For teams with long playoff droughts, front-office executives often say that one benchmark is to play meaningful games in September.
The Toronto Blue Jays, whose most recent postseason game ended on a Joe Carter home run, seemed poised to check off the “September contention” box this year. They led the American League East by six games on June 6. They were in first place at the beginning of July.
But since then, the Jays have faded back into the mediocrity that has plagued the franchise for the past two decades. Toronto has a 6-16 record since the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline passed without Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos making a significant move. That is the worst mark in the majors over that period.
We’ll never know whether a couple veteran additions would have improved the team’s performance — or morale. However, this much is certain: The Jays are a middling 66-66, 10 games back in the AL East and 6-1/2 behind Seattle for the second wild card.
The Blue Jays have a 1.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.com. And it’s Aug. 27.
They are not going to play meaningful games in September.
The August collapse will prompt a number of difficult questions for Blue Jays ownership and management this offseason. The Jays have a franchise record payroll, yet are on pace to finish with a tie for their ninth-best record in the 21 seasons since winning the ’93 World Series.
Again: This is an average team.
Two seasons after the acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey, how much progress have the Jays truly made? This could have been the year Toronto won the division, particularly with the Yankees and Red Sox experiencing downturns. Instead, the Jays wasted another prime year of power-hitting lineup cornerstones Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Now the team will enter this offseason needing to fill two outfield spots, with Melky Cabrera (.830 OPS this year) and Colby Rasmus set to enter free agency.
Yes, the organization has reason to be encouraged with the development of young pitchers Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Daniel Norris. But the idea was to make the playoffs at least once and probably twice during the three-year window from 2013 to 2015. Now the Jays are 0-for-2, and the lack of pennant-race drama in September means they can’t declare the 2014 season a meaningful step forward, at least in terms of major-league performance.
Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins — the team with whom the Jays executed that blockbuster trade after the 2012 season — have almost an identical record (65-66). And the Marlins are spending only one-third as much money.