The Wheels on the Bus: The Blue Jays in June

By: Dan Grant

In 2013, intrepid and embattled Toronto Blue Jays fan Dan Grant fought his desire to be excited for the season vs. his long standing pessimism towards the chances of Toronto sports teams, ingrained in the very fibre of his being by over two decades of across the board futility. Overwhelmed by the conflict, his mind split into two entities – Regular Dan and Pessmistic Dan. The battle was a gory one, but despite a painful season, full of regret, Dan vowed to enter 2014 more hopeful and relaxed. Pessimistic Dan would never rear his ugly head again. Or so he thought…

INT. – Lightning crashes. A hard rain pellets a large double paned window.

Regular Dan, out of breath, stumbles into the room.

RD: PD? Hey PD? Where are you man? This place is giving me the creeps!

Lightning crashes again, illuminating PD. He sits in a rocking chair by the window, his back to RD.

RD: Oh, there you are. Listen man. Enough with the drama. Let’s talk some Jays. I know you’re going to have a lot to say…

PD: (in a creepy sing-song voice) The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…

RD: …which is the only reason I came to this weird goddamned place. Which is obviously inside my mind, since that’s the only place you exist. Am I dreaming or what?

PD: The wheels on the bus go round and round, ALL THROUGH THE TOWN!

RD: Alrighty then. I’m going to go with dreaming. This stuff just keeps getting weirder. As for the singing… hmmm… oh I get it, you smarmy turd! You’re trying to say that after that hot stretch in May, this Jays team is reverting back to it’s usual losing ways. It all just goes round and round right? Well I beg to differ.

I can understand why you’d feel that way. After that beautiful 21-9 month, the Jays followed it up by going 12-15 in June, which was the exact same record they posted in March/April. You think the two losing months mean more than the winning month, right? That’s a totally reasonable argument. They’ve struggled with injuries this month – at various points Bautista, Rasmus, Lawrie and Lind have been missing from the lineup. Even Encarnacion missed a couple games. But these things are bound to happen throughout a season. The bats have gone through a bit of a power outage after hitting at a torrid pace for the first two months of the season and that certainly hasn’t helped. But baseball is a marathon, not a sprint! I’d rather they went through their struggles now and fired things up after the All-Star break. They’re not going to stay cold forever. Can they improve? Yes. But grouping things by month is arbitrary. Time is made up man! All the games count the same.

The Jays are still in first! Get down with the get down boys!

The Jays are still in first! Get down with the get down boys!

PD: (rolls his eyes) The people’s money on the bus goes clink, clink ,clink…

RD: Really, you’re going to keep this up? The whole time?

PD: …clink, clink, clink…

RD: Alright, well I mean, this one’s not even veiled! It’s clearly-

PD: CLINK, CLINK, CLINK! THE PEOPLE’S MONEY ON THE BUS GOES CLINK, CLINK, CLINK! ALL THROUGH THE TOWN! (PD rises from his chair and stretches his fists towards the sky).

RD: (eyeing PD nervously, like one eyes a drunk guy on the subway) Like I was saying, it’s clearly a comment on ownership and/or management’s willingness to commit more money to the team on the field, right? The Jays have around 140 million dollars committed in payroll this season, so they’re by no means a small market team. They’re not the frugal teams of JP Ricciardi’s tenure but nor are they the early nineties teams that led the Majors in payroll. They have the 10th highest payroll in baseball, which is kind of in no mans land.

Alex Anthopolous has said repeatedly, that when they need to add money, he has assurances from ownership that they’ll step up. He’s also said this won’t be unlimited, so that he needs to carefully consider when to take his shot. He’s sometimes skirted the issue, saying Paul Beeston is the guy who would actually have to ask for the money. So far, we haven’t seen a major mid-season addition, not since the Colby Rasmus deal in 2011.

He’s also been asked the questions fifty million times, so who knows what the truth is? We really haven’t seen anyone major added since the two 2012/13 off-season blockbusters. Any rise in payroll is simply due to contractual raises. It’s another fair point, you magnificent bastard. Can the Jays take on the salary necessary to take things over the top? It’s a huge question.

They’ve said they need to stop trading away top prospects and I can understand that. Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris look like they could be excellent Major League starters if they harness their talent, so sacrificing either of them for three months of Jason Hammel or even a year and a half of Jeff Samardzija/David Price seems like a heavy price to pay. But people went nuts when the Jays traded Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard and where is they now? d’Arnaud is hitting .200 and Syndergaard is struggling at Triple A. Both have struggled with injuries and have made zero impact in the Majors. They wouldn’t have helped this season. This Jays team is built to win now!

