Boy, this is tough.
The Toronto Blue Jays are in one of those situations that, I guess, you could consider them lucky to live with. They have a wealth of star power, but it’s been dwindled and drowned in cash. The Jays effectively went all-in on a package of players that were a disaster in their one year as the Miami Marlins, and it took about 20 games in Canada for everyone north of the 49th to realize, “Oh crap. This wasn’t a great idea.”
But now Toronto faces the kind of mental tug-o-war that so many teams of a higher profile and greater importance (New York, Boston, Anaheim, L.A., Philly, etc.) throw themselves into every year – do you double down and flesh out more cash, or do you blow up the experiment, grabbing a few select personal items – R.A. Dickey or Jose Reyes maybe? – before the earthquake comes to your town’s fault line and guts your house’s foundation?
The Boston Red Sox had two years of this high-paying, “Ray Liotta in the second half of Goodfellas“-type joyride. Like they were always on that bus in SPEED (sorry for two cinematic references in one paragraph), unable to slow down but unable to avoid disaster.
They bet the house on a slew of overpaid drunks and crashed and burned out of the playoffs in 2011, and out of relevance in 2012. They decided to scrap the system but reward those who showed some interest – they hung onto vets like David Ortiz, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester, while also monitoring the evolution of Jacoby Ellsbury. They went forward with a rotation of misfits and they banished the likes of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett.
Then, the Sox went out and hired the right manager, John Farrell. They hired him right away from Toronto, where he had effectively given up halfway through his final season in Canada.
It resulted in another Beantown World Series parade – the city’s third in nine years.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers – who not only took that trio of once-prized free agents off Boston’s shoulders but also sucked up Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins – copied and pasted Boston’s failed experiment, complete with a brand new $2 billion (market) value and the best pitcher in the game in Clayton Kershaw, and turned it into a near success.
After initial stumbles and even with serious injuries, the Dodgers rallied to end the 2013 regular season as the most on-fire team in Major League Baseball.
They went to the NLCS and no farther… but still, they didn’t fail. They were all capitalist all the way, and it almost worked. And they can’t abandon it now. They’re in deep and they’ve become accustom to a certain lifestyle.
So now Toronto has a couple options of completely different ideologies and almost identical results to follow.
They effectively gambled and lost in 2013… so do they double down for the sequel or do they abandon ship and make a nation out of the survivors and the wreckage?
It gets tougher when you actually consider the real factors that resulted in Toronto’s crumbled season – Jose Bautista was hurt for what felt like the entire year and won’t get much more permanently healthier, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia really just aren’t very good, and the Jays’ pitching was less than advertised.
This is less the result of Alex Anthopoulos’s decision making and more the result of “Sh*t happens”.
The team struggled through poorly timed injuries and a roster that never seemed to come together. They looked like separate casts in an ensemble comedy, only ever meeting for split moments at the airport or in a coffee shop.
Mark Buehrle was Patrick Dempsey from Valentine’s Day, buying flowers for both his wife and his girlfriend while Adam Lind (Ashton Kutcher from Valentine’s Day, duh!) was focusing on actually running his store.
Lawrie and Arencibia were the teenage lovebirds, too delusional and optimistic to know that high school’s gonna end in, like, four months, so you better start getting serious about your future.
R.A. Dickey was the crusty old university professor surrounded by kids on social media/jaded TV anchor in need of an exciting story to re-start his career – the guy who just couldn’t figure it out in time but was never sure exactly why or never understood what he should be doing different.
John Gibbons was… I dunno, he’s freaking John Gibbons. He’s not a minus or anything, but it’s hard to get excited about the guy. (Oh, he’s Greg Kinnear.)
2013 was a failure. A failure of hope and a failure of innocence – a big league team that was, for the first time in two decades, an actual card-carrying member of the BIG leagues.
But of course, Hollywood always goes for a sequel, no matter how critically panned the first one was. That’s because money is money and, if your pockets are big enough, integrity or common sense don’t come to play.
The Jays, like anyone, would be better with fewer shiny toys and a little bit of rust and good ol’ (North) American chrome. But that won’t happen, and there are plenty of new gadgets they could fill up on this winter.
The obvious one is second baseman Robinson Cano, who will demand over $30 million a year to most likely play until the earth is done with him. That may sound like too much money, but that’s how baseball is and very rarely does any team actually cash in on the right matinee idol – it’s worked for Detroit with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera but it’s been disastrous (so far) for Anaheim with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, and the Angels now have to figure out a way to keep their actual franchise player – Mike Trout – around after he turns old enough to rent a car at the normal insurance rate.
Then there’s Ellsbury, Cincy’s Shin-Soo Choo, New York’s Curtis Granderson, St. Louis’s Carlos Beltran, Boston’s Mike Napoli, and Atlanta’s Brian McCann. On the mound, the unemployment line welcomes Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza (the most Blue Jays-y of all possible Blue Jays), and Ervin Santana.
Past Cano, the ticket-selling power drops off considerably, but the Blue Jays already have enough sizzle. They need some steak. Ellsbury, Choo, or Beltran would all boost a lineup that – really – is only one or two cogs away from a working clock, but isn’t that kind of the same with every team? (And can Carlos Beltran matter to a team that doesn’t enter the year already pencilled-in for the World Series? Will any other team but St. Louis matter to him?)
But really, it comes down to the boss.
When you look at what Farrell did for Boston, what Terry Francona did for Cleveland, and Clint Hurdle did for Pittsburgh, you start to realize that managing in baseball is much more than just coaching.
They manage. They run. They organize, strategize, co-ordinate and deliver.
I’m not saying Gibbons isn’t the right guy. I’m just saying, at this point, he better be.
Otherwise, none of this winter matters anyway.