As this year’s extraordinary World Series concluded, one couldn’t help but consider how out of place the Toronto Blue Jays would have looked compared to the other teams playing October baseball.
That’s not to say that the Blue Jays were or are or will be a bad team. Every team is flawed in some way, and the final games of the World Series between two 100-win teams demonstrated that even they had some weaknesses. Building a perfect roster isn’t the goal.
Watching the progression of the post-season, and seeing two teams that were likely the best in the game duke it out over seven games, one couldn’t help but feel their expectations for the Blue Jays going forward being skewed.
For the Jays and their fans, the past few seasons – or even the past few months – have been less about reaching for the heights, and more about wringing the most out of what they have. Up until the past few weeks, one could be satisfied with the notion of staying somewhat competitive, building a team that could win 86 games, and hoping for enough luck or progress to grab a wild card spot or stay in the AL East race for most of the season.
But spending these past weeks so intently focused on the Dodgers and the Astros (and the Cubs and Yankees and Cleveland) can leave one with the impression that “good enough” just won’t be good enough in the coming years.
The best teams in baseball are built around young players, drafted and developed in their own systems, building towards the peak of their careers. Sure, all these teams have expensive veterans, but their cores are young and controllable, and in many cases, just coming into their own as superstars.
They’re good today, and while there is many a slip between a cup and a lip, they are likely to be good for years to come.
As the 2017 season waned, and Blue Jays fans and pundits considered what the team’s needs were for the coming season, there was a lot of discussion about moves around the margins. Recognizing that some of the core of the team hovered around replacement level over the past season, some folks are looking for players who might be just marginally better than a Steve Pearce, or Kevin Pillar, or Brett Anderson.
This thinking gets you closer to a situation where you start to convince yourself that if only the Blue Jays could add Alex Cobb and Jay Bruce, maybe it would be enough.
If your focus is strictly the 2018 season, and if you want to prop open the competitive window for one last go at it while you have Josh Donaldson under contract, then maybe there’s a rationale for plugging some holes and making do. But we are rapidly approaching a point in the franchise’s history where the future begins to part ways with the past, and the next great Blue Jays team needs to come into focus.
Certainly, having Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette as potential centrepieces for the franchise is a start, and you can start to imagine what a 2020 or 2021 would look like. But after 2020, not so far in the future, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez will both reach free agency. That means that not only is the current competitive window possibly closing, but the end of the subsequent competitive window is also approaching rapidly.
If the Blue Jays are going to endure, they will need to hit on more than Guerrero and Bichette. Maybe that means getting the most out of T.J. Zeuch and Max Pentecost and Anthony Alford, but if they are unable to become above-average major leaguers, the Jays will need to either acquire or develop more high-end prospects and have them graduate in the coming years.
Despite the path to success of the Astros, this isn’t an oblique call for the Blue Jays to tank in the coming seasons. It should be noted that the 100-loss seasons of the Astros and Cubs were not just the starts of strategic plans that worked, but were equally the tail ends of plans that failed.
If the Blue Jays are going to compete with the elite teams in the coming years, they’ll need to do more than patch holes and hope to fall backwards into a playoff spot. They need begin to focus on building championship teams, and aspiring to the top of the standings, not just the front of the pack of wild card teams.
Every indication is that this is the aspiration and approach of the current front office administration. One hopes they’ll be able to execute on this plan in the weeks and months ahead.