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Somebody Let Damien Write About the Blue Jays

I’ll be honest, I really don’t want to write a line-by-line deconstruction of Damien Cox’s latest foray into baseball writing, which has inexplicably been published this week by the Toronto Star.

Granted, a whole lot of that is to do with the fact that for the first half of this piece, I’d be deconstructing how he and his family chose to spend their Saturday. In what is ostensibly a piece about the Blue Jays, Cox has elected to focus a lot of his words on anything but. This actually makes sense, though, I think, because — shock of shocks — his take on the Jays seems to be informed largely by hockey.

After examining the state of his family’s downtime, Cox gets into examining the state of the city’s sports franchises, which is where he gives us this:

The Leafs, by going aggressively young, certainly erased the belief that hockey fans in these parts would never stand for such a thing, and the coming season will be among the most anticipated in years.

The Leafs, of course, with their pre-Shanaplan ineptitude exhausted all other possibilities — a deliciously remarkable feat in a league in which, like, 90% of the teams make the playoffs. The Jays, frustrating as 2017 has been, are hardly at that point. Add real seasons from Donaldson and Sanchez and a few less bullshit meltdown losses and they’re right there!

And yet ol’ Damo seems to conflate the two situations when he really gets down to business at the end of his piece. Here’s the first WTF:

Now, if the Jays go off on another 20-plus years of missing the playoffs, interest will be severely impacted. But if the move is to recalibrate and rebuild the team with an emphasis on youth, and that results in a few 75-win finishes, there’s lots of evidence to suggest fans won’t stay away in droves, but will actively enjoy the process.

There’s… what???

Just because losing and extended mediocrity hurt attendance once doesn’t mean the same thing will happen again. Indeed, you could argue this is a very new and different Jays fan culture we’re witnessing that goes to ball games home and away because, well, they like baseball and love their team, and not just when it’s winning.

That would be pretty cool if true! But I don’t know about that. And as strong as the evidence is on the north side of Chicago that fans will “stick around” through a rebuild that turns around a year early and then wins the damn World Series, we might want to think about how well a place like Houston is doing. Or any of those other perpetually rebuilding franchises in the league.

Aaaaand then there’s this:

If the Jays articulate a clear game plan of moving towards youth that will require some patience, their fans won’t abandon them. The more dangerous choice? Mediocrity with an old, broken-down team and few exciting prospects organized by a management team paralyzed by fear of fan rejection.

This is really the line I wanted to talk about, because hooooooooly dumb. First: the Jays have maybe the most exciting prospect in baseball (literally), another guy who is damn close to as exciting, a shortstop they just drafted that everyone loves, Nate Pearson pumping 100 and being untouchable in the Northwest League, Danny Jansen breaking out, Anthony Alford still with loads of potential, etc. Second: a management paralyzed by fear? Does that sound like the management team that rushed into J.A. Happ when David Price was still available, or into Kendrys Morales when Edwin was still unsigned?

This is a lazy description of the Blue Jays’ potential future that feels straight out of Bob McCown’s creeping irrelevancy hour *COUGH*. It offers nothing.

Which isn’t to say that it won’t be risky for the Jays to double down on a sizable chunk of their current core for a couple more years until the homegrown youth movement starts in earnest. But it’s certainly an option. And one that’s a whole lot more attractive than we’re being told here.

Do I even need to explain why?

 

  • fred2

    I’d day something predictable like “stick to hockey” but for the fact a) that’s predictable and b) I’m pretty sure he hasn’t got a clue about hockey either.

    I’ve never really heard any evidence that Cox knows much about sport at all or has any original insights. It’s really an ongoing emperor’s new clothes scenario, as the marketers might say.

    • cshaw

      The Jays are old. Prospects don’t always make become what we thought. Next year, will likely be worse. Sadly, Cox is probably accurate. I’m Jays fan, but I’m not delusional, and unfortunately many of you are.

      • fred2

        Oh God, have you taken the little red pill? Let us know O Wise One all the things that the rest of us are too blinkered to know. Like how an injury-plagued starting rotation and the need to run out sub-replacement level shortstops, 2nd basemen and catchers for months on end is NOT the reason why the team has struggled. Nope – you’re, what, going to predict the Jays will suck next year based on, what, the age of Bautista, who won’t be here? On the fact Tulo and Martin are old, but are still manifestly better than their younger replacements?

        The age thing isn’t nothing, but it’s not the reason this team hasn’t managed to be at least competitive.

  • ErnieWhitt

    Cox is a moron. They Jays absolutely do not need to go for a complete rebuild. Amazing young players already exist in the system. Still I have to wonder whether the Jays will move Donaldson.. if they traded him this summer the return would be pretty huge. It might be prudent to start planning for the Vlad and Bo years and that will likely still fit nicely with the Stroman and Sanchez years.

