By now, Toronto Blue Jays fans should be accustomed to saying goodbye to veteran players. But even with the substantial roster churn over the past two seasons, it can still leave them with mixed emotions.
Despite the rumours floating around him through the spring, the trade of Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants this week was still greeted with a full spectrum of emotions. Some felt relief, and some degree of satisfaction, while others were surprised, sad and shocked by the news. Some could recognize the logic behind the move, and some were perhaps inappropriately gleeful in the way that sports at times seem to draw the emotions of a cruel grade-school bully out of those kind of folks.
Even for a player with apparent flaws like Pillar, it’s hard not to get a bit nostalgic for the moments he contributed to, especially the 2015 and 2016 playoff teams. At this point, he represents one of the last connections to those teams, whose excellence and joy are beginning to drift further back into our memories. While the Bat Flip and the entire Seventh Inning around it will remain vivid, many of the other aspects of those teams are getting hazier, and distant, and a little less likely to warm a fan’s soul.
Losing Pillar isn’t quite the same as saying goodbye to a faltering José Bautista, or seeing Edwin Encarnacion leave through free agency, or having Josh Donaldson awkwardly hobble out of town after being absent for most of last season. But it’s a reminder that the good times are all gone, and we’re bound for moving on.
Still, one can’t blame the fans if they are uneasy at what the future holds. The turnover from those teams is almost complete, and yet, there’s very little that feels settled about the roster for the next contending Blue Jays team. The shiniest bright lights of the future are not yet in the big leagues, and while the machinations of controlling Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s service time have been well-adjudicated at this point, the growing promise of Bo Bichette is enough to make any hopeful partisan feel antsy at the wait. Especially when the current roster seems to lack the offensive flair that both of these players possess in excess.
It is moments like this where the trust between team management and the fanbase gets truly tested.
Letting go of players to whom you have become attached is an emotional chore, even if you can rationalize why it was done. This is part of the insanity of sports fanaticism: That we love people and things that won’t love us back. We trade the occasional overwhelming elation for years upon years of heartbreak.
As a fan, if you are going to put in the energy to do that work, there is an expectation that team management is holding up their end of the bargain. That, in changing over the roster, they have the team’s future success at the centre of their considerations, and that they take their responsibility for this seriously. As much as sports franchises are businesses, they are also public trusts, and as much as fans are asked to be patient through a rebuilding process, management needs to return the favour by being as clever and astute in their work as they can muster.
If you send the players we loved out, you’d better bring us back someone so we can love again.
This is not intended as a passive-aggressive comment on the current front office’s work to date. If anything, the Pillar and Kendrys Morales deals seem constructive, and the fact that they did not drag on through the season is a positive. There will be much more time to analyze whether, in the aggregate, what has returned to the Blue Jays through all of these deals has been commensurate with what left.
The management of rebuilding sports franchises will often plead for that patience from fans, and ask them to recognize the rational and deliberate approach that a team is taking to build a winner. But what should not be lost is that, for all the emotional rigmarole that they put themselves through, there are limits to the patience of the fans.
If you spend too much time telling your fans to see things as rationally as you do, you might find that they do. And considering that the central aspect of your enterprise is turning the emotions of your fans into dollars in your coffers, that eventually becomes bad for business.
The Blue Jays don’t need to be unwise to appease those fans, but as active players with legacies leave, there is some urgency to begin to show progress on an MLB field. In spite of the presence of Socrates on the roster, most fans aren’t prepared for a long and ponderous consideration of their future happiness.