How well are the Toronto Blue Jays doing these days? So well that Marcus Stroman wants to come back.
This is the same Stroman who had a clubhouse meltdown when he was told the team had traded him two years ago. The same Stroman who told the Toronto Sun that the Jays lied about offering him a new deal. The Stroman who said, “I’m just glad I’m not part of it any more.”
Well, great news, Toronto liars. All is forgiven.
Now that Stroman is a free agent, the pitcher jumped on some rando’s social-media suggestion that he return to the Jays.
“I’m definitely open to a reunion,” Stroman said.
That makes one of them.
Stroman’s convenient amnesia – “Say, didn’t we used to hate each other?” – will be contagious. Soon, a lot of people who wouldn’t have given the Jays a first look, never mind a second, will want in on what they’ve got going.
If you listen to what the Jays are saying, they’ve passed beyond the “flirting pathetically with every available free agent” phase, and entered their “accepting gentlemen callers” phase.
This is an odd position for a loser to find itself in. But this year’s Jays are an odd team.
If you want to get technical about it, the season was a disappointment. Toronto was front-loaded with high-end talent, all of it either young or bought temporarily on the cheap. And it finished fourth in the American League East. Same as it ever was.
But some teams manage to lose exactly the right way. They fall just short, rather than on their faces. They are plucky and fun. People like them and want to get to know them. They give off the sense of a group on the verge.
This year in baseball, the Jays are that team. They’re MLB’s lucky loser.
If they had to trade places, do you think the Jays would rather be where the Yankees are right now?
The Yankees made the postseason on their final at-bat on the final day of the regular season. Great story. Unless you’re from the Bronx, where the Yankees are supposed to make the playoffs in August.
New York won the wild-card spot Toronto wanted. I guess “win” is the right word, but it didn’t turn out so well.
Toronto got to end its season on a note of pride and hopefulness. New York ended its season in confusion and incompetence. If you can lose the right way, it’s also possible to win the wrong way.
Winning the wrong way is getting somewhere, but nowhere near as far as you and everyone else expected. It’s going out on the top of your head. It’s looking like what you are: old, creaky and out of ideas.
After Boston laid a beating on the Yankees in the AL wild-card game on Monday, New York manager Aaron Boone had to come out and make the best of it. Boone has never missed the postseason as Yankees’ boss, but you’d still call him a failure. Every time he tries and misses, his team feels more and more irrelevant.
Now, Boone’s into his King Lear period.
“The league’s closed the gap on us,” Boone said, head down, face drawn, lament oozing from him. “It’s not just the Red Sox and the Astros. Look at our division. The Rays are beasts. Toronto.”
The Jays didn’t get the benefit of any adjectives, but anybody who watches sport knows what that means. As soon as a guy starts saying, “They’re coming up behind us,” it means he’s about to be passed.
The rest of baseball won’t have missed that memo. Yankees: tired; Blue Jays: wired.
With that in mind, Jays general manager Ross Atkins did his 2021 autopsy on Wednesday.
In the past, these have gone down like a race through a rhetorical obstacle course. Atkins tries to fill 30 minutes of air time without making a single definitive statement.
He still operates in that mode. (Why wouldn’t he? It’s working out for him so far.) But now he is more sly.
Atkins and the Blue Jays braintrust don’t run the best team in baseball, but they may control the sexiest. Toronto is the team losers want to be and winners want to be with.
For instance, when asked about the first two orders of off-season business – Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien and huge pay bumps those two will expect – Atkins put in the absolute minimum of obscurantism.
Two years ago, hanging on to one or the other of them would have been an acid test of the Jays’ resolve. Now, it hardly registers.
“I hope they go on to continue to have [great] years year-in and year-out, and hopefully we can be part of that,” Atkins said. “But having been part of it for one year was very fulfilling.”
In other words, best of luck elsewhere, fellas. If you need some tickets or something, please never hesitate to text my assistant’s assistant’s intern.
On the usual questions, Atkins filed the usual answers. Are you happy where you’re at? Never! Does that mean you’ll be getting measurably better? Possibly! Do you have enough money to do that? Maybe!
The difference this time around is the Jays braintrust has reassumed control of the narrative. Two years ago, they were idiots and cheapskates. Now, they are geniuses and cheapskates.
In that position, it becomes awfully tempting to tinker your way over the next hurdle. They nearly managed it this year. Why not do it even better next year? And maybe they can.
As long as the Jays are exciting, as long as they are still in it in September, as long as the young stars make small improvements, people will continue in their new assumption that this is a can’t-miss team on the make. That glory is inevitable.
In sports, winning is hard. But getting your customers to believe that the promised land is just over the next rise? Or the next one? Or the next? That is something more special than playoff appearances.