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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Words Of Wisdom For Rebuild-Happy Jays Fans

“Blow it up!”

The Jays have seemed so adamant about trying to be competitive in 2018 that you don’t hear those words too much these days. But it’s a sentiment that’s still out there. The Yankees look stupidly good (and will likely get under the luxury tax and then spend huge next winter). The Red Sox are still very dangerous (and will be more so when they add J.D. Martinez). The Wild Card is probably the best this team can do, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier next year or the year after that, either. “Trade ’em all and let God sort ’em out!”

It’s not a bad idea. But it’s not a very good idea — not at this stage, when most of the trade value of the guys you’d actually want to trade is gone, to the point where the likely return doesn’t justify writing off 2018 altogether right now, rather than taking a crack and then seeing where you’re at on July 31st — and it’s definitely a total chickenshit idea.

More importantly, though, it’s not a foolproof idea.

That’s not a new concept, of course, but it’s part of the conversation over the urge to throw in the towel and rebuild that I think sometimes gets a little overlooked. And it’s an idea that I think was quite excellently given voice in a piece this week from Tom Ley of Deadspin about the Los Angeles Lakers.

“The Lakers are facing the hard truth that every team on a long-term tanking project has to face: It’s hard to get good again. NBA seasons do not exist within a computer simulation, and lottery picks can’t just be plugged into a roster and guaranteed to enjoy steady, sustainable growth. A roster doesn’t build itself and a competitive team doesn’t coalesce out of thin air. It’s hard enough for any team to achieve its winning goals in any given season, and doubly so for one that suddenly wants to flip the switch from ‘losing on purpose’ to ‘playing good basketball and competing.'”

Yes, yes, it’s a different sport, lots of differences, but you see it. Don’t tell me you don’t see it.

The thing is we all want the same thing here: for there to be as good a team as possible surrounding Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette when those two are (presumably/hopefully) massively underpaid young stars in the first five or so years of their big league careers. Those guys might not work out as well as we hope, they may not be the catalysts we want them to be, and it would be real nice if there were more of those types around, but that’s a pretty good and pretty simple goal.

To get there, and be good enough when the time comes, the Jays will need to keep adding impact talent. So how do they do that?

They could do that to an extent by trading their best veterans, though as noted in the piece linked above the hauls they’d get for the likes of Josh Donaldson or J.A. Happ right now probably aren’t better enough than what they could realistically expect to get at the trade deadline to justify blowing up 2018 and everything that entails (notably, the drop in payroll you’d expect going forward).

They could also do it by dealing young veterans like Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, or Marcus Stroman. But the thing about that is, those are players who are still going to be under team control through 2020. Those are guys it would be nice to still have around in the early years of the Bichette-Guerrero era. They’re looking like they’re going to be especially crucial to the 2019 Blue Jays, with Donaldson, Happ, and Marco Estrada due to hit free agency. (Granted, I examined the idea of trading Osuna, which isn’t a half bad one, earlier this week.)

If you trade one, or all of those young pitchers, you’ll get some great pieces in return, but will you get someone ready to come in and be Marcus Stroman on Opening Day 2019? Not likely. So do you throw away 2019 right now? If you do that, you throw away 2018, too. You might as well trade everybody now — blow it up — it’s an idea.

But let’s think about the recent gold standard rebuilds, and about their timelines.

Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow took over the Cubs and the Astros respectively in between the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The Cubs got good a little ahead of schedule, winning 97 games in 2015. But that still meant three seasons of 101, 96, and 89 losses from the time Theo took over. The Astros, meanwhile, though they made the playoffs from a Wild Card berth in 2015, did so with just 86 wins — a low number for a playoff team even in the two Wild Card era. They won 84 games the following year, and so didn’t get especially good until 2017.

Vlad and Bo will certainly be in the big leagues at some point in 2019, if not sooner. If the Jays ended up on an Astros-like rebuild timeline, the first year that the pair were on an especially good team would be their fifth in the majors. Granted, it would likely be their fourth for service time purposes — and it would be a year sooner if they were on the Cubs’ timeline — but is that really the best way for the club to use the precious resource that is those two guys playing for the league minimum? I mean, it’s not awful, but I don’t think it’s great, either.

And that’s before we even start to reckon with the Ley’s bang-on assessment that it’s hard to get good again. Those are the absolute, knock it out of the park, best case scenarios. In other ones you become the Padres, or the Phillies, or the Cleveland Browns.

So, the thing is, in my estimation, though this path is a perilous one as well, the best way to have Vlad and Bo surrounded with actual talent in their early years is to… uh… actually have talent already on the roster. Re-sign Josh Donaldson! Add a Lorenzo Cain! Keep Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez! Keep digging for pieces like Aledmys Diaz! Keep helping guys like Justin Smoak unlock their potential! Keep drafting Logan Warmoths and Nate Pearsons! Enjoy what you get out of Anthony Alford instead of worrying if he’s caught between eras!

