From hard-line owners to hard-done by players to frustrated fans, we’re long past the point of having a Major League Baseball season that would satisfy all of the senses. Read MoreCould unique circumstances of a shortened season break the Blue Jays way? — Toronto Sun
From hard-line owners to hard-done by players to frustrated fans, we’re long past the point of having a Major League Baseball season that would satisfy all of the senses.
But with news on Wednesday that MLB and its players association are finally negotiating face-to-face and in good faith, we can for the first time start imagining what such a season would look like and the potential implications for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Whether 60 games or 70 (and most likely closer to the latter given the indication from sources on Wednesday) the Jays will certainly be one of the most intriguing organizations to watch in whatever form 2020 takes.
Seen by many around baseball as a rapidly moving towards contention club, it is conceivable that the Jays could be a surprise factor given the reduced sample size whatever form of a protracted schedule may bring and the expanded playoff format that has already successfully been negotiated.
As is the case with all 30 MLB teams, an abridged season comes at a potential cost for Jays management, which for the most part feels it was on the right track before the COVID-19 pandemic intervened. But it also creates a unique set of circumstances that could benefit the Jays as much or more than many of its rivals.
Here’s a look at some of the concerns no doubt filtering through the minds of team president Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and the rest of the baseball operations department as a season moves closer to reality.
Firmly entrenched in the draft and development playbook, the Jays certainly have reason to be optimistic with some of the groundwork already in place.
But how will a 65-70 game season affect those on the accelerated path to becoming potential MLB stars?
It was difficult not to be captivated by the 2019 emergence of players such as Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. And part of the excitement of 2020 was to track the continued growth of that group and others. Will that progress get stunted because of a shortened season and the reduction in at-bats and playing opportunities defensively? We shall see.
One of the great unknowns of 2020 — regardless of the big league season — is what will happen to the minor leagues. The consensus seems to be that there won’t be any farm team action, which could be devastating to a group loaded with prospects.
To their credit, the Jays by all accounts are among the more progressive organizations in terms of player development but it will take all that creativity and more to come up with ways to continue the progress shown by a group of players such as infielder Jordan Groshans, this year’s first-round pick Austin Martin, plus would-be stud pitchers such as Nate Pearson and Alek Manoah.
RYU THE DAY
When the Blue Jays braintrust was given clearance to break open the Rogers Communications bank on a four-year, $80-million deal for ace left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu it was heralded as a signal that this management group was serious about winning now. Or very soon, at least.
Given that Ryu turned 33 two weeks after baseball (and the rest of the world) was halted, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the Jays anticipated the best performance years to be at the front end of that deal. A shortened season certainly has the impact to diminish the impact of the signing.
Having to pay Ryu a maximum of 40% of that first $20-million might assuage the Rogers beancounters, but they pursued Ryu in part to help accelerate the young core’s move towards contention.
As for the dreamy side of the Ryu influence, should the South Korean southpaw emerge as a true ace, his value in a shortened season may actually increase. Sure, he might top out at 15 starts, but if those turns in the rotation turn out to be virtual guaranteed win nights, the chance of the Jays being a surprise factor increases.
WHAT ABOUT NATE?
Other than tracking the development of Ryu and his young position player teammates, one of the highlights of the month in Dunedin (way, way, way back in February and early March) was seeing flame-throwing right hander Nate Pearson in action.
The first-round pick regularly hit triple digits with his fastball and showed every sign of being the Jays No. 2 starter in Grapefruit League play. The plan was always for Pearson to start 2020 in Buffalo, but with no triple-A season and an arm in need of innings, few would be surprised if Pearson was in that rotation at some point early on in the 2020 season 2.0.
The management and fan perspective would differ on Pearson’s season, but may have the same end game. The kid needs meaningful innings and the big leagues seem far and away the most viable option. And for the fans, having Pearson in the lineup is not only incredibly exciting, but significantly increases the team’s chances of being in contention.
Back to the Jays fans dream sequence: A Ryu-Pearson one-two punch in the rotation could be both fascinating and formidable stuff.
Given the corporate structure of Jays ownership, we’re guessing it is a safe bet that Rogers Communications was not part of a minority group who favoured scrapping the season altogether.
Consider that it’s all one happy family — a baseball team, a TV network and a radio network — that thrives on the synergies and a reduced schedule is already exacting a price.
Television ratings were surprisingly strong the past two seasons, fuelled in part by the young guns and the nature of being ideal summer-time programming. It can be argued that few (if any) teams in baseball benefit more from its TV deal than the Jays given the inherent boon of 162 games of in-house programming with good numbers.
Lopping 100 or so off of that is no doubt a hit to Rogers Communications, so just like the players, the more games MLB is able to cram into the limited window, the better.
Shapiro and Atkins won’t publicly venture down this road, but fans sure will. So the question is a valid one: Are the above factors trumped by the fact that the Jays may actually be sitting on a superfecta of factors that make them one of the most intriguing contenders in MLB?
Online bookmaker sportsinteraction.com was among the quickest out with odds on the proposed MLB season. With a caveat of a minimum 60 games being played, the over/under on the Jays win percentage was set at 46.5%.
A shortened-season, expanded playoffs, Ryu and Pearson plus all the young guns certainly sounds like fun, doesn’t it?