We all know someone like this……
In 2015, as Alex Anthopoulos emptied the larder in a riverboat gambler series of moves to strengthen the 25-man roster as he read the tea leaves in the form of the imminent hiring of Mark Shapiro, long-dormant Blue Jays fans woke from their baseball slumber and took notice. You know the type: the people you’d run into at the grocery store, or at a dinner party, who said, “Wow, the Jays are good again. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a game.”
A few days or weeks later, said fan would post pictures of themselves on Facebook in field level seats at the Dome, their newly revived fandom captured for posterity.
Rogers loved the sound of the turnstiles spinning as the team brought post-season baseball back to the city for the first time in a generation. TV ratings were through the roof, and the less than 1.5 million fans who had watched the team just a half decade before – the lowest total since the bad old days at early 80s Exhibition Stadium – was seemingly a thing of the past.
In 2016, hopes were high, although the Blue Jays management and long-time fans watched nervously as the core of the roster became one year older. Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins were ready to begin the process of deconstructing the team in the initial phases of a rebuild for 2017, but Rogers had visions of a half-empty stadium (between 2000 and 2015, the highest the team finished in AL attendance was 6th), and nixed the plan at least for one more season.
Expectations were high for 2018, but in reality, they shouldn’t have been. With Tulowitzki out for the season, Donaldson showing the effects of averaging 157 games for four straight seasons after an age when most players peak, and Russell Martin demonstrating that he’s in the twilight of a fine career, the Blue Jays never were seriously in contention.
All signs point to that rebuild finally coming next year. Prospects Danny Jansen and Ryan Borucki are here (likely to stay), Vlad Jr will be on board by next mid-April, and Bo Bichette, Sean Reid-Foley, and perhaps Cavan Biggio will be on their way to becoming MLB regulars at some point next year or in early 2021. Behind them, there are promising prospects such as Nate Pearson, Kevin Smith, Eric Pardinho, Jordan Groshans, Miguel Hiraldo, and even Orelvis Martinez, who has turned heads at Instructs this fall. The club has stockpiled middle infielders, which Atkins admitted earlier this week could one day be used as a means of improving the 25-man roster via trades.
So, Blue Jays fans should jump back on the bandwagon, and get ready for the kids to compete with Red Sox and Yankees, right?
Not so fast.
Until they’ve proven themselves at the major league level, prospects are just that. MiLB stats are a good predictor of success, but the jump between AAA and MLB is the biggest one of all. For every Mike Trout or Ronald Acuna who comes up and stars right away, there are literally dozens of players who appear ready for the challenge, but are unable to make the traditional “once through the league” adjustments that all need to make. Which is one of the reasons why players have options – some need more seasoning in the minors, or they need to make the necessary corrections to their game in a less pressure-filled environment. And even though the Blue Jays have the 3rd ranked farm system in the game (according to Baseball America), that type of accolade does not usually translate into immediate success at the big league level. The smarter and more dedicated players understand that their development never really stops, and those that are determined to continue to improve their game and fight through adversity usually fulfill the success that their tools prophesize.
The question is – will the marginal Blue Jays fan, the Facebook fan, be able to hang in for the three to four years (two seems wildly optimistic) it will take for what is becoming known as a state-of-the-art farm system to bear fruit? Will they come out to see a team likely headed for 90 losses next year, or will they sell their 200 level tickets for $8 on StubHub next September? If you have the answer to that, Rogers would like to know…..
Maybe the fan quoted above is an outlier, or perhaps he represents a sizeable chunk of Blue Jays nation – it’s well known around baseball that Toronto fans are Blue Jays fans first, and baseball fans second. And maybe those of us who watch a lot of minor league games, read scouting reports, and write about prospects feel much more strongly about their presence on an major league roster because we’ve been following them for several years. But it would appear on the surface at least, that the casual fan really won’t be buying in to the rebuild until it’s near completion.