When it became clear by the end of May that for purposes of contention the Blue Jays’ 2018 season was over, I promised myself one thing. Unlike when the same thing occurred by the All-Star break in 2013, I was not going to spend the rest of the season obsessing on draft positioning and essentially rooting for (close and weird) losses. That made for the most miserable couple months of baseball season I can recall.
Draft positioning is of course important for a rebuilding team - it’s the best chance to infuse premium talent that becomes the future building blocks of a contender. But then, as now, the team is not facing a complete gut job rebuild. The roster is full of players with years of team control who could either be part of a future contender, or be traded for players who are. Setting aside that watching winning baseball is always better than watching losses,those players performing well and building value is more valuable than picking even a half dozen spots lower.
So other than a general preference for blowouts wins and close losses (preferably at the hands of peripheral players), I wasn’t embracing the tank so to speak. Especially with a half dozen teams playing truly tanking and playing around .400 baseball or worse and essentially locking down those picks. But that was then, and this is now. In the grand scheme moving up or down a spot isn’t worth worrying about, but a meaningless win or two in the last week can sometimes have a pretty big impact.
This was magnified by a mid-July development, as Atlanta didn’t sign their #8 pick Carter Stewart, meaning they get the #9 pick next year. That means that while the 8th worst record gets the 8th pick, the 9th worst record gets the 10th pick and most significantly, more than $400,000 less in spending pool allocation.
That’s the kind of hurdle that a couple losses are worth bring on one side of versus the other. And into early September, it was something within reach, especially given a Blue Jays schedule heavy on good teams. Alas, Cincinnati and Texas have slumped pretty good and that’s not in play. Picking 10th, where the Jays currently sit, is essentially the ceiling.
On the flip side, through the end of August there were 19 teams around .500 or better, leaving the Jays in a small group of teams that were neither pathetic nor competitive. San Francisco’s post-Labour Day collapse has sent them crashing from that pack towards the Jays. At 72-85 (from 68-69 twenty games ago), they are in fact now just one game better than the Jays at 71-86.
With how bad they’ve been, it wouldn’t be surprising if they managed to play a game worse than the Jays over the last week (with a worse 2017 record, they only need to match the Jays) and sneak into the 10th pick. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’ll definitely be rooting for them to finish strong against a worse Padres team and a Dodgers team that hopefully can wrap up the division by say Friday and rest regulars on the weekend.
That leaves two other teams that are factors, Minnesota (72-83, 2 games better) and the New York Mets (73-83, 2.5 games back). The former has two AL Central weaklings left, and the latter has a series with the Marlins, so neither likely collapses at the finish line.
Realistically then, the only the Jays draft position likely changes by more than one spot is if they rip off a big winning streak to end the season, something like a 4-1 finish against the Astros and Rays. That’s probably not going to happen regardless, and as much fun as it would be to sweep the Rays to finish the season, I’m hoping it doesn’t come to pass. The difference in picking 10th and 13th is meaningful. Not only does it mean three less options on the board, but last year the difference in slot was over $500,000 (just over $4-million compared to over $4.5-million).
So that’s what’s at stake over the next week. I’d be happy to see the Jays pound out a big win or two, but beyond that it Mark Leiter tosses gasoline on a few more fires, well...that’s just fine by me.