The Toronto Blue Jays 2018 season has been disappointing, but it is the logical outcome of ‘going all in’ in 2015
The Toronto Blue Jays are looking couple of seasons ahead. The remainder of 2018 and likely 2019 are a write off. Likely, 2020 will see this organization pull back the curtains and stare out the competitive window, but not quite opening it until the following season at the earliest. After a couple of seasons of playoff baseball in Toronto, that might be a difficult pill to swallow to some. 2015 (and 2016) captured the hearts and minds of a good number of new fans, and touched old ones, craving for the euphoria of postseason baseball.
While those seasons were certainly ones for the history books, they flipped the hour glass upside down and started the clock on the roster in place and we are witnessing the final grains fall to the bottom in 2018.
Heading into the 2015 July Trade Deadline, then GM Alex Anthopoulos had only one option: go for it. He was close enough in the standings that his team could strike with some additions. He had enough prospect capital to do it, so he chose to bring the playoffs back to Toronto. Already signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson and having a roster with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, AA felt that the time was right. It paid off. Adding David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe proved to be a strike of not only bravado, but genius.
The problem is that there is no way the shelf life on that success would last for much longer.
Tulo came to the Blue Jays with a history of injuries and a rather significant financial commitment. Martin was only going to get more expensive, as was Donaldson. Price bolted for an obscene payday and, well, the rest did what they did. The Blue Jays roster was left with old pieces, pieces that would either get hurt more often and/or decline…in some cases rapidly.
Tulo has played a total of 197 games over 2016, 2017 and 2018. That breaks down to 66 games last season and none (so far) this year. This is saying nothing of the talent that Tulo possess when he is healthy, of course. But, it certainly isn’t what some would call ‘bang for your buck’, if a player is making $20M a season and doesn’t play a game. After 4 straight seasons of rarely missing a game, Donaldson missed 49 last year and all but 36 this season. At age 32, he has entered the dreaded phase of a player’s career where the word “decline” is the kiss of death. Never mind the fact that his injury plagued 2018 is coming at the absolute worst time for him and the Blue Jays, his absence is a major reason why this year has been terrible. But, it was bound to happen.
As much as we love him, think about the season Russell Martin is having. At 35, the catcher is slashing .184/.329/.302 and has put up 0.3 fWAR. The obvious argument is that what else would you expect from a 35 yr old catcher? But, when he was signed to a 5 yr/$82M deal, the emphasis was not on his age 35 or 36 season. He was signed for the first three. Regardless of how much you want him to do better, the fact remains that a drop off in performance is only natural for a player of his age. Time is a cruel enemy. Sure, you could try and say that he was signed in November of 2014, so he doesn’t quite fit into the ‘July of 2015’ narrative. But, you’d just be splitting hairs and missing the point.
Losing Encarnacion to free agency was also bound to happen. If not him, then someone else would have left. There is a lot of money on the books currently and it is committed to already aging talent. Even though, Edwin turned down the Blue Jays offer – which turned out to be for more money – you can bet that this front office let out a collective sigh of relief, knowing that they wouldn’t be adding another expensive, aging commodity. That said, the departure of EE put the club in a position where they had to find a thunderous bat on the open market.
It was paramount because there was still room for this club to compete and to do so, they’d have to replace the power that Edwin took with him. Enter Kendrys Morales. Many will see this signing as a mistake, and it was, but we also have to remember that the roster dictated that someone like that had to be added. The club put their money (a much lower amount) on a guy who they thought could produce in the AL East. Sure, they were wrong, but because of the team they inherited, they had to do something. They couldn’t not sign someone. That would have signaled no intention of competing. Morales was a signal they were trying to…such as it was. Again, the carrying over of the 2015 success led to the signing of Morales.
Speaking of the front office moves…they made efforts to maintain their competitiveness. They signed Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to fill out their rotation. The results have been generally positive. But, remember that the club was burdened with multiple heavy contracts, so you were never going to see Ross Atkins sign big time free agents, or trade for any more money. Instead, Estrada and Happ were added to provide solid (albeit not top) options.
The 2015 Summer Splurge also left the farm system rather bereft of talent. The argument could be made that AA did not give up any major superstars that we are regretting and that would be valid. There are others we regret, of course, but none really stand out from the 2015 Trade Deadline. That said, there was overall depth that suffered dramatically. If Anthopoulos had stayed, he would still have had to deal with the results of a farm system that was significantly depleted. That isn’t excuse making for new management, it is just fact. Let’s say the 2015 trades never happened, just for a moment. This front office would have higher level prospect talent to either trade in different ways, or impacting the big league roster. They’d have options.
2015 also created a situation where the front office had to do some heavy work to rebuild the talent in the minors. Through drafting and developing, they’ve managed to put a system in place that will indeed produce some talented players for that 2021 window opening, and some maybe even sooner, but overall, the real surge of talent is likely further away.
If you’ve made it this far, you might be getting the impression that the point of this whole thing is to criticize or dump on Alex Anthopoulos for his blockbuster dealing in 2015. It really is not. There is no way that I would wish to undo the magic of 2015 and 2016. No chance in Hell. I enjoyed every second of it and when I look back on it, I enjoy it all over again. I will watch Jose Bautista‘s bat flip until my last breath. Literally, I’ll demand it be played on my death bed. I don’t blame Anthopoulos for “going for it” when he did. It worked. It brought playoff baseball back to Toronto after a very long time.
That said, the result of doing so is playing out in front of us this season. Age, decline and depth are all haunting this current Blue Jays roster. 2018 is the direct result of 2015, as amazing as it was.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.