Despite a run of good play of late from our Jays, I can't help but admit that they're failing to hold my attention--fully, at least. Nevertheless, I will do my utmost not to allow my unbridled enthusiasm for the Russian Women's Volleyball team and its quest for sexy, sexy Olympic Gold in Beijing next month distract me unduly from the sport of baseball. And shit, man, wasn't that some walk off win last night? Always appreciate good baseball (dingers, comebacks, nervous tension) when you see it.
* For some reason the above photo was not the first hit I got on a google image search of "hot Russian women." I cannot be the only one to appreciate the combination of grace, agility, long legs, blonde hair, sultry come-hither lips and power-spiking, can I?
I don't want to shit on people for getting up for the Jays (again) and don't even need to run a probability check on how likely it is those hopes get dashed against the rocks. It is, however, highly interesting to watch as Jays fandom coalesces into two rival camps, let's call them the stay-the-coursers and the demolition artists. I reckon (with confidence) that there are very few avid fans left who haven't made up their mind as to which faction they belong to. Cue Billy Bragg's "Which Side Are You On?" on the hi-fi.
Stay-the-coursers go along with the company line that injury and inexplicable underperformance explain the disappointing 2007 season and first 100 games of 2008, but hope for some minor tweaks along with better luck in 2009. While many are realistic enough to accept that this season is almost certainly lost, they feel that all this team needs to be competitive next year is a solid SS (there are FA options out there) and a full time DH (again, one of the easier puzzle pieces to obtain).
They take solace knowing that the staff, even after the probable loss of AJ Burnett, is a source of great strength and likely will be for the foreseeable future. They laud the team's defense. They remember that Aaron Hill will hopefully probably be back (2B has been an offensive black hole; collectively Hill and his replacements have put up a .689 OPS). Vernon Wells can't suffer these fluke injuries again. Adam Lind will be up for the whole season. And help in the form of Travis Snider/Brett Cecil/Brian Jeroloman/JP Arrencibia/Scott Campbell is indeed on the way.
Demolition Artists see a .500 team with a $100 million payroll and, more importantly, little hope of leap-frogging the Bosox, Rays and a Yankee club that is likely to be restocked with a ludicris number of big ticket FA signings this offseason. They think that the disappointing 2007 season and first 100 games of 2008 can be pinned on a GM who overestimated the talent level of many of his players. JP has locked in average to slightly-above average bats at pretty much every position, giving the bean counters "cost certainty", but handcuffing his successor's efforts to make significant upgrades.
The Marlins and A's (both in playoff races on miniscule budgets) provide the blueprint. They've rebuilt without bottoming out, astutely trading away players as they grew more expensive without performing any better. They see Roy Halladay as one of the most valuable trading chips in the game, an elite talent that could bring back a collection of young studs that sets the team up for a massive run of future success. He might be under contract for two more years, but is it advisable--or even affordable--to lock him up for a $100 million extension at age 33? The Doc is irreplaceable, but money is money, and we don't have an unlimited supply of it.
I would guess that Jays fans are split about 80-20 in favour of the stay-the-course approach, reflecting optimism as much as a fear of the unknown. Now, I'm totally willing to give everyone in this camp a huge high five if JP/JP's successor pulls in Manny Ramirez to DH for us next year and trades for a hidden talent like Khalil Greene to play short. But realistically, I figure it's more likely that if JP's still on the job you'll see something underwhelming like Cardinals castoff Chris Duncan in the DH spot and an overpriced, weak hitting glove man like Orlando Cabrera playing short.
If that's the way it's going to be, then yes, I think we'd be better off blowing this fucker up. JP has built a decent core of players, but I have little faith in his ability to see which ones need to upgraded and which can be kept on for the future. Colour me highly skeptical of all things Blue Jay until we see a regime change.
A few names I've wanted to check up on for some time now:
* Cody Haerther: a left-handed hitting outfielder JP claimed off waivers back in November, the subsequently left off the 40-man roster and lost back to the Cardinals all in the span of a week. Haerther showed some promise in the past (decent OBP skills and SLG%) before being derailed by injuries and it seemed like he might become a decent 4th OF option for the Jays this year. Mind you, the initial transaction took place with Reed Johnson's future very much up in the air and well before Shannon Stewart came into the picture. It seemed puzzling that JP would zero on a guy then just allow his old organization to snatch him back right way, but it would appear that there was no harm done: Haerther has come totally unglued Russ Adams-style in his age 24 season, "hitting" an abysmal .243/.311/.328 in the slugging Pacific Coast League. Buck Coats would heave a sigh of relief if he knew or cared.
* Kristian Bell and Graham Godfrey: these two arms went to the A's in exchange for Marco Scutaro last offseason. At the time, they were considered more or less disposable low-level relievers and Beane took them for Scutaro (who was likely going to be released for cost-cutting reasons) as a courtesy to his old protege then scouring the American League, the National League, and the Negro Leagues for a utility man. Neither has exactly lit the world on fire in the minors this year, but both have been promoted, Bell to AA and Godfrey to AAA. Nothing really to report here just yet, but try to contain your shock when Godfrey becomes a contributing member of the A's bullpen in late 2009.
* Shannon Stewart: Yeah, him, not the sexy Playboy dame. Instead of using his recent injury to quietly retire from the game with some dignity intact, he's back on a rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Jays according to Batter's Box. Look out Kevin Mench!
-- Johnny Was