Time To Spin The Deal Of Fortune For Blue Jays
This time last year, Rogers had a big problem. In the first year of its massive new NHL deal not one Canadian team made the playoffs. Ofer seven. Ratings tanked, fans tuned out, and sponsors had to be massaged. Lots of people lost their jobs.
It was the worst start for the communications giant taht had wagered the family jewels upon the NHL reaping a bounty from the tech revolution.
Thankfully Rogers was partially bailed out by the Toronto Blue Jays, their baseball property. While the team wasn’t able to replicate their magic 2015 come-from-behind season, the team still managed to make it back to the postseason. Fans again tuned in by the millions night after night.
This spring, sanity returned on the NHL scene. Five Canadian teams made the postseason. The plucky Ottawa Senators took future Stanley Cup winners Pittsburgh to seven games in the Eastern Conference Final. Ratings in Canada for the NHL playoffs resumed their typical strength and, augmented by new tech platforms, gave a promise of what the contract might deliver.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, don’t seem likely to repeat the postseason berths of 2015/ 2016. They sit just below the .500 mark, a mediocre perch they’ve occupied throughout much of the first half of 2017. The loss of slugger Edwin Encarnacion, a deluge of injuries to stars and the team’s perpetual inability to score runs without a home run have left the team three games under .500 after their win in KC on Sunday.
Then this weekend came the news that the brilliant young closer, Roberto Osuna, was dealing with emotional problems, causing him to miss game action. Though he pitched Sunday there is no assurance of his return to full health. His loss for any sustained time would be crippling.
At 36-39 the team is not eliminated from postseason consideration in a season that has 87 games still to play. But the discussion is now underway: Sell or stay the course with this lineup? The team has some expensive contracts, and missing postseason revenues is not the way to pay them.
The Blue Jays are an unlikely blend for a team that wants to contend for years, both too old and too young in their key parts. There are young franchise pitchers in Osuna, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman whom anyone would be happy to build around. But that’s about all for youth in the everyday lineup. The Jays’ farm system is likewise lean on dynamic prospects.
Because management decided to go all-in for 2015, the Jays’ payroll is now burdened by expensive veteran players who’ve started to break down. After jettisoning Encarnacion during the winter, the Jays still feature 30-plus players such as José Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales, Josh Donaldson, Steve Pearce, Justin Smoak, Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ and 40-year-old Jason Grilli.
All but Morales and Smoak have missed time this season with injuries.
Toronto has to make contract decisions on Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, Estrada, Stroman, Sanchez and Liriano by the end of the season. Tulowitzki, Martin, Smoak and Morales are under existing contracts. Bautista and the Jays have a mutual option on next year’s deal. There isn’t much wiggle room for change unless one or more of the big contracts/ old guys are moved soon.
So if the Jays are moving on into an uncertain future with no postseason spots, who goes? And does Toronto wait until just before the July 31 trade deadline to make that determination?
The biggest consideration could be, do the Jays need to more proactive, because other teams look like they may flood the market by tossing in the towel early. The Detroit Tigers, for instance, have decided that they will make just about anyone available on their roster as they languish in last place in the Central, eight games under .500. That could mean J.D. Martinez. Ian Kinsler, Justin Wilson, Anibal Sanchez, Victor Martinez and (who knows) Justin Verlander in the mix.
The Jays don’t want to get to the deadline and find that the market for veteran players has already been addressed by the Tigers, Mets, Cardinals and (among others) Giants dumping their salary casualties into a saturated market. Donaldson is the most expensive asset the Jays must deal with, and he would bring a tidy haul of players were he dealt. Plus, he’d free up money to sign the few young players the Jays don't want to lose.
For all their misery so far, Toronto still has an outside shot at a wild card. Maybe they can pluck a few dead-end contracts (Kinsler to play second?) for a closing spurt. But a playoff spot would do nothing to address the systemic problems this team faces in the next few years. Only adding younger assets will do that now.
It says here, better to admit reality and suffer for a few months than deny the failure to produce enough every-day players and go into another prolonged drought.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)