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.

 

 

This Team Can’t Win. But in Two Weeks This Won’t Be the Same Team.

There’s good news and bad news for the Jays…and weirdly enough it’s the same news

@ New York Yankees, May 1-3

Blue Jays 7, Yankees 1

Blue Jays 5, Yankees 11

Blue Jays 6, Yankees 8

After finally winning a series last week and taking the first game against New York, the Blue Jays and their fans were understandably optimistic about taking two of three against the Yankees as well.

Sadly, the Blue Jays’ pitchers had other plans.

But back to that first game: Marco Estrada was incredible (again) and Matt Barnes didn’t look too terrible either: didn’t look fabulous, but he got the job done, which for this series was something of a rarity for the bullpen.

Which brings me to game two:

After a horrific start by Latos, Leone was not good, Grilli was just godawful, while Loup continued his surprisingly consistent run of OK-ness for the year. I guess that two good starts from Latos is probably about as much as anyone could have hoped for, but lordy oh lordy that was not pretty. The really worrying sight was, of course, Grilli, and not just because he coughed it up all over Grandma’s new rug, but because he’s been coughing it up all over the rug, the couch, the chaise and the freshly laundered doilies all season. It’s hard to know what’s going on with him: slow start? Forty years old? Who the heck knows, but I sure as heck hope it’s something he can get over quickly (which is why if it isthe age thing, then the back end of the bullpen is in real trouble).

Aaaaaand, game three:

Whether it was just One Of Those Starts or some kind of mystery-one-game-only injury, Marcus Stroman joined Grilli in messing up Grandma’s stuff because that was not a good start. Assuming it wasn’t an injury then there’s probably not a lot to be concerned about, since Stroman’s always been prone for the Big Fall Apart every once in a while, but he usually bounces back and pitches really well the next time out.

But…if it is an injury thing (and there’s no real reason to believe that it is right now, but if it is)…

Eep.

He did at least leave the game with a lead, but the bullpen…man oh man, that bullpen. Amid all the panic over the (complete lack of) offence to begin the season everyone (including yours truly) seems to have lost sight of the fact that going into the season the one area of real concern for the Jays was that bullpen. And now, perhaps, we’re seeing why. Tepera was good until he wasn’t and then Biagini made a bit of a mess of Grandma’s increasingly filthy furniture.

Do you realise that even with the Blue Jays’ (complete lack of) offence, if the bullpen had been performing even at the league average the Jays would have twelve or thirteen wins by now instead of nine? And thirteen and fifteen is a LOOOOT different than nine and nineteen.

Now, on the (rather significant) upside the Jays have now scored four or more runs in thirteen of their last seventeen games. A couple of weeks ago I argued that so long as the Jays could be league average on offence (which means scoring four or five runs a night) then they would be just fine…but that was predicated on three points that have (temporarily, I hope) been somewhat altered: 1) the incredible strength of the starting rotation, 2) the brilliance of Osuna and, 3) the ho-hum-adequate nature of the rest of the bullpen.

And, wouldn’t you know it, just about as soon as I wrote that piece, Happ and Sanchez went on the disabled list, Osuna started to struggle and the bullpen began to implode on a more or less regular basis.

Which brings me, at last, to the good news. Which is also the bad news.

First, the bad: right now, the Blue Jays’ pitching is a mess: two starters (three? Stroman?) are down; the bullpen is absolutely not very reliable. Osuna, thank the gods, has begun to look more like his old self but until he’s thrown a few more one-two-three innings when it really matters I’m not quite ready to climb off the ledge on that one. If this keeps up then…well…I hope you like the CFL because that’s the only playoff action you can look forward to in October.

But now, the good news: the Blue Jays’ pitching is a mess, which is just another way of saying that the problem is no longer the offence. They’re getting four or five runs a game almost every night: that’s really good.

At the beginning of the season, they had the greatest starting pitching in the league but zero runs were being scored. Now, they’re scoring enough to win, but the pitching is a shambles. If they can just put it together, they could be a really good team.

And, you know what? There’s every reason to expect that they can put it all together.

They’re already scoring as many runs as they really should need to, and that’s without Josh Donaldson and Tulo. When they come back, it should only improve.

The starting rotation is a shambles because Happ and Sanchez are out with genuine but relatively un-terrifying injuries. It’s going to be a painful two weeks before they return, but they will return. Assuming Stroman is also OK, this is a problem that will fix itself, probably right around the time that Donaldson and Tulo return to the lineup.

Which leaves only the bullpen. As I said, Osuna appears to be more like his old self, but I’m going to want to wait a bit and see, but assuming he does turn things around then there’s really nothing too much to worry about in the pen either. Very soon, teams are going to start letting pitchers go or shopping them out. Creating an overpowering bullpen is hard, but putting together an average one is one of the easiest things to do on a major league roster: the Jays did it last year when they brought in Grilli in May and Joaquin Benoit in July; they can easily do so again this summer.

The team on the field right now is playing relatively good baseball. But in two weeks that team is going to be replaced with one that features Josh Donaldson (batting, I pray, in the three hole behind Bautista), Tulo at short, and the starting rotation they began the year with. Sometime very soon after that they will probably also be boasting an improved bullpen. And that, my friends, is a team that can win some ballgames.

The only question, which is the same question I’ve been asking since the Blue Jays opened the season one and nine, is will it happen soon enough to save the season? I honestly can’t think of any reason why it can’t.

But that doesn’t mean that it will.

Stay tuned.

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…