During the past week's baseball winter meetings, reporters asked Blue Jays manager John Gibbons why Toronto fans should bother buying tickets next year.
"Come watch Gibbons's last year managing the Blue Jays," Gibbons told them.
It was a very Gibbons-y sort of joke – morbid, self-effacing and funny because it's true.
This probably will be John Gibbons last year managing the Blue Jays. There are going to be a lot of lasts in the near future when it comes to this team – last twinge of hope; last period topping the news cycle; last attempt to disguise this corporate cash register as a viable baseball team.
Take right now. Some of you may be buying the executive line that the Jays are still contenders in the AL East.
Once you start doing the position-by-position math – New York's Giancarlo Stanton versus Toronto's As Yet to Be Determined Warm Human Body in Right or Boston's Xander Bogaerts versus Toronto's Torso of Troy Tulowitzki With New Removable Legs for E-Z Repair, etc., etc. – that proposition falls apart quickly. But you have every right to feel that way.
Enjoy it. It's the last time you're going to feel like that in December for a while. Many years, in all likelihood.
You may have also felt that Toronto was going to spring a surprise on the baseball world in Florida.
Well, good news and bad news. The bad news is that there is no news. The good news is that a lot of talks were had. Very productive talks. Dozens of them. Jays general manager Ross Atkins called them "documented interactions." He had checked them twice, like Santa (but without any presents).
How did those talks go? Like, specifically? No clue. We just know there were talks.
The Jays were "in" on a lot of people. "In" in this case meaning they had made a phone call to someone in whose interest it was to start telling other interested buyers that the Jays were also "in."
One of the people the Jays are "in" on is starter CC Sabathia. That's a good person to be in on. The 37-year-old former Yankee has that wise-old-man-ness about him the Jays could desperately use right now. Once they turn a Jose Bautista-less clubhouse over to Marcus Stroman in a few weeks time, it's going to be Lord of the Flies in there by March. Sabathia would make a perfect Designated Adult.
Why Sabathia would want to come to Toronto to lose baseball games and work full-time as a babysitter is another matter. And it is hoped he won't want a lot of money, or much at all, because that's off the table, too.
Mainly, Sabathia should come to Toronto because he used to have the parking space beside Mark Shapiro in Cleveland and it's a business of relationships. Or something like that.
While talks were happening and the Jays got in on players, the team spent most of the week explaining why it is still very good, despite obviously being pretty damn mediocre.
There was a lot of weird doublespeak about trading Josh Donaldson "We think about Josh Donaldson being a Blue Jay," Atkins said. "If there's a way to make that make sense for our future, short-term and long-term, we're going to work towards that."
Read it again. Your guess is as good as mine.
You will have noticed that Houston's GM doesn't spend most of his days talking about trading Jose Altuve. But Toronto's braintrust continues to behave as though a constant to-and-fro around jettisoning their best player is a normal topic of conversation for a contending baseball team.
Meanwhile, Toronto's main competition – already a lot better than the Jays – was getting even better than that. New York added Stanton and now has so much outfield talent that it will have to platoon some of the best hitters in the game.
Presumably, the Yankees' list of documented interactions has reached FBI-during-the-Red-Menace proportions.
Meanwhile, Toronto's president repeated his complaint that the real impediment to fixing the Blue Jays is their customers.
"I've said all along, if we were just running our team without fans and it was an intellectual exercise, we would've hit a reset over a year ago," Shapiro said in a radio interview.
It's a little like Wal-Mart's board of directors moaning that they wouldn't need to spend so much on cleaners if so many people weren't in there shopping all the time.
What this has transparently become is an effort to extend the Jays' window of profitability beyond their window of contention. They want to fool people into thinking 2016 will last forever, regardless of who's in uniform.
They can't do it with trades or actual improvements, so instead they do it in the most modern way possible – by repeating the white lie of competence often enough that some people will believe it.
The hope is to shrink the gap between the collapse of this Blue Jays generation and the arrival of the next by as much time as possible.
Once Vlad Guerrero, Jr. gets here, it'll all be fine. That's the party line.
Guerrero's only 18 years old. Plenty of talented players drop off between that age and reaching the majors. Some never even get there.
None of the Jays' major prospects is on the cusp, and so none of them is anywhere near a sure thing. The near term of this team is bleak, the medium term is uncertain and the long term – based on the organization's return to penny-foolish, pound-wise thinking – doesn't look any better.
The Jays may contend at some point, but they must turn a profit always. That's the marching order.
It works so well because all the illusions the Blue Jays are pushing are self-reinforcing. If you buy the first fantasy – "This is still a good team …" – you are already invested in the second – "… and always will be, whether they win or not."