This season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Toronto Blue Jays. Coming off back-to-back trips to the ALCS, the club entered 2017 as a favourite to at least get back to the postseason, but instead find themselves in dead last in the ultra competitive AL East.
At this juncture, even the most optimistic of Jays fans has to admit that the season is virtually over. Toronto is 8.5 games back of the Red Sox in the East, and 5 games back of the Rays for the second Wild Card. More daunting is that there are six teams between Tampa and Toronto, including the suddenly hot again Royals, the overachieving Twins, the underachieving Rangers and Mariners, and the about-to-get-Trout back Angels.
Barring a stunning second half turnaround – something that is certainly possible (see: 2014 Kansas City Royals) – the Jays are playing out the string. Sadly, nothing this team has accomplished thus far makes a stunning second half turnaround seem even remotely possible. After seemingly overcoming the dismal 6-17 start, the Jays faltered badly in recent weeks. There were two key stretches leading into the All Star break that would serve as a make-or-break gauge.
First, an 18-game set against teams either equal or below them in the standings: Oakland, Seattle, Tampa, the White Sox, Texas, and KC. The expectations were that 10-8 should be the lowest acceptable mark, with hopes for a 13-5 or better record. They went 8-10.
Second, a huge 13-game stretch against bitter rivals Baltimore, Boston, and New York, and then a finale against Houston, the top team in the AL. Seven wins was crucial, with fans hoping for eight or nine. They won five.
It wasn’t just that they only won five. It was how they lost games that really dashed all hopes. They were fully shut down by Kevin Gausman (one of the worst pitchers in 2017) and Ubaldo Jimenez (one of the worst pitchers since 2015). They were absolutely humiliated in a 3-game sweep by Boston. And they were tarred and feathered by the Astros, including a dig-a-hole-and-bury-’em 19-1 drubbing on Sunday.
So the question is….what now?
Buy? Sell? Status quo?
The only case to make for buying is if Toronto storms out of the gate with a 9-1 start to the second half. However a 10-game road trip to Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland makes that unlikely.
So sell then? Jose Bautista and Marco Estrada can become free agents after the year and might add some depth and experience to a contender. Same with Steve Pearce. J.A. Happ is signed for a relatively cheap $13-million next year has the potential to bring in a decent haul.
Then there’s the big one: Josh Donaldson. Not FA eligible until 2019 he would immediately be the best player available at the deadline and could potentially bring in a massive prospect bounty. One can argue that despite a down year his value will never be higher than it is right now, especially with teams routinely overpaying in midseason deals.
With the team not going anywhere, the obvious answer is yes, sell everybody. But it’s not that simple. Trade everybody, and your 2018 Blue Jays will be an absolute disaster. There are many intriguing pieces in the system (Guerrero, Bichette, Tellez, Alford, etc.) but none close enough to make a difference for at least a few years. That means that if everybody pans out, the 2020/21 team will be stacked. But that is a long time to wait.
Instead, may I present the status quo option. Since that 6-17 start, this team is 35-30, tied for the 4th best record in the AL. In other words, they are a playoff team. And that is without ever fielding their full team. Osuna started the season on the DL and when he came back Donaldson was gone. Then Tulo went down, and by the time they came back, Sanchez and Happ were out. Now that they are both back, Travis is down. Despite that, and despite Estrada turning into a shell of himself, Bautista struggling immensely, and Donaldson having a poor year to date, this team is still putting up nearly playoff worthy numbers.
I realize that next year means the aging core is one year older. I realize that by not trading Donaldson and Happ now you sacrifice a massive portion of their trade value. I realize that Estrada, Bau, Liriano, and a few relievers might not return. But with virtually no prospects knocking on the door, a full tear down leaves too big of a hole.
Instead,let Atkins and Shapiro tinker at the deadline, add a few pieces over the winter, and take one more kick at the can with this core in 2018.