If there is one genre of Blue Jays article that will, without fail, get my blood boiling, it’s the one where a tourist columnists feigns ignorance of — or is actually ignorant about — how the club is trying to build and improve and grow, but doesn’t let that supposed ignorance stop them from smugly asserting that they have the answers, or, worse, sarcastically intimating that the problems are clear, the answers are obvious, and the people in charge are clearly and obviously derelict.
I don’t dislike such pieces because they’re unfair to the front office. I don’t dislike them because they do a disservice to the fans reading them in good faith, or to those trying to participate in the conversation at large about the team by poisoning the discourse. I don’t dislike them because they’re lazy. I dislike them because they’re all of those things.
“This Randal Grichuk fellow better make one heckuva impact,” begins a piece from the Toronto Star last Friday, written by Damien Cox, giving a us big taste of witless pomposity mixed with a kind of folksy aw-shucks-ism designed to make it sound like he’s just a nice man with the team’s and fans’ interests at heart. An inauspicious start.
“More, at least, than the last supposedly up-and-coming outfielder with pop with which the Blue Jays persuaded the St. Louis Cardinals to part. Ah, Colby Rasmus, we barely knew ye,” he continues, dredging up the demon most easily pointed to by dipshits for no reason other than to cast a pall over what the Blue Jays are doing here. Never mind that Rasmus had that one five WAR season in Toronto, which would be plenty nice to see from Grichuk. Nor the fact that Colby was sold (rightly) as a shrewdly acquired future All-World centrefielder (by a front office that, we understand better now, drooled over raw tools but perhaps wasn’t as diligent about other aspects of the game), whose potential ultimately went up in smoke. Grichuk has no such expectations being placed on him by anyone other than Damien Cox. He’s a nice piece for the now, an upgrade on the previous right fielder (frowny face), and a guy with some cheap term still left. Not exactly a franchise cornerstone. Hey, but you gotta build ’em up to knock ’em down.
“Otherwise, this has been a second consecutive yawn of an off-season for the Jays brain trust of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, and there’s not much candy-coating that reality,” he adds, nudging readers toward the assumption that measured is bad and big and bold is good — as though, 1) fans of the Blue Jays don’t know real well what little it can mean to “win the offseason,” and 2) fans of the Jays aren’t completely aware of the reality of the club’s situation. This is a “gotcha” line written for fans who mostly don’t exist — and who Cox himself acknowledged mostly don’t exist the last time somebody let him write about the Blue Jays, when he stumped for a rebuild, and lectured that “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.”
“The more they say they’re trying to compete, the less they seem to do things to actually compete.”
Uh… look, I’m not trying to “candy-coat reality” here, but the things that killed the 2017 Blue Jays were injuries, a lack of infield depth, lack of starting pitching depth, an inadequate lineup against right-handed pitching, and poor performance from their once-mighty spots of right field and DH. And apart from keeping the same DH (whose batted ball data is still quite encouraging) and, for now, looking internally for pitching depth (which does exist now more than it did a year ago, as young starters have moved up the organizational ladder), those are precisely the areas that they’ve addressed. Had they received 2016-level performances from Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez, and José Bautista in 2017, the Jays would have been ten wins better than they were. That says nothing of what they might still be able to get from Kendrys Morales, Troy Tulowitzki, and Devon Travis. And if those players don’t bounce back, or if other guys falter, the team is much better equipped to handle it this time around.
Right now Fangraphs’ Steamer-based “Depth Charts” projections have the Jays at 84 wins for 2018. That’s not where you want to be, obviously, and the Jays could certainly make themselves a whole lot better in 2018 right now if they wanted to — it would just mean trading away players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Nate Pearson, Bo Bichette, Anthony Alford, etc. But why? To be improving, keeping those players, keeping their draft picks (by not signing top free agents), sitting within striking distance of a Wild Card (the Angels are projected to nab the second spot with 88 wins, the Twins are chasing the Jays at 81), and still have time and some money to keep raising the level of talent on the roster? It’s really not a bad place. Keep making smart trades, smart pickups, smart draft picks, smart July 2nd signings, and you’re doing very well. Maybe something breaks your way in 2018, maybe it doesn’t. At least you gave yourself a legitimate chance at October baseball and didn’t mortgage your future to do so. Most fans really do get that, I think. So… where’s the problem here?
