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Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

How about that second wild card race?

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.

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?

  • Kristen Sprague

    Could that be where the interest in Dallas Keuchel is coming from? FO must explore all options including taking advantage of week competition for the 2nd WC

  • Jroc

    The league is weak but the Jay’s are not the best positioned team to take advantage of it due to the imbalanced schedule. Someone like Chicago or Minnesota should be going for it. 57 is alot of games vs. NYY, BOS, TB. Even when the Jays are good you can only really hope for a split. Sign me up for 57 games of MIN, KC, DET.

  • The Humungus

    If it’s not going to cost more than short-term financial commitments, then fuck it, go for it. They’re too good to bottom out at a top 5 draft pick, so if it doesn’t hurt the long-term plan, they might as well giv’r.

    Just so long as the fans understand that you can kick the tires on the playoffs without hurting the team long-term and it’s not a bad thing. Also, dumpster diving for free agents has yielded some decent results on the trade market the last few years if things don’t work out.

    • El Cabeza

      Short-term financial commitments.

      That’s they key – why the fuck not? This isn’t NBA/NHL/NFL where a 1st overall pick can instantly turn your franchise around.

      • The Humungus

        Exactly. When’s the last time the first overall pick was even an impact player the next season?

        I mean, the bonus pool is nice, but I feel like Baltimore has monopoly on the 1st pick for about the next three years, so fuck it. Giv’r!

        • The Humungus

          To answer my own question, the answer is Andy Benes, 1988. He was 5th in 1989 NL ROY voting. That’s as close as it comes (unless you want to count David Price closing games for the 2008 Rays)

  • dolsh

    This is part of the reason why I don’t think Toronto is that bad off. There’s talent there, and if all the “IF’s” come to fruition, there could be meaningful baseball in September. There are a lot of IFs, so I wouldn’t be writing post season tickets like the Astros, but this is baseball, and baseball happens.
    A starting rotation with Stroman, Sanchez, Pannone, Borucki and SRF could actually be good (or a disaster)!
    An infield of Vlad, Tulo, Travis and Smoak could be really good! All four could put up a 3 win season each (or -0.5!).
    I’ll skip the outfield because…well, I’m pretty sure there will be strikeouts.

    If that all goes well, would Harper and Keuchel put them over the top? Maybe! They could also help the team in two years when we think the kids will be killing it, so I don’t think it’s insane to think about a significant addition this offseason. If it’s the right addition.

  • DandyMoldonado

    No issues with a 1 or 2 year deal on some guys but long term commitments don’t make much sense. Keuchel isn’t a bad play because he can help now and still contribute 2-3 years from now without blocking a prospect.

  • DAKINS

    You could do that, oooorrr, you could spend as little as possible on payroll this season, and bank hard on fans coming out in droves to see Vlad in late April. Think of that sweet, sweet ROI.

    • Nice Guy Eddie

      When have fans in Toronto come out to see a player? Delgado? Nope. Doc? Nope. Clemens? Nope. If the team is in first-place or close by people in the Toronto area buy tickets. Otherwise, they don’t. I don’t think you could have young players much more fun to watch than Gurriel and Jansen, and soon Bichette, but any owner who thinks Toronto will buy tickets to see them will be disappointed.

  • El Cabeza

    The Jays are a J.A. Happ, Charlier Morton, and A.J. Pollock addition away from having two much money tied up on declining vets to be able to extend their young controllable talent through their first few FA seasons.