As I sit here prepared to give my thoughts on the Toronto Blue Jays season I’m fully aware this is probably not be the first reflection that you’ve read.
I spend a lot of time each day preparing the Blue Jays Morning Brew that we do here at Jays Journal. If you aren’t familiar we search the Internet for some of the most interesting stories about the Toronto Blue Jays to share with our readers.
I consider myself a fan of many writers who cover the Toronto Blue Jays. I have a lot of respect for the work that is done by the Shi Davidi’s and Gregor Chisholm’s of the world. Hall-of-Fame writer Bob Elliott is still spectacular when he wants to be. And there are countless other writers, bloggers and tweeters that I’ve come fond to rely an opinion on.
But one thing I do find reading and writing about the Jays is that we hear a lot of the same stories and quotes over and over again. Part of it is the nature of the beast – if an athlete doesn’t give you anything significant to write about they have probably done their job with the media. Sometimes the reason we get 15 articles about J.P. Arencibia in a day is because it’s really the only interesting thing to talk about.
Today I’m not going to write about the upcoming moves that the Blue Jays could make or areas they need to improve. Trust me we will get to all that shortly but first I wanted to take that opportunity to write from a slightly different angle.
As Jay-Z said on his classic joint The Ruler’s Back “What you are about to witness are my thoughts, right or wrong, just what I was feeling at the time. If you’ve ever felt like this, vibe with me.” This post isn’t about what the Toronto Blue Jays need to do to get better or a structured review of the season. It’s going to be more like an incoherent rambling of scrambled thoughts.
I wasn’t really old enough to fully embrace the glory years of 1992 and 1993. I don’t remember watching Joe Carter‘s famous trot around the bases or hearing Tom Cheek’s unforgettable call. The lockout of 1994 squashed a bit of the Blue Jays momentum but I remember fondly the excitement that surrounded the team back then. I had banners, books and hats with the team logo. The Jays’ championship years inspired me to play baseball and although I flamed out in Mosquito ball there’s a generation of Canadian talent across MLB.
This season was the first time in years that there was real anticipation about the Blue Jays season. The team saw a big jump in attendance and there were regularly more than 40,000 people inside the Rogers Centre to start the year. But the season started off with R.A. Dickey getting booed at home. The rest of the starting pitching staff didn’t fare much better. I remember, mostly in vain, trying to back other people off of the ledge. It will be okay, I would say. Championships aren’t won in April, I reassured them (and myself).
But the Jays never got on track. An eleven game winning streak brought a glimpse of hope but even the Moneyball A’s would have had a tough time getting out of the mess that the Jays were in. And Oakland doesn’t play in the AL (B)East.
Was it all just a bad dream? Did this season really happen? It felt like I was stuck in some kind of sick remake of Groundhog’s Day – get up, go to work, get ready for the game and then watch whoever was starting that night pitch the Jays out of the game by the fifth inning (usually earlier). The games they did get a good start that bats wouldn’t come alive. Almost everything that could go wrong, did.
However it’s not exactly an original thought to feel that way and I’m not about to blame this season on bad luck or the curiosity that so many players had below-average years. This season was what it was and the results speak for themselves.
What made this season different from years past were the expectations that surrounded it. In hindsight maybe it was foolish to anticipate such a quick turnaround but the pieces seemed to fit and addressed many of the issues that Toronto had in 2012, which was highlighted by a severe lack of starting pitching. Problems persist and we will be looking at many ways to address them this offseason.
But even though the Blue Jays were only one win better this year there’s reason to believe there is hope for the future. It appears as though we may be entering a new age of professional baseball in Toronto. And I’m not trying to inflate Rogers-sponsored unjustified optimism. We aren’t affiliated with the club in case you haven’t already noticed.
Fans and critics may not like every move that Alex Anthopoulos has made during his four-year tenure but what he has managed to do is change the culture for baseball fans in Toronto. Third place isn’t good enough anymore unless it includes a wild card berth. Two wild card spots is a luxury that AA’s predecessor J.P. Riccardi never had and the adaption has opened doors for not only the Jays but many other teams to compete. But this team wasn’t just aiming for a one-game play-in game, they were aiming for the division title and a World Series ring.
The Blue Jays thought they might have nabbed a potential ace (or at minimum, top two starter) in Josh Johnson but obviously it didn’t work out as hoped for either party. The Jays will be on the hunt again this winter with hopes of improving their rotation. How they should or will do so is a conversation for another day and it’s difficult to predict what type of budget might be accommodated by their deep-pocketed owners. Rumours will always be rumours – we’ll never really know the next move until after it’s already made.
Rightly or wrongly, I remain excited about the future of the Toronto Blue Jays. Will all of the problems that showed up on the field magically disappear in 2014? It’s doubtful. Spending money doesn’t always equal winning – just ask the Los Angeles Angels. But if managed properly it does give your team at least the chance to do something special.
A big part of it is assembling all of the right pieces at exactly the right time. It’s like when the stars align. That’s why we hear so much about the “three-year window” that the Blue Jays had to win. It takes time to assemble quality talent and they won the lottery with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, which gave the team two of the best hitters in baseball to build around. They can hit both left and right-handed pitching. Bautista didn’t have his best year at the plate but is still one of the most feared power hitters in all of baseball and gets on base a tonne. Encarnacion is simply a force to be reckoned and might cover the plate better than anyone else in the baseball.
There has been talk about trading Bautista this year and I have tried my best to approach the situation as unbiased as possible. I’m a huge fan and it would break my heart if he was ever traded. But I understand this is a business and inevitably there will be a time when moving him for the good of the team might make sense. But as Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos mentioned earlier this year it would create another hole to fill, not just for the Jays but for the other team(s) involved as well as not many clubs across baseball are dealing for a position of strength when it comes to starting pitching. The Blue Jays aren’t the first team in baseball to lose a bunch of pitchers to injury.
This season was not successful by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part it was an unmitigated disaster. But as we prepare to finally close this dreadful chapter in Toronto Blue Jays history I remain optimistic about the direction of the franchise. This season didn’t work out but I’m not going to dwell on the Jays’ poor record. It doesn’t matter if you finish 30th or 13th. The Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs or win their division, which were the goals for this team. But what they did manage to do is change the culture for baseball fans in Toronto.