  • Holly Wood

    Does anybody on here remember Cox spewing venom about Pat Quinn while on Prime Time a while back. Evidently Quinn had dissed him at some point and Cox was still pissed years after Quinn had passed. Such a wanker

  • lukewarmwater

    Andrew a few weeks ago I pontificated much of your logical comment that there is indeed a huge number of new Jay fans. Young fans who go for the experience of the ball park. To enjoy a few over priced beers, buy the latest food fad. Eye the crowd around them and behave as if they are at a beer garden which to some extent they are. They are also believe it or not Cox ball fans. Oh sure, they aren’t the old fan who would take a score card to each game. But they similar to young leaf fans and Raptor fans embrace the team. Heh Cox stand out amongst the thousands of young fans outside the Air Canada center at playoff time for the two teams.
    To me being an oldy but goldie, I’m delighted to see so many young fans of all three teams having the time of their life going to a sporting event. Cox I’m 68, but you sound like you are 108.

    • lukewarmwater

      A short Addendum to my first posting is to entirely agree with you Andrew about several young talented prospects including young Mr. Pearson who has been wearing Vancouver Canadian single A catcher gloves out with his plus 100 m.p.h. pitches. The future is indeed bright. Cox seems to be in a permanent eclipse, rather than the 2 minute one we got to enjoy on Monday as a heavenly celestial wonder.

  • The Humungus

    Ok, so in all seriousness, after sleeping on this, here’s the deal.

    This is a column written by a guy who I guess could best be described as a “hockey writer”, although his actual sports expertise is tennis. It’s become a prevailing narrative through a lot of Toronto Sports Media over the course of the last few months as well. “Just sell it off and rebuild. The Leafs did it. The Raptors (tried to) do it. TFC stripped it down then went highest payroll in MLS. The Jays could just do that.”

    Of course, the baseball guys, and the more intelligent members of the media (Sportsnet has 2: Ben Ennis and Elliot Price on the non-baseball guy end) are basically SCREAMING “Hey, wait! Baseball is WAY less able to do a rebuild than any other sport. It’s far easier to whiff on draft picks in baseball.” Which is, of course, correct. Look at the goddamned embarrassment that is the Padres. They’re so desperate to grab talent that they’re literally carrying guys who should be in AA at best on their roster because they needed the talent and they could get them as High A players in the Rule 5. And they got that way by fucking up the draft for multiple years.

    People point to teams like the Rays and their ability to draft and develop talent. They had to be terrible for a decade to get that way. The Astros had 3 straight 100 loss seasons. The Jays could certainly re-build, but if they’re not going to spend like the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees can (and all signs point that they won’t spend to that level, at least not yet), there is no “quick fix” re-build here. It’s far more likely to take several years.

    I mean, sure, they could go full White Sox and trade guys with control to get other teams top prospects, but even the White Sox are going to be terrible until at least 2019, maybe even 2020 unless every single guy they got plays to potential with very little adjustment period. And in the meantime, the Jays would be just awful for the next two years if they traded any or all of Travis, Stroman, Sanchez, Osuna, and I guess Pillar (who’s still the best defensive CF in the division this year).

    I don’t have any idea what we can do as fans to change people’s minds and get them off this “well, it worked in other sports” mindset and understand that baseball is different, but I mean, we have to try, right?

    • ErnieWhitt

      I think you’re exactly right and I would even add from a hockey perspective that the approach being argued for (following the Leafs model) wouldn’t even necessarily be smart for other teams. I don’t think Leafs fans get how crazy lucky they were to land Mathews when they did. They could have tanked and drafted Nail Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins, or Mackinnon. It didn’t have to work out the way it did landing the top pick in a very good draft year. Obviously with the other good players like Marner etc. who are also coming up make it seem like its inevitable that the Leafs will be good, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all. In fact I would suggest that if the Leafs miss the playoffs this season and some of the young guys struggle, you might start to hear the Cox’ of the world grumbling about how the rebuild isn’t going according to plan. The grace period for these types of purposeful losing are very short and the last thing you want to do is to signal to your fans that you’re treating them like Oakland or Tampa.

      • The Humungus

        Please, don’t mention RNH or Yakupov. I’m an Oilers fan who went from active to passive support during the Lowe/MacT years because of shit like that. Even the fans knew those were trash picks when they were made.

    • justaregularjaysfan

      One comment, Pillar is not the best centerfielder in the division, he’s not even second. Better than ellsbury and Jones sure, but he’s significantly worse than Keirmaier and Bradley. Otherwise agree

      • The Humungus

        Last I checked, his UZR and DRS were both better than Bradley’s. At that time, Keirmaier was on the DL, so I’ll accept that argument.

        But he is better than JBJ with the glove. Here are the numbers from fangraphs:

        Pillar : 8.4 UZR, 16 DRS
        Bradley: 2.1 UZR, 5 DRS

        Among qualified CF, Pillar ranks 4th in MLB (behind Hamilton, Inciarte, and Herrera), while JBJ is sitting 9th.

