Mar 31, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) and left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) during the national anthem on Opening Day against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Is It Time for the Toronto Blue Jays to Buy or Sell?

There are heavy expectations and fragile hopes that when the Toronto Blue Jays return to action tonight, they’ll make a strong push for the playoffs.

The Jays have held a playoff position for the majority of the season, but after a tough June and early July, they now sit four games out of first place in the American League East. To reclaim that spot or capture one of the Wild Card sports, Toronto must quickly reverse their current slide.

It’s certainly possible for the Jays to turn things around. They have a relatively easy schedule to close out the month while Baltimore visits the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Seattle Mariners before returning home for another series against the Angels. If there was ever a gauntlet in baseball, this is it.

Toronto should hopefully see the return of Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie soon, which would certainly help their playoff drive. There’s also the chance and general hope that the Jays will add an instant impact player via trade, but it’s hard to identify the team’s weak points right now since they’re really hurting everywhere.

These different factors combine to create plenty of excitement and hope (sense the overall theme here?) for the Jays as they enter the second half of the season. It would be great to see them turn things around and I certainly wouldn’t complain if it actually happens, but I’m not sure it’s the best thing for the team’s long-term success.

If they somehow manage to correct course and return to the playoff picture, it’ll likely mean two things: 1) the American League East was weak enough this season that the Jays could survive an absolutely horrible June; and 2) the Orioles faltered in the second half. These aren’t exactly ideal winning conditions and they don’t really point to a bright future for the Jays. If anything, it says they got lucky.

(There’s a third possibility – that June and early July were a fluke – but this can’t be seriously considered given the team’s performance last season.)

The Jays could make the playoffs this season under these conditions, but what are the chances of them repeating the same gamble next season?

Apr 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) celebrates their victory with right fielder Jose Bautista (19) and center fielder Colby Rasmus (28) against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays beat the Red Sox 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

When Toronto hits the field next season, their core players will be another year older and they might be deposed of some youth and depth from a desperate attempt to salvage this season. There’s also no guarantee that Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Casey Janssen will be wearing Jays uniforms in 2015 – Toronto might have to break the bank to keep their top three free agents – and this says nothing about the slew of arbitration-eligible players the team must address as well.

It’s these competing considerations that lead me to argue it might actually be the opportune time for the Jays to sell. If they’re not going to make the playoffs this season, why not trade Cabrera, Rasmus and Janssen so you can get something back in return for them? The Jays could also opt for a complete rebuild, trading veteran players like Jose Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind and Mark Buehrle for handsome returns. These four players are having good seasons so their market value is inflated and Bautista in particular has a very friendly contract. Imagine the return he could reap alone.

My point rests on determining where the Jays actually stand and whether it makes sense to salvage this season or focus on the years ahead. Let’s assume Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are the true heart of the Jays’ future rotation. The unfortunate truth is that these guys are several seasons away from competing in top form. By the time they finally figure things out at the big league level, Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind and Buehrle will be entering the twilight period of their careers.

In other words, the horizons of these two groups of players don’t align and the only way to overcome this discrepancy involves putting your faith in one of them over the other. Toronto could try to ignore the situation altogether and plug the gaps in their current roster, but this won’t really help the team win today or down the road. The core of the roster is already set – a core that hasn’t proven it can win – and no amount of tinkering around the edges will change this simple fact.

We’ll get a better sense of where the Jays actually stand after they open a seven-game homestand tonight  – a homestand that’ll see them face the Texas Rangers across three games and the Boston Red Sox across four games. If the Jays win four or five of these games, the idea of trading now for the sake of the future will likely be moot: our prayers and hopes for this season will have been answered.

Unfortunately, hope has a funny way of trumping reality. It may be something positive, but hope often carries negative consequences. For the Jays, it could make all the difference between one good season or a bright future.

I hope we don’t forget this when the Jays hit the field tonight.

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Tags: Toronto Blue Jays

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