You'll have to pardon the gratuitous Grateful Dead reference, but what a long strange trip the season's been. And somehow, it's still going.
We're working up to a piece that wraps the season up into a few pithy paragraphs, which we hope to have for you by the end of this week. But given our recent fits of delinquency on the blog, we figured we'd pull out a couple of the lesser strands from that piece for their own post. It's a little like watching the deleted scenes before you see the movie.
The most notable thing about looking back this season is that it's hard to find the beginning point of this year versus the closure of last year. In all likelihood, it went back before pitchers and catchers reported, and we suppose you could figure that the calendar truly flipped when the Jays named John Farrell as their manager on October 25th. But truth be told, we're still not sure after almost a full season what Farrell is as a manager, or what he brings to the mix. A strong jaw and a willingness to abide baserunning outs? But what more than that? We're still trying to figure that cat out.
As we look back, we keep settling on that day back in January, when Vernon Wells was traded out of town. We can still picture the restaurant where we had just walked in for a meal with Mrs. Tao, and the feverish exchange of tweets and messages as the details came to the surface. (Also, the indulgence of the missus as we lost our mind and ignored her for the entire meal. Sorries.) We suspect that the magnitude of that transaction has been lost somewhat over the past few months, to a point where we even saw tweets and heard JaysTalk calls which wondered about how good a trade it was, usually after a bad outing by Frank Francisco or a good night by Mike Napoli.
(Hopefully, Mike Wilner could back us up on that. We listened to A LOT of JaysTalk this year. It wasn't always like an exchange of discourse among gentleman and scholars at the Acropolis.)
But with almost 10 months' distance since the trade was announced, it's still worth remembering what a momentous change for the franchise that single transaction represented. It wasn't just about riding the team of a middling bat (though that helped) and a heap of cash (that was pretty nice as well). It wasn't just about opening up the middle of the diamond to a younger player with more upside, nor was it about reworking the middle of the lineup. The point is that a franchise with Vernon Wells as it's begrudging centrepiece does not make the deal for Colby Rasmus, and the Jays don't take the hyper-aggressive approach to drafting amateurs and signing international free agents this year if they are still trying to find a dance partner for the Wells Jubilee.
There's a touch of unease in personifying all that has gone right with this franchise around Wells, because we fear that he's been made to be more of a villain than he deserves. Many have filled in their own notion of how Vernon's intangible presence might have detracted from the team, but we wouldn't suggest that we know what occurs behind the closed doors of the Jays' clubhouse. Though it's hard to conceive of Wells' presence in the middle of the raucous, Delta House atmosphere that we've seen in the dugout as young stars with out-sized personalities made their way into the lineup.
Regardless, the $25 million per annum that the Jays would have had to pay out to him through the end of the 2014 season would have cast such a shadow over all other moves that they made that the team and its wunderkind general manager wouldn't have had the flexibility to take the calculated risks that they have since.
There's going to come a day when we write the book on how it all came together for the next great Toronto Blue Jays championship team. We have a notion that the Wells trade will not only provide the jumping off point for that narrative, but that it will weave its way through many of the other strands. The elasticity of the Jays' plan going forward depended on that single transaction.