Radical, I know.

This isn’t to suggest that I think the Jays should be keeping players at all costs and never moving them out for prospects, because they’ll have to do that sometimes, it’s to say that trying to be good isn’t so bad. It’s to say that you’ll reside in the “mushy middle,” as so many like to derisively term it, for only as long as it takes for more talent to emerge and grow and be traded for and bought. Stay good in 2018 and a bunch of the $46 million coming off the books from Donaldson, Happ, and Estrada will probably still be there to spend (hopefully on Josh himself!). Stay good in 2019 and $32 million going to Kendrys Morales and Russel Martin comes off. It probably won’t all be there to spend, but use that money wisely, draft wisely, trade wisely, extend wisely, and how much worse off in 2020 are you than if you packed it in right now, sold off, and started waiting for prospects? Not very? Not at all?

There are many paths to building a good team. For fuck sakes, these very Toronto Blue Jays were one of the best teams in baseball in 2015 and 2016, and the last time they picked a significant contributor in the top 20 picks of the draft was Ricky Romero! Just about all of the shrewd trades of the first five years of the Anthopoulos era fell flat (Halladay, Morrow, Rasmus, Escobar, Dickey, the Marlins, etc.). These very Blue Jays got a top two or three (or one!) talent out of the 2016 draft at pick 66!

They’ll be OK.

And, ideally, they’ll be OK enough for long enough that they never have to worry about flipping that switch and being faced with the task of going from losing on purpose to trying to be elite. Don’t pine for making the jump from where they are back to the top any harder than it has to be.

  • Regulator Johnson

    I think this is almost a straw man; the scenario you describe where the team spends significant money on JD and Cain would be palatable to almost everyone I hope.

    My understanding is that people are advocating a tear down over a world where the roster slowly atrophies as we replace Encarnacion with Morales x 25. Which in and of itself is probably a straw man argument.

    Either way they need to make a move so we can have a new conversation please.

    • Nice Guy Eddie

      What do we replace the Corpse of Troy Tulowitzki with in your model? Morales is a minor problem. He’s 2 years at 11. The Corpse of Troy Tulowitzki on the other hand, cost 20 million and we have him for the next 3 years. It would be absolutely idiotic to go get some more 20 million guys who will be useless in a couple of years and will be a salary albatross, like Tulowitzki, for years of unproductively. It’s bad enough also having Russell on the payroll at 20 per, when he would likely get 5-8 on the market. But at least he can play a bit as opposed to heading to the DL. We have enough old guys thanks pulling in too much money, and little to trade with in the farm thanks to the previous GM. Last think I want to see is wasting 80-100 million on Lorenzo Cain. JDM is not coming to Canada for anything under 220 and anyone who would spend that on him deserves a Bautista at 150 million. Wait a sec, wasn’t that the call two years ago. Something about “just pay him his money….”

  • Cecilrosa

    I imagine there’s plenty of Leaf and Jays fans pushing this agenda because of the success the Leafs had when they changed the front office, tanked for a year and lucked their way to Austin Matthews and bang they were in the playoffs last year. Unfortunately baseball prospects take significantly longer to develop than hockey/basketball/football and the failure of prospects, even the first round picks even making it the the big leagues is still incredibly high.

    Also with the 2 wildcards spots it doesn’t take much more than a couple of injuries (imagine Trout missing significant time or if Stanton get’s hurt) or teams that underperform (like the Jays themselves last year) for the Jays to suddenly sit in a playoff spot. Heck, Minnesota snuck in last year with 85 wins. The Yankees and Red Sox look tough, but Tampa Bay and Baltimore look the weakest they have been in years and with the exception of Cleveland and Houston the Jays look very good compared to the rest of the league. You need to look to the future but man you can’t throw in the towel when you’ve got a good team right here now just because the Yankees got Stanton, that’s just dumb.

  • CM

    Agree with you. Tear down to build around Vlad and bo assumes huge unknowns and risk. 1 Vlad and bo may not be the franchise players we project 2 even in 2019 the yanks will still be young and good , sane with the bosox who will spend to be competitive.. the problem is shatkins regime thinks like a small mkt Mgt. Always looking to trade for prospects, never having the cojones to pay up for prove talent (i.e JD) or make win now moves. They are always playing at the margin ( morales Pearce Howells of the world). Personally I feel Ben Cherington should be the GM. He’s won in a big market and isn’t afraid of making moves even if they blow up. He’s more a big market guy. It’s not easy to transition from. Small market to big. Shapiro shows how he thinks by saying we would rebuild if we didn’t have fans! Hey sounds like Cleveland! This is Toronto biggest attendance in the AL. Think bigger sheesh!