“All the significant names that were supposed to move in trades or as free agents this winter — Giancarlo Stanton, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Shohei Otani, Andrew McCutchen — have gone elsewhere. Again,” we’re told. Which… uh… bruh, Ohtani had full control of the process and seemingly wanted to play on the west coast or, at the very least, on a team that had their spring training in Arizona. The Jays had no chance there. Stanton had a full no-trade clause — remember the Giants’ offer getting rejected? — so the Jays had no chance there either. Yelich they could have got, but it would have cost them Vlad so… are we ripping them for not doing that?
And McCutchen I love, but he cost over $12 million (the Pirates covered $2.5 million of his $14.75 million salary), plus prospects, and is only under contract for one year. Against right-handed pitching his wRC+ over the last two seasons combined is 105. For Randal Grichuk, who is under much cheaper control for three more seasons, and at this stage is probably a better defender, the number is 100. For Yangervis Solarte, who may see some time in the outfield, it’s also 105. For Curtis Granderson, who cost no prospects and signed just a one-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives, it’s 118. Now, that’s not the only split, or the only thing that matters, but as a team the Jays really needed to improve against right-handed pitching. Against lefties they’re fine — Pearce has long been a lefty masher, Morales is surprisingly elite in that split, Pillar killed lefties in 2017 (148 wRC+), as did Smoak (160), and there are strong right-handed bats in Donaldson (obviously), Travis and Tulo (hopefully), and Martin. McCutchen (who is much stronger vs LHP) maybe wasn’t quite the right fit, then. I think we can be pretty OK with what the Jays did here.
So that just leaves Cain, who — OK, you got ’em! — the Jays didn’t sign.
Of course, there are still so many free agents still left unsigned! And while I don’t think the Jays are going to sign any of the big name guys left either, given that they were reportedly willing to eat money in a Christian Yelich trade, there may be more budget left to do that than you think. But the thing, which Cox seems to be intentionally missing, is that they’re not going to do anything that potentially hurts them in the long run. And sure, Rogers could take on any contract in the game and then some, and the company wouldn’t feel a thing, but they generally don’t see that as good business, meaning the Blue Jays have no choice but abide by the budget they’re given (and mindful of it going forward). How much of that future budget money do you think they should tie up in years two, and three, and four of the Guerrero/Bichette era just to push themselves that much closer to a 2018 AL East title that already seems a little too far out of reach? Just as the Martin and Tulo contracts start to recede from the books, you want to limit flexibility? For the right player — *COUGH* Josh Donaldson *COUGH* — that could make some sense, to an extent, but hammering them for not going huge on win-now moves that will cost them prospects, future budget, and possibly draft pick compensation (in what’s supposedly going to be a deep draft this June), just to go from being seven wins behind the Red Sox and Yankees (as they’re currently projected) to three or four? That’s probably not great business. On the other hand, if they can narrow the gap even more with some small low cost moves, that would keep them very nicely setup indeed. (Oh, right, but that would be too “quiet.”)
“It’s been a long, long time since Jays fans had reason to be envious of the Milwaukee Brewers, but right now that would be the case,” Cox continues, inadvertently making the case for the Jays’ current path he thinks he’s railing against. The Brewers surprisingly won 86 games last season. They have payroll flexibility. They have a strong farm system. They have a nice little core of players that don’t cost too much and are under control for multiple years (per Cot’s the only players currently on their current 40-man due to reach free agency after 2018 are Eric Sogard and Yovani Gallardo). They’re maybe a little lighter on talent than a team turning the corner from a reset/rebuild and pushing hard in would want be (even with the additions of Yelich and Cain, Fangraphs projects them to just 77 wins), but this is a smaller market, NL Central version of where I think the Jays want to get to: a place where they can really hit the gas pedal, and ability to do so without fucking up their future with bloated contracts or big holes in the prospect pipeline. If they were to hit it now, as Cox is seemingly pining for at this point in his article, there’s a good chance they run into the wall — a track they’ve been, to continue this tired metaphor, trying to steer themselves out of ever since the previous regime (gloriously) went the bloated contract and pipeline hole route in order to (gloriously) bring (glorious) playoff baseball back to Canada in 2015.
