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MacArthur: Jays entering crucial period of Anthopoulos' tenure

Scott MacArthur
7/19/2014 5:48:25 PM
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TORONTO - With 12 days to go before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and an injury-riddled team in freefall, general manager Alex Anthopoulos finds himself in an unenviable position: cash-strapped at a time when the American League East is ripe for the picking, struggling to balance a win now mentality while keeping an eye to the future, the need to preserve the top end of the club's prospect pool.

Most teams slot into one of two modus operandi.

There are clubs in contention and they approach this time of year either satisfied with their roster or, more likely the case, with an eye toward solidifying areas of need for the playoff push.

The Blue Jays, despite having lost 24 of 35 games entering Saturday's action, are in contention, four games back of first place Baltimore in the division and two and a half games behind Seattle for the final wild card spot.

They are a team with numerous holes, factoring in more than just the raft of injuries. When Brett Lawrie returns from a fractured right index finger, which can't happen soon enough, it'd be nice if he has a positional home. Juan Francisco isn't hitting anybody and Steve Tolleson isn't an everyday option because he's strong against left-handed pitching (.988 OPS) but weak against right-handed pitching (.340 OPS).

It's gotten to the point in the bullpen where Todd Redmond is ahead of Sergio Santos on the depth chart. Toronto's relief corps has issued 129 walks, tied for fourth most in baseball. Its 4.36 ERA is fifth worst in the game. A reinforcement or two is needed.

While the starting staff has acquitted itself nicely, few teams would decline an acquisition to improve its rotation. The Blue Jays are no different.

Quietly, players will tell you the club is in need of upgrade and their hope is that ownership will show a commitment to winning this season. To a man, those with whom TSN.ca has spoken are withholding judgment until the deadline has passed.

Remember, too, trades can be made in August but only after players clear waivers, which often happens.

Manager John Gibbons doesn't want his players consuming themselves with deadline-related rumours and wishlists.

"Every year you get to this time of year, I can remember back to as long as I've been around this place, anytime that deadline is coming up and they know there's going to be moves going to be made, guys are always wondering what's going to happen," said Gibbons. "Some of them are thinking, 'Am I out of here?' or one of those kind of deals, 'Am I going to be traded?' That's always happened. But understand this is our team right now and you can't always make something happen. Sometimes things never happen. If you get caught up in that you're in trouble anyway."

Contrary to the go-for-it approach is the look-to-the-future strategy, commonly referred to as the "rebuild." It's happening in Chicago with the Cubs and, believe it or not, it can be exciting, especially when it nears the fruit bearing stage.

Anthony Rizzo lost two valuable teammates, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, in a blockbuster trade with Oakland earlier this month. The Cubs received one of baseball's top prospects, shortstop Addison Russell, in the return package.

Chicago's minor league system is loaded, reinforced over three seasons by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Some have opined it's the greatest collection of prospect talent ever.

The Cubs' plan is obvious and for that reason, Rizzo was intrigued by the deal.

"For the first time that I've been here, I've finally had that feeling that it's really, really close," Rizzo told TSN.ca during last week's All-Star festivities. "And I think I can speak on behalf of the organization that we all know it's really close. So, I mean, we have what, three or four of the top 10 prospects in baseball. That's somewhat unheard of so obviously, hopefully they all pan out. You can never have too much talent. These guys all seem like the real deal so keep moving in the right direction."

So, what's the plan in Toronto? Where do the Blue Jays slot?

The team, with its current roster, is positioned to win now. That was the point of the Marlins and Mets trades two off-seasons ago. The division hasn't been more available since the heady days of the early 1990s. Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind will eventually return.

Now isn't the time to pinch pennies, regardless of whether there's a new CEO and a multi-billion dollar investment in another sports property. Blue Jays players don't care about that and neither does a fanbase starved for a winner.

If now isn't the time, then why waste any more of Bautista's prime years? He wants to win before it's too late. He'll be 34 in October and won't be the player three years from now that he is today. Don't make him tread water any longer.

Encarnacion is one of the sport's premier sluggers. Why waste his talent if now isn't the time? Don't make him tread water any longer.

The Blue Jays also have crucial offseason decisions to make on impending free agents like Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera. If the club issues them qualifying offers, likely in the neighbourhood of $14-million, and the player accepts, that could skew the books. Neglect to offer either player a qualifying offer and both walk without so much as a compensatory draft pick in return.

Toronto's problem is solved, in part, by getting healthy and playing better baseball, contending deep into September and possibly securing a playoff spot. The club needs external help, via trade or with the late-season emergence of, say, Aaron Sanchez, to accomplish the goal.

You're either going for it or you're not.

Existing in the mushy middle shouldn't be any franchise's MO.

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