There’s Still Plenty Of Time Left…But Maybe Not As Much As You Think

If the Jays aren’t relevant by the end of July, they may be in the mood for some horse trading

Blue Jays 4, Orioles 6

There’s a couple of truisms about the mantra “It’s a long season” that need to be acknowledged by Blue Jays’ fans. First, it really is a long season; and second, it’s getting really boring saying and hearing that.

But here’s another point to consider about the mantra: it may not be entirely correct. In the case of the Blue Jays, at least, the season is still quite long, but perhaps not quite as long as you may think. It may, in fact, be about two months shorter than just about everyone else’s.

Here’s the situation: the Blue Jays are a fundamentally good team with the possibility of greatness, but they’ve been underperforming at an almost farcically-unsustainable level. It simply cannot and will not go on like this…it is impossible that they finish 16-146 this season, which is what they’re on pace to do.

In that sense, it’s a bit like 2015, when they were also a very good team whose position in the standings just didn’t show that, but then Alex Anthopoulos went out, and like a drunk sailor on shore leave, spent almost everything in the bank for Tulowitzki and David Price (and oddments) and…hey presto!…a winning team was born!

That’s not going to happen this year, and no it’s not because Mark Atkins and Mark Shapiro are worse at their jobs than Anthopoulos (it is my considered opinion, in fact, that they are considerably better, but that’s a different column for a different day). No, it’s not going to happen this year because the problem isn’t missing a few key pieces—they have all the pieces they need, they just aren’t hitting.

It’s also not going to happen because this is an aging team that has to be ready to replenish itself over the next couple years or risk becoming complete garbage in a division that looks to be getting stronger and stronger over the next few years (Boston is young and talented, New York is getting ready to sign Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson in the next three years). This means they can’t afford to trade away everything they’ve got in the minors, particularly at a time when there isn’t much there that’s major league or almost-major league ready. There is some great talent in the system, sure, but they’re years away for the most part and the Jays are going to need to figure out how to replace their aging core over the next two to four years while they wait to develop all those great young arms, gloves and bats scattered between low-A and AA ball.

Which brings us back to this season and how and why it is probably a whole heck of a lot shorter than you may think. For the Blue Jays, I suspect, this season could very well find it’s definitive end at 4:00 PM on 31 July.

That’s the non-waiver trade deadline, and if the Jays get to that date and they’re all but out of things…well…they can’t fix the 2017 team by trading away prospects for talent…but they can do a lot to help their future by trading away talent for major-league ready prospects…

And who would they trade? You could get a truckload of whatever you wanted for Donaldson, and while Jon Morosi has suggested the Jays would do well to trade him (and been suitably dismissed by Andrew Stoeten for doing so), I really don’t think they would: the fan backlash would be thunderous, he’s under contract for two more years and thus a key part of this bridging period I’m talking about, and…well…you just don’t trade a player like Donaldson. You just…don’t!

Tulo and Martin are already at that point of their contracts when they’re probably not worth the money they’re making, but the Jays could maybe move one of them by taking on a lot of that money themselves; Bautista would have just a couple months of control left and nobody wanted him in the off-season so it’s doubtful anyone would want him now; the team has made a commitment to Morales, and they’re not going to trade away young talent like Devon Travis…and as for the rest of the position players, you’re probably not going to get enough in return to make it worth your while.

So there’s not a lot of trade capital at the dish or in the field, but on the mound…

That’s where you can expect to see some major moves, should the Jays feel by mid-July that they are done and out of it this season.

Stroman and Sanchez are absolutely untouchable, the team has made that abundantly clear over and over again, even though it’s painfully obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain that they aren’t going anywhere.

But Francisco Liriano, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ…

Liriano is a free agent after this year, but if he pitches like he did in his last game for another three months then a contending team would be willing to pay quite a bit to rent him.

Happ and Estrada are the real gold though: they’re making very reasonable money for what they bring, and Happ even comes with a year of control after this one. I can’t even begin to imagine what they might be able to fetch from a desperate almost-contender at the end of July. It could be the David Price trade all over again, but with the Jays on the other side of it.

Last summer teams were falling over themselves to trade whatever they could for pitchers like ancient Mr Blister Finger Rich Hill; the Red Sox gave up their number one prospect, and one of the greatest prospects in all baseball, Anderson Espinoza, for Drew Ho-Hum Pomeranz. If that’s the going rate for just-a-bit-above average what do you think Marco I Win Every Post-Game I Play Estrada and J.A. I Won Twenty Games Happ could fetch? Shop them both out to whichever two teams are desperate enough or dumb enough to empty the coffers for them (which team does Anthopoulos work for now, anyway?) and all of sudden, the next couple years in Blue Jays land look a whole lot brighter.

Of course, this year would be sunk. But then again, if things don’t turn around fast, they will be anyway…

Postscript

Oh, and yeah, the Jays lost again last night to the Orioles dropping them to one and nine on the season, which really sucks. Good pitching and crappy hitting…yadda yadda yadda…

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