Look: I get the Toronto thing. I really do. I get that after 670 days of playing on the road or in ersatz homes such as Dunedin and Buffalo and keeping body and soul together it would be swell for the Blue Jays front office to give the boys a shot in the arm.
And I’m not talking about vaccinations.
I get the excitement. I really do. I mean, I said on the radio that the convergence of MLB Trade Deadline and Friday’s Home Opener could evoke memories of the 2015 trade deadline, when within a matter of days — and in the middle of a weekend series with the Kansas City Royals — David Price was acquired two days after Troy Tulowitzki. The Blue Jays weren’t much worse off then than they are now in the standings, but the similarities between that team and this one aren’t as pronounced as you’d think.
Forget the standings.
This isn’t 2015.
At The Letters @ArdenZwelling and @bnicholsonsmith discuss the 2020 shortened MLB season + the Blue Jays front office with the trade deadline just days away.
Presented by @MillerLiteCA. pic.twitter.com/J85sF1DW8Q
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 29, 2021
For starters, then general manager Alex Anthopoulos was in the last year of his contract and was uncertain about his job status even before he knew that Mark Shapiro would be coming in as president and chief executive officer. Current GM Ross Atkins doesn’t have that concern. But more than that, this Blue Jays team has a youngish core and longer competitive window; time was a-wasting for the 2015 Blue Jays and the 30ish Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. This core’s best days are way in front of them.
So the standings lie, in that regard. Yes, there is a weird, once-in-a-lifetime backstory to 2021. At no point in franchise history has the trade deadline fallen three hours before the Rogers Centre sees its first pitch thrown in almost two years, the product of a pandemic that opened all manner of unimaginable medical and logistical fears at the same time as it was closing borders.
I’ve never bought into the whole notion that sports can be used as a celebration of mankind’s ability to overcome stuff. I’ll grant you the national rallying cry aspect of it — this being the Olympics and all — but as long as variants are running wild and great wide swaths of the planet don’t have access to jabs and people are suffering real-life implications, well, I’ll hold off on the overkill.
I’m just freaking glad I got my ball team back. I’m happy that it’s led by folks like Mark Shapiro who can balance responsibilities to their team — I’m talking ownership, league partners, and any other stakeholder — while staying out of the way of three levels of government during a time of crisis. The Blue Jays haven’t had a large paid gate since that 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 25,738 fans. In that time they’ve given out a six-year, $150-million deal to George Springer and gave Hyun-Jin Ryu four years and $80 million. They’ve also made poor decisions costing money that could have been used elsewhere. Kirby Yates was a gamble that flopped; Tyler Chatwood, too. But that was not born out of a lack of willingness to spend money.
And against this backdrop, the Blue Jays went from a team that lost 95 games in 2019 to a 32-win club in a 60-game regular season that grabbed one of the few wild-card spots. This season has been … well, it’s been something. Four hitters to the All-Star Game and …
Yeah. A record of 27-38 against teams over .500, a record of 21-25 within the American League East. A bullpen that has torched leads after being meat-grinded in the first month as starters were babied. A lineup that has not been great late or in close games and hasn’t always clutched up. A team that on most nights feels like it’s going to be .500 over 162 games or maybe a little better because of a soft backend of the schedule.
That’s at least a 15-win improvement over the last 162-game schedule,. while Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette continue their ascendency. Guerrero in particular … my word. Forget the Triple Crown threat, just focus on the development of his defence. If you tell me you saw that coming, you’re lying. Sorry. Bichette still has his hiccups in the field but when you watch him have to make a split-second decision, you can see him fitting into an everyday shortstop role, or at least do it well enough that you don’t have to rush out to add an elite shortstop.
And you know what we don’t talk about with these two? They play every day. Every day. Junior, in fact, is one of the few people I know who hasn’t missed a day of work since the pandemic started. His team has played 159 games since MLB started up after the pandemic break; he’s started all of them. You can be the greatest player on the planet but you’re of no use to your team if you’re hurt. Just ask the Los Angeles Angels.
I get the fuss. This weekend is going to be a special time for all of us, including the Blue Jays players. But my guess is the franchise will stick to its strategy of adding pitching or players with some control and maybe toss in another re-location candidate as they did with Robbie Ray last season. I’d listen on anybody besides Vladdy, Bo, Springer and Teoscar Hernandez …. but I’d rather hang on to Marcus Semien and Ray and take the off-season compensation or have the potential of a qualifying offer than get somebody else’s eighth-best prospect.
As of now the Blue Jays don’t, I believe, have next year’s starting catcher in tow (Gabe Moreno is the guy but he’s hurt) or next year’s second baseman (if Semien walks) or, for that matter, next year’s third baseman. They’ll need Nate Pearson to stay healthy and win a starter’s spot next year and Alek Manoah to develop. And even then, they’ll need to upgrade if they want to win. As for the bullpen? Yeah. Other than Adam Cimber I don’t see a lot of certainty or day-to-day reliability.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 28, 2021
I thought all along that the only way the Blue Jays think hard about giving away a part of 2022 or 2023 this week is if they make a real run at the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. The Jays players haven’t forced management’s hand, which says nothing other than it might not yet be their golden moment. I get it: the Yankees look like a team waiting for their manager to get fired and they’ve faced crisis after crisis and you know they’ll come back with a vengeance next season but that misses the point: in the here and now, it’s the Red Sox and Rays that must be beaten.
I’d rather the Blue Jays be prudent and make deals that will impact next year’s trade deadline. But that’s me; you’re entitled to feel otherwise and, frankly, if you do that’s a good thing. Because it means you’re even more excited the boys are back than I am and I can’t imagine what that must feel like.
Jeff Blair hosts Baseball Central with Kevin Barker from 5-7 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan