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Martinez suspension adds to Jays’ disappointing season


Surprised and disappointed were the words used by both Jays manager John Schneider and general manager Ross Atkins to describe how they felt when news broke on the weekend that Orelvis Martinez, Toronto’s top hitting prospect, had been suspended 80 games for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug.

They are the same words that have been used about the Blue Jays season by fans, media and baseball analysts.

The suspension is a microcosm of the Jays season. The Jays promoted Martinez last Tuesday when shortstop Bo Bichette went on the injured list with a calf strain. The hope was that Martinez’s power bat would help the slumping lineup and add a spark so desperately needed. 

Inexplicably, the infielder sat on the bench and watched two games before finally getting his chance and getting his first major-league hit. Like the Jays, Martinez had big expectations that we have been waiting to see play out on the field, but just when we saw a flash of it, it vanished.

If Martinez thought it was painful waiting for his first major-league at-bats while sitting for his first two games, he ain’t seen nothing yet. He will now serve an 80-game suspension for testing positive for the drug Clomiphene.

His explanation that he took the substance as part of a fertility treatment may be true, but it is still inexcusable in this day and age.  Players have been told over and over again that they shouldn’t put anything in their bodies without first checking with the team’s medical staff to verify whether it includes anything on a banned substance list.

A fertility doctor in the Dominican Republic or Topeka, Kansas or Windsor, Ont., doesn’t know what drugs are on the safe list and which are not. It is the player’s responsibility. This is a subject that the MLB Players’ Association takes seriously, constantly reminding players of the rules.

Now, Martinez’s reputation is tarnished. His career is on hold, and he lost out on a huge opportunity with a team desperate for what he can provide. He can bounce back – others have – but he likely won’t have an impact on this season.

Atkins and Schneider said they respect the way Martinez accepted responsibility for his mistake. What was he going to say? “I didn’t take it”?

Atkins said they will support the young slugger through this process. That is going to be important because Martinez is about to feel invisible and shunned. He will be forgotten by most until he starts to work his way back on the field at the end of his 80 days. Even then, he will have to probably wait until next season before he can be a major leaguer again, considering that there will only be five games left in the Blue Jays season when his punishment expires. 


Blue Jays in a desperate place

The Jays have now lost six straight games and eight of their past 10.  They just can’t score enough runs, and are in a desperate place.

They now play three games against the Red Sox, who swept them last week, and then they come home to play the Yankees for four games. That’s followed by a series with the Astros, who have won five in a row, and the Mariners, who are in first place in the AL West. It’s not going to get easier, and no one feels sorry for Toronto.

Despite all of the chaos and how badly things feel right now, the Jays are still just 6.5 games out of the third wild-card spot. It doesn’t sound awful, but it feels pretty bad because it looks pretty bad. The Martinez situation is icing on the cake.

Despite everything, the Jays are in the same place as they were before the losing streak started. They can’t fully define themselves as exclusively buyers or sellers just yet. The season ebbs and flows, as does the thinking in a front office. They have to prepare for either possibility. Atkins will have scouts evaluating the prospects in organizations with interest in his major-league players and scouts evaluating major leaguers who could help them win this season. The Jays will strategize for the best- and worst-case scenarios. 

I would still consider a plan that would make the Jays immediately aggressive buyers of hitters and relievers. Then, I would see if those moves make the necessary impact over the next month. If so, I would play out the season. If not, I would trade the players I acquired and then some of the current roster before the deadline.

I want to give the 2024 season every opportunity to turn around because I don’t want to have to decide whether to trade Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the deadline. If things don’t turn around there is a legitimate argument that the Jays should trade both of them.

As it stands now, the hitters who could be available for the Blue Jays include oft-injured outfielders Eloy Jiminez and Luis Robert Jr. of the Chicago White Sox, outfielder Taylor Ward of the Los Angeles Angels, outfielder/DH Brent Rooker of the Oakland A’s, outfielders Jazz Chisolm, Bryan de la Cruz and Jesus Sanchez of the Miami Marlins, and third baseman Ryan McMahon of the Colorado Rockies.

The relievers that could be available are Will Vest, Jason Foley, Alex Lange, and Andrew Chafin of the Detroit Tigers, Michael Kopech and Steve Wilson of the Chicago White Sox, Mason Miller and Lucas Erceg of the Oakland A’s, Tanner Scott and Declan Cronin of the Miami Marlins, and Jalen Beeks and Victor Vodnik of the Colorado Rockies

One thing I learned is just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. It can also turn around slowly or quickly. This is the tipping point for the Blue Jays. They will either start the recovery of their season in the next two weeks or their season will be over.