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The Blue Jays are caught between the present and the future

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Toronto is trying to walk a fine line with very high stakes, and it’s almost show and tell time.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays find themselves in an awkward position; waiting for the future to become the present. They have pieces of their last playoff team(s) on the roster, but it’s unclear how many of them will be part of their next playoff run. They’re also quietly building up a pretty solid farm system, but the most interesting names are still over a year away from reaching the big leagues.

As we now enter a state of limbo between the Jose Bautista / Edwin Encarnacion era and (what we hope turns out to be) the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette era, it’s easy to feel like the Jays are standing in the middle of a river between two sides of an unfinished bridge. Amid the rushing water swirls a myriad of difficult questions the front office is going to have privately weigh as they attempt to navigate through the waves.

Here’s just a few of them:

  1. Are the Jays going to make a serious effort to keep Josh Donaldson in a Toronto uniform long term?
  2. Now that blister problems destroyed Aaron Sanchez’s 2017 season, what type of production can they expect from him going forward?
  3. Was 2017 Justin Smoak the new Justin Smoak, or just a one year wonder?
  4. If the Blue Jays do try to seriously contend in 2018, how much of their remaining resources should they commit to middle infield insurance to protect against the potential loss of Troy Tulowitzki and / or Devon Travis?

None of these questions have easier answers, but all of them - as well as many others like them - are going to shape where the Jays go from here.


There’s two hypothetical extremes the front office could employ if they’re feeling a bit saucy: One involves going all in on 2018 by maxing out payroll to historic levels (in terms of this franchise) and using the big name farm pieces as chips to acquire sexy big league talent that can help the team win right now. The other would involve using the winter, and really the next nine months (right up through the trading deadline in July) to trade away some of the older pieces of the roster to further strengthen the budding farm system. This type of plan might even involve “paying for prospects” by eating a significant portion of a contract being traded to increase the value of the young player(s) coming back in return.

While neither plan is likely at this stage, the two polar opposite agendas do shed some light on the position the Blue Jays find themselves in this winter. Trapped between the present and the future. One of those plans represents a full commitment to the present and trying to win a World Series with guys like Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ on the roster, and the other represents a full commitment to the future of 2019 and beyond where the front office tries to create as deep of a roster as possible for when Guerrero and Bichette are ready to come up.

Then of course there’s some enormous, incalculable number of other plans in the middle where the Jays try to straddle the line of staying competitive in 2018 without mortgaging their future, both in terms of prospects and payroll flexibility. There’s many scenarios in this bucket where things work out really well and we get competitive baseball for the foreseeable future, but they all require the front office playing their cards almost perfectly. It’s only going to take a few mistakes here to potentially sink multiple seasons as far as being competitive in the AL East. The risk of fans sitting here a year from now and concluding that the front office took an unsuccessful half measure is very, very high.

For better or for worse though, the Blue Jays have already given clues that they’re heading down one of these middle roads. We know they’re likely not all in on the “build for the present” extreme scenario because it would go against pretty much everything Atkins and Shapiro have stood for regarding the farm since they’ve taken over. You don’t spend two years bulking up your minor league system with hand picked prospects only to suddenly go all in on an aging core you inherited. No, they’re clearly in this for the long game.

At the same time, we know the Jays are likely not all in on the “build for the future” extreme scenario either because they just signed Marco Estrada to a one year extension at the end of September, and you don’t bring back a solid rotation piece in his mid 30’s for $13 million unless you’re planning on being at least somewhat competitive next season.

So, here we are on the verge of a two month period that’s going to play a huge role in determining how this front office will ultimately be judged, and I don’t think any Jays fans really truly know what to expect. The options in-between the extreme scenarios are as complicated as they are numerous, and I don’t envy Ross Atkins and company at all right now, but boy do they need to make some shrewd moves in the coming weeks.

If they don’t, they risk not only jeopardizing the 2018 season and losing some of the fans they picked up with their back to back playoff runs in 2015 and 2016, but also bringing down the ceiling on the teams that ultimately have the next best shot to bring them postseason glory.

No pressure guys.

Poll

Would you rather see the Blue Jays use the next few months to ...

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Adopt one of the extreme scenarios where they go "all in" on either the present or the future.
    (390 votes)
  • 69%
    Straddle the middle, try to be competitive in 2018, but don’t move any farm pieces that might be important in 2019 and beyond.
    (873 votes)
1263 votes total Vote Now