Never mind the post-season. The Toronto Blue Jays will do well to be playing meaningful baseball games at this time next month.
Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team has been under the .500 mark for almost six weeks. A brutal 9-19 record in May snuffed the momentum from a solid start to the regular season.
Despite some improved results of late, the Blue Jays appear primed to be sellers ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The franchise is focused on the future and the slim chances of reaching the playoffs this year aren’t likely to dictate a change of course.
Entering play Tuesday at Houston, the Blue Jays were in fourth place in the American League East with a mediocre 37-41 record. It would take a remarkable second half for the team to get into the playoff hunt.
Toronto was 15 games out of the division lead and 10 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot ahead of Tuesday’s full slate of games. Assuming a 90-win total is needed for the second wild-card spot, the Blue Jays would need to go 53-31 to get there.
The likelihood of Toronto reaching the post-season is currently 4.3 per cent, per a FanGraphs projection on the MLB website.
Playing at a .631 clip the rest of the way is unlikely but not impossible. The Blue Jays can look to their own franchise history for examples.
The 1989 team was also 37-41 before turning things around to win the East title with 89 victories. The 2015 squad was at 50-51 before a ridiculous 43-18 run helped the Blue Jays win the division title with 93 wins.
Don’t expect something similar in 2018.
The Blue Jays’ front office has been focused on restocking minor-league depth in recent years. The future-first approach — with top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette at the front of the line — is unlikely to change.
Injuries to a number of key players have been a problem all year. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (heel), third baseman Josh Donaldson (calf) and pitchers Aaron Sanchez (finger), Jaime Garcia (shoulder) and Danny Barnes (knee) are still on the disabled list.
Toronto’s rotation has underperformed with only 29 quality starts and closer Roberto Osuna is in the middle of a 75-game suspension as he faces an assault charge.
Skipper John Gibbons deserves credit for regularly assembling patchwork lineups and managing the bullpen well enough to keep the team within range of the .500 mark.
J.A. Happ’s trade stock is perhaps the highest at the moment. Toronto’s lone 10-game winner is earning US$13 million in the final year of his deal. He could generate the strongest return since he’s a veteran left-handed starter still in his prime.
Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP, is also in a contract year but it’s difficult to determine his trade value until he returns to the lineup.
Osuna could still be traded even though his suspension runs through Aug. 4. Pitchers Ryan Tepera and Marco Estrada have also generated some trade rumour buzz.
The good news for Blue Jays fans is the pain may only last a year or two if the white towel is waved and general manager Ross Atkins starts dealing.
Several exciting youngsters — Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to name a couple — could be anchors on the team down the road and the prospect list is much stronger than previous years.
That pool of young talent could become even deeper in the weeks to come.