There are an infinite number of scenarios with the Blue Jays and their wild trade deadline, but these are the two that keep playing in my head:
In which a breathless intern runs over to Alex Anthopoulos and screams, "Sir! Troy Tulowitzki has gone full Nomar, and there's no money left for free agents! All of the prospects we traded away for David Price are All-Stars! The fans are revolting! What should the Blue Jays do?"
In this scenario, Anthopoulos puts his sunglasses on, grabs a drink with an umbrella in it, and calmly replies, "I don't know. Maybe you should ask someone who wasn't fired by the Blue Jays two years ago."
In which the Blue Jays make the postseason for the first time in 22 seasons. In this scenario, Anthopoulos heads down to a wild clubhouse celebration, puts his sunglasses on, grabs a drink with an umbrella in it, and whispers to no one in particular, "I'm Alex Expletive Anthopoulos. Yes, I am." Then he does one of those WWII-is-over Times Square kisses on the closest person to him. Be careful.
There is a way to frame the Blue Jays' amazing, thrilling, maniacal, acquisition frenzy in terms of the team. Yes, the Blue Jays have been stuck in mediocrity for far too long. Yes, the fans deserve a winner. Two decades without a postseason berth, plus an AL East that isn't especially strong, is a combination that makes the go-for-broke strategy seem reasonable.
That's almost an afterthought, though. This trade deadline is all about Anthopoulos staring into the abyss and throwing things into it, hoping something makes the abyss go away. He would be around only for the best-case scenarios. His personal worst-case scenarios for playing it safe and going bananas are exactly the same. His predecessor, J.P. Ricciardi was fired after winning 86 games or more in only three seasons out of eight. Anthopoulos has never won 86 games or more in five seasons, and he's on pace not to do it in the sixth.
Can the trades work? Oh, heck yes, they can. The Blue Jays just acquired Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, two All-Stars with a chance at the Hall of Fame with luck and good health. The team is so much better than it was to start the season, and baseball's best offense now has a true ace to support. I wouldn't want to face them in the postseason.
That's just it, though. This all makes the Blue Jays a fearsome team in the postseason, but the odds are still against them getting there. At the start of Thursday, they're .500. They're seven games behind the Yankees in the AL East, and they're chasing two teams in the race for the second wild card. The team that's a half-game back from them decided to sell, and the team that's 1½ games back from them just traded Price to them. The Blue Jays are as close to the Texas Rangers as they are to the wild card.
This isn't a go-for-it push that a normal GM in a normal situation would make. Dave Dombrowski knows his gig is safe, and even though the Tigers have horrific concerns about their short-term future, they backed off and planned for the future. They could have a rotation next year that's 40 percent ex-Blue Jay, and the savings could allow them to sign a premium free agent. Like, oh, David Price.
Anthopoulos is spending frantically on a credit card, and he knows that the only way it'll be his responsibility in the future is if he's rich. There's no downside to that ... for him, personally. If I'm a Blue Jays fan, the excitement of a vastly improved team is tempered by a whole lot of collar-tugging and hoping for the best. The Blue Jays look like the best team in the AL on paper, depending on how you feel about the Royals, but they're still in a bit of a pickle with just two months to play.
Put it like this: The Nationals were clear favorites in the NL East, the easiest picks in baseball. They had talent up and down the roster, from the rotation to the lineup. If we had known their young star was going to have an even better season than expected, they would have been even easier picks. Then baseball happened, and the Nationals are just two games ahead in the NL East after four months. The Blue Jays don't have four months.
The Dodgers were the clear favorites in the NL West, the second-easiest picks in baseball. Four months in, they're just a half-game up. The Blue Jays can't afford to take their time and play the back-and-forth game. They're behind two teams and in the middle of a six- or seven-team scrum.
Normally, I'm on Team All-In. Fans tend to dream a little too much about what their prospects will do in the future they've invented in their mind, and less about what their team is doing right there in front of their face. Heck, I argued that the Tigers should buy just last week. Going for it is the best. For every Mark Teixeira trade, there are a dozen satisfied customers at the deadline. The time is now! Go, go, go!
Except Team All-In applies to teams in two situations:
- Teams with a closing window
- Teams that already have a really good shot at the postseason.
The Blue Jays don't fit either of those. They have a few over-30 players, and the window isn't exactly nailed open, but this isn't a team like the Tigers or the Phillies of yore. A modest deadline and a creative offseason could have made them favorites for next year, too.
And they're not leading a race and trying to hang on, like the Twins. They're not preparing for a postseason run like the Royals. They had a 33-percent chance before the trade according to FanGraphs. Baseball Prospectus had them at 37 percent, with both of them giving the Blue Jays about a 25-percent chance of making it to the ALDS. That's a real chance and nothing to sneeze at. With the acquisitions, you can bump those odds up.
It's still not the kind of chance that a team jumps at with a new general manager. It's not the kind of chance that a team jumps at with an established GM. It's a fascinating leap of faith that will look brilliant if it succeeds, awful if it fails, and the guy in charge of the decisions won't be around to pick up the pieces.
Really, the most likely scenario is that the prospects don't do much and the Blue Jays don't make the postseason. Those are the safe odds, at least, and it's worth keeping in mind. But the Blue Jays are going for a reverse-Royals, here, going berserk at the deadline, and hoping that a Royals-like second half will follow, rather than using the second-half blitz to justify going berserk the following year. If it works, it's brilliant.
If it doesn't? Some helpful pieces might be helping another team win and spend at the same time, while Toronto sinks back into the familiar gravity of 78 to 88 wins, always and forever. I know I'd be jazzed to watch the next two months if I were a Blue Jays fan. I also know I'd be terrified that the next three years might mean a lot more to me than the person making all of these trades.
SB Nation presents: Explaining the Mets' teary trade collapse