Before I begin, no this is not a ‘Hey, the Jays exceeded expectations this year, they will be even better next year. Therefore, they should forego any continuance of a rebuilding plan and sell the farm for a one-off chance at a World Series appearance' column.
Rather, this is merely a notion that the Toronto Blue Jays may in fact be better at this point than fans anticipated or were led to believe. And, that the organization should continue on the current path of rebuilding and progression in order to ensure, not predict, future long-term success.
That being said, it would be nice if the regular Jays fan, who might be anywhere in Canada, could watch the team's rebuilding process with some consistency, and see some of the amazing feats that have occurred this year. Fans, in the west in particular, looking for the Jays on TV, have missed a lot. Most notably not on air was the highly touted Jays pitching prospect Kyle Drabek's first start, as well as his first home start. Fans also missed perhaps the most important achievement in recent Jays history, Jose Bautista's 50th homerun of the season. An amazing feat, but, as the Jays stats guy Scott Carson put it, “Too bad more weren't there to witness it.” What's too bad is that the Jays owners show no concern for the fans that would have liked to witness it. Instead fans are left searching Blue Jays blogs, such as drunkjaysfans.com, for handheld recordings of Bautista's homerun feat.
But enough with the blasting of Jays ownership, they probably just want to let the fan base hit rock bottom as they did with the team's performance. And then build both back up from scratch. Perhaps once the team begins to perform competitively on a nightly basis, and fans inevitably begin to return because of this, then the regard and respect the organization had for its fans will return as well.
Looking on the bright side, the Jays may begin to compete sooner than fans anticipated, which may in turn lead to fans returning to the old Skydome, also sooner than they anticipated.
Blue Jays better than expected
The 2010 Toronto Blue Jays have made immense strides since the debacle that was last year, which stemmed from the Jays previous management's lack of patience, among other things. Before this season began, fans were told to lower their expectations for this team in transition. They were warned the team might even do worse than last year.
But instead of living down to expectation, the 2010 Jays provided the dissipating fan base with much more to cheer for than expected. The Jays surpassed their win total from last year (75) with two weeks left in the season. The team has hit 241 homeruns with seven games remaining, and still has a chance to break the team record of 244.
Individually, the Jays have nine players with over 10 homeruns, and one more player just one the cusp with eight. Even more amazing is the season Jose Bautista has had. He beat the great George Bell's homerun record of 47 in a season, then hit his milestone 50th homerun on Sept. 23 and has had two more since.
As for the pitching staff, four pitchers stepped up this year, becoming bona fide major league starters. Each had ten or more wins, over 140 innings pitched and earned run averages of less than 4.50. On top of their great seasons statistically, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Shaun Marcum and Brandon Morrow all gained invaluable experience at the major league level. And even more importantly, the oldest of the group, Marcum, is only 28, which would lead one to believe that there is plenty of potential for them to grow into a confident, intimidating young staff.
Now add to that group Kyle Drabek, a very highly touted pitching prospect brought to Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade. With the addition of his arm, they jays would have a solid five-man rotation. However, Drabek's eligibility for the rotation next season is not completely certain, as he pitched at double A New Hampshire for the majority of this season. But his numbers speak for themselves: 14-9 record, 2.94 ERA, 163 innings pitched, and 132 strike outs, with only 68 walks. I am no expert, but his stuff should be in the majors and on a regular basis.
He may not light it up in the big leagues next year, but it will at least provide him with major league experience, something invaluable to all young pitchers.
But don't rush him; if management is worried about protecting his arm, shut him down after 140 innings, like they did with Morrow after his impressive season. Coach Drabek, and let him progress gradually, so that his best stuff comes two or three years down the road, just in time for the Jays to get on a roll and make their first playoff run in almost 20 years.
And getting on a roll can go a long way. Just look at the Tampa Bay Rays. They played through years of misery and a non-existent fan base. But in 2008 the team turned it all around. They went from last in the A.L. East, with a record of 66-96 in 2007, to first in the division in 2008, with a record of 97-65, reaching the playoffs and World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Now I am not saying the Jays will do that. That was an incredible and unprecedented jump in the standings that may never be repeated. But what the Jays can do is follow the same path as the Rays, which many baseball writers in Canada and the U.S. say they are doing.
The Jays are following an often overlooked, but never overvalued, plan of building from within, with young talented players that work their way up through the organization's system. The Jays entire pitching staff, minus Brandon Morrow, has come up together, through the Jays system. The same goes for players such as Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider. The Jays have a young core group of players and pitchers to build around, as well as some valuable veterans that can play big roles in the near future. Now all management needs to do is stay the course and not get irresponsible.
The Jays don't need to go out and win the pennant next season just to show improvement. Success next season would be if they pulled off something similar to the surprises of this season, while continuing to progress and grow and get better as a team.
So this I ask, as a fan and critic of the Toronto Blue Jays. Please owners, do us all a favour and maintain a core group of talented players and pitchers, continue to stock the farm system and do it all in a smart, progressive and thoughtful smart manner – that is why we pay you, I think.
This plan, fans can only hope and I truly believe, will lead the Toronto Blue Jays back to prominence in the near future, for years to come.