After the final out was recorded in an underwhelming Game 5 of the 2016 American League Championship Series, there was an air of uncertainty surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays. An aging-but-dominant 2015 team earned another kick at the can, only to find themselves falling flat on their face in the exact same spot. What was next? It almost felt like storm clouds were starting to circle the Rogers Centre with the promise of a completely new regime ready to tear down the team and send them into a much-needed rebuild after two fun years.
A recurring theme I recognized during the coming months was something along the lines of Mark “Not My Real Dad” Shapiro and Ross Atkins not understanding what baseball means in Toronto, and yeah, I don’t think he was willing to sacrifice any futures (or, uh, future headaches) to pry that shut window open for another year. Like him or not, Shapiro seemed meticulous from the start, which probably explains the lack of a knee jerk reaction to ink franchise great Bautista to a long-term deal.
Hope was at a new low for this era of Blue Jays baseball. Even though I don’t think any Blue Jays fan would trade those two years for the world, it probably would have felt better to be stuck in mediocrity for another couple of years than to come that close in back to back years and then begin a downward spiral just before everybody got comfortable watching a good team.
Hope isn’t something common to those that watch sports in this city. Toronto FC and Argonauts notwithstanding, we’ve barely had anything noteworthy to celebrate over the past two decades. You know things are going well in the sports scene when you aren’t absolutely fuming while watching your favourite team. Hell, even fans of the Toronto Raptors, a perennial playoff team, have to preface their dreams with a “maybe if…”
If I told you in November 2016 that Toronto would be a combined 15 games under .500 by the 2018 all star break over the next year and a half, your first thought would be something along the lines of whether you chose pinstripes or the colour red to help soothe your pain.
Thankfully, even in a lost season, there’s still a glimmer of hope for Blue Jays fans, and it’s growing every week.
Six Blue Jays – Kevin Smith (87), Danny Jansen (74), Lourdes Gurriel Jr (72), Nate Pearson (70), Bo Bichette (5), and of course, Vladimir Guerrero Jr (1) – made the mid-season Baseball America top 100 list, but the successful youngsters spans beyond those five: guys like Teoscar Hernandez, Ryan Borucki, Cavan Biggio, and Eric Pardinho, for example, have each impressed across the system thus far. It’s one thing to have a generational talent capable of crushing everything thrown his way, but to surround that with Bo Bichette and other legitimate prospects brings a new kind of hope less than two years after everybody’s World Series hopes ended.
The next wave of kids has served as a fine distraction from that dreaded GB column. It seems like, almost on a nightly basis, a new farmhand does something that sends murmurs up the system, highlighting a new person to look out for, a new name to pencil into future potential Blue Jays squads, a new reason to be excited. Without them, and no hope for the present or the future, Blue Jays baseball would dive into a very dark era.
Judging by the sheer amount of posts we’ve done on him, you already know how your friends at Blue Jays Nation feel about the guy with the Hall of Fame dad that could actually turn out to be even better.
Instead of a sudden fall off a cliff and the slow climb, these prospects have acted like a parachute. Sure, prospects will break your heart, and all of these guys almost certainly won’t live up to expectations, but doesn’t it feel good to have something to look forward to?
The one good thing about your season looking like it’s more or less over by the all star break is that we get to experience stress-free baseball. Last year, the story was about a terrible Blue Jays team that didn’t do anything right. This year, it’s all about the process. It’s about looking towards the future with a rebuild that won’t send fans flocking to another team. It’s about Vlad, Bo, and a constant stream of social media updates that make us giddy about the coming years.
We’ve become the polar opposite of what we were back in 2015, making fun of those that held their prospects close, but if they can’t be in a pennant race, this is a damn good consolation prize.