    • Nice Guy Eddie

      There is a difference between a ‘big market team’ like the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Cardinals, and a ‘big bandwagon team’ like Toronto. As recently as 2014, Toronto finished 17th in home attendance. In 2010, Toronto finished 26th in home attendance, behind even Tampa. In 2005, Toronto finished 23rd in home attendance. In 2000, Toronto finished 22nd in home attendance (Cleveland finished first). Big market teams don’t have that kind of terrible home attendance. Also, big market teams charge a lot more for tickets that Toronto. Even with the recent increases, Toronto ticket prices pale in comparison to ticket prices for big market teams. For example, you can buy a season ticket today at bluejays.com, for a seat 3 rows behind the visitor dugout, for CDN $6894. That’s about USD $5584. Nowhere else in major league baseball can you buy that seat that cheap. That ticket in Wrigley of course wouldn’t be for sale because they have a. huge waiting list for season tickets. It costs about $29,000 USD. If it was down the line in front of the bullpen, it would still cost $16,000 USD. These are the costs for tickets in a big market, where unlike Toronto, the teams don’t finished 23rd, 26th, 25th etc in attendance. It’s nice that Toronto had a bandwagon bump in attendance the last couple of years, But that doesn’t make it a ‘big market’.

  • dolsh

    I don’t know about this. I mean…there’s a whole bunch of “reason” and “common sense” in here. All the bandwagoners that want to chuck beers from the 500’s during playoff games probably think “blow it up” is the only way to get back to doing what they love.

  • ErnieWhitt

    There is no reason (beyond an absolute crazy offer) to trade Stroman or Sanchez. Osuna could make sense under very favorable terms.

    I keep hearing that the return for Donaldson would be nearly the same at the deadline and I’m not entirely buying that. It depends who is asking about him now and what teams need an upgrade at 3B at the deadline.. it’s entirely possible that the Jays have a single trade partner at the deadline and that would make his price crater. That said I have no idea what is on offer now or by whom.

    I don’t want to lose Donaldson and would greatly prefer that he is extended but if there is one player that can be moved and definitely brings back an impact prospect or 2 it’s Josh.

    It’s a tough call. There is no guarantee that blowing it up will return the Jays to glory once Bo and Vlad are here but not trading assets is a good way to put it all on the couple we have.

        • Nice Guy Eddie

          In this world. The point isn’t just that it’s JD. The point is that it’s only one year of control. An impact prospect, one who projects to be above average as a major leaguer, isn’t traded for one year of control.

          • TB3

            Yes “impact prospects” get traded for guys with a year (or less) of control all the time. Off the top of my head i can think of Eduardo Rodriguez, Gleyber Torres, Andrus …Cain and Escobar in the Greinke to Milwaukee deal if i’m not mistaken… Donaldson could be worth anywhere from 6-9 WAR if healthy… and could provide surplus value of 50M ish value… of course 1 year of Donaldson would bring back a package of at least 1 elite prospect and probably a couple other lesser pieces…

          • Nice Guy Eddie

            TB3 I don’t like to bicker back and forth as people can reasonably hold different opinions and some people just like to argue. But I have to note that of the examples that you give:

            1) the Greinke trade was for more that one year of control,
            2) the trade that Andrus was obtained in for Teixera and Mahay, was for more than one year of control,
            3)E. Rodriguez was not an ‘elite’ or ‘impact’ prospect, though it was still a stupid trade for the Orioles,
            4) which leaves Gleyber Torres.
            The Torres trade may be explained by the fact that the Cubs had not won in a century, but it was certainly not the kind of trade that happens “all the time as you put it”. It’s the outlier, not the exception. No one is trading Gleyber Torres, least of all the Yankees, for one year of Josh Donaldson.

        • El Cabeza

          In what world are you not re-signing your MVP candidate 3rd baseman to help ensure a solid core around the two young studmuffins that should be arriving within two years? Josh is one of the top 5 position players in the universe and he wants to re-sign here. So what if you need to eat the last 2-3 years of the deal because he’s broken down if that’s the only ugly contract and the team is making money hand over fist because they’re competitive?

    • Gavin Belson

      There is however a guarantee that at some point Donaldson and the rest of the crew that makes up the core of this year’s team will no longer be effective players. This is the immutable fact of aging.

      Moves have to be made without fear of consequence as long as the process and logic that dictate the moves are sound.

      No, trading anyone for anyone guarantees you nothing. Not a reason to stand pat however.

