As baseball fans are wont to do when the calendar flips to July, I found myself thinking about trades this past week. The annual frenzy of rumours and whispers that lead up to the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline have been starting over the past few days. The New York Mets have apparently decided the hole they have dug themselves is too deep to dig out of, and will trade their veterans when the time is right. Other teams like the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks have maintained their successful play until now and despite not starting the year as playoff favourites, have been so successful up until this point that they find themselves in the position of being buyers. Then, there are the Toronto Blue Jays.
Three months and 80 or so games into the season, the Blue Jays have disappointed. Some combination of injuries, bad luck, age, and terrible play have coincided to leave the Blue Jays 4.5 games out of a playoff spot and fans wondering what the coming months will bring to this franchise. Looking forward to the next three months provides no certainties, only a hazy picture of possibilities.
Literary ambiguity is a tool often used by authors to offer multiple pathways to their audience in a single story. By making a pivotal moment in a text deliberately ambiguous, an author gives a certain power to the reader, allowing them to decide what is meant by specific words that can have an immense impact on the meaning of a text. The advantage of this is obvious as it grants a single text the rich literary experience of multiple layers of meaning. Two readers, sitting next to each other or miles apart, may be reading the same text yet take away from it completely different messages.
As I pondered the coming weeks, I almost instantly thought back to the moment two years ago on July 28th, when the Blue Jays traded for Troy Tulowitzki and signalled to the baseball world that they were to be taken seriously. At 12:28 AM eastern time, Ken Rosenthal tweeted the simple, yet chaotic message of “BREAKING: Tulo traded to #BlueJays.” Everybody was caught off guard. Even the most die hard fans and most connected insiders had no idea a trade of this magnitude was coming down the pike. Despite all the rumours and guesswork, the trade and the newfound direction of the Blue Jays, came as a surprise.
Which brings us to this year and the Blue Jays’ sheepish attitude as they approach the games that matter. By all reports, the Blue Jays seem adamant that they will be buying players in some form this month, not selling them. However, as they skid into July with only one good month of play out of three, the question remains if that truly is the wisest baseball decision. Is this team really closer to the product that was on the field in May and not the one that reared its ugly head in April and June? Is it possible that a team that has received staggered performances from its stars for half the season will all of a sudden click on all cylinders and make a run like the 2015 team went on after the trade deadline?
The logical and reasonable answer to those questions is one that nobody wants to hear. The math says the Blue Jays aren’t likely to make the playoffs. The math says they aren’t likely to break out of whatever funk they have been in this entire time and start to play like the team everybody thought they were in March. This team has flaws, and it seems like it may be too late to fix them. However, the thing about percentages is that they are misleading. A four percent chance of making the playoffs means that out of every 100 possible scenarios, the Blue Jays make the playoffs in four of them! That’s not zero! So their odds may not be good, but they exist.
We’re going into a time when the Blue Jays front office needs to decide which way to steer this team. Buying players through prospect capital can help this team in the last stage of this season, but if that fails, the dent it will cause to future teams may be harmful in the long run. Selling players isn’t all that of an attractive option either because realistically the players the Blue Jays would be selling, with the exception of Roberto Osuna and Josh Donaldson, wouldn’t fetch such a high price to make a substantial difference. Jose Bautista is only bringing back quality if he is vintage Jose Bautista, and he is far from it right now. The same goes for Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano. What’s the point of selling if it doesn’t significantly increase the odds the team plays better in the coming years? Without a big return on the players being given up, there’s a strong argument to be made that this team should just play out the course of the year and let entropy decide whether they’ll be in the playoffs or not.
So we’re somewhere in the middle. Buying or selling, it doesn’t matter, because they both aren’t perfect plans. Intrinsic to the fan experience is that we are left in the dark until something happens. Like in 2015, we have no idea which direction this team will be moving in. The future of the Blue Jays right now is ambiguous. Ross Atkins is the author, and we are the reader, waiting for these multiple options to recede to just one, and for the future of the Blue Jays season to become clear.
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