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Urgency obvious as Jays enter direction-deciding stretch


TORONTO — There’s an old roster-building adage in baseball that the six-month season is distinctly divided into three stages.

Two months to evaluate. 

Two months to fix. 

Two months to peak.

Give things ample time and a generous sample size at the outset, take the two months leading into trade deadline to rectify weaknesses, and then set the stage for teams to put it all together on the field in August and September.

The trick inherent within that philosophy is not sinking so far in the standings through the first third of the season that fixing what ails you come June and July becomes moot.

Sitting one game under .500 after a series with the Vegas-via-Sacramento-bound Oakland A’s, it’s debatable where the Toronto Blue Jays fall on the scale of contender or pretender at this point in the season.

The eye test hasn’t allowed for much confidence, but the spot in the standings actually isn’t all that bad.

Sure, the AL East is out of reach, but the three wild-card format — designed to do exactly this — allows teams in the murky middle of contention to dream of catching fire when it matters.

While the ceiling of GM Ross Atkins’ club is up for debate, what’s not is that the Jays have exited the evaluation stage and firmly entered fix-it mode.

Gone is Cavan Biggio, whose defensive versatility and last name couldn’t overcome a long track record of little to no offensive impact.

The Jays now have less than a week to trade him or the 29-year-old will reject his assignment to Triple-A Buffalo and elect free agency, which is his right as a player with more than five years of service time.

A fresh start seems best for both parties at this point.

Enter Spencer Horwitz, who will continue the Jays’ recent trend of sacrificing defence for offence, a fair trade if you’ve watched this club play.

Horwitz, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. dabbling at third base … they’re the internal attempts at fixing an offence that’s 25th in baseball in runs scored.

Addison Barger and Orelvis Martinez could be part of the next wave.

If the internal options can’t jump-start an offence that’s nowhere near good enough to make it to October, the front office will have to shift to outside help closer to the trade deadline.

That, of course, means the current group has to stay within striking distance, which truly isn’t much more than the .500 mark with the way the American League is structured this year.

Many will argue moving on from Biggio and other underperforming role players is too late — Daniel Vogelbach and Ernie Clement were also in the conversation before they decided on Craig’s kid — and too many at-bats have been wasted by underperforming pieces.

But allowing the sample size to play out is simply normal front office analytics these days.

This regime also has a long track record of being fairly conservative when it comes to cutting bait and making changes, which is the theme of the 2024 season and the reason outside patience has run thin.

Long leashes have been given in many areas.

Biggio is a perfect example.

After piling up 4.0 fWAR across his first two seasons with a .240/.368/.430 slash line and 24 home runs in 159 games, Biggio looked like he’d be a core piece in Toronto for a long time.

But post-pandemic, when the Jays actually arrived back in Toronto, Biggio struggled mightily, some due to injury, some due to constant swing and approach changes, and some due to constantly getting beat by fastballs up in the zone.

A well-above-average 118 wRC+ from his first two years fell to just 94 since the start of the 2021 season, and much of that came in the second half of last season.

That optimism has faded recently, with Biggio providing some versatility and not much else with a .200/.323/.291 batting line and just two homers in 44 games.

It would not be surprising for Biggio to find his footing elsewhere and carve out a long-time utilityman career, but there are too many similar skillsets dotting the Jays’ roster and time had run out.

Horwitz is a role player who has a chance to be more if certain things click.

His monster numbers at Triple-A need to be taken with all of the grains of salt, but he’s also a left-handed bat who can get on base.

The most important element is he deserves a chance after destroying Triple-A for more than 200 games over parts of three seasons.

If hitting .316/.433/.471 with 152 walks and 16 homers doesn’t get you an opportunity, what will?

But that low homer total and the fact he’s not going to contribute much against left-handed pitching or defensively are the reasons he was No. 15 on this year’s TSN top 50 Blue Jays prospects list and not a can’t-miss name as the Triple-A numbers might suggest.

With Biggio out of the picture and Horwitz now up, it’s likely Davis Schneider sees most of his time in left field, maximizing the outfield production, with Kevin Kiermaier pushed to the bench on most nights.

On the infield, it’s Bo Bichette and then three of Vladdy, who will continue moonlighting at the hot corner when needed, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Ernie Clement, Justin Turner and Horwitz, with the DH spot also in play.

It’s far from ideal defensively and there’s really no certainty they’ll score more runs, but a shakeup and some outside-the-box thinking was long overdue.

Atkins is on the record saying a direction won’t be decided upon until they emerge from the All-Star break, giving the front office a couple of weeks until the July 30 trade deadline

Right now, it’s a critical stretch and the equation is simple.

There are 32 games until the All-Star break for all involved to prove it’s a group worth riding with and not tearing down.