We’ve been raised on a steady diet of home runs, but there’s more to the Toronto Blue Jays than just the long ball
I want to pick up on something said by our editor, Shaun Doyle, yesterday.
In his reply to Richard Griffin’s take on the Toronto Blue Jays-Joey Votto connection, Doyle noted that the current core of the Blue Jays goes beyond just Jose Bautista (35 years old), Edwin Encarnacion (33), Josh Donaldson (30), Russell Martin (33), and Troy Tulowitzki (31). It also includes Aaron Sanchez (24), Marcus Stroman (25), and Roberto Osuna (21). You can arguably add Devon Travis (25), Kevin Pillar (27), and Joe Biagini (26) to this mix as well.
Here’s the thing: I completely agree with Doyle, but you seldom hear people venture past the big bats in the lineup. “The Jays need to re-sign Encarnacion, Bautista is owed a raise, Donaldson represents the future,” is the typical refrain, from the typical fan. What this ignores, however, is the fact that Sanchez, Stroman, and Osuna are the ones who’ll likely be leading the Blue Jays into and through the 2020s. They represent the long-term viability of the franchise with important short-term and medium-term contributions to make along the way.
What you can say about Bautista and Encarnacion is that the current window of opportunity for the team is partly tied to their individual performances. What you can say about Donaldson, Martin, and Tulowitzki is that they factor significantly into the team’s short-to-medium-term plans thanks, in part, to their respective contract situations.
If this is true, then why such a focus on Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, Martin, and Tulowitzki? What makes them the current “core” of the team and no one else? I can think of four factors that underlie this view: age, contract status, position, and home run bias.
The age and contract status factors are the easiest to understand. With Sanchez, Stroman, Osuna, Travis, and Pillar all below 30 years of age, it’s easy to take their respective roles on the team for granted, and they’re what some people might call “controllable assets” as if to deny their humanity.
There are actually two dimensions to the age factor that work to trivialize the contributions of these young players. On the one hand, there’s the suggestion that the best for them lies ahead, not in the past or at the present – that we haven’t seen it yet – so we should wait before taking full stock of their importance to the team. The problem is someone like Osuna has already established himself as one of the best young closers in MLB history. There has also been no sign of regression in Pillar’s defensive play – this is a guy who could dominate the outfield in Toronto for the next six to eight years.
The other dimension is suspicion, and it has a similar logic. Here the argument is we’ve seen so little of these players that we can’t really trust them. Stroman’s struggles earlier this season and Travis’ various health ailments fit into this narrative. The narrative can only be broken through performance, and that’s how Stroman and Travis have responded. They’re two of the hottest players on the Blue Jays right now, at a time when the team needs everyone playing at their best.
In terms of the third factor, pitchers and positional players are sometimes presented as two completely separate categories of player. Aside from Roy Halladay, when was the last time the Blue Jays were so closely identified with a pitcher? This factor is specific to the Sanchezs, Stromans, Osunas, and Biaginis of the team, and it helps to explain why their contributions to the team are sometimes taken for granted. We’re just not accustomed to thinking of the Blue Jays in terms of their pitchers’ dominance on the mound – a fact that can be seen in the period between Halladay’s departure and David Price’s acquisition.
The final factor – bias – is related to the previous one, and it concerns the fact that, as Jays fans, we’ve been raised on a steady diet of boppers and thumpers. From George Bell to Donaldson, Joe Carter to Bautista, this team is all about the home run. Our fixation with the home run is so ingrained that it opened the door to the ill-advised additions of Frank Thomas and Jose Canseco, and people seldom remember that Toronto’s first World Series title was banked by a two-run double from Dave Winfield. It’s Carter’s walk-off home run in 1993 that gets all the attention. What can I say – we like the dramatic stuff?
The two most iconic moments in Blue Jays history are Carter’s walk-off home run and Bautista’s bat flip. Those 17 strikeouts from Brandon Morrow, Roy Halladay’s Iron Man performances, Winfield’s World Series-clinching double occupy lesser spots in our collective memory. Is this a bad thing? Does it make us horrible people and even worse fans? No, but it is reason to rethink the apparent criticalness of adding someone like Votto.
The Blue Jays are already a great team, and they’re positioned to compete for years to come. Votto would add to this, but the failure to acquire him won’t detract from it. The core is that good, and it’s that deep, too, home run or no home run.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER @JAYSFROMCOUCH AND INSTAGRAM. LIKE US FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE JAYS NEST PODCAST!
As a long-time Jays fan, I’ve invested more time in bad baseball than a sane person would allow. Fortunately, I was finally rewarded with some post-season action last year! This year?