Coming into this year, the notion of "The Future" for the Jays was a dreadful one.
We say this mostly because the future was some unattainable goal, far down the road and only in some sort of hypothetical world where the Jays budget suddenly increases, and all of the draft picks pan out and the Yanks and Sox decline and the Rays return to the mean and the Orioles continue to suck. Once you start using that many cards to build your house, it's easy to see how it falls apart before you even have it built.
But the past week has been an interesting one for us. Maybe we've dropped our rationalistic guard a bit, or maybe we're just a little more attuned to what's going on inside. Whatever it is, we have to admit to feeling very differently about this team. Much of this new, weird feeling likely comes from the lead up to the non-waiver trade deadline, and what the action (and lack thereof) says about the direction that's being taken, and the current state of the franchise.
As the Jays moved from the spring to the summer months, the conventional wisdom held that the team would eventually stop competing and sell off just about everything that wasn't nailed to the turf. It's the sort of thing that signals to the fans that you've given up, and that you're just trying to make the most of whatever shit sandwich platter you have in front of you. But the moves made through Alex Anthopoulos' inaugural season at the helm have shown exceptional foresight, and an ability to recognize that moving early in some situations and standing pat in others can remove you from the perfunctory urgency brought on by the arbitrary dates on the baseball calendar.
Acquiring Fred Lewis early in the season and Yunel Escobar well ahead of the trade deadline helped set the Jays up to a point where they didn't need to move near the deadline. Moreover, the decision to move Brett Wallace - heartily criticized by yours truly on Twitter in the moments after it was announced - was facilitated by the fact that the Blue Jays have a plethora of corner infield and outfield options that are under control and reasonably priced. Even without Wallace's high ceiling bat (and fat ass) next season, there's a full cupboard for now and next year, and something (in Anthony Gose) for down the road.
As we've been moving the tiles in the slide puzzle around, it amazes us how many premium pieces there are already on the Blue Jays roster, and how little room there will be next year for new faces in new places on the 25 man roster. The Blue Jays could legitimately not pick up a single piece in the offseason, and still assemble a roster that has the potential to win 90 or more games in 2011. J.P. Arencibia and Kyle Drabek may well shift into the big club's plans for next year, as will Brad Mills, Josh Roenicke, and Marc Rzpeczynski.
A new first and/or third baseman may need to be found, although the Jays won't need to shell out in free agency or the trade market to pull in someone, especially when internal options include moving either Aaron Hill or José Bautista to third and possibly Adam Lind to first. Or they can settle for a player who is posting a 106 OPS+ in the coming year. Say what you will: Edwin Encarnacion is not a bad option.
(And to drive home the point, as Wilner has through much of this season: EE's career OPS is 30 points higher than Aaron Hill's. Cover their names, and you'd almost certainly pick EE to be on your roster.)
Through all of this, we're finding something to grasp that isn't a vision of the Jays that we're talking ourselves into. (If you want examples of that particular mindset, may we suggest the 1500 or so posts on this blog.) To us, the future seems less like something tantalizingly out of reach, and more like something that's about to come sharply into focus.
It's truly an exciting time to be a Blue Jays fan.