Rival teams are eyeballing the Toronto Blue Jays roster, pondering the prospective free agents who could become available before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline: Edwin Encarnacion, Kelly Johnson, Darren Oliver, Carlos Villanueva and others.
That’s in keeping with a pattern the Blue Jays have established in recent years: start fast, fall back to .500, switch to “sell” mode in July, finish out of the playoffs. Many Toronto fans have grown tired of the mediocrity and yearn for a sign that the front office is serious about building a championship team.
Blue Jays superstar Jose Bautista understands the feeling. In fact, he seems to agree with the fans.
The Blue Jays whipped the Los Angeles Angels, 11-2, on Saturday afternoon, to move within three games of the American League’s second wild-card spot. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has yet to acquire a veteran pitcher to salve a sore-armed starting rotation that has endured a number of injuries. But Anthopoulos hasn’t conceded the season by trading veterans, either.
During a lengthy interview Saturday morning, Bautista urged the front office to acquire talent and give the team a stronger shot at the postseason.
“Let’s go for it,” Bautista told FOXSports.com. “Hopefully, the change is made now. We’re in a position, in the middle of the season, to compete for a playoff spot. A lot of people maybe have forgotten about the extra wild card, but I certainly haven’t. There was a lot of talk about it in spring training, and I haven’t heard much since.
“There’s a possibility of three teams from this division going to the playoffs. I’m sure the team has that in mind. Hopefully our fans do, too. If they come out and support us, it’s going to be a different animal.”
Bautista is the franchise cornerstone, having signed a five-year, $65 million contract before last season. Clearly, he doesn’t accept that the Blue Jays are destined to miss the playoffs on the 20th anniversary of their 1992 World Series title.
Back then, the Blue Jays drew 4 million fans to the brand-new marvel known as SkyDome. This year, they rank seventh in attendance among the 14 AL teams. But Bautista sees potential in a large market that hasn’t enjoyed a title in the four major North American professional sports since Joe Carter’s home run clinched the ’93 World Series.
“We have some of the most avid fans here in Toronto, not only with baseball but all sports,” Bautista said. “You saw when Vince Carter was with the Raptors, they had a packed house. You see it every single day with hockey and how passionate they are. The Leafs haven’t won since way before the Blue Jays, but they pack the house because it’s the national sport. That shows you they’re there, they’re hungry for a championship.
“If they see a sign from the front office that we’re going for it, this is it, we’re not too worried about what-ifs, it’s going to be a night-and-day difference from a fan-base standpoint. Unfortunately, it’s a chicken-or-the-egg (situation). The team would like to spend more, if they see more commitment from the fans. The fans say, ‘Make the commitment, and we’ll support you more.’ Hopefully the ice breaks soon.”
The Blue Jays’ lineup has few holes, particularly with the impactful return of first baseman Adam Lind from the minors. But their pitching staff needs reinforcements, with starters Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek on the disabled list; Drabek is out for the season.
The Blue Jays are known to have interest in starting pitchers whom they could control for multiple seasons: Wandy Rodriguez of the Houston Astros and Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs.
“This next month is crucial,” Bautista said. “The trade deadline is coming up. I’m sure the team would like to know which way we’re headed so they can decide if they want to be buyers or sellers. Hopefully we become buyers and get the players we might need to accessorize the team and fill some of the holes in the starting rotation created by injuries. That way, we can have some of the guys in the starting rotation go back to their usual role, which is the bullpen.
“When you keep having four, five, six guys adjusting to new roles, trying to perform at this level, in this division, with the competition, it’s hard to do. So far, we’re doing great. But sustaining that is a difficult task. Hopefully we can get some more bodies in here so we can have everybody go back to their usual role.”