Toronto Blue Jays: Time to Go “All-In” For World Series Run
Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat: Fortune favours the bold! A quarter of the way through an already tumultuous season for the Toronto Blue Jays (12 different starting pitchers! Over 90 MLB roster transactions! 23 injured list (IL) placements!) has the team contending for the AL East pennant. A sweep of the current three game home-stand against Boston would take them to first place in the division. It’s coming near time when this team will need to go “all-in” for a push to their third World Series title in franchise history, and first in 28 years.
In poker, players go “all-in” by placing all their chips on the table. It shows confidence that they’ve got the best hand, and suggests they’re pretty sure their opponent is one or more cards short of a winning hand. The rule can be applied in-season in baseball by making moves to better a team via trades, promoting major league ready prospects, and effectively blocking your opponents from acquiring better talent than you.
By the July trade deadline (TDL), teams also better understand their flaws and weaknesses, which can be addressed via the above methods. It’s the time when front offices decide to be ‘buyers’ or ‘sellers’, and if they feel the competitive window is open, it’s the time to go “all-in” for a World Series run.
Exactly a quarter of the way through the season, the Jays sit at 23-17 and are in sole possession of 2nd place in the AL East, a mere half a game behind the Red Sox. They are still a few months away from making a final decision on whether to go “all-in” with the current team. However, the prognosis is good, with the odds currently 58% in favour of them making the playoffs, as per FanGraphs. Sports Illustrated’s latest MLB power rankings has the Jays at #8; ESPN puts them at #13.
More from Jays Journal
- Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays advance to the Championship Series
- Blue Jays: Comparisons for Alek Manoah’s Second Season
- Blue Jays: Adam Cimber, the unlikely decision King
- Toronto Blue Jays: Has the Shift Killed Kevin Gausman’s 2022 Cy Young Hopes?
- Blue Jays: What Yusei Kikuchi’s latest stumble should mean
Of course, once a team makes the playoffs anything can happen. But you can shorten or improve your odds of success by supplementing a competitive team with elite talent and clubhouse leadership, including veterans who’ve already made their MLB riches and just want to win. There also seems to be more than a decent correlation between an MVP-calibre talent in the every day lineup and a World Series berth.
Team president Mark Shapiro spoke at length about this postseason dynamic back in an October 18, 2019 ‘At The Letters’ podcast here with Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling, the day after the Washington Nationals had won the World Series. To paraphrase the interview, he noted the following:
A) Just Get In: Find a way to get in, anything can happen
"Just get in, anything can happen. There is a randomness to the postseason; there is not a randomness to the teams that get in. Over 162, if you get in, you deserve to be there: you prevailed over the rigours of a ridiculous schedule unlike any in all of professional sport. But any way you get in, even if you are an imperfect team, if you’ve got two really good starters anything can happen if you’re hot at the right time."
B) You can’t do it all young, all prime, all old; you need to have a balance
"When you’re ready to win, you need representation from all of the different segments of the player population: hyper-talented, young players that give you upside and tons of energy (like Victor Robles and Juan Soto), and frankly, can play and stay healthy; you need players right in the middle of their prime because they’re the most reliable performance and you can bank on what they’re capable of (like Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner); then you need veteran players that want to win and can handle the pressure better, and they’re the guys that make younger players better (like Max Scherzer and Howie Kendrick), but more than anything at that point in their career, winning is what matters most to them; they have a burning desire to win."
So using that Mark Shapiro roadmap of just getting in to the playoffs, having two really good starting pitchers, and finding that right balance of young, prime and veteran players, what could an “all-in” move by the front office to take a shot at the World Series look like this season for the Blue Jays?
The competitive window is clearly open after a wildcard playoff berth in 2020. Ownership has approved spending of ~US$290 million in new free agent contracts over the past two offseasons on ace Hyun Jin Ryu, CF George Springer, 2B/SS Marcus Semien, starter Robbie Ray, since released pitchers Tanner Roark and Shun Yamaguchi, and injured closer Kirby Yates.
