Without wanting to totally abandon all hope for a miraculous second-half comeback, the most pertinent chatter at this point is focused on what comes next for the Blue Jays.
With the Red Sox and Yankees sprinting far ahead of the AL East pack, and the Astros and Mariners right there with them, Blue Jays fans barely had the opportunity to resign themselves to their perceived fate before turning attention to the trade market.
Of course, there are fans who clamour to tear down the team and start over almost every season. Around this time in 2015, there were more than a few angry denizens of social media platforms who were convinced that it was time to sell everything and tank for the foreseeable future.
But this year, even moderate voices are among those taking a thoughtful look ahead. Where a few months ago, they may have been considering what sort of term and dollar figure it might take to keep Josh Donaldson in Toronto, now they are pondering whether his prolonged absence will result in a diminished return when he is inevitably dealt.
If we’ve reached the point of acceptance, and know that there will be players moving off the big-league roster in the coming days and weeks, the question that follows is: Rebuilding towards what? And when?
It does not seem as though the Blue Jays are–or should be–in absolute tank mode. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the cusp of the big-leagues, it would be madness to tear the roster down to the foundation and squander several of those seasons building towards something further down the road.
Moreover, with several other promising young players emerging and ready to graduate to the majors in 2019 or 2020, one would be loathe to see them spend their initial years battling out of the basement in futility. In fact, the front office has mentioned on numerous occasions that they’d prefer not to promote players to play for a bad team in a deep rut.
What does that mean for the Blue Jays in the coming weeks?
Clearly, there is an opportunity to amass prospect depth, and to find value for some of the many impending free agents. Those are the easy calls at this point.
It gets tricky when teams begin calling on players who have control remaining. There have been murmurs on the trade market rumour mill about the availability of Ryan Tepera, or even Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez. Unquestionably, the return for controllable players would be greater, but at what cost to the Jays’ on-field competitiveness?
The question for the Jays’ brain trust–certainly one you’d imagine they’ve pondered–is the very fine distinction between the approach if they wish to be competitive in 2019, versus 2020.
If the Jays are willing to enter 2019 as a developmental year, it opens the door to dealing players such as Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis and Luke Maile. However, moving core players off the roster would mean that the return that they’d need to receive would be prospects who are closer to contributing full-time.
The hazard with this option is that if you accept a down season in 2019, it may make it that much more difficult to pull together a roster that will hang with the young, talented and rich teams in Boston and the Bronx by 2020.
And if you lose in 2020, then you’re entering 2021 with Stroman and Sanchez potentially leaving via free agency, and who knows who stepping in to replace them. And the more you begin to pull on these threads, the quicker things can begin to unwind.
Accepting that most of the impending free agents don’t have much of a future in Toronto–and it’s odd how comfortable the post-Donaldson era seems to feel at the moment–there remains a solid core to the Blue Jays. Add Vlad and Bo Bichette and Danny Jansen, and perhaps a couple of young pitchers, and you can begin to see the next competitive team shaping up.
And with a capacity to take on payroll in the coming years, there’s even room for some veterans acquired through free agency or trade to supplement the present core.
There’s a path for the Blue Jays to remain a competitive and exciting team as soon as next season and the next half-decade. But if they tear it down too dramatically, there’s no telling whether the Vladdy years will be notable for much beyond his individual contributions.