Tao of Stieb: Do the Blue Jays actually suck?

Blue Jays starter Josh Johnson still only has one win so far this season. (AP/Gail Burton)

Maybe it’s a touch harsh to say that the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays “suck”.

The team itself is not so awful as to be unwatchable, and has actually been rather entertaining at various points of the season.

(I’ll pause here while you instinctively summon up an argument about the team’s “consistency”. And I’ll silently judge you for doing so, though I am sympathetic and realize that it is not your fault seeing as though you’ve spent your whole life being fed the load of hooey about “consistency” by people in the business of creating noise about sports. But really, you should stop complaining about foolish consistency. It’s the hobgoblin of small minds.)

The 2013 Blue Jays are not nearly the omnishambolic catastrophe that we saw unfold painfully before us in 2012, befallen by injury miseries, compounding underwhelming performance miseries, compounding bullpen implosions, compounding behavioural miseries, compounding the general misery of Farrellball.

This year’s edition of the team has hit better, fielded well enough and features one of the most reliable bullpens in recent memory. So it’s not all drudgery and burden to watch them play.

It’s just…they were supposed to be so much better than this, weren’t they?

After a winter in which they emptied out the system to go “all in”, acquiring veterans with track records and trophies on their mantles, even my relatively tempered expectations for the team weren’t this tepid. And to torture the poker analogy: How exactly do you go all in, bust out and then attempt to all in again the next year?

Next year? Are we already talking about next year? Yes…yes, we are.

It’s not an absolute impossibility that the Jays get some decent starting pitching and go on some sort of run that propels them into the crowded mix for an outside chance at a spot at a one-game playoff run. But the smart money is against it, so the question that you’re left asking is: What the hell? What’s the plan now?

The Blue Jays had a perfectly defensible plan up until this past season. Build through the draft and international signings, and develop the eventual contender through the Eternal Rebuilding Process. But the urgency of winning in the short term led them to empty out the system to bring in the likes of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to support Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero in the rotation.

Needless to say, it hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.

The flummoxing question as a fan is not so much one of whether the Jays should be buying or selling – they should always be both, really – but rather, what’s the new timetable for contention? Are the Jays ready to start dealing from the shallow depths of their system in order to bring in more major league talent? Does it make sense to take a shot at even more short-term veteran players like Jake Peavy with a view towards contending in 2014?

On one level, it certainly makes sense to attempt to ride out this season with as much of the Major League roster intact as possible. The lineup has been fine, and could be much better if good health and reasonable expectations of progression come to pass. The bullpen is deep, promising and somewhat cost-controllable through the next several seasons, though one can rarely predict reliever performance from one year to the next, and the team will eventually have to make decisions between a few of the bullpen arms.

All of that ponderous re-tweaking amounts to deck chair feng shui on the Titanic if the team can’t figure out their rotation, which for 2014 looks to be cluttered with pitchers who might have profiled at some point as aces or number twos or threes, but have recent performance that makes them look more like fours or fives or minor league roster depth.

Do Drew Hutchison or Kyle Drabek factor in as positives for the rotation next season? What – if anything – can we expect out of Brandon Morrow at this point? Is R.A. Dickey’s surreal, magical moment over? Does Josh Johnson return on a qualifying offer, and if so, do the Jays get enough out of him in another “contract season” to make him worth their while?

Even if a shard of positive light ekes in through the bottom of the door, what’s to say that the bullpen doesn’t implode or the lineup doesn’t take a step backward?

The step forward into contention this season has been a bit of a bust. Those underwhelming results also augur poorly for next season. Which leaves me as a Jays fan asking this fundamental question: If not this year, and not next year…then when? And for all the hoopla and fireworks of the offseason, are the Jays really any better off than they would have been by staying the course?

Are we getting closer yet?

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