Here's something fans and writers alike seem to dig: when previously forgettable teams have a ridiculously productive offseason. One year they're starting several different Alex Gonzalezes, shuffling to a fourth-place finish, and the next they're wheeling and dealing, in on almost every free agent, trading prospects and going for it.
Man, how we love going for it. Before the 2012 season, the Marlins were a hot pick in the NL East. Before the 2013 season, the Blue Jays were a hot pick for the World Series. Those star-crossed franchises made us all rethink the power of the busy offseason, but it was fun while it lasted. Just last season, there was so much danged excitement about the Blue Jays. Look at this Opening Night swagger:
Back then there was all sorts of Blue Jays. So much Blue Jays. Yet, nothing changed. The franchise is stuck in a massive gravitational pull that sucks every roster into a void between 74 and 84 wins, regardless of hope and swagger. Roy Halladay and Roger Clemens winning Cy Youngs, Jose Bautista hitting 50 dingers, a new, exciting roster with R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes … all sucked right into the maw of the 80ish-win void.
It's time, over a year later, to look at the fork in the road for the Blue Jays. What did they do, what could they have done differently, and what would their franchise look like if they never went for it? The goal isn't to irritate Blue Jays fans, but to engage in a thought exercise. And to find another excuse for the Geddy/Ace GIF. Mission half-accomplished.
What they gave up
Or, to dumb it down: One of the very best pitching prospects in baseball, a highly regarded catching prospect still trying to stick in a major league lineup, a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, a low-cost starting pitcher, a questionable big-league shortstop, several prospects of varying promise, and Jeff Mathis.
What they got
They also signed Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis before the 2013 season, and they rolled out of the hammock long enough to sign Dioner Navarro before this season.
Total payroll committed, after the cash-back rebate from Jeffrey Loria
The most poignant description of how that's worked out for them
Jose Reyes's 2014 season line:
That's the stuff you know, more or less. The Jays decided to go for it, and the going for it didn't work. Then they lost the go in the go-for-it. Now they're dormant, like an underground cicada, waiting for …something. And you get the feeling that the Blue Jays want some of those players back. Like that Syndergaard kid. He's good, right? Seems like he's good. If there are some Blue Jays fans who can email me their thoughts on Noah Syndergaard to help with this article…
But more than wallowing in the past, I want to rewrite history. Is this the worst spot the Blue Jays can be in? Did they do irreparable damage to their abilities to contend in the present and future?
Best-case alternate reality
Noah Syndergaard is still in the organization, and he comes up to become the prophesied ace. Travis d'Arnaud develops into a power-hitting big-league catcher. Henderson Alvarez continues to exhibit one of the most striking stuff-to-strikeout gaps in the majors, but holds down a rotation spot for very little money. Yunel Escobar continues to produce in the field and occasionally at the plate. The money spent on Reyes, Johnson, Dickey, and Buehrle is applied instead to free agents who make an immediate impact, like Zack Greinke.
The Blue Jays contend. And they have Syndergaard for the next six or seven years.
Noah Syndergaard (Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports)
Worst-case alternate reality
The Blue Jays take the savings from a Marlins trade they didn't make and sign Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton.
Really, it was easy to waste money on the free-agent market last offseason. The Red Sox pulled a nifty sleight-of-hand by having almost all of their free agents work out. The rest of the league was stuck with Uptons and Bourns and Youkili all disappointing to various degrees. The alternative to a big-trade splash was a Josh Hamilton splash.
Had that happened, the Blue Jays would have a payroll albatross, less talent on the current roster, and there's still a chance that they would have traded Syndergaard and d'Arnaud. For... James Shields? Dunno. But the point is that in the worst-case alternate reality, the Blue Jays can still screw up even more. There were worse ways to spend the money, and worse players to acquire in a win-now deal.
Hold on, there.
More from our team sites
More from our team sites
It's still too early to grade the Blue Jays' decision to go for it. Mark Buehrle is off to a fantastic start. R.A. Dickey isn't, but there still a strong chance for him to contribute, with the velocity of his angry knuckler coming back in the second half last year. While it's easy to mourn Jose Reyes's hamstrings of polenta, he's still just 30. He could have another couple of good seasons. Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio are gone, as are the prospects, but if the Jays get productive seasons from the three players remaining on the roster this year -- as well as the minor free agents signed to buttress their decision to play for the present instead of the future -- the Syndergaard sting won't be as painful.
The Marlins and Mets deals don't look good right now, but before we all write the postmortem about how they ruined the franchise, let's remember that it wasn't a deal made for 2013 and 2013 alone. It was supposed to be a deal to help the Jays contend for a couple of years. This is still one of those years.
It still might work. A year later, everything looks like ash and feathers, but it still might work. The disappointment from last year, combined with the inactivity of the offseason, makes it seem like the Blue Jays are hopelessly adrift. Give it one more year, though, before burying them in a shoebox in your backyard. Wait for Syndergaard's first major league pitch before assuming he was more likely to be a part of the next good Blue Jays team than Dickey is right now.
It doesn't look good. Some would say it looks awful, stupid, short-sighted, completely debilitating, devastating, impulsive, unrealistic, one of the... you get the point. And by next year, they might be right. But here's to the Blue Jays getting one more chance with the veterans. It just might be crazy enough to work, after being crazy enough to fail completely.