After an 89-73 effort that wasn’t quite good enough to end their 17-season playoff drought, the Seattle Mariners are giving up. The Mariners decided that given the wide-open window of the juggernaut Houston Astros, they’re better off selling on a few of their top assets to build for the future rather than existing in purgatory.
They dealt ace James Paxton to the New York Yankees for three prospects earlier in the off-season and then they made another big deal with a New York team sending Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets. Jean Segura has also been dealt to the Phillies and, I imagine by the time spring training rolls around, more Mariners will become casualties of the team’s fire sale.
Why does this matter? It means the American League wild card race is getting even weaker. The Big Four of the Yankees, Red Sox, Cleveland, and Astros are, barring some kind of unforeseen disaster, are going to be the three division winners and one of the two wild card teams next year. But that second wild card is, well, a wild card.
The Oakland Athletics came out of nowhere and earned the second wild card seed with a 97-win season last year. Their success largely came from beating the crap out of bad teams. Oakland went 29-34 against the teams in the American League who finished with a record over .500. They gained a lot of ground by pounding the Jays and Tigers, sweeping both teams in all seven games they played, and going 13-6 against the Texas Rangers. A lot of things went well for the A’s last year and it’s fair to say they won’t replicate their 97-win season that was patched together with great performances from, like, Edwin Jackson and Jed Lowrie.
Soooooo…. Can the Blue Jays put themselves in the mix to be the team that gets slammed in the wild card game by the Yankees or Red Sox? I mean, it’s pretty wide open, right?
I wrote back in August about the Atlanta Braves and whether or not the Jays with their influx of young guns led by Vlad Jr. (who STEAMER projects to be worth 4.2 wins in his rookie season) could enjoy a similar kind of shocking, breakout season. I ultimately decided that they didn’t have the personnel or depth that the Braves did heading into the season. Being the Braves is a big ask, but what would it take for the Jays to jump up into the AL wild card discussion?
I don’t know, maybe I’m just in a good mood today or maybe I’m long enough removed from last year that the team being bad isn’t in the front of my mind, but it doesn’t seem like the Jays are that far from pushing above the rest of the mediocre pack in the American League. As we already discussed, Seattle has pulled themselves from contention, it’s hard to imagine Oakland being as good as they were last year, and the rest of the AL is, well, bad. I mean, are the Rays and their shoestring budget really that big of a deterrent?
The front office seems content waiting and competing in 2021, but why not dive in now? Would it take much more than a few middling free agents to make the Jays, with their influx of young talent, good enough to beat up on the worst teams in the league like Oakland did last year? Are they a J.A. Happ, Charlier Morton, and A.J. Pollock addition away from accelerating that timeline?
It’s hard to say, but it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Personally, I would rather guys like Bo Bichette and Kevin Smith and Cavan Biggio breaking their way into the league on somewhat competitive rosters rather than playing in front of a dead, empty Dome as the team waddles towards a 70-win season.
Hilariously enough, the newest market inefficiency in baseball seems to be trying to win. Like two-thirds of baseball are rebuilding right now and the American League presents an opportunity for a middling team with some young talent to rise up and capitalize on it. I don’t think it would take too many insane, long-term investments for the Jays to make next season worth watching.
Never forget that MLB wants you to overvalue prospects. It's in the owners' best interest. The league has done an amazing PR job at convincing fans that prioritizing the future over the present is a brilliant baseball strategy rather than what it is: a way to suppress wages.
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) December 3, 2018
The foundation is already there. What, beyond saving Rogers a bunch of cash, is stopping the Jays from going from rising out of the pack of mediocrity in the American League?