Blue Jays: Why contending should be a legitimate goal in 2020

TORONTO, ON - MAY 26: Cavan Biggio #8 of the Toronto Blue Jays is doused by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 following their victory over the San Diego Padres at the San Diego Padres at Rogers Centre on May 26, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 26: Cavan Biggio #8 of the Toronto Blue Jays is doused by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 following their victory over the San Diego Padres at the San Diego Padres at Rogers Centre on May 26, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays may be in the beginning stages of a rebuild, but with the state of the American League, it may be wise to try and contend in 2020.

The 2019 season has always been about the start of an actual rebuild for the Toronto Blue Jays, something that has been talked about but not really executed with this franchise in a very long time.

Despite the fact that they’re currently 21-34 in the standings, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of this team and to stay with them through what could be a very long year. We’re already seeing a glimpse into what could be a bright future with the talents of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Rowdy Tellez, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and more, and there is plenty more in the MiLB pipeline as well.

When I saw Ross Atkins and the front office truly committing to the rebuild by trading guys like Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, and several other veterans, my initial thought was that it would be until at least 2021 or 2022 before the Blue Jays would legitimately factor into playoff contention. However, after watching what’s happening with this young team and what’s gone on around the rest of the league, I think there’s reason to believe it could happen sooner.

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No, I’m not predicting a World Series championship for the Blue Jays next season, but I do think it’s possible they could be a sleeper candidate to factor into the Wild Card picture. The hardest part will be finishing better than third in their own division, but beyond that, the American League is a pretty open playing field.

Not surprisingly, AL East teams occupy the top two positions with the Rays sitting in the first spot, and the Red Sox tied with the Oakland A’s at 29-25. Just outside are the Cleveland Indians, 2.5 games back with a record of 26-27, and the Texas Rangers are in the same boat at 25-26.

The reason I think the Blue Jays could contend as soon as next season is because of the lack of other teams that are actively trying to win this year. The division-leading Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, and New York Yankees would qualify as contenders, as would the Rays, Red Sox, and A’s. Beyond that though, I’d argue that only the Angels and the Cleveland Indians had realistic designs on winning in 2019, and the latter was actively trying to trade All-Star calibre pitchers like Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer this offseason.

If there are only seven or eight teams that are trying to win in 2020 (we’ll see what happens in Cleveland, especially if they keep losing), is it that unreasonable to think that the Blue Jays should at least consider it as a goal, even if it’s a lofty one? I really don’t think it is.

The most obvious missing piece for the Blue Jays would be in the rotation, where they’ve been snake-bitten with tough luck in the health department nearly across the board. It’s possible that several or most of their veterans could be on the trade block this summer as well, so a lot has to be sorted out, but I don’t think we’ll see any of Clayton Richard, Clay Buchholz, or (my speculation) Aaron Sanchez around by next year.

However, if your rotation starts with a healthy trio of Marcus Stroman, Ryan Borucki, and Trent Thornton, that’s not an awful place to build from. Again, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but the Blue Jays are in the fortunate position of having both a lot of payroll space and a plethora of talented prospects at their disposal. In fact, you could make the argument that they almost have too many infield prospects, only because they all need somewhere to play regularly, and the Blue Jays have a lot of developing talent at the keystone positions.

I don’t know that they’ll be ready to flip minor league prospects for just any pitcher, but if the right long-term investment came along I wouldn’t rule it out. They will no doubt play in the short-term veteran pool again and maybe they’ll even bring back Matt Shoemaker next season, who looked fantastic before going down with a season-ending knee injury. There are also guys like Sean Reid-Foley, Hector Perez, Patrick Murphy, or maybe even Nate Pearson that could factor into the equation in 2020, if not before.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the rebuild and I understand that it’s not going to happen overnight. However, when you consider that this is year one of seven seasons of contract control for guys like Guerrero Jr., I don’t know that I’m in favour of a slow rebuild. I’m not suggesting the front office goes crazy with trades and free agent contracts either, but I do hope there’s a different mindset toward next season, especially after this one has so clearly been about anything but winning in the immediate term.

Next. The added value of building a homegrown core. dark

Again, I do realize that the greatest challenge will be finishing in the top three of their own division that features the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox. However, if the Blue Jays find a way to do just that, is it so unreasonable to think they could be a player for a Wild Card spot next year? Call me an optimist, but as long as half of the league is content to rebuild and the Blue Jays have young talent that’s ready to make an impact as soon as they arrive, I don’t think it is.