“While telling one and all they plan to battle with the best of the American League East this season, Shapiro and Atkins haven’t made a single move to suggest this team can actually do that after last year’s 76-win debacle. Instead, it’s been Grichuk, Al Alburquerque, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte and Curtis Granderson.” Pretending that the front office has been demanding fans start planning parade routes, then pretending that small but significant value adds are worth sneering at, just so you can act like you’re Dr. Ron Fucking Genius for figuring out a thing that everybody else knows and has acknowledged from the hop (i.e. that the Blue Jays, while trying to be as competitive as can be, are going to have a very difficult time challenging for more than a Wild Card spot), is awfully fucking rich. Hey, maybe you can be a smug asshole about that for a minute…
“Beyond that, it’s about some heavenly belief that all the injuries that helped derail the 2017 season (only Jays players got hurt last season, didn’t you hear?) simply won’t reoccur,” Cox writes. “No pressure on Nikki Huffman, the club’s new head athletic trainer. Just keep ’em all healthy all of the time, Nikki.”
Get fucked. The guy just named two middle infield acquisitions that are significantly better than the fill-ins the Jays used last year, and one sentence later is acting like the entire plan is to hope and pray for Troy Tulowitzki’s health. Just openly, blatantly, unapologetically disingenuous horseshit right here. And I don’t even just mean the “simply won’t reocurr” part. I also mean the notion that because every team gets injuries it means they’re off the table as a possible explanation for why one team’s season went poorly and the next might not — as though it’s impossible that one team might have been impacted more by them than another. A real rigorous intellectual standard for this stuff.
“Aaron Sanchez’s blister will vanish. Troy Tulowitzki won’t be made of porcelain. The American League’s worst offence in ’17 will magically come back to life and the Jays will be able to grab the second wild-card slot next fall, now apparently viewed as baseball’s Holy Grail in the 416,” it goes on.
It’s like… again: you just named Tulo and Travis’s much-improved backups. You also named the much improved right fielder, and the guy who actually hits right-handed pitching. Yes, Aaron Sanchez’s finger is a concern, but for chrissakes, man, go tell me the last pitcher to basically miss two consecutive years because of a blister. I’ll wait.
“As they say in Angels in the Outfield, it could happen. But betting on best-case scenarios in baseball is rarely a path to success. Elbows explode too easily. Expecting the worst and planning around it seems more sensible,” he says. WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY’VE BEEN DOING OH MY GOD.
“Meanwhile, the people tut-tutting all the pessimistic chatter and citing all the happy possibilities for 2018 are the same people who spent months last year talking about how the team had lots of time to recover from a horrendous spring.” Know why people said that? Because the team had lots of time to recover from a horrendous spring. They were 26-27 on May 31st! The Jays, at that time, were two games behind playoff-bound teams in Minnesota and Cleveland. The Cubs at that time were 25-27. You are very bad at this, Damien.
“Realists, meanwhile, certainly have reason to wonder when, if ever, Shapiro and Atkins, assuming they actually are trying to compete, will make a bolder move than Kendrys Morales to improve this team rather than living off the work done by their popular predecessor, Alex Anthopoulos,” he says, completely ignoring the fact that said predecessor was just about as unpopular as this front office is until five years and nine months into his six year tenure. Not to mention the fact that he’s ignoring the J.A. Happ signing, which worked out marvelously, the re-signing of Marco Estrada, the Justin Smoak extension (unbelievable but true!), the trade for Francisco Liriano (which didn’t look great in 2017 but was a godsend at the end of 2016), and on down the line. Not really convenient to the point this “realist” is trying to make, I guess.
“Now, this may be all about waiting for Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the most hyped Jays prospects since Sil Campusano or J.P. Arencibia. This may be a bona-fide rebuilding project in the works,” comes the next slice of smugness for us. Because yeah, they’re exactly the same. Cox has got your interests at heart here, Jays fans! The “realist” is just tellin’ it like it is, and totally not preying on your worst insecurities like some goon who works for the Toronto Sun so he can pointlessly score points with dullards regarding a team he can’t even be arsed to write about more than once every six months.
“Then why not just say so?”
