Tanking is not a legitimate option for a Blue Jays team that can compete sooner rather than later.
The Houston Astros are in the World Series. The Toronto Blue Jays are not. Before the beginning of 2017, the opposite seemed more plausible. The Jays had depth in the rotation, a strong bullpen, and one of the top offenses in the league in 2016. They lost star slugger Edwin Encarnacion, but management acquired Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales to patch the DH/1B slot together.
But this game of ours is played over eight months, not decided in the humid playing fields of Florida in March. The Blue Jays battled injuries and bad luck for a month, and were quickly out of contention by summer. The season was lost.
Meanwhile, the Astros surged on the back of the league’s best offense to a 101-61 record, ran over the Red Sox in a predictable ALDS, and won all of their home games versus the Yankees to take the ALCS, and seem evenly matched with a very, very good team in Los Angeles.
The Astros, of course, rose to their current (status) after some truly dark days. From 2010-2014 the Astros were the whipping boy of the American League, putting up multiple 100-loss seasons and benefiting from some solid draft classes. In 2015 they found their way back into the playoffs. This five-year turn around driven by analytics and scouting has quickly become a movement in baseball for smaller-market clubs.
For some reason, though, Damien Cox over at The Toronto Star thinks this is the way the Blue Jays should go, with Josh Donaldson wearing another uniform as the key to the Jays’ rebuilding. Cox likens the Blue Jays situation to that of the New York Rangers (a hockey team) who went hard into the playoffs in recent years but in the end have no titles to show for it. Their core is now aging and as of the first couple weeks of the NHL season, the team is struggling. Their window is closing, and the Blue Jays are in a similar situation with an aging core.
Except, well…they aren’t. We can’t ignore the fact that, you know, the New York Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays play two different sports in two different leagues with two extraordinarily different economic systems.
To start, the Jays fully believe that 2017 was a fluke and that the team can return competitive in 2018. With the Twins and the “not ready” Yankees making the playoffs in 2017, you have to think any reasonable team can qualify for that fourth playoff spot. Without Josh Donaldson, they likely lose that competitiveness. The above author believes it’s necessary to move Donaldson now, though, rather than flip him at the deadline with a lessened value.
“Losing now to win later is unappealing but necessary.”
Unappealing, sure. Necessary? Absolutely not. The Minnesota Twins were a playoff team in 2017 – and they somehow managed to buy and sell at the trade deadline. The Royals ran the table two of the last three years. The Mets (the Mets!) made the World Series in 2015. When it comes to the MLB playoffs, just get in. Luckily, that seems to be the way the Blue Jays management is taking the team. In our recent interview with Blue Jays GM Mark Shapiro, he would state that:
The goal is to build a sustainable, championship-caliber team. The goal is to build a team that leaves Spring Training every year with the objective to win your division and compete in the playoffs. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. My goal is ‘hey, just get in…’ We’re doing everything humanly possibly to avoid having to go through a dramatic downturn.
And that’s likely the smartest thing to do. Remain competitive. Retain your fan base. The last thing on this team’s radar is punting a season.
Tanking will work for some teams. Those teams with minimal budgets in that perfect spot in their talent timeline to move veteran contracts for desperate contenders, aligned, of course, with deep top-of-the-class draft. It worked for the Nationals, who have been solidly competitive for the past five years. Last year, the Cubs reached this peak. Ditto for the Astros. And with their acquisitions over the past 16 months or so – I would predict that it will work for the Chicago White Sox, as well.
But to tank now to win in the future? That’s a hard pass for me.
The Rangers, though in a similar position to the Blue Jays, don’t really fit into the same competitive scheme. In hockey, you can’t just back into the playoffs and go on a run (okay, I see you Nashville Predators.) Rather than win the ultimate crapshoot of the Wild Card game and go on an improbable run like the 2017 Yankees, in hockey, you have to build to survive the playoff run. In hockey, you have to win four consecutive series, all with a minimum of four victories. You just cannot compare the two.
The Cox article also contains a much unneeded shot at “Marco Estrada and his bad back” which, if I recall correctly, wasn’t an issue in 2017 – but we don’t need to discuss that here.
Who says the Jays are out of contention?
The Jays are closer than many think. Their rotation is strong enough to go on a run when needed, and especially with quality seasons coming from both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. The bullpen has quietly become very solid, and the emergence of Ryan Tepera, Carlos Ramirez and eventually Nate Pearson could work with Roberto Osuna at becoming one of the best in the game. The offense needs some work, but Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Rowdy Tellez, Richard Urena and Danny Jansen are close to making an impact. This all comes before our prodigal sons Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who I’ve heard are pretty okay as well.
And let’s not forget that the Cubs and Astros are exceptions to the game – not the rule. While the tank’n build approach is a sexy and cheap one right now, teams like the Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals and Rockies have all remained competitive in recent years without taking that approach, using a balanced strategy of scouting, analytics, and the help of some decent payroll dollars. The Jays fit this mold much more comfortably.
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.