Toronto Blue Jays should take one more swing in 2018

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Kendrys Morales
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 04: Kendrys Morales /

The Toronto Blue Jays would be wise to follow the path of the Toronto Raptors and run things back for one more season and try to compete in 2018.

It has been a trying campaign for the Toronto Blue Jays and a sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs in mid-August halted any momentum that the Jays had and silenced the few optimists who remained, including myself. Now, with just 24 games left on the schedule and the Jays 7.5 games out of the final wild card spot, September has run bleak in Toronto once again.

Coming off back-to-back births in the American League Championship Series after a 22-year post-season drought, you can’t blame Jays fans for looking the other way when discussions of a rebuild begin to boil to the surface. Baseball fans in Toronto have remained patient and devoted to their club through both victory and defeat, but another plummet into mediocrity would be a difficult reality to comprehend.

Well, the Blue Jays are not the Detroit Tigers or the Oakland Athletics. They are a team composed of both youthful and veteran talent and have a core in place for next season that is extremely capable of reaching tremendous heights. There will be holes to fill, and some large ones at that, particularly in the outfield, but the most difficult part to assemble—a core of winning talent—is all right there.

Looking to another Toronto team for inspiration

The Blue Jays can look to the Toronto Raptors for some inspiration. The Raptors faced arguably their most difficult off-season as a franchise this summer, in deciding what to do with their core pieces in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka who were both due for fresh and rather handsome contracts. Masai Ujiri recognized that with DeMar DeRozan already locked up, his best option was to run the core back and tinker with the surrounding parts over the off-season.

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While the NBA did headspins all summer long, the Raptors sat back, kept things in-tact, added a desperately needed shooter and look poised for another fifty-odd-win season. Meanwhile, Boston and Cleveland, the two teams most directly in competition with the Raptors, pulled off one of the most unorthodox trades in NBA history when they swapped all-star point-guards in Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas.

The two teams will still be atop a lousy eastern conference, but the Celtics have some figuring out to do and the Cavaliers have officially become a ticking time bomb that can be diffused only by LeBron James, a pen and a sheet of paper. Cleveland has become one of the most volatile cities in the NBA, and Boston has become polarized from losing their most prized possession in exchange for a player whom just four months ago they showed great disdain for.

The Raptors ride the waves of continuity into the 2017-18 season and with a couple more additions and a healthy campaign, their window into an NBA Final may be more wide-open this year than it was when they won 56 games two seasons ago. Sports are kind of like poker—you may not have been dealt the best-hand, but sometimes those who have either misplay it or choke up and fold altogether. Much like the Raptors, the Blue Jays may not have the best hand, but if they can get healthy and play their cards right in 2018, there is certainly potential for another competitive season.

After a sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers last spring, Raptor fans were up in arms and tired of the team as currently constituted. Nobody saw the NBA being put in a blender of the summer and definately nobody saw the two most direct competitors for the Raptors make such a dramatic move. The point being, anything can happen. Keep calm and play ball.

Still a chance to compete in a mediocre American League

Although it appears that the Red Sox and Yankees have begun to remerge as potential juggernauts once again, the American League is riddled with mediocrity and should be wide-open once again in 2018. Looking at the teams between the Blue Jays and Yankees in the American League standings, it would be tough to argue that, with all health being equal, any of these teams are actually better than the Blue Jays.

Let’s just lay it all out on the table—Josh Donaldson is one of the top position players in baseball and we know what the 2015 AL MVP will be bringing on a contract season. Justin Smoak has emerged as a deadly, middle-order, switch-hitting machine. Devon Travis (if healthy) will certainly provide a great deal of efficiency at the plate. We know Kendrys Morales has the potential to be a lethal switch hitter, especially following Donaldson in the order. Steve Pearce has shown that he can be a reliable utility piece, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin are above-average hitters respective to their positions and Kevin Pillar, well, he’s going to keep on doing Pillar things.

Toronto Blue Jays
BOSTON, MA – JULY 19: Aaron Sanchez /

On the mound, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna are three of the youngest, most promising pitchers in baseball and when you consider this talent combined with JA Happ playing for a contract in 2018, plus maybe Marco Estrada for one more go, the pitching is in fine shape. Is this list of players bound to be a World Series contender? Probably not—but the Jays are closer to playoff contenders than they are lottery contenders and with a few additions, could shape up nicely in 2018.

It is incredibly difficult to sustain success in the MLB as baseball is a funny game with so many twists and turns throughout the course of a season. Injuries, slumps and just sheer bad luck can cause a talented team to have a run-of-the-mill season. This is why, to the dismay of many baseball fans, the season HAS to be 162 games. We need to see this crazy game take its course.

The real Blue Jay team is probably more likely the one that we saw in May and June –not the one featured throughout April and August. Their record at the end of 2017 simply will not reflect the team’s true potential as the 1-9 start to begin the campaign and a month of rookie showcase September baseball to end it, will certainly skew what should have been a respectable team record.

How other MLB teams have been able to remain competitive

Let’s look at a team like the Kansas City Royals. Coming off back-to-back World Series appearances and a championship in 2015, the Royals were plagued with injuries in 2016 and had an abysmal season winning just 81 games, 14 less than the previous campaign. The Royals didn’t panic over the winter and instead re-tooled their roster and now find themselves fluctuating in and out of that final wild card spot, sitting just 2 ½ games out. With a strong core of players in-tact, the Royals opted to take another chance and could find themselves playing October baseball once again.

The Washington Nationals are another team who have kept their core in-tact while fluctuating in and out of the playoff picture since 2012. There win totals since read as followed—98, 86 (no playoffs), 96, 83 (no playoffs), 95. In keeping together their core of talent in Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Jason Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman, they were able to fill holes on the fly and stay relevant within the playoff picture.

The next two or three are extremely significant for the Blue Jays and management will be faced with a ladder of difficult decisions. Trading a Sanchez or a Stroman right now makes little sense, as the purpose for making trades of this nature (to get young talent) is already fulfilled by these very players in discussion.

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We have seen the likes of Carlos Delgado and Roy Halliday come and go with little team success and come 2019, the Blue Jays will need to further parallel their future plans with the development of Vladimir Guerrero Junior to avoid making this mistake again. Until then, swing for the fences I say, because you never quite know what you may hit. Just like the Raptors on the hardcourt, it’s all in place for the Blue Jays to take one more crack at a championship run. This core has a shelf life, but I don’t believe it expires in 2018, especially within this wacky, incredibly unpredictable world of baseball.