Because that’s not what it is?
“Why pretend to be a team trying to chase a World Series title or at least a playoff berth?”
Because they very much are trying to chase a playoff berth?
“Just rebuild, already. Houston gave everyone the blueprint.”
Houston destroyed their TV market and cratered in attendance. So bad did it get that in the year they won the World Series the Astros managed to get 2.4 million fans through the turnstiles, averaging 29,674 per game in a park with a capacity of 41,168 for baseball. The 2017 Blue Jays averaged 39,500, with 3.2 million coming to the park last year. And though, yes, 2018 will be better for the Astros, perhaps this is a thing to consider before one goes tossing around the idea that they “gave everyone the blueprint.” Perhaps also consider the fact that, had they not managed to squeak into the 2015 playoffs with 86 wins it would have been eleven years between playoff berths for this “blueprint.” Yes, they’re setup extremely well now, but let’s not act like it was easy — I don’t think the people in Houston would tell you that it was. Or ask the Padres how easy it is (11 playoff-less seasons and counting). Ask the Phillies (six years now, and surely at least one more). Ask the Reds (four years deep, the best pure hitter of his generation, and yet still not much hope).
Hey, Cox loves shoehorning in hockey analogies, right? How about this one: the Edmonton Oilers were gifted literally the best-of-all-possible-worlds rebuilding scenario and still have managed to fuck it up. Foolproof, right?
“What this really appears to be is an effort by the Jays front office to make it appear that they’re competing so as not to scare off their customers. Fool the fans, in other words, until Guerrero and Bichette arrive.”
The only fool I see is the one insisting that the Jays are telling people something that they’re not. They’re trying to remain competitive. They’re trying to keep their eyes very firmly on the future. Their goals are surely modest and the range of possible outcomes for the season likely skews toward “not quite good enough,” and they may not be running to the hills to shout that, but so what? Is the second Wild Card not a playoff berth? Would it not be awesome if the Jays could get there and get into the LDS? Is it not entirely plausible that they could? So then if all the while they’re also bulking up for the future, the fuck is there to be conspiratorial about?
* * *
Somehow Cox’s piece goes even farther off the rails from here. I wouldn’t want the poor Star to miss out on the clicks, so I’ll stop going line by line through it at this point, but there are plenty of ham-assed hockey analogies and some serious fucking doozys in there. For example: “The problem is, Toronto doesn’t have a baseball talent close to DeMar DeRozan at the moment.” Like… how does one even???? Since 1950, here are the top MLB position players by WAR for their age 27 to 31 seasons (which is Donaldson’s most current): Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Barry Bonds, Wade Boggs, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Carl Yastrzemski, Alex Rodriguez, Eddie Mathews, Chase Utley, Albert Pujols, Josh Donaldson. BUT HE’S NO DEROZAN! (I love DeMar, but holy shit what a ridiculous thing to say.)
The thing he really seems to mind is that whatever the Jays are doing, it hasn’t been “articulated” — y’know, like the Leafers did! GO BUDS! HOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEYHOCKEY. “They seem not to want to, but rather prefer to keep everyone guessing, and thus perhaps motivated not to walk away from their season tickets.” It’s fucking wild stuff. Does he think that the people following the team and laying out their cash for season tickets totally don’t see what’s going on? That they’re just taking Atkins and Shapiro on blind faith (LOL) and still believing full on that Yu Darvish or J.D. Martinez might soon be walking through that door? DIDN’T COX ALREADY DECLARE THAT ALL THE BIG NAMES TO ACQUIRE HAVE BEEN SNAPPED UP BY OTHER TEAMS ANYWAY?
“As it stands, however, it’s very hard to look at all Shapiro and Atkins have done since they arrived and see a single move that has made the Jays better now or for the immediate future. Maybe eventually it will be right-handed pitcher Nate Pearson or shortstop Logan Warmoth, both drafted last year. We’ll see. But they’re far away.”
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. Yep, can’t think of a single top ten prospect they’ve stolen in the second round of the draft. Not-a-one.
*Stares long into the distance trying not to think of Cox’s salary*
I mean… yeah. I really don’t know what I expected here, to be honest. But it sure was something, wasn’t it?
Now please feel free to returning to never, ever listening to this man.