How important is .500, versus other things?
As things stand before the conclusion of their series with the Orioles, the Jays are 68-68. With that record they would obviously have to have a
winning record for the remainder of the season to finish above .500. Is this entirely
meaningless distinction necessary? I would argue that it's pretty
important. There is some psychological mumbo jumbo to be spouted off,
sure, but there are some concrete, real world applications. I think it's
reasonably clear that the team has about two windows of contention as
currently built. First of all is next year. Jose Bautista has been the
best player in baseball this year (I don't think there's any legitimate
way to debate that if we're not including that most inscrutable of
words, value.) It is in fact a much better year than last year,
when he was also real good. But he's 30 and soon to be 31, and while he
has good old man skills (power and walks), well, he ain't no Benjamin
Button, so he's going to start getting worse at some point. The Jays
can't really say they've had the best player in baseball since, well,
ever really, and it seems like the sort of thing one ought to try to
capitalize on. Other holes need to be filled of course, but the team
probably does have to try to go for it in some fashion.
After that, they seem pretty well set for 2014-2016 (well, hopefully) as that's when prospects like Anthony Gose, Travis d'Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Henderson Alvarez, etc. will be hitting their strides, with the team still in control of the Romero's, Lawrie's, Rasmi, Snider's/Thames' of the world. Of course there is probably some overlap between those two movements in 2013, and there's no reason the team won't be good that year; this is just to say that a whole 'nother cycle of players will be making their marks starting in 2013/2014 and they'll hopefully be good by 2014/2015. Home team optimism I know. But back to those real world implications. If ever the Jays were going to make a real world splash in the free agent market, this would seem to be the year to do it.
Two superstar hitters are on the market at arguably the position of greatest need for the Jays, first base. Prince Fielder is heavy but only 27 and has been healthy. Albert Pujols is Albert Pujols, and his "down year" seems mostly babip driven, though he is 31. Both men I'm sure will be in the Adrian Gonzalez ballpark, which is to say ~$150 million total and at least 6 years (A-Gon got 7). I'd be surprised if either of them was below $23 mil in average annual value, though the Red Sox and Yankees will presumably not be in on them. CC Sabathia will also get a pot of money, but I don't think the Yankees will let him get away. I think Jays fans would be thrilled to sign either slugger, and it would make the team into real contenders provided a few other issues got sorted out. It would be easier to sell players on playing in Toronto if the team we're seen as being more on the cusp as well, hence the necessity to win. More winning also helps the attendance, which is up by over 2500 fans a game, (there are popular teams left so it might rise further), and then the team maybe says well geez, we're winning so we can afford to add more players, or conversely, adding Prince Fielder wouldn't hurt too much in the attendance department, plus it would create a little buzz around the team, whatever. So I think there are a bunch of reasons why winning would help the team going forward. (Also please don't bite our heads off that the team should be spending $157,283,947.93 a year already 92-93.)
The flip side to this conversation is that, ultimately, winning 84 games vs. 78 games doesn't affect the team at all - they still don't make the playoffs. And you can make a good case that having young guys in the lineup getting experience will yield actual, tangible benefits for next year in the form of preparedness. I do agree with this, and so I would hope that the Jays aren't going to prioritize winning over player development. However, I don't think it will be an issue much this September. There is no John Buck this year, with Dewayne Wise being the closest example, and Wise isn't blocking anyone, really, and will go back to the bench upon Colby's return. The team's logic behind signing him is a bit strained, but not implausible. Other than that, everyone playing figures to be around or in the mix for next year. The best and closest position playing prospects are Adeiny Hechavarria and Anthony Gose; I don't think either are ready to start in the majors next year, and the team has concretely indicated that in the case of Hech anyway. After that, the only guy in AAA who could be said to have a legitimate chance of being a big leaguer that could help the Jays is David Cooper. I'm not as high on Cooper as some folk - he's a worse version of Lyle Overbay at best, but you could plausibly argue he deserves some at bats.
Pitching-wise things are a little more interesting, though several guys have to be hitting their innings limits. Every starter in AA has basically come up that's going to, and they are in the playoffs for at least the next week. There are no legit starters in AAA other than Kyle Drabek (I'm assuming we've had our fill of Brad Mills), and he doesn't look ready for MLB in the least. He could come back up and throw some low leverage pen innings. The only pen arm that qualifies as relatively young in Las Vegas is Ronny Uviedo, and in AA maybe you give Alan Farina a chance. Other than that though, there aren't any young guys that would plausibly break camp with the team next year I don't think, so for all intents and purposes the team might as well just roll out their regular lineup and give the league what for.
September call-ups start today. Thoughts on who you'd like to see come up?