Tonight’s Blue Jays game in Kansas City will be watched closely and with anticipation by fans, which is something we’ve not said for awhile now. The reason is highly-touted pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley being listed as the scheduled starter, thereby making it his MLB debut. Add to that the fact that in all likelihood, behind the plate will be his normal catcher of late, Danny Jansen, who was called up yesterday and is expected to make his debut as well.
It will be good to see a glimpse of the team’s future… but it doesn’t hide the fact that this is one lacklustre season which is trying the patience of even diehard fans. It doesn’t put enough smoke out to screen the fact that there’s a noose dangling over manager John Gibbons’ career either. Widely respected baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal started a rumor last week that Toronto was about to fire Gibby, Toronto media picked up on the story and it grew and a few days back, Gibbons suggested that he was OK with staying or going and that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around if the team was going to have a “total rebuild.” That gave the story more legs, even with Gibbons under contract to Toronto through next season.
It would be a bit of a shame to see Gibbons go. He seems affable in his own odd way, has been much better with the media than his predecessor John Farrell and ranks second on the Jays all-time list for games and wins among managers. Curiously he trails only another San Antonio, TX native who also had two go arounds as manager- Cito Gaston. Currently Gibbons sits at 1537 regualar season games managed, with just over half (773) being wins. Gaston has 1731 and 894 respectively meaning Gibbons would surpass Cito for longevity sometime next year if he stays on and, we’d hope in wins as well. The latter however would be a longshot given the trajectory of the club in the last couple of years.
Which leads us to my point. I like Gibby but maybe it is time for him to go. He seems to be having trouble motivating the team lately and they sure aren’t putting up W’s or even exciting the diminishing crowds in the stadium. However, if he goes, Rogers’ should see to it that joining him on the path to the Exit are GM Ross Atkins and Big Poohbah Mark Shapiro. Since that pair crossed the border from Cleveland after the 2015 season, they’ve quickly driven the team steadily downwards on the field and in the public’s eye.
Currently they sit at 53-64, saved the embarrassment of last place only by the horrendous work of the Baltimore Orioles. The Jays sit on pace to win 73 games. The last time they won that few was 2012, the last season John Farrell managed (and the one which led them to hire Gibbons in the winter.) this from a team that went to the League Championship in both 2015 and ’16. Although they did alright in 2016, the first season of Shapiro and Atkins, they were coasting on much of the residual squad left behind by Alex Anthopoulos (criticizing his style and trades all the way) they did, recall, do a little worse in ’16 than ’15, just squeaking into the post-season via Wild Card rather than winning the division. Since then it’s been all downhill.
The 2015 team was an offensive juggernaut, hitting .269 with a lead-best 893 runs, or 5.5 per game. Since then those numbers have dropped to .248 and .240 , with 4.6 and 4.4 runs per game. This year’s are much like last year’s, a .243 average and mediocre 4.4 runs per game. Pitching has deteriorated as well, not surprisingly.
Less surprising is the drop in attendance at the gate. Toronto still draws a butt or two over the league average, but have seen the biggest drop in attendance of any team this year. No wonder. They are losing on the field and worse, as ordinary fans and newspaper reporters alike are noting, about half the roster seems to care very little and hustle even less. Perhaps this is Gibbons’ fault for not getting maximum effort out of his ever-changing roster. Perhaps too though, it’s Atkins fault for putting together a roster of players who seem to lack drive and determination.
More disturbing is the lack of progress we’ve seen in some of the highly-touted off season acquisitions Atkins’ crowed about. for instance, Yangeris Solarte, now on the DL (and singled out by the Toronto Sun for seemingly dogging it on the basepaths) looked promising early on but is now down to a .233 average and .684 OBP. He has 17 homers, but only 2 since May. Compare that to his past two years with San Diego. There, in a division renowned for parks that are tough to hit in, he had a .270 average and .764 OBP, hitting home runs at almost the same rate there (1 per 26 at bats) as here in the division of Long Ball Ballparks. The numbers show the same path for Randal Grichuk, the prize off-season OF acquisition when compared to his last 2 years in St. Louis. Not the way you want to see a career heading for a talented dude who at 28 (today) should be just about hitting his prime.
Fact is few players who’ve come from other organizations are improving in Toronto and the progress of the homegrown kinds isn’t that head-turning either. For example pitcher Marcus Stroman, at loggerheads with front office on a routine basis and clearly heading downwards after being seen as a sure-bet pitching staff “ace” a scant couple of years back. It almost makes you worry about the future of the likes of Reid-Foley if they come up into this clubhouse and atmosphere.
Speaking of, while it is true and much noted that the Jays have a good amount of talent in the minors- MLB rank their minor league system as 5th best – a large percentage of that talent was the work of Anthopolos, not Atkins et al. For example, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the best player in the world not playing in the big leagues, was signed in 2015. Reid-Foley, signed a year before that. Danny Jansen goes back all the way to 2013. To be fair, some of the great youngsters- Lourdes Gurriel, Bo Bichette- were brought on board by the current front office. But for the most part, the hope of the future lies in young players whose presence in Toronto owes itself to a past regime.
I’ll be looking forward to seeing what young Sean does on the mound tonight and how Jansen settles in at the plate and behind it. But as a fan, I’m looking more forward to a change of the attitude of the organization, from one of playing like it’s a small-market team looking to at best finish at .500 and feature gritty “character players” rather than superior talents to one that recognizes Toronto as one of the biggest and most enthusiastic markets, one hungry for a winning team and with a foundation moving up through the minors that could make that happen for a number of years very soon.