Critical year in Blue Jays’ development muddled by bizarre MLB season

The Blue Jays are buyers ahead of the MLB trade deadline, the front office says it will be "extremely active" in seeking out deals. Arden Zwelling, Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith give their thoughts on what changes Ross Atkins could make.

Baseball begs us to seek meaning in it.

It is a sport of specific events, and small moments, where no one moment means everything, but every moment is a small contributor to the larger understanding of a player, a team, a season, or the sport itself. All these moments add up, and we spend much time considering the context of what know already, and what that understanding tells us about the future.

And then, 2020 happens.

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As this most unusual season began, amidst a pandemic and labour strife and improvised training camps, most of us still fell back into the tradition and rhythm of fandom. The ballgame started, and we began parsing the events as they unfolded.

This guy is having great at-bats! This guy can’t locate his fastball! This guy makes poor decisions on the basepaths! And that’s probably just the reactions from a single inning.

In any normal season, heading into the second month of the schedule would mean that you couldn’t take anything of what you saw too seriously. Baseball’s annual campaign is, as you may have heard, a long season.

Except, obviously, not this year. This year is the one that decades from now, people will spot on someone’s statistical registry with quizzical wonder. Not unlike seeing that the 1919 Stanley Cup was not awarded because of a flu epidemic.

As much as seeing baseball return to our screens has helped to return tiny bits of normalcy to our lives, it usually doesn’t take more than a minute before you snap back with some reminder of what a strange enterprise this entire season is: Cardboard fans, piped-in sound, postponed games, so many doubleheaders and seven-inning games, National League designated hitters, improvised realignment, rampant pitcher injuries, expanded playoffs. The game is familiar but the context is anything but.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

For the Blue Jays, this season has had its added levels of atypical oddity: Spending much of the first two weeks on the road, followed by settling down in a different country, city and stadium to play their home games.

And somehow, out of all of that, our brains continue to attempt to ascribe meaning to what’s happening so that we can comprehend it. Ultimately, much of what we’ll be able to observe out of this year will be a mess of tiny samples with so many caveats that it is hard to really take any of it that seriously.

This year was strategically a critical one for the Blue Jays, as they made some clear assessments on the state of their roster, their system and their future as they moved into what should have been the first years of their legitimate window of contention. This was supposed to be the year where they assessed the young core, as well as the veterans who support them, to come closer to an ideal, balanced and competitive roster. They should have been tightening up the gaps, and lining up the prospects who were prepared for promotion in the next season or two, as well as those who could be valuable but superfluous to this potential contender as it crystallizes.

With the muddy and shallow data lake that this season affords them, the team’s leadership will be left to make some key decisions. They’ll be asking many of the same questions we all are:

Is Teoscar Hernandez this good? Has Randal Grichuk really changed his approach? Is Danny Jansen one of the worst catchers for controlling the running game, or, after throwing out three runners in one game, one of the best? Is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. about to really break out? What can be expected of Nate Pearson? Is Shun Yamaguchi really bad or kinda good? Is Charlie Montoyo pulling the right strings, or does he even have the right strings to pull?

Most of us could offer an opinion on these questions and more, but given how little baseball we’ve seen, and the circumstances surrounding all of it, any of us with an iota of humility would probably not want to bet our jobs on being right. The Jays’ front office won’t have that same luxury.

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In this truly bizarre season, we’re now reaching a most peculiar inflection point, where the first month of the season suddenly turns into the stretch run and the chase for the post-season. It will go from being too early to being too late in a matter of days.

Years from now, we may be able to look back on this year, and hopefully be able to discern some relevance from it. For the moment, it’s almost best to just enjoy the visceral thrill of balls flying out of Sahlen Field.

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