Tonight Toronto starts their last series against Boston this year, and one can expect many in the (likely small) Rogers Centre crowd will be a little envious of the Red Sox. Not so much because of the season they’re having. Although certainly far and away better than Toronto’s, at 76-68 the Beantowners are a long-shot to make the playoffs, being 8 games out of the wild card race with only 18 games left. At best, mathematically, Boston can win 94… or 14 less than they did in last season in their World Series winning campaign. No, in that Boston has a lot in common with Toronto – a lot of disgruntled fans wondering what happened to their beloved team this year. Why Toronto might be envious is that the ownership of the Red Sox said “enough is enough” and did something about it. They fired their GM (although his title strangely enough was President of Baseball operations, the club lacking anyone with the title “General Manager”) Dave Drombowski.
Drombrowski is a great baseball man with lots of years experience, and the team’s own press release laud him for three-straight division titles and the World Series. But to them, it’s “what have you done for me lately?” They decided this year has been a bust in Beantown and someone had to pay for it and who better than the man who created the roster. Dombrowski was shown the door with 3 weeks left on the sched and another year on his contract. People were surprised.
Team manager Alex Cora said “surprised, shocked honestly” when asked for his reaction. Pity poor Alex, who’ll no doubt be looking over his shoulder a bit more for the rest of September. Star JD Martinez said about the same, that he felt “probably the same reaction you guys had – just a shock.” He added, “it’s a business and that’s their call” which hardly seemed like a strong endorsement.
MLB discussing the firing on their website noted that for all the success he’d had in the past, in the off-season he chose to let Craig Kimbrel leave and not replace him with a proven closer, that he re-signed Steve Pearce who’s been injured much of the time and that he gave a massive $145M contract extension to formerly-stellar Chris Sale, who in turn has struggled with velocity and elbow issues and tossed the worst year of his career, going 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and few runs of consecutive good games. To counter-balance, they note he also extended Xander Bogaert’s contract and the shortstop is having his best year yet.
More damning, Dombrowski did nothing much at the trade deadline, not adding any significant impact players to a team with a decidedly weak bullpen and on-again, off-again rotation. The team rewarded that by going on an 8-game losing streak.
So the Red Sox have one “off” season and decide they need a change in direction to make sure they don’t have two disappointers in a row. If only Toronto fans were so lucky.
To point out the obvious, expectations for the Blue Jays this season were lower than they were for the defending world champions. Many picked them for 4th place in the division (which is where they should finish only due to Baltimore having one of the worst teams in recent MLB history), but some chose to believe they could pass Tampa Bay and at least give a little hope of competing for a Wild Card spot. Sports Illustrated, for example back in spring picked their over/under number as 86.5, meaning they expected them to have a winning year. Instead, they’re having a horrible season, sitting at 55-89, and still waiting for their first win of September.
Attendance is down, fans are still furious over a number of trades which seem to have done nothing at all but cut payroll at the expense of wins, and the Jays are now looking probable to lose 100 games for the first time since Donna Summer ruled the airwaves – 1979. Even the highlight of the season has been… less than the bonanza promised. While there is hope for the future in young players making their debuts – Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, not to mention Lourdes Gurriel, Danny Jansen , Ryan Borucki who made short appearances in 2018 – even that looks a little dull compared to some of the competition. Vlad has hit very well, and in some years would look like a potential Rookie of the Year. He’s clipping along with a .276 avg, 15 homers, 61 RBI, 45 walks and an .809 OPS, establishing himself as probably the team’s most reliable hitter only a 109 games in. Bo Bichette set records with his hitting streak to begin his career and is still hitting over .300 after six weeks. Tampa pitcher Charlie Morton says of him “he’s giving you tough at bats. It’s pretty impressive.”
Impressive indeed. But not quite as mind-blowing as the rookie campaigns of Pete Alonso of the Mets (47 HR, 109 RBI, .968 OPS),or Yordan Alvarez of the Astros (.316, 24 HR, 72 RBI in only 71 games)…and both of them were far below Guerrero and Bichette on MLB’s “prospects” list at the start of the year. And with good hitting prospects Biggio and Jansen both struggling at the plate, one has to wonder if the “kids” are getting any kind of quality coaching that their counterparts elsewhere are.
Yet the official policy from the Jays seems to be “don’t worry, be happy.” Manager Charlie Montoyo has frequently said the kids are “having fun” and seems nonplussed by the mounting L-column. “I’m enjoying this. I love these kids. They play hard. How they play, the culture that’s going on in the clubhouse, it’s great!” he exclaimed after Sunday’s loss completing the Rays sweep of his club. Indeed, for the most part, one nice thing about the year is that Vlad, Cavan and the other young ones all seem happy and smiling almost all the time.
Now, I believe in moderation. The great thing about baseball and it’s long, long season, is that every team wins some, loses some. It teaches you to roll with the flow and not get too bent out of shape with one bad game let alone one bad at bat. It happens. I for one don’t need to see another hitter throwing a tantrum over an iffy strike call in a meaningless June game or hear about another pitcher breaking his hand punching a wall because he just gave up a home run. And yes, baseball is supposed to be fun.
But for all that, one also needs to think the players on the teams are actually trying or give a damn. One recalls the scene in Moneyball where Billy Beane storms into a cheerful, partying clubhouse after another loss and tells them “this is what losing sounds like.” A little of that might go a long way in Toronto, where it’s difficult to tell whether the Jays won 16-3 or lost by that score from the players’ reactions afterwards.
But GM Ross Atkins continues to talk glibly about “controlability” and the wonders of Derek Fisher, the OF he got from Houston for two major league pitchers. Fisher, for the record, since coming over six weeks ago has hit .169 with 5 homers – and 7 hits that weren’t homers – 1 stolen base and strikeouts in 45% of at bats. His OPS is 22% below league average and his defensive range is listed as below average, with him already costing the team 4 runs defensively according to Baseball-Reference. Yet Atkins continues to say “it’s hard to find someone like Derek… potentially plus (defense) in corners, above average running, raw power.” I don’t know Fisher. He may very well be a wonderful guy. He might be a nice father and good husband, might have a decent sense of humor. I hope he is all those things. What I do know, and Jays fans are finding quickly, is that he is not a baseball player skilled enough for the Majors. Only Ross Atkins is blind to that.
Club president Mark Shapiro has been a bit more visible this summer and spoke recently about the team’s potential. “We really need to be exceptional. We can’t just be good. We can’t just be average…(the players) need to perform at an extremely high level. We hope that can happen faster than anyone thinks is possible.”
I hope he’s right. And think he just might be. But the first way to start walking that path is clearly to bring in someone who knows how to bring in talent when and where needed. It’s time for a new general manager.