One of former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston's executive planks was a fundamental opposition to the idea that the ball club could ever be parted from its closest enemies.
"I don't care what division we get moved into," Beeston once said. "As long as the Yankees and Red Sox come with us."
Beeston's position was more about business than competitiveness, but it held at its root a belief that the only way to prove yourself is to play the best over and over again.
These days, the American League East isn't what it once was. Two seasons ago, that general decline presented the Jays with an enormous (and well-taken) opportunity. But the divisional tides are shifting, and Toronto's creaky ship is beginning to take on water. It's only a matter of time before it's swamped.
The problem is the usual ant versus grasshopper scenario that afflicts most franchises. While Toronto has spent the past three years getting fat and happy, Boston and New York were busy planning for winter.
Boston was in town on Friday night offering an up-close view of the problem. The Red Sox are now better than the Blue Jays (which happens) while also being far younger than them (which really shouldn't).
After brief retools, Boston and New York have both managed to get good again while ditching their shared tendency toward geriatrics.
"That high discipline has changed a bit," Jays manager John Gibbons said Friday, referring to the habit of classic Red Sox and Yankee teams to take a ton of pitches. "They used to kill a pitching staff in a three- or four-game series. But the game has moved away from that. Teams are more aggressive."
The guys who used to grind you to death over 4 1/2 hours of full counts – immobile brutes such as David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez – have shuffled off. The younger generation of Yankees and Red Sox stars are more dynamic. That general sense of coltishness has already reshaped both teams.
What's frightening from the Toronto perspective is that many of Boston's and New York's youngest players are already top performers. Each of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi for the Red Sox; and Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird for the Yankees, is 25 or under.
Toronto has one player who is 25-or-under on the major-league roster – closer Roberto Osuna.
The Jays have no position players who meet the criteria of being both young and obviously elite, and none coming any time soon.
The best of Toronto's current "young" generation is Devon Travis, already a very old 26. Once you get past Travis, you are required to make a seven- or eight-year leap into the Jays farm system to find really top-drawer positional talent – say, Bo Bichette (19) or Vlad Guerrero, Jr. (18). In baseball years, that's an entire generation away.
The micro problem is always the season at hand. But the Jays' most pressing issues are macro – how do you get from right now to whenever the Bichettes and Guerreros arrive? And can you do it quickly?
On the topic of retools versus rebuilds, Gibbons pointed at the competition.
"[They're] a perfect example – what the Yankees did last year," he said.
What the Yankees did last year was trade off much of their high-end, aging talent in return for prospects, giving up on the playoffs in the process.
As he was saying it, Gibbons realized that his example was just a little too applicable to his team's current situation. He dropped the comparison very quickly.
If the Jays want to be like the Yankees, that would mean giving up on this year. Even if they decide to do that, the problem is nowhere close to dealt with.
Long before they were pushing their best relievers out the door, New York already had Sanchez, Bird and Judge either in the pipeline or on the senior team. Most of the young depth the Yankees acquired last year has to yet appear in the major leagues.
Who could Toronto trade that would bring anything substantial in return? Josh Donaldson. That's the end of the list. In barter terms, the rest of Toronto's veterans are functionally worthless.
Beyond that, there is the foundation on which to add. Toronto has no Judges or Benintendis. Trying to turn this old, contending Jays team into a younger, still contending team is building on sand.
You can talk all you want about a "retool" – and I have no doubt the Jays will once it starts – but that doesn't make it one. If you want high-end talent, you have to give up a great deal for it and then you have to wait for it to turn out.
Most of the best players – including every one listed above – are acquired either through the draft or are international signings as teenagers. None of them were quick fixes.
"I don't think anybody wants to go through a total rebuild because that can take too damn long," Gibbons said.
Well, there's what you want and what you can do. Once the Jays start over, it will either take years or a whole bunch of new money to fix things. So it will take years.
As Toronto's executives wrestle with whether to begin burning this thing down over the next four weeks, they will want to factor the AL East into their thinking.
"They always will be [the class of baseball]," Gibbons said of Boston and New York. "They have the resources to do it. I don't think that'll ever change. Their fan bases won't accept it."
True enough. A good question for Toronto is how much truth and/or pain its fan base is willing to absorb in order to close the expanding AL East talent gap.