Coming out of the All-Star Game, the news from the Toronto perspective is that second baseman Santiago Espinal has added assistant GM to his portfolio.
The breakout star of the Jays season (no, the other one), Espinal apparently sidled up to everyone’s baseball crush, Juan Soto, and come-hithered him.
“Come on over with us,” Espinal said, according to the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley. “You’d look better in blue.”
It’s not tampering if it’s true. Soto currently wears red. No one looks good in red.
Soto may be the best young player in baseball. According to reports, he just turned down a US$440-million extension with his current team, the Washington Nationals. In a fit of either pique or genius, the Nationals have decided to consider trades for him.
A couple of things Espinal may not have thought about – in order to deal for Soto, the Jays would have to give up a hockey team’s worth of good players. Espinal could very well be among them.
Then there’s the money. If you give the new guy $500-million, a couple of the current guys are going to want the same amount.
That way the Toronto Blue Jays can have a Barcelona payroll with a Brampton fanbase. It’s a nice idea, but Rogers Communications Inc. isn’t in this for pride of ownership.
What this delightful exchange reminds us is that the Jays’ competitive headaches extend beyond these next few months. If this club wants to be what management claims – a competitor for years to come – that’s going to require more than what it’s got right now. A lot more, probably.
Right now, the Jays are a relative disappointment. Aside from the White Sox, no team in baseball has had a greater spread between preseason hype and regular-season reality.
But things are still bumping along. The firing of Charlie Montoyo had the expected short-term bump against the flat-earthers of the Kansas City Royals. Taking three out of four from the Royals is a bit like being named heavyweight champion of senior kindergarten, but it has quieted local hysterics.
The Jays restart the season Friday night in Boston. If they can manage to come out of that weekend series intact, that gives them some narrative runway. As long as they are treading water in the wild-card race, people will believe a postseason blossoming is possible.
That’s the near term. But as Jays management was keen to remind us over and over again when this team was losing on the regular, no individual year is the goal. The goal is the next five or 10 years.
How’s the medium-to-long-term outlook shaping up? That depends on where you’re looking.
At the moment, there are two tiers of competition in the majors – the American League East and everywhere else.
When people talk about the AL East, they focus on the Yankees. They’d be better served looking in the other direction, at the Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore is the worst team in the AL East and a pretty good team everywhere else. Were they not in the AL East, regularly playing teams from the AL East, they would be even better than that.
Right now, the Orioles are where the Jays were a couple of years ago – they’re coming fast.
Baltimore has the top-rated farm system in baseball. When all those tickets to Maryland start getting punched, the Orioles will be a juggernaut. They could be to the 2020s what Houston was to the 2010s.
The Yankees aren’t getting worse because New York won’t let them. Ditto the Red Sox. And the Rays just keep on ticking. The second-best farm system in baseball, according to just about everyone? Tampa Bay.
Where does this leave the Jays? In tough. If Toronto was in the AL Central, even considering the way things have gone so far, it could take September off. But given where the Jays are, there is an improbable, but still possible, scenario where they could finish fifth out of five.
If you care about watching baseball as opposed to simply winning at baseball, this is a good problem to have. What’s the point of watching the Astros right now? They are lapping the field in the AL West. A reasonable Houstonian might decide to take a baseball breather now and start paying attention again closer to October.
You can’t do that with the Jays. They are winning and losing this season series by series. A couple of bad weeks might be the difference. They might already have been the difference. We’ll see in two-and-a-half months.
There’s a school of thought that Toronto was precipitous in firing Montoyo. It was still in a wild-card spot at the time. But if you believe this year is a must-win situation, it makes sense not to wait for things to go from relatively bad to really bad before doing anything.
This is what the AL East does to you – it makes you cruel.
Former Jays president Paul Beeston used to love being asked if he wished he could get his team out of their current division, so people asked it of him all the time. He’d feign amazement that such a silly question could be spoken aloud. He’d go on about the excitement (ie. the sellouts) every time New York and Boston was in town.
Beeston understood that there is no shame in losing to the two most obsessed-over teams in the game, and a good deal of glory in beating them. That’s a win-win from a business perspective.
From a baseball perspective? Not so simple.
After a few years of dithering, Toronto has reinserted itself in the AL East mix. Unfortunately, it is doing it at the same time that everyone else in the division is also getting their ducks in a row. In a year or two, the best division in baseball may be the best division there ever was.
That’s great if you like watching a lot of high-calibre baseball. It may not be so great if you consider any season that ends without a trophy a failure.