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Father Time doing a number on veteran Blue Jays

George Springer Toronto Blue Jays George Springer - Getty Images

How long is a player’s prime? When should a club expect players to start to decline? These are daily questions being asked in front offices around the game. 

Remember when the Blue Jays declined to sign Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to long-term deals when they were 33 and 37, respectively? Toronto made the right decision as both players declined significantly.

There are similar stories around the game where teams gamble on the aging process and get burned. The Houston Astros just released 37-year-old first baseman Jose Abreu in the middle of a three-year $58.5 million deal because his performance (.167/.195/.361) has fallen off a cliff. 

Every once in a while there is an aging player who still gets the job done, like starting pitcher Charlie Morton of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves signed him to a two-year $40 million deal at the age of 39. He was 14-12 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 starts in 2023 and has a 4-3 record with a 3.91 ERA this year.

The reality is that no one is smart enough to know how players will age. The best-conditioned players have broken down, while pudgy, somewhat-out-of-shape players have had long-term success. The one thing we do know, however, is that Father Time is undefeated. At some point, the quick-twitch triggers decline, and the body doesn’t recover as it once did. There is a shelf life for every player.

The Blue Jays’ older players are certainly underperforming this season.

George Springer, 34, is in a steep decline and is only in the fourth year of his six-year $140 million deal. His OPS has dropped from .907 to .814 to.732 to .576. My eyes match what the numbers are saying. He just can’t catch up to pitches he once hit. The Jays signed him at the age of 31. If you don’t sign Donaldson and Bautista at their ages, then why sign Springer to play through the age of 36?  The answer is because it is the only way that you get him signed. He wasn’t going accept a three or four-year deal.

Justin Turner, 39, had a solid season in Boston last year (114 OPS+) but it was a step down from his preceding season (120 OPS+) with the Dodgers. This season he is just a league-average hitter (100 OPS+), and it looks worse than that. He has hit into 11 double plays already in just 206 at-bats, after hitting into 10 double plays in 2023 in 558 at-bats. Turner is signed to just a one-year deal for $13 million.

Kevin Kiermaier, 34, was re-signed after the Jays decided that Cody Bellinger’s price point was too high. The Jays centre fielder had a solid offensive season in 2023 with a 104 OPS+. It seemed like the change of scenery out of Tampa Bay did him well. But this season he has reverted back to the slick-fielding, no-hit outfielder he has been in the past (56 OPS+ which is 44 per cent below average.) Kiermaier is on a one-year $10.5 million contract.

I don’t believe the struggles of these three players are only slumps. It feels and looks like the beginning of the end for them. 

As hitters age, there are pitches that they see that were once hittable but are no longer. Maybe they can foul them off to keep battling until they get a pitch they can handle. Generally, the high, hard fastball becomes more difficult to hit. The bat speed isn’t there. In order to hit that pitch, or the inside fastball, they have to cheat and get their swing started sooner, but that then makes them vulnerable to off-speed and breaking pitches.

The Jays are giving opportunities to some younger players. Injuries often open the door for young players to get their first taste of the majors, but so does underperformance of veterans. Cavan Biggio and Daniel Vogelbach have been traded and released, and Bo Bichette is on the injured list with a strained calf. Addison Barger (24), Spencer Horwitz (26) and Orelvis Martinez (22) are now on the active roster. Toronto would love to catch lightning in a bottle and get a spark from all of them. 

I never like to bring up young players with the hope that they would be my team’s offensive saviour. It’s unfair to them. But desperate teams do desperate things, and the Jays are desperate for offence. Plus, there is no sense wasting major-league at-bats on veterans who can’t get the job done. Even if a prospect struggles, he is gaining experience by learning how to get out of a slump. At least the lack of production would serve a development purpose.

Horwitz looks to be getting a chance to play second base almost every day and be the leadoff hitter. Barger will move around the field but likely bat toward the bottom of the order. Martinez is here at least for the time being, until Bichette heals enough to come off the injured list. But Jays manager John Schneider will be forced to find playing time for Martinez at second or third base if he hits.

I don’t understand why the Jays promoted Martinez if he isn’t going to be given a chance to play every day. He has better upside than Barger and Horwitz. Martinez is an exciting power-hitting prospect. At 22, he is no longer a baby that needs to be protected. Schneider has suggested he will work him in as matchups dictate. I believe that anytime a position player is called up for the first time he should immediately be placed in the lineup, before the anticipation starts to dominate as each day passes.


Keeping pace in the AL East

Gleyber Torres Gunnar Henderson New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles

The Jays need their offence to pick things up quickly to try and keep pace with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles

Those two teams matched up this week, with the Yankees winning Tuesday, 4-2, despite their star Aaron Judge getting hit by a pitch in his hand. Fortunately, they dodged a bullet as nothing was broken. 

On Wednesday, the O’s beat the Yankees in extra innings. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole made his first big-league start of the season after having injured his elbow during spring training. Cole looked pretty good, throwing four innings on three hits with two runs allowed. He struck out five and walked one. 

The Orioles are just a game and a half behind the Yankees currently. This going to be a great race the rest of the year. I give the Yankees the edge with Cole back and with O’s ace Kyle Bradish undergoing Tommy John surgery. 

But I reserve the right to change my mind at the trade deadline because Baltimore can put a package of talent together to get any player they want to improve at the major-league level. These two are the top two teams in the game, with the Philadelphia Phillies a close third.