      • HNZ

        Yeah but players who have proven the type of players they are (not based on the previous year like most bonehead fans grade a player) is more likely to be that type of player. The percentage of prospects working out is low. It’s a fine line you have to walk as a GM of young talent and proven players when transitioning from year to year, look at the Royals the former darlings of fans and the league of prospects or the ideal type of rebuild of players.

  • vic

    As long as the Jays don’t trade prospects for short term gratification (i.e. 2013) then they can keep chugging along in the .500 zone while still rebuilding. Look at 2016 and 2017. They had some hits (Estrada/Happ/Smith) and some misses (Morales) but they have actually added a lot more prospects to the farm system during a period where they were actively trying to contend. It can be done. If they can squeeze into a wild card spot or two during their transition years, then why the hell not?

    • Agreed. I liken it to the Red Sox model from like 2012 to 2015 — when, notably, Cherington was in charge. Won a World Series one year, sucked in the others, but did huge things on the farm (and, more importantly, smartly held their best prospects like Betts, Bogaerts, etc.).

      Somebody also (either here or on Twitter) compared it to the Yankees pre-2017: carrying on with veterans until the young core was ready, then jettisoning a bunch of vets at the deadline for prospects who’ll be part of a second wave. I very much like the idea of thinking of the players the Jays will most likely get at the upcoming deadline being part of a second wave, rather than a first.

  • Just Jeff

    I’m kind of in between on this. On the one hand, the basic theme of the article is correct….rebuilds are hard and don’t guarantee you anything. On the other hand, I’m not in the camp that thinks that this team is going to be good next year without adding an impact bat, and I’m certainly not in the camp that thinks that this team is going to be good in 2019 without adding that impact bat, an impact arm, and re-signing Josh Donaldson.

    To be clear, by impact bat, I mean a top 4 hitter; by impact pitcher, I mean a top of the rotation arm; and by re-signing Josh Donaldson, I mean DO IT NOW.

    A couple of things to consider:

    -If you’re an impact bat this off-season (Cain, Bruce, etc.), are you going to sign here on a multi-year deal if Josh Donaldson, JA Happ and Marco Estrada may not be here next year?
    -Rookies, for the mostpart (unless you’re a fucking Yankee) do not show up in the big leagues and immediately play like superstars. It usually takes a couple years to get to that point. So Vlad and Bo are probably going to need some help when they get here.
    -There seems to be this assumption that EVERYTHING went wrong for the Jays last season. Let’s remember that Marcus Stroman had a career year, Justin Smoak had a career year and the Jays bullpen was mostly excellent after Grilli and Howell were replaced. So if we assume that some of the things that went wrong will go right, we should also assume that some of the things that went right will go wrong.

    So I guess my point is that if you don’t sign Donaldson to an extension soon, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible to get the type of player you need in free agency and I don’t think signing the Steve Pearce’s and Joe Smith’s of the world (both good signings) are going to move the needle enough to get the job done. Could we trade for that type of player? I suppose, but that’s going to cost you some prospects that you’re hoping will help you beyond 2018.

    If the goal is to be a good team through the end of this decade, re-signing Josh Donaldson must happen and it must happen soon. But that only gives you the opportunity to make the other moves that are necessary to make this team competitive enough to contend for a playoff spot.

  • PeterJMoss

    There is a difference between rebuilding smartly and just all out tanking. The Astros and Cubs examples you use didn’t have the Vlad Jr or Bichette’s in their orgs so they tanked to get them (and add more of them).

    The question they should ask themselves is when can we next win the World Series. Say you decide that is 2020. And then you build the best team you can starting right now for 2020.

    Are you going to be able to sign Donaldson for 2020? Likely no given history but the org would know better than I. If not – how are you better in 2020 – by trading him now for good/close prospects or just letting him walk?

    If you can sign him – is what you can land in a trade for him better than Donaldson in your next window of 2020-2024 or whatever. Obviously a tougher call.

    Then go through the rest of the roster and make the same decisions. You don’t have to trade every player with value and lose 120 games. If Sanchez and Stroman are better in 2020 then what they could return in trade, then keep them.

    What I am concerned with is that Shapiro is making decisions based on what happened to Cleveland attendence when they rebuilt – it went away and never came back even when they got good again. I don’t think you have the same concern in Toronto. If the Jays are good, people will show up. The fans also aren’t stupid. They aren’t going to show up just because Donaldson is here if the team is going to win 75-80 games unless everything goes their way.

  • El Cabeza

    “Vlad and Bo will certainly be in the big leagues at some point in 2019, if not sooner. If the Jays ended up on an Astros-like rebuild timeline, the first year that the pair were on an especially good team would be their fifth in the majors.”

    I have officially been sold now. I was concerned about re-signing JD to a long term deal, but if he’s the only shittily huge contract on the roster in 4-5 years from now, it would be the only one, and the first 3 years of the deal will likely be more than worth it.