Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The 2013 Toronto Blue Jays: Playoffs or Bust
By Ian Hunter
"Playoffs or bust"; it may not be the official mantra of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, but after all the moves they've made this offseason, it may as well be.
Prior to the bevvy of trades and signings, back in September I wrote about my desire to see the Toronto Blue Jays back in the playoffs. After years of meddling in mediocrity, it seemed like the opportune time for the Blue Jays to do some damage.
And damage is what they did.
The conversations I've had with people this offseason have gone essentially the same way. The exchange always starts with speaking about how the Blue Jays made some big moves this winter, and how on paper they are poised to be a very good team.
But it always inevitably comes back to this question; what if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year?
Any other year, it would merely be another notch in the Blue Jays 20 year playoff drought; the third longest in Major League baseball. The difference this year is the front office clearly is taking a more active attempt at ending that drought.
And that's all we can really as of Alex Anthopoulos and company, is that they at least try to put the best team on the field. In recent years, they may have been guilty of selling this team as a contender when really it wasn't, but that is not the case in 2013.
Now I hate to be a wet blanket, but the evil twin of hope ... is despair. And I would hate to see all this excitement about the Blue Jays simply fizzle out as the season dwindles down, much like it has in the past.
Drew noted over at Getting Blanked that hope is higher than it has ever been in Blue Jays Land, and rightfully so. But the offseason acquisitions signaled the start of an entirely new stratosphere of expectations.
In this regime, there have been countless shrewd moves; creative cost-cutting measures when it comes to salaries and stockpiling draft picks. Those are the types of things that are usually applauded, with one caveat; so long as they deliver results.
Up until now, Alex Anthopoulos has yet to deliver a contender at the big league level. But if there ever was a Blue Jays squad that looked like a legitimate threat in the AL East, this would be it.
There has always been optimism going into Opening Day, but not since 1993 has this team gone into the first game of the season as the team to beat.
There was always this mentality that if an inordinate amount of things break right for the Blue Jays, then they might have a chance. And yours truly has been guilty of buying into that mentality year after year.
If every member of the starting rotation stayed healthy and put up career bests, then they could be a decent team. If everybody in the starting lineup had a career year, there's a chance the Blue Jays could have a shot.
That's a lot of "ifs".
The prime example I can think of is Colby Rasmus. Last year, the Blue Jays relied heavily on the offensive contributions of Rasmus in the first half. Then for one reason or another, Rasmus completely fell off a cliff in the second half, and for a number of other reasons, so too did the Blue Jays.
Expectations for players like Colby Rasmus are not nearly as high this time around. The pressure has been alleviated, so all he needs to do is simply perform better this season than he did last year to help contribute.
Again, there's no doubting the Blue Jays have showed potential in the past few years, but not only did everything need to break right for them to have a shot, everything also needed to break wrong from the other teams in the division to give the Blue Jays a window for contention.
The way the roster is currently constructed, this team doesn't even need to perform at 100% in order to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs. There is at least some margin for error, when in previous years there wasn't.
I wasn't quite old enough to understand the gravity of what happened in 1992 and 1993, but I imagine this is the very same optimism that surrounded the Blue Jays in the late 80's and early 90's.
Year-in and year-out, the Blue Jays were legitimate contenders ... and it was almost a huge disappointment even if they did make the playoffs but failed to win the World Series.
Another possible shift with this current incarnation of the Toronto Blue Jays is it could mean the Blue Jays become buyers at the trade deadline instead of sellers.
If the Blue Jays are performing well and could benefit from some upgrades at the trade deadline, they won't hesitate to do like they did in 1992 and 1993 and acquire an impact player like David Cone or Rickey Henderson to help them down the stretch.
Because at this point, the Blue Jays have invested so much money into this roster, they may as well do everything in their power to secure a spot in the postseason. Even if that means parting with prospects or big league players.
For me personally, 2013 is somewhat of an odd culture change in that there has always been this sort of endearing underdog quality about the Blue Jays. The Red Sox and Yankees were always the beasts of the AL East, and that meant the road to the postseason always went through Boston and New York.
But with the advent of the Tampa Bay Rays as a surprise contender in 2007, that all changed. The entire dynamic of the division shifted and no longer was it just a two-team race in the American League East.
So it's kind of odd to see the Blue Jays, who used to be the weaker little brother of the AL East suddenly vault themselves to the top of the heap as the World Series favourite.
Will it be the end of the world if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year? No, but for a fan base that has been through so much over the past 20 years, Blue Jays fans deserve a winner now more than ever.
The Blue Jays may falter in 2013, but unlike the past 19 years, it won't be the fault of the front office. As R.A. Dickey said, "if we don't win, it won't be because of him (Alex) or the team he put together, it will be because we didn't do it as a unit."
Now it's up to those 25 guys to hold up their end of the bargain and end the Blue Jays 20 year playoff drought.