The Sweet Release of Death: A 2018 Toronto Blue Jays Post-Mortem

Josh Donaldson John Gibbons

Okay, I will concede that I am being a touch over-dramatic. At least the Jays weren’t on pace to lose 120 for most of the season like the Baltimore Orioles. Yet the 2018 season for the Blue Jays was an overall disappointment, punctuated with the departure of fan-favourites Josh Donaldson and John Gibbons.

Prior to the season, most pundits and prognosticators had pegged the Blue Jays as team that would win around 80 games, maybe a few more if everything broke right. 82-84 wins does not a playoff team make, especially in the AL Beast. It was clear to all but the most homer-prone Blue Jays fan that the rebuild should have began in the offseason, but alas, it did not. Blue Jays management were optimistic that the roster could compete for a playoff spot late into the season, but it all started to unravel in spring training – before the season even began. Troy Tulowitzki’s single ankle injury manifested itself into bone spurs in multiple feet, requiring surgery. Although he was expected to return during the season, he did not. Marcus Stroman battled a balky shoulder early-on and struggled to find his rhythm. Randal Grichuk sustained a rib injury and was an offensive non-entity for the first two months of the season. Devon Travis struggled to hit his weight and was sent to Triple-A Buffalo. Steve Pearce was Steve Pearce, which is to say, he was hurt. Josh Donaldson couldn’t make a throw across the diamond and then blew up his oft-injured calf. Gift Ngoepe hit .056. Roberto Osuna was suspended. By the beginning of May, it was clear this team was going nowhere fast.

Alas, by then, it was already too late to generate any sort of return on what was left of this sad sack team. None of the expendable pieces the Blue Jays had left of the roster had any real value, save maybe J.A. Happ. The Jays skidded to the July trade deadline and jettisoned Steve Pearce, J.A. Happ, Seungwhan Oh, Roberto Osuna, John Axford, and Aaron Loup. On the face of it, most of the deals were either underwhelming or straight-up disappointing. The Jays’ collective return amounted to pennies on the dollar when compared to the return that would have generated had they begun the firesale in the offseason or prior to it. At least in theory; we’ll never know for sure. However, credit is due to Ross Atkins for negotiating a meaningful return for ~distressed asset~ Roberto Osuna.

Then came the dagger in the heart. The greatest third baseman in Blue Jays history, Josh Donaldson, was traded to the Cleveland Indians for what amounted to a pack of Big League Chew coming off Tommy John surgery.

But it wasn’t all bad.

If youth is a defect, it is one we outgrow too soon

Unlike the previously mentioned Baltimore Orioles, there is hope for this Toronto Blue Jays team. Part of the fun of a rebuild is getting to see the young kids come up and play like their hair is on fire. Randal Grichuk stated his case to be the heir apparent to Kevin Pillar (which could come as soon as 2019 should Pillar and his .282 OBP be non-tendered), all while posting a 141 OPS+ in the second half of the season.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. showed flashes of the promise the Blue Jays saw in him when they signed him to a seven-year, $22 million contract. Gurriel set the Blue Jays record for most consecutive multi-hit games with 11. He was also the first Toronto rookie to homer in three consecutive at-bats.

Thomas Pannone and Ryan Borucki held their own in auditions as left-handed starting options for the Blue Jays in 2019. Sean Reid-Foley was overpowering at times, striking out 10 in multiple games, yet struggled with his command as well. Their familiar battery-mates, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, proved to have the makings of a formidable catching tandem.

On the minor league side, many of the Blue Jays affiliates had success, highlighted by the champion Double-A New Hampshire Fishercats. Many important young players made strides in 2018, including Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Jonathan Davis, T.J. Zeuch, and Jordan Romano. High upside pitching prospects Nate Pearson and Eric Pardinho are only a few years behind.

As far as projecting next year’s team? It’s too soon for that. With a crowded 40-man roster and a Rule 5 draft looming, there is still much shuffling to be done. The 2019 season will be fun to watch and it will be painful to watch. One thing is for certain, the youth movement is afoot. Better late than never.

Who will be the next Blue Jays manager?

John Gibbons was surely loved around these parts. I’m gutted by his departure, but from every ending comes a new beginning.

Ever since Eric Wedge was hired as a player development advisor in 2016, there has been talk that Gibbons was just keeping the managerial seat warm for Wedge until the axe fell on his head. Now that Gibbons is out, Vegas odds favour Eric Wedge as the next Blue Jays manager. But not so fast.

Last spring, one of the Mop-Up Duty writers bumped into Wedge while he was performing his player development advisor duties at the Bobby Mattick Complex in Dunedin. When asked if he would consider managing again, Wedge replied “no chance” and that he would “never manage again.” He’s comfortable in his current role and the opportunity to be with his family that his current position affords him is what he’s always wanted.

Although there’s the possibility that Wedge was just being coy, he did not convey any interest in managing the Blue Jays whatsoever, for what it’s worth.

 

Featured image credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

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has written for Mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Callum on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram