In Parts 1 through 4, I examined the 1983-1993 Jays teams, how Pat Gillick built them, and how they would have finished had a wild card existed back then. The answer was incredible – 11 straight years in the post season.
You have heard current management’s words from them over and over: “We need waves and waves of talent coming up through our system” they repeat. And, they are right. Ross Atkins managed a few good moves to keep the Blue Jays in playoff contention in 2016 (Rule 5 pick up Joe Biagini and the Francisco Liriano acquisition), eventually losing to their former team, the Cleveland Indians. Poor health and wrath of injuries ruined any chances in 2017. Then, the rebuild began in earnest.
What is interesting today is management is following, to me at least, a vision similar to those early Pat Gillick built Jays teams I examined in detail (see link to Part 4 below). Build from within. Create a great farm system. Create a winning and exciting culture in the minors. Be aggressive in international markets. Build around young controllable talent. After the young core gains experience, sprinkle in a few veterans. This is not a novel idea – Pat Gillick perfected it.
With nine players recently voted into the top 150 prospects by writers from Baseball America and five named to the Top 100 on www.prospectslive.com, it looks like Shapiro and Atkins are on the right track. Recent farm system graduates Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Reese McGuire are proving that scouting, drafting, development, trading for controllable talent, and most importantly , prospect retention, is starting to pay off. (Guerrero Jr. and Jansen were of course the product of previous management, but prospect retention is a somewhat novel concept compared to the AA years).
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There have been some very interesting international signings headlined by Orelvis Martinez, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno, to name a few. Trade targets are controllable talent, not aging high-priced veterans. Management takes flyers when shipping out vets on former first round picks in trades (Billy McKinney and Resse McGuire for example), to varying degrees of success.
With the Wild Card available to these young Blue Jays, making the playoffs will be easier than it was for those teams of the 80’s. Gaining the playoff experience to push them over the edge may actually come from within. Additional high-priced veterans to get them over the top might not be required like they were in ’92 and ’93, but if they are, the Jays should have the funds to go after them, and players will be eager to come.
Management has made a plunge into the free agent market with their recent signings. We have Hyun-Jin Ryu for four years, and other savvy veterans have been added to the mix. They will prove as a stopgap for the young guys to allow them to grow until they gain the experience they need and become leaders in their own right. Some will work out. Some won’t. The Jays may surprise people, as early as this year. That’s unlikely, but don’t tell the players that. They are as confident as any group in the league.
We can look back on those ’83 Blue Jays. We can look back to how Pat Gillick built one of the most enviable farm systems in the league, constantly ranking in or near the top five, and often in the top three. We can look back and extrapolate what would happen today if Jays returned to that model, and utilized their financial power to capitalize when the young players are ready.
With the improving farm system, the exciting talent we have coming through the system, the young, controllable players we have on the roster, it is reasonable to suggest that we are about to enter another Golden age of baseball for the Jays. There have been mistakes along the way, no doubt. In retrospect, the rebuild should have begun after 2016. One could successfully argue management missed the best opportunity available to maximize the return on Josh Donaldson. There will be more mistakes I’m sure. But the good certainly outweighs the bad, and the Jays commitment to the young core is refreshing, and exciting. There are still holes and they need to be filled – but there are less and less holes each year.
In this five-part series I tried to present a purely objective look at those 83-93 teams and compare it to the trajectory of this young Blue Jays team we are witnessing today. There are similarities for sure to those early Jays years. In saying all of that, here’s hoping management doesn’t screw things up by moving to quick and trading too much from the farm, too soon. Sustained success is what we all want. Keep the farm strong. Learn from those great Jays teams that Gillick built. We don’t need another boom and bust cycle. We need waves of talent. The first wave of talent arrived last year. Nate Pearson is up next. Sit back and enjoy the waves to come. There are more waves where Nate came from. Lots more.
Thanks for reading. Go Jays Go!