There is a hyper-talented, young core in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Players like Ryu, Springer, Hernandez, Semien, Randal Grichuk, Ray and Steven Matz are all in the prime of their careers and will be counted on as reliable members of the core.
But Ryu is the oldest player on the active roster, having just turned 34 years of age. Scherzer was 35 on that 2019 Nationals World Series team; Ryan Zimmerman was 35, Howie Kendrick was 36, as was Kurt Suzuki. There really isn’t a solid balance of veteran players who want to win, can handle the pressure better, and who can help make the younger players better through their veteran leadership in the clubhouse by imparting that knowledge and burning desire to win.
Two Really Good Starters?
As per Shapiro, “if you’ve got two really good starters anything can happen if you’re hot at the right time.” Clearly the Jays have a perennial Cy Young candidate in ace Hyu Jin Ryu. Robbie Ray ands Steven Matz have both proven to be reliable starters so far in 2021, pitching well above career norms with consistent starts. But starting pitching remains a question mark in terms of the “two top of the rotation pitchers to go deep in the playoffs” model.
Max Scherzer is on an expiring contract and is the definition of recent World Series success as an ace. He’ll be 37 in July and should be available as a trade deadline rental given the Nationals have fallen 5.0 games back already in the wild card race, despite his 3-2 record and 2.10 ERA in eight starts and 51.1 innings with 68 strikeouts.
Scherzer could impart the wisdom gained from his three Cy Young awards and seven All-Star seasons upon younger Jays pitchers. Wouldn’t it be great to have some of his experience rub off on young prospects like Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson, assuming they are promoted at some point? (major league rosters expand to 28 players from August 31st)
Hyper-Talented Young Players
22-year-old Guerrero and 23-year-old Bichette fill this box on Shapiro’s roadmap. Vlad Jr., is fashioning an MVP worthy season, and currently sits tied with Xander Bogaerts for third amongst position players in the fWAR rankings at 2.3, while slashing .329/.445/.615/1.060 with 30 RBI. His 11th home run of the season travelled 465-feet, and literally broke the Statcast machine!
Vladdy’s swinging free and easy and making hard contact. As he
"I never try to hit homers. But I just try to put good contact on the ball and if it goes out, it goes out. So far it’s been good. Hopefully it continues."
Unsurprisingly, there is a decent correlation between having an every day MVP position player on the roster and World Series championships. Six regular season MVPs have played in the eleven World Series held since 2010:
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
What would “all-in” look like?
To return to Shapiro’s road map for when a team is ready to win, that balance of representation between young, prime and veteran players is instructive on what the Jays’ front office might consider to go “all-in” on a World Series run. Certainly calling up young gun starter Alek Manoah and starting his MLB service time clock this season would add to that group of hyper-talented young players. As GM Ross Atkins noted,
"The objective and subjective views of how effective he will be at the major league level are all really encouraging. He absolutely maximized his off-season and maximized spring training – and he’s getting absolutely every ounce out of [triple-A] right now."
The return of players in their prime, like 2017 World Series MVP George Springer, and relievers Rafael Dolis, David Phelps, Ryan Borucki and Julian Merryweather from the IL will certainly help with that segment of of the Jays player population.
But the confidence these moves imply – with the Blue Jays in flight – suggests management still needs to add a few elite veterans to improve that balance of talent. This means adding some veteran players on expiring contracts from teams well out of the playoff picture by the July 30th trade deadline, like ace Max Scherzer or 2016 NLCS MVP Jon Lester from the Washington Nationals, DH Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins, catchers Kurt Suzuki from the LA Angels or Stephan Vogt from Arizona, closer Ian Kennedy from Texas, and 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant from the Cubs to lock down the hot corner at 3B.
Adding a few veterans would go a long way to achieving that “balance” that Mark Shapiro referred to. It also sends a message to the incumbent players that management has confidence in the team’s chances to play meaningful baseball in October, and go deep in the playoffs.
Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat: Fortune favours the bold! Or more succinctly in the words of the Jays social media team, “Bird up!”