      • The Humungus

        Also, Kiermaier’s UZR is negative this year, which is odd because he’s been significantly positive the last three years, and he has a huge DRS owing to the fact that Inside Edge has him making 37.4% of plays that are ruled “Remote” (1-10% chance), more than 10% higher than any other CF

  • Jeff2sayshi

    It’s frustrating listening to hockey guys talk about baseball. The assumption of because it worked for hockey it will work for baseball is maddening. While I can’t remember specific instances, far too often Cox will make a point and anybody who understands baseball on a very basic level realizes why it’s idiotic.

  • Pat Flannery

    The central question is whether the new fans are just there because there is a buzz around a winning Toronto team, or whether they are “true” baseball fans who have discovered a real interest in the game. Obviously the answer is some of both, but what is the ratio? I don’t have numbers, but it seems to me attendance and TV was recovering even before the 2015 magic. If I had to guess, I’d say the difference in average crowds was around 15K per game – not insignificant, but not the difference between today’s packed houses and, say, Tampa levels of support, either.

    My somewhat trenchant suspicion is that interest in the Jays started to turn around when Beaston brought in the electric blue jerseys, added the leaf back on and Arencibia and Lawrey joined the team. Suddenly, the ladies were interested and wanted to wear the gear and go to games – which meant the guys could and did too. That’s an opinion I hate to have as a baseball fan, but as a guy who lives in a house with three women who wouldn’t have looked at a baseball game to save their lives prior to 2013, I think there’s something to it.

    So if the Jays are cool because of their image, that isn’t going away right away in a rebuild.

    If the Jays are cool because the new fans are real baseball fans, well, they will understand that a rebuild now will lead to wins later.

    Of course there is still a sizeable contingent of old-school diehards who have followed the team since the glory days and before.

    That leaves some fans who only go because the Jays are a winning Toronto team and they want to be part of the buzz. These are the ones they’ll lose in a rebuild, at least temporarily. But they represent, IMO, only one of four categories of fans.

    If you can’t initiate a rebuild when your support is at the highest levels ever, when can you initiate it? Seems to me the team could absorb a temporary decline in interest in 25% of its base if it meant a return to contention in a few years.

    • The Humungus

      Right, but the team is actively rebuilding right now. It’s the reason they swung their financial dick and ate contracts to get prospects at the deadline. There’s no way you get Teoscar Hernandez without paying the rest of Liriano’s deal. Or the guys they got from Cleveland either, for that matter.

      There is a lot of talent at the low levels of the system, but, moreso, they have guys who are in the big leagues now who’s contracts are prohibitive at best and downright untradeable at worst. With that being the case, you have to at least try to be competitive when you have Martin and Tulo down for big money for 2 and 3 more years (respectively), and Stroman/Sanchez/Osuna under cheap control until after the 2020 season as well.

      I mean, sure, you could trade Stroman/Sanchez/Osuna for prospects, but that would be stupid. The Jays system has enough talent to sustain them without having to make those trades, and you’re almost assured you won’t get back what you’re giving up, just based on the potential risk of a prospect being a bust. Especially when you’re going to have all three of those guys making below market value for three more seasons.

      • Jays/LeafsFan

        At the risk of being, seemingly, the only contrary voice here, and at the same time confirming that I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Cox, I must point out that all the potential talent being referred to in these exchanges is not MLB ready. And won’t be in 2018, for sure. In the meantime, it is difficult to expect that the “core” comprised of Martin, Tulo, Morales, Smoak will have substantially better seasons next year. That, comprised with the fact that we have no definite solution for the two corner outfield spots and two starting pitcher openings does not fill me with confidence that the team can compete in 2018. Therefore, what of Donaldson et al?

        • The Humungus

          Well, you try to extend Donaldson regardless. Because he’s been the best player in the AL not named Mike Trout for the last 4 years, and he’s likely to be productive for at least 3 of his free agent years. Maybe more if he can be Beltre, which he basically has been for nearly 5 seasons now.

          The chances of getting a 6 win player in return for Donaldson are much lower than the chances Donaldson is worth six wins. And with his age and the way the market went south for guys like him the last two years, teams aren’t giving up Chris Sale like packages for a guy with one year of control.

          • Jays/LeafsFan

            I hear you and understand your point. But, to me, there is risk, even with Donaldson, signing him for that long a period at the anticipated money given his age. And I maintain that the team won’t be sufficiently competitive for at least a year and perhaps the first two of his extension. I’d rather take my chances on the younger prospects we’d get in return even though I acknowledge this involves somewhat of a craps shoot. Indeed, I think the Jays need to reverse course from signing older players to lengthy, expensive contracts. Been there, done that.

    • The big Lawrie/Arencibia years were 2011 and 2012, and attendance was at 22K and 25K then. After the big trades, 2013 went up to 31K. Back down to 29K in 2014 after that all blew up, then 34K in 2015 (which was powered by the big August/September), 41K last year, and 40K this year (based a lot on people buying tickets to get access to playoff games). Not sure your theory holds.

      The thing about rebuilds is, they’re a thing you do when you have no other choice. The Jays have other choices.