The rebuilding process is about to get even more painful for Toronto Blue Jays fans.
The play on the field can be generously described as grim, but off the field, the season is moving quickly towards the inevitable disassembling of the roster. Now that the amateur draft has come and gone, contending teams will begin to turn their attention in earnest to buttressing their rosters before the July trade deadline.
Given the state of the Blue Jays, they are predictably going to be one of the teams whose players will be pursued. Considering how thin the pitching has been, and how feeble the offence, it hardly seems as though there is much to sell off.
But since the beginning of this spring, or even back to last year, it was clear that the two players who stood to be the most attractive trade targets for contenders were this weekend’s starting pitchers, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
This takes the franchise turnover to a depth that is rarely seen with the Blue Jays. It’s one thing to move veterans, especially those who arrived in Toronto as major-leaguers and were short-term contributors to the team.
But it is a whole other level to consider the departure of two players who were drafted and developed within the system, and have barely reached their peak.
For the fatalists and cynics alike, this is all part of the rebuilding plan, and everyone has a price. But it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Stroman and Sanchez represent the best that the franchise has managed to develop from within their own system over the past decade. Even with their respective struggles and injuries, they have contributed in ways that we can only hope that some of the collection of young and emerging talent in the system may one day.
Stroman and Sanchez were players who we followed from their draft days to their ascendance through the system. We checked their stat lines in Vancouver or Lansing, and dreamed on what they could potentially bring to the Jays one day. There’s an attachment to the players that grows the longer that you become emotionally invested in their successes and failures.
They also emerged at the right time, and their performances were instrumental in the 2015 and 2016 playoff teams. It feels so distant now, but those successes would not have been possible without their critical and exciting contributions. At the time, it seemed as though they were not only making those teams better, but that they would be leaders on the next great Jays teams as well.
As time and circumstance and injuries and performance have dictated, it seems not to be.
Which is not to say that they couldn’t still be a part of the Vladdy Era teams to come. There is a very good argument that, given the dearth of pitching talent that exists in baseball, the Blue Jays would be better off attempting to keep at least one of the two, especially if the team has any notion of being competitive in either 2020 or 2021.
That absence of pitchers will certainly also serve to enhance their value on the trade market, with a possible return that could not be turned down.
If you were to ask most Jays fans to choose one of the two pitchers to be extended and stay with the team, it is likely that Stroman would be the choice of most. His performance has been the best of the two, both this season and in the aggregate, dating back to their debuts. He would seem to be an ideal candidate to extend, and even if his performance were to wane towards the end of such a deal, he would still likely offer supporting value as a back-of-the-rotation veteran.
Sanchez, on the other hand, has been enigmatic since his 2016 ERA title. A succession of seemingly small or fluky injuries has kept him from flourishing in the way that we’d hoped. He has also struggled with his control, a flaw that has led to too many added baserunners and too few effective innings since his minor-league days.
Add to this the fact that Sanchez is represented by the notorious Scott Boras, and you can easily understand how fans would be inclined to hold on tightly to Stroman, and let Sanchez go lightly.
The grand joke on all of us is that as trade talks intensify, the very facts that lead us to build a greater attachment to one pitcher are the reasons he’ll be the one more likely to depart. The more we talk ourselves into the rationale for an extension for Stroman, the harder it becomes to accept that he’s that much more likely to attract the sort of return that would lead the Jays to move him.
It feels strange to imagine either player in another jersey, or that there may come a time when we only see them sport Blue Jays colours when they return for an alumni weekend.
Life moves that fast.