Toronto Blue Jays: When Will It be Our Turn?


Toronto Blue Jays: When Will It be Our Turn?

Since 2006, four different teams have won the American League East on seven occasions. That speaks to a new, competitive landscape in the division.

There’s only one exception to this rule and it breaks my heart to say it: the Toronto Blue Jays.

The closest the Jays have come to winning the division over this span was in 2006 when (former and now present) manager John Gibbons guided the team to a second place finish. Otherwise, they’ve spent the majority of their time in fourth place.

Aug 17, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) questions a call with umpire Clint Fagan (82) during the first inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

All of this was supposed to change last season when the Jays radically reformed their roster. They entered the season as World Series favourites, but they certainly didn’t finish the season as champions. The Jays ended the season dead last in the division at 74-88 – their worst finish division-wise since 2004.

Expectations were (rightly) set low for the Jays this season. They began the season with essentially the same lineup in place save the addition of Dioner Navarro and the long-delayed subtraction of J.P. Arencibia.

Toronto didn’t disappoint in April (12-14), occupying their usual spot near or at the bottom of the standings, but a magical and unexpected May threw everything into disarray. The Jays raced ahead in the standings with a 21-9 record and it’s largely due to this surprise performance that the Jays remain in a (technically) competitive spot now.

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Today, the Jays stand 6.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot in the American League East. Under the right circumstances – I mean parting of the sea stuff here – they can still make the playoffs, but a pending sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees pushes this close to the improbable, if not impossible.

I’ve lost my faith in the Jays.

It’s hard to see where the Jays go from here. They aging and expensive core of the team – the Jose Bautistas, Edwin Encarnacions, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickeys, Mark Buehrles – are firmly locked in place while the youngsters on the team – the Ryan Goins, Brett Lawries, Marcus Stromans, Drew Hutchisons, Aaron Sanchezs – could be years away from being ready for prime time. They have to work out the kinks of consistency before we can even remotely think of hanging our hats on them.

Jun 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (left) center fielder Anthony Gose (center) and right fielder Jose Bautista (right) talks during a break in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

(In the case of Lawrie, there are serious health issues to consider as well.)

Looking to next season, there’s little reason to think the Jays will make the important and desperately needed changes plaguing their current roster. There’s even a good chance they let one or all of the team’s pending top-line free agents leave town: Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Casey Janssen and Brandon Morrow. The proof can be found in the team’s trade deadline inactivity this season and their failure to add Ervin Santana during the off-season.

(Buehrle has essentially stopped winning games since June. Who knows where the Jays would be today if they had Santana’s 14-9 record in their lineup. I can’t say they’d be any better, but it’d take some of the pressure off the young arms.)

Sep 9, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ervin Santana (30) pitches during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Washington Nationals defeated against the Atlanta Braves 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the problem with the Jays: last season, they committed in half-ass fashion to a major rebuild of the team. They added enough players to make the team competitive on paper, if not the field, but they’ve been unwilling ever since to push the team beyond the point of theoretically competitive into something truly dominate.

In other words, we’re stuck with a half-finished project. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

There’s no clear direction at the managerial level for this club: are the Jays a veteran team or are they a young team? We see these two narratives play themselves out every day. The problem, however, is that the Jays must commit to one of these competing identities or they’ll risk losing themselves somewhere in the middle.

Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and Goins can’t play to the all-around level of Bautista, Encarnacion and Reyes right now. There’s the potential for this one day, but today it’s simply a mismatch of veteran players at the prime (or just past it) of their careers and a handful of young players trying to figure things out at the big league level. Add a lack of bench depth and everything points in the downward direction.

Jun 3, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose (8) dives back to first safe in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Toronto won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is why the Jays can’t win today and why we continue to wait for our turn. We need management to set a decisive direction for the team and stick to it before the moment completely slips by us.

Are we a veteran team that’s one or two pieces short of something truly special or are we a young team full of promise? This means looking beyond the Danny Valencias and Nolan Reimolds for help, or it means giving extra time and space for Pillar, Gose, Goins and company to develop their respective games.

You can’t move in both directions at once.

Until this debilitating identity split is corrected and the Jays fully commit to one direction, we’re unlikely to see any October baseball in Toronto that doesn’t arrive on an out-of-town feed.