Skip to main content
opinion
Open this photo in gallery:

Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks on from the dugout as the team faces the Seattle Mariners during ninth-inning American League wild-card MLB post-season baseball action in Toronto on Oct. 8, 2022.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

While the paint-by-numbers World Series was wrapping up over the weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays sneaked in a little news.

Toronto’s brightest star, Vlad Guerrero Jr., was asked on a Spanish-language channel about his favourite road city. He gave the correct answer – New York. Then he did something unbaseball-player-like – he decided to be interesting.

“I like to play in New York,” Guerrero said. “I like to kill the Yankees.”

Asked in a follow-up if he would ever sign for the Yankees, Guerrero said he would not, “not even dead.”

The Yankees and Jays had a few tête-à-têtes this past season – notably, after Jays starter Alek Manoah hit Aaron Judge – but no one suspected this depth of feeling. Now that Guerrero is on-the-record hating the Yankees, everyone else on the Jays roster will feel the need to jump in.

Short term, this is good news for the team. It needs something, and it isn’t just a whole new bullpen. It’s something ineffable.

Right now, no one has that thing more than the Astros. They beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 in Houston on Saturday night to win the best-of-seven-game World Series 4-2.

The Phillies carried themselves with dignity, but you never got the sense that they were really in it. Even after they’d come out storming in the first game, the feeling you got from the Phillies was relief that they weren’t going to be embarrassed, not excitement about the possibility of winning.

The Astros are a deep, complete team built for tomorrow as much as they are today. Their only significant free agent, 39-year-old pitcher Justin Verlander, as good as said he was coming back. Their World Series MVP was 25-year-old rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena. Between those two polarities, the Astros are stacked with talent.

Some teams win one and start to coast. Houston can’t do that. Right now, it is still the trash-can cheaters, the guys who couldn’t figure out a way to apologize and the organization that got away with it. One World Series doesn’t fix that.

But how about two or three of them? The only way this roster washes away its original sin is with a dynasty, one led by players who weren’t on the team when it was practising bush-league Morse code.

The Astros were hated a month ago. They’ll be hated a little less now – winning has that effect – but hated nonetheless. Hate is the emotion that most reliably overpowers apathy.

Toronto does not have the horses to compete with the Astros straight-up in a best-of-seven series. With that in mind, the Jays should be trying to locate some hate themselves.

There’s no way of knowing if Guerrero was looking to start a fire on the last weekend before baseball goes on vacation. But that’s what he’s done. It will be the first thing he’ll be asked about in spring training. It will be asked again every time Toronto plays New York. This is a bonafide rivalry now.

Good. Because that’s the sort of results-oriented approach the Jays clearly need.

Among the things this past season proved, it’s that the Jays’ hearts are out in front of their heads. This team is all about ornate displays of passion, without much follow through.

They see-sawed all year between being a really good team and a pretty mediocre one. They had a tendency to steer into the ditch whenever people were paying close attention. One of those unintended detours got their manager fired.

After sneaking into the playoffs, they celebrated as if they’d actually accomplished something. What did Houston do? A couple of high fives and then home for a good night’s sleep. It worked out for both teams, because Houston would need its rest and the Jays would not.

Blowing a seven-run lead in Toronto’s final game is the thing people will remember, but it was thematically in keeping with all that had preceded it. The Jays have the scaffolding of a contending baseball team. They have yet to build anything with it.

The first step in that process is dominating the American League East.

The wild card is a spin of the wheel. You spend all year building up to something and then you run into Philadelphia – a basic outfit that said a million Hail Marys that morning.

First priority – wiping out the Yankees. The Orioles will be good by next year and Tampa is always, inexplicably, in the mix, but New York is the first domino. Get on top of New York and then worry about everything else.

You do that on the field, but it starts off it. If you think you’re good enough to take out the divisional alpha, say that. Make it a promise.

That’s what Guerrero has done. There’s no wiggle room now. If the Jays get hammered in their first trip to the Bronx, that disappointment will ripple through the season. But this team has passed the point of slow growth. Tick tock. Tick tock.

That’s the other, not quite as exciting, thing Guerrero was putting in people’s minds.

By talking about free agency, he reminds everyone that it’s not that far off. Guerrero will be free to leave Toronto after the 2025 season. That’s the same winter that Bo Bichette can take off. It’s a year before George Springer and Kevin Gausman’s deals are up.

That’s the window for this team – from now until 2025. At that point, the Jays will either be a colossus astride Major League Baseball, or a teardown waiting for new management to begin repouring the foundation.

Toronto’s got three years to get through New York, Houston, Cleveland, the Dodgers, Philadelphia and whoever else. If the Jays are for real, there needs to be a new sense of urgency about this team, and a willingness to say what they intend to do. Good for Guerrero in taking the lead on that.

But you also know how this ends.

When a guy this talented says that he will not sign with the Yankees, not for all the jewels in the crown, that can end only one way. With him signing for the Yankees. It’s too perfect a story. Barring professional calamity, Guerrero just guaranteed he will wear pinstripes some day.

That’s another reason the Jays might want to hurry up and win now, before that humiliation comes to pass.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe