The unofficial signal to baseball fans everywhere that spring is finally here. The boys of summer are finally returning from their winter slumber, ready to drag us all into the warm weather and sunshine.
It’s a sunshine that the Toronto Blue Jays desperately need themselves.
I think it could be argued that the city of Toronto’s ‘good times’ came on Blue Jay wings. Before the TFC championship, or the Argos championship, or the light at the end of the Leaf’s rebulid…there was the bat flip. The entire country rallied behind the Blue Jay’s 2015 playoff run with a team Canada Olympic-style obsession, and for those few days in October it truly felt like we were all reliving the stories of ‘92 and ’93 that have always captured our imaginations. Throw in the ridiculous walk-off home run from Edwin Encarnacion the following year, and Jays fans really were beginning to feel like this was a baseball town.
As last year showed…a town can change pretty quick.
Staples of those two playoff pushes, names like Encarnacion, Bautista, Dickey and Price, are long gone. Instead, the Jays have retooled themselves as an awkward mix between an aged lineup swinging for the fences one last time and a rag-tag group of young players finishing out the arbitration phase of their careers; baseballs version of the ‘rookie deal’. It’s an ambitious and confusing plan, one that has not gone unnoticed among the beat writers who cover the team daily.
Take the outfield for example. Curtis Granderson, the 37-year-old major leaguer is making his fourth stop in six seasons. He’ll play outfield alongside Kevin Pillar, the 29-year-old former first round pick of the Blue Jays, and a proud product of the Jay’s touted farm system. Granderson has been introduced as the mature presence the outfield has missed the last few years…but all I see is a guy the same age as Bautista, who hits less home runs. If the Jays were going to pay an aging outfielder anyway, why not stick with one of the all-time Jays? Was it really just about the money?
The infield is even murkier. The Blue Jays have an impressive list of young prospects including Vladimir Guerrero Jr, whose walk off Tuesday night in the Jay’s final pre-season game gave every Jay’s fan the chills. But Guerrerro Jr. will start the season in the minors because he plays Josh Donaldson’s position of third base. Donaldson is a former AL MVP who has hit over thirty home runs in each season with the Jays…but the front office hasn’t considered resigning him a top priority…or they would have done it.
The issues don’t stop there. Troy Tulowitski and Russel Martin are each set to make twenty million dollars this season according to spotrac, a figure that is eclipsed only by Donaldson’s arbitration awarded 23-million-dollar salary. That’s 40 million dollars for two players who struggled to stay healthy last year and are both past their primes. The Jays are going to be forced to make a decision at some point in 2018 on these two players. Will they keep playing the veterans, in hopes of rekindling the dying fire of those two-recent playoff runs? Or will they move those veterans for pitching, and allow the prospects we’ve been hearing so much about a season to grow and learn to better prepare themselves for the future?
It's a question with no easy answer. The Astro’s are the defending world series champions, and they built their team solely on home-grown talent acquired from a few awful seasons. Yet everyone’s betting favourite this season is the New York Yankees, who look poised to have two fifty home run hitters on their team, and ALL the Yankees did was trade for a veteran(Stanton), and lock up another(Sabathia).
Which path the Jays should take is unclear, especially when one considers how quickly the sport can turn on you. Jose Bautista went from a .270 hitter to a .203 hitter in a matter of months, and his home run totals were effectively cut in half over the course of two seasons. It’s scary, no doubt about it…but it’s also the situation the Jays find themselves in.
April and May will tell us a great deal about where the Jays are headed in the summer. With the offseason changes the Red Sox and Yankees made, the AL East should prove to be the most competitive division in baseball by a long shot, and the Jays can’t afford to get behind early. Each team will get in a slump…that’s unavoidable…. but it’s important that the Jays’ slump doesn’t start the season. The veterans on the team are all capable of having all-star years, and they all want to win a championship here and now, together, as a group.
Which is good…because this team has ‘Win Now’ written all over it...
…and if they aren’t winning, this team won’t be together that much longer.
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Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).