Can the Jays add Jeff Samardzija or David Price down the stretch? Or is the price too high?

Will the Jays add Jeff Samardzija or David Price down the stretch? Or is the price too high?

PD: (turns around and stares with blazing eyes).

RD: I guess you feel the same way?

PD (takes a lurching step towards RD): The window on the bus goes open and SHUT! Open and SHUT! Open and SHUT!

RD: (soothingly) Yes, yes, all through the town.

PD: (stops short, closes his mouth slowly. He looks affronted, but slightly mollified).

RD: Just relax you gibbering idiot. All the points you’re (sort of) making actually make sense.  A dose of pessimism can be healthy man. It’s when you’re unreasonable, like the whole singing thing, that I can’t stand you.

PD: (looks down, slightly ashamed).

RD: As for the window being open right now and soon to be shut, you’re completely right, if that’s any consolation. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are old, at 38 and 35 respectively. Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen are 33. Edwin Encarnacion is 32. Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera can become free agents at seasons end. Jose Reyes is 31 and making 20+ million per year over the next two seasons, with presumably, his prime in the rear view mirror. Despite all the dripping potential of Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Sanchez and Norris, there don’t appear to be a lot of young pieces coming up through the system to replace any of the position players, at least not waiting in the wings. You’d have money in theory, when some of those large contracts expire, but teams don’t just let All-Star position players walk away anymore. You’re seeing players sign long-term deals very early on, to save teams money in the short-term. Look at Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki… pick any young star really. They’re contractually controllable, usually through their prime years. Teams are smart and lock them up. Those guys are going nowhere. The flip side are when those deals don’t work out. Then you want absolutely no part of that kind of contract. I’m looking at you, Ryan Howard.

There is generally some mid-level talent available in free agency, but trades, particularly mid-season ones, have become the only way to improve your team both drastically and quickly. This season, there are a bevy of  major potential trade partners. The Rays, Cubs and Phillies are all teams that have assets they might want to move that fill a need for Toronto. David Price is known to be available from Tampa Bay and there is speculation about super-utility man/2nd baseman Ben Zobrist. The Cubs have two starters available at varying prices in the aforementioned Hammel and Samardzija. The Phillies, ever generous with their chequebook, have done due diligence about interest in Cole Hamels and will certainly shop Cliff Lee if he can come back healthy from an arm injury that has sidelined him for the past month. Could Chase Utley be included in a deal from Philly? He’s old and signed for two more seasons, but he still plays strong defense and would be a major upgrade over the Kawasaki/Tolleson combo currently manning the keystone bag for the Jays. That said, all of these players are going to command significant money, whether it’s right away or via arbitration next season. They’re also going to cost the Jays one or possibly two of the young arms I mentioned earlier, probably along with hot young prospect Dalton Pompey. It’s a tricky game to play.

The point is, there are opportunities and the time would seem to be now. If Anthopolous and Beeston really have assurances that they can add salary, this is the time to do it. 84 games into the season, the Blue Jays lead the division by 1.5 games. I’m not a fan of people who say ‘well, if I’d told you that they’d be here before the season, you’d have taken it wouldn’t you?’ Because yes, of course I would. Who wouldn’t? This team was always supposed to be good! Last year was an aberration. You need to take those banked wins, all 45 of them, and do everything you can to win the next 45. Ninety wins is what it’s going to take to win the AL East.

Sure would be nice to hang another banner out in centre field

Sure would be nice to hang another AL East banner out in centre field

PD: (opens mouth to sing).

RD: (cuts him off) Enough. I’ve got a verse for you. The babies on the bus go ‘wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah, wah. The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah, all through the TOWN!

PD: (looks furious).

RD: That’s what you and all the other whiners sound like! This team has put itself in a good position. The division looks weak – weak enough that a 12-15 month didn’t cost the Jays one day in first place. I see lots of things to like and lots of potential. Now it’s time to follow through. When was the last time Toronto was in first this deep in the season? I have no idea but it’s been a damn long time. Management took heat when this team was brutal last year, let’s give them some credit to go along with success this year and see what happens in July. July is when trades happen.

Look, I’ve listened to everything you’ve said. Well not ‘said’ exactly. Implied? I’m not really sure what you did. You’re a goddamned weirdo. Anyway, I understand all your points and all I can say is that I’m still rooting for a first place team on Canada Day. So suck it. This bus is going straight to the playoffs!

PD: (sourly) Pessmistic Dan says ‘Let me off, let me off, let me off…’

And so the cosmic dance continues. Join us here at the Same Page at the beginning of each month, as RD and PD continue to hash out the ups and downs of another tumultuous Blue Jays season. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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