The Day The Hope Died

I want the Blue Jays to win…but I no longer think they will

I always tell my students, “Never begin an essay with a quote from the dictionary.”

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Hope: Expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation.

I’ve already waxed eloquent on the virtues of hope, yoking in no less a figure than William Shakespeare to lend credence to the idea that there was and remains hope for the Blue Jays this season. And there are many fans of the team I am sure who continue to hope–and more power to them I say!–but I, alas, am no longer among their number since, as the Good Book (also known as the Oxford English Dictionary) tells us, hope is a combination of two things: desire and expectation.

I still desire the Jays to make the post season, but I no longer expect it.

I can point to the exact moment I lost this expectation, and thus my hope. It was precisely three days ago when I read that Aaron Sanchez was being placed on the ten day disabled list for the third time this season.

It was the final straw–part rational (“another two starts by Bolsinger! Another indication that Sanchez is not going to be around much this season!”), part superstitious (“Another freaking injury?! The gods have it in for the Jays!”)–in a long series of blows to my expectations for the team. The first of these was, of course, the horrific start to the season; the second (at the end of hope lies the perspective from which one can anatomize its loss) was the abyssal plunge in the offensive output of Bautista, Travis and Martin, and the third, even as the first two resolved themselves, was the seemingly daily announcements of injuries. But it was this final announcement, that Sanchez is gone from the mound once again, that put paid to hope for me.

Hope: the combination of desire and expectation. Before this latest blow, my desires and my expectations were in accord: the Jays were going to the post season. They were too good not to. There were too many rational grounds to justify the knowledge that they could and would overcome their poor start, right the underperforming players, and survive the bout of injuries. But, as I said, these expectations are gone leaving me with nothing but the desire, and desire without hope of fulfillment is very poor company.

So what do I expect?

The Blue Jays will finish third in the AL East

Even with all the injuries the Jays are still a better team than the (Devil) Rays by a country mile and that will be evident by the All Star Break: the return of Tulo and Donaldson to the everyday lineup alone will accomplish that. The Jays are also, in the long run, going to be better than both the Orioles and the Yankees. I’ve already expanded on why this is, but briefly: the Jays have better starting pitching than either the Yankees or the Orioles and over the course of a full season that is going to become evident. They are also already a better offensive team than the Orioles, and the Yankees will, at some point this year, stop being the offensive juggernaut they have been so far and fall to something very close to–and perhaps even below–the Blue Jays’ level.

But that’s all going to happen slowly, and probably far too late for the Jays to overcome their deficit in the standings. They will catch up to and pass one of either New York or Baltimore–probably Baltimore and probably sometime in July or August–but not the other–probably the Yankees, who are going to be locked in a race for the AL East with the Red Sox right through September.

The Blue Jays will trade Estrada and/or Happ but not Donaldson

The trade rumours and click-baiting are flying already and while it really is too early for that, I guess I may as well contribute.

First, no the Jays are not going to trade Donaldson in July, either because they want to hang on to one of the greatest players in the game and have the benefit of his presence for another season and a half (which, as I’ve argued already, is probably worth far more than you could ever net in prospects gained from a deadline trade), or because they have decided to trade him but want to take their time about it and hear all offers and get the very best, which would only happen in the off season, or finally (and here’s where my hope has gone to live) because they are going to work instead toward signing him to a long term deal.

As I have also argued already (and holy heck, but could I cross link any more?) the Jays are going to trade from their strength, which is in their starting pitching. I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again: if you were a general manager hoping to make the post season, how much would you be willing to give up for Marco Never Loses In The Post Season Estrada? I’ll just answer that for you: a tonne of young talent. Remember what the Tigers got in the David Price deal? We’re talking that kind of a haul, because Estrada really is that good, and he’s about a zillion times better than Price in the playoffs. Happ is not nearly so good a pitcher, but he is good and very affordable and he comes with an extra year of control whereas Estrada is just a rental. If the Jays do deal Estrada I would hope (you see? I can still do that!) that they sign him back in the off season.

The Blue Jays are going to be a lot more fun to watch in August and September

By the time we get to the end of the season, the Jays will (with any luck) be more or less healthy, everyone will be playing up to (Bautista, Travis, Martin) or even beyond (Pillar, Smoak) their preseason expectations, and the angst, frenzy and chaos around “Rebuild! Tear it down! Trade Donaldson! Don’t trade Donaldson! Trade Tulo! etc etc etc” will be over so we can once again focus on the baseball.

And it will be good baseball. The Jays are going to win their fair share of games in June and July and probably go on a tear–or maybe even two–in August and September that will have a lot of people hoping that maybe, just maybe, they can catch up to the AL East leaders.

I, alas, shall not be one those dreamers. I still desire the Jays to win, but I expect I shall enjoy watching them play out the season.

 

 

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…

Well, At Least They Get to Come Home

It’s not looking good, but other teams have looked as bad and still won it all

Blue Jays 2, (Devil) Rays 7

This is not looking good.

Say what you will about “early in the season” (it sure is), “too early to give up” (I agree), “it’s a long season” (hallelujah, sing it brother!), “every team goes through a rough patch” (yep)…but at the moment the Blue Jays sure don’t look like a contending team. They may very well turn it around, in fact I expect them to—in point of fact, I fully expect them to be right in the thick of things right down to the final weeks—but that doesn’t change the sheer ugly nastiness of what’s playing out in front of our eyes at the moment…

Estrada looked extremely human yesterday. He’s a fly ball pitcher and in the past he was prone to giving up too many home runs, so this is not a surprising event, and I’m not saying that he was terrible or that he’s falling apart or anything stupid, just that…well, he looked extremely human.

Tulo committed an error, which I had to check the box score after writing that just to make sure I hadn’t hallucinated it all. And then he went and did that bizarre running with the ball thing in the eighth when he seemed to forget how to finish a run down.

Oh, and by the way, you know I love you Wilner but this…

…is just wrong. Sorry. Did you see the look on Travis’s face after it was all over? He looked like my eleven year old when one of his team-mates makes an inexplicably bad play. Tulo should have tossed the ball to Travis to get the out at second. Tulo could easily have held back to stay in front of the runner. Nobody was covering first you say? Of course nobody was covering first, cause Smoak was coming over to back up the play at second base for when the rundown started, which it totally should have, but didn’t because Tulo did almost everything wrong in that play, which was never really a rundown, but a little league run back.

What else went wrong? (Because I clearly feel the need to torture myself further…) Oh yeah, the Jays managed just three hits, and Russell Martin is still looking for his first. Bautista looked confused, Travis looked over anxious, Pillar looked (worryingly) a bit like his old self… Thank goodness Donaldson’s still hitting!

And, oh yeah, now he’s hurt.

Great.

So, in a fit of desperation, I turn to the internet for solace. Here’s a couple of things to remember about last year’s World Series opponents:

  • Between June 30th and July 9th the Cubs were one and nine
  • Between August 23rd and 28th the Indians were one and five, and they went one and four twice after that

None of which, of course, makes the Jays’ one and five record look any better, but it is a salutary reminder that, well, it’s a long season, that every team goes through some bad patches, that there’s still lots of time and that it really is way too early—ridiculously too early—to be giving up on the team.

But they’re going to have to start hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, and soon. And the pitchers are going to have to limit the number of games in which they appear all too human, and Donaldson is going to have to stay healthy.

And Tulo absolutely should have thrown that flipping ball to Travis.