As we near the end of July, the Toronto Blue Jays are a .500 team. Sometimes a little more than that, sometimes a little bit less, but overall they’re winning as much as they’re losing. As a result their chances of making the postseason sit at 46.2% according to Baseball Prospectus.
As fans and media await trades for reinforcements to this proficient offense, should the team take the long view and sell rather than buy?
The Blue Jays farm system leaves a lot to be desired. Mostly a group of cast-offs from other teams, the Jays offer few desirable prospects to the future outside of some very high ceiling pitchers. Once they’re gone, as they presumably would be in trades for “win now” players, the cupboard is empty. It’s the baseball equivalent of going “all in,” and most poker players aren’t going all in on a 50-50 chance.
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are just about to enter their last team option years in their contracts for 2016. Both have suffered injuries over the past couple of seasons and their prime years were thoroughly enjoyed by Blue Jays fans. As modern day bash brothers, they’ve powered the Blue Jays to records that flatter what has been a poor pitching staff. Pitchers with ERA’s over 5.00 don’t end up with 9-2 records without run support. Drew Hutchison has gotten there with 7.88 runs per game!
Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada and Brett Cecil, regardless of their level of success, are likely gone after this season. That’s three starting pitchers and the opening day closer from the staff all gone. All could fetch more than reasonable prospects and if a few can bring back the likes of Devon Travis or better the way the Blue Jays did in the offseason for Anthony Gose, the team could be in a better position for long term success.
Buehrle specifically is the type of consistent workhorse that teams want through the dog days of the season leading to the playoffs. His numbers for the Jays have been fantastic after a rough start this season. He was an All-Star last year and what’s remaining of his contract would be prorated for what’s left of the season. Not to mention the Jays could pay part of that contract for a better prospect return.
GM Alex Anthopoulos has proven he can make a lot out of these types of trades. The trade for Josh Donaldson could arguably be the best of this past offseason. Brett Lawrie was at the low water mark for his value and if the Jays were winning more Donaldson would be in the MVP conversation.
But, more importantly, the return that Bautista and Encarnacion could fetch would be important. Pretty much any team in the league could afford either of their contracts and would get them for this year and next. They’d both instantly be at the top of the list of available players if they were put out there. Even putting Jose Reyes on the market could help the Jays restock their prospect banks.
Truthfully, the Blue Jays haven’t found a way to win with them but as pieces sent to another team, they could be the difference between a wild card game and winning a division, or more.
Building a future around Russell Martin and Donaldson, with a young pitching staff featuring the likes of Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, Jeff Hoffman, Marcus Stroman and Daniel Norris could turn this team from a long shot at a wild card spot to a long sustained power in the AL East much in the same way Tampa Bay has been able to stay a top team in the division; by gathering assets for departing vets and turning them into young controllable talent.
The difference is the Jays have the money to keep the pieces worth keeping and pay the likes of Donaldson for offense to supplement the pitching.
The problem is the appetite for what would be labelled a sell-off isn’t there in the city or the organization. The president of the team, Paul Beeston, is on his way out. Both the GM and manager are on the last year of their contracts and no one wants to admit their season is done in July, especially the people selling tickets. But for the Blue Jays to succeed, there needs to be more “there” then there is. The pitch forks would be out by trading the faces of the franchise from the past couple of seasons, but recognizing that now is not the time to go for it might be the right call.
If the Jays were in a playoff spot tomorrow and had a seven game series to play, who starts game one? How confident in the knuckleball are Blue Jays fans in the cool fall playoff air? What about the bullpen holding a tight lead late in a playoff game? Do Blue Jays fans want a team that loses in one game playoff or a team that could compete for world championships? And that is all considering if this team actually makes the playoffs. These Jays could make “win now” trades and still not make it, leaving the prospect list short with nothing to show for it. The gaps in the future would be hard to fill with what would be left after significant “rental” trades for winning this season.
Some free agent signings in the off season could have perhaps made them a true “win now” team or even trades much earlier this season and that might be something the GM has to answer for, but the peak of this pitching staff as it stands has passed, if it ever was there. The future staff looks potentially amazing but they won’t be able to do it on their own. The time to prepare for the future might be now, much to the dismay of the fans waiting through the longest playoff drought in professional sports.