of James Reimer. Not yet, at least.
• Times are getting tough for Roger Goodell. Even the league’s media lap-dogs are starting to write about the decline in NFL TV ratings, although unfortunately some have bought into the idea that the anthem protests of Colin Kaepernick and other players are at least partly to blame. That seems a reach, even given the manner in which NFL fans — not all of whom can be imbeciles — suspend morality and manners every Sunday.
No, unfortunately North American society is still sick enough that it won’t mind watching men turn their brains into mush for their entertainment. There will be a price to pay for all these broken bodies but it won’t be until parents eventually stop letting their children play a sport that forces increasingly bigger bodies to hit each other at a younger age. That day is coming … just not yet.
The bigger issue for Goodell might be his tin ear when it comes to miscreant players seems to be bringing an unfortunate reality home to roost. It was a hoot listening to Goodell explain to the BBC why he spends more time worrying about "excessive celebrating" on the part of players then he does about domestic abuse. The answer is while one is easy to punish, the other requires a moral compass that isn’t swayed by NFL politics.
New York Giants owner John Mara should be taken to the woodshed for his organization’s handling of Josh Brown’s repeated domestic assaults; Goodell doesn’t have the stones to do it.
• Are goaltenders under the gun more than ever in the NHL? Braden Holtby appears to think so. As my friend Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports told us on The Jeff Blair Show last week, the Washington Capitals goalie explained to him late last season that in addition to the movement to restrict the size of goalie equipment, the fact more and more young players are coming into the league with the benefit of dedicated skills coaches — out of season as well as in-season — has helped tilt the balance towards offence. As Holtby noted, it used to be only goalies that had specialized coaches.
The end times are upon us, folks. A madman is running for the U.S. presidency, and the Cubs and Indians are in the World Series at the same time. Having travelled a fair bit during my days as a baseball writer, I’ve always found the Cubs fan base to be only slightly less annoying than the Boston Red Sox’s fan base; it’s the same boozy, tortured history, the difference being the Cubs fan base is less possessed of the added Irish angst that comes with the territory in Boston, with that positive being offset by most Cubs fans being awful, horrible yuppies. There is a cloying nature to the Cubs’ losing ways that was never noticeable when the Red Sox were suffering through the Curse of the Bambino. Boston drank hard to forget; Cubs fans chugged Bud Lite and puked.
In the meantime, if people suddenly start disappearing around you this month — on the subway, bus, at the ACC or on the Gardiner — don’t say I didn’t warn you …