In 2017 the Yankees were supposed to be starting a soft rebuild, then along came Aaron Judge. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could have a similar effect in Toronto if all goes well.
The American League East has had a different dynamic than usual over the past couple of seasons, what with baseball starting to show some financial restraint and all. Overall I’m not a fan of the lack of spending around the game, but as a fan of the Blue Jays, a team in the AL East, it’s been refreshing to see the Yankees hold back a bit from being a financial bully.
In fact, it wasn’t long ago that the Yankees looked like they were embarking on a rebuild of their own, and that was as recently as 2017. They weren’t expected to compete that season, and instead finished with a record of 91-71, just two games behind the Red Sox for the division title, but still qualifying for the Wild Card game. They of course defeated the Twins in that game, before eventually losing the Astros in the ALCS. It was a surprisingly good year to say the least.
Maybe you don’t believe me when I say they weren’t really trying to compete that season, but have as look at their Opening Day roster and tell me that this is a Yankee team trying to win the World Series. Their GM Brian Cashman was pretty candid that winter about their needing to do things a little differently, but then along came a young slugger named Aaron Judge who changed everything.
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The Rookie of the Year was sensational, hitting 52 home runs, driving in 114, and finishing with a slash line of .284/.422/.627 and a bWAR of 5.5. He also earned an All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger Award, and even finished 2nd in MVP voting in the American League. The Yankees had hoped he would development into a good player, but his emergence definitely sped up their rebuild in a big hurry.
I say all of this not because I want to celebrate the Yankees, but because I could see Vladimir Guerrero Jr‘s MLB arrival having a similar effect in Toronto. No, I’m not suggesting that he’ll hit 52 home runs or finish second in MVP voting, but there’s no doubt that he’ll have a big impact on the team, and I’m confident that will happen right out of the gate.
We know that one player doesn’t make a playoff contender (just ask Mike Trout), but I don’t know that the Blue Jays are a whole lot worse off than the 2017 version of the Yankees were. The Yankees were fortunate that a young Luis Severino turned into the pitcher he has become, and that both Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia have continued to contribute. They were relying on veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, and Matt Holliday, and hoping that young players like Judge, Severino, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird would develop quickly. It wasn’t until things started happening rapidly that they moved on a star like Giancarlo Stanton, a move I don’t think they would have saw coming on Opening Day. It definitely doesn’t hurt that Aaron Hicks has developed in an All-Star calibre player, or that their bullpen is the stuff of nightmares, even if they’re still not spending foolishly.
When I look at the Blue Jays roster and minor league system I see a lot of pieces that I think could have the potential to work in the short and long term, and reason to believe that Ross Atkins and company have all the tools they’ll need to compliment the roster. Young talents like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, and more have already had a taste of the big leagues, and another wave that includes Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson, Eric Pardinho, Jordan Groshans, Kevin Smith, and more should give fans some solace.
If the existing veteran pieces like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Randal Grichuk and more either thrive and stick around, or provide a solid return on the trade market, this isn’t the type of rebuild that needs to take very long at all. That’s especially true when you consider that the Blue Jays will have a nearly blank slate to work with for a roster budget beyond their commitments to Troy Tulowitzki‘s contract until 2020, and Gurriel Jr’s bargain of a deal. They might never spend like the Yankees, even if Rogers could likely afford to, but there will be all kinds of payroll room to play with because of that talented young foundation.
One player doesn’t make a playoff contender, but it can sure change the culture around a team, especially in terms of having a sense of urgency. As long as Mike Trout is in Anaheim and Aaron Judge is in New York, those teams are going to actively try to win. You have no other choice when you have a generational talent, and it won’t be long before the Blue Jays are pushed into the same position.
I’m not saying they’re going to earn a Wild Card berth this year, or make it to the ALCS, but I do think that Guerrero Jr’s arrival in the big leagues will have a similar effect on the team. After a quiet offseason and pretty low expectations for 2019, I have a feeling we’ll be having much different discussions a year from now.