This is not how it was supposed to be. Blue Jays fans came into 2013 riding a wave of optimism, born of the two seemingly terrific trades, and an opportunistic signing of Melky Cabrera, that would allow them to finally make the run at the AL East that Alex Anthoupolous has set them up for. Now, though -- eight games under .500, 11 games behind the Red Sox, in last place in the AL East -- the Jays only rival for most disappointing team in baseball are the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A friend asked me yesterday how I would "fix" the Blue Jays. At this point, I question what that even means.
With 2013 circling the drain, my natural instinct is to say "build for the future," but the Jays really aren't in a position to do that at the trade deadline. Nearly everyone they acquired is signed to multiple expensive years that the Jays would probably have to eat to get rid of. Reyes is signed through 2017, and both Buehrle and Dickey have at least two more years. Plus, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in through 2015 as well. Those players, in particular Reyes and Dickey, are good candidates to bounce back anyway, and selling low would leave a lot of value on the table for AA to walk away from, even if they were willing to spend the money to send them away.
It's not like they have major-league ready prospects available to take their place, either. Anthoupolous dealt everyone in the upper minors worth a damn (no, I'm not counting Marcus Stroman at this point) to acquire Dickey and the Marlins haul to make this run, leaving behind players in the low minors who are at least a couple more years away from helping.
The other "fix" the Jays could pursue would be to slap some duct tape on this roster and hope that they plug enough holes to make a run. Could the Jays trade those guys, guys like Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna? Sure, but Cool Standings and Baseball Prospectus agree, they have about one shot in 50 of making the postseason. This is the only man who thinks those are some good odds.
So, if they can't go forward, and they can't go back, what can the Jays do to "fix" this franchise? As luck would have it, I have a three step plan.
Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski
STEP 1: Figure out what's wrong with Brett Lawrie.
I mean this mechanically as a hitter, but you could also take this as a call to fix his attitude or to lace his bones with adamantium to try to keep him on the field. Lawrie has been on the DL four times now in three seasons and has regressed in every single possible way offensively. Before hurting his ankle at the end of May, Lawrie's walks were down, his strikeouts up, and he wasn't running the bases well. He is mired at .209/.268/.374, with an OPS+ (73) less than half what it was when he was taking the league by storm in 2011. As the only young hitter on the roster (unless we're going to count the 26-year-old Colby Rasmus), Lawrie is one of the only pieces of the Jays lineup with the potential to improve next year. Just 23, he still has time before he joins the list of rookie sensations who flamed out, guys like Joe Charboneau and Pat Listach, but the physical toll of his injuries and his dwindling effectiveness should be huge red flags going forward.
STEP 2: Be patient.
This is, by far, the biggest thing. Ultimately, the Jays have no other alternative than to wait 2013 out. Josh Johnson will come off the books this year, but given he's pitched just 31 innings so far, and has a 5.40 ERA, maybe that's not a bad thing. Kyle Drabek is going to be back to throwing batting practice in two weeks, and Drew Hutchison is about a week behind him. By spring training, they'll presumably be able to provide more value than the Jays are going to be able to get out of either the 4th or the 5th slot in their rotation this year.
The best course is probably to bring back largely the same core next year and assume the club is going to have better health and the pitching will regress in a positive way. After all, this is a club that was positioned to reload or rebuild in 2015 or 2016 anyway, when so much money will be freed up. While doing nothing seems relatively easy, it's going to be very hard to hold steady in the face of mounting losses, and as the pressure to do something, anything, to avoid giving the impression that the Jays don't care, mounts.
STEP 3: Drink more.
This one is not so much for the Jays, as it is for the fans. As an avid and aggrieved Minnesota Twins fans, let me assure you that it will pass the time quicker as you wait for the calendar to turn. While I'm reasonably assured by people in the know that Canadians tend to enjoy their spirituous beverages to an ample degree, and that, perhaps encouraging them to drink more heavily might be considered irresponsible, I have faith in you, Canada. If it can't be fixed, at least you can drink away your disappointment.
...On second thought, maybe this is a dangerous habit to get into, considering that the AL East isn't going to get any easier and there's no guarantee of a full return to expected form this year or next. So... two-step plan? Patience is a virtue? Well, you know your tolerance for both alcohol and bad baseball -- combine them as necessary.