I had intended to write up another off-field preview for the 30 Jays in 30 Days series this weekend.
(And really: before I go any further, can we all give a tip of the cap to the Tao for having taken this endeavour on? As it reaches its conclusion, and Opening Day gets ever closer, I think it’s been a fun, insightful exercise to take stock of the roster the way this series has. It’s been a lot of work, though, and Tao deserves our thanks for it. Even if he didn’t take me to Florida with him.)
But instead of adding a preview of Dwayne Murphy or Pete Walker or the guys who tape ankles in the clubhouse, I felt like this time would be better spent discussing the outcome, which we learned today, of the “Battle for Left Field” that had unfolded during Spring Training. Travis Snider was optioned to AAA Las Vegas earlier today, making Eric Thames your starting left fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. At least for now.
In fact, there wasn’t really a battle at all, in any official sense of the word. When Alex Anthopoulos comes out and says something to the media, even if it sometimes sounds less than definitive or leaves him all kinds of wiggle room, he generally means it. In retrospect, Anthopoulos, along with pretty much every other person in the organization, couldn’t have signalled louder that Thames was getting the left field job unless they walked around Dunedin carrying #TeamThames bullhorns.
It’s not that they were leading the fans on with a false display of real competition for the job; it’s that a lot of us (me included) projected our own desire to see a real competition onto the otherwise mundane preseason preparation in Florida. It was easy to get caught up in a spring training position battle, even a contrived one, because spring training would be as exciting as Uno night at your grandma’s place without some storylines like this.
I love Travis Snider, and I’m sad about this. But I don’t think Travis Snider is getting a raw deal, or getting jerked around by the organization, or being developed improperly, or that he should (SHUT YO MOUTH) be traded. In fact, quite the opposite: this might be the first time in four years that anyone in the organization is being 100% honest with the guy. He knew going into camp that he was probably going to be on the outside looking in on Opening Day. Then he came in and had a pretty damn good camp. And OF COURSE he did. He’s a very talented hitter; he was facing weaker competition than he would during a big-league regular season; and he had (I would think) some degree of certainty about what the end result of this whole exercise was going to be, so he had a chance to just go out and play some baseball.
In “Moneyball”, Michael Lewis looked back at Billy Beane’s ignominious big-league career and contrasted it to the likes of Lenny Dykstra. The picture was of a tightly-wound perfectionist with the highest of expectations wrapped up in him; as opposed to a loose cannon who never understood why anyone would doubt he could play in the bigs, because all you had to do was go out there and play the bloody game the way you know how. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a little bit of that Billy Beane conundrum going on with Travis Snider. The skills and the tools are there. But that absolute certainty is elusive. That faith in his own abilities; that confidence that he can just let it all hang out on the diamond and the inevitable result will be elite-level success; that I’m-good-at-this-and-I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think attitude. With a ticket to Vegas in hand and almost nothing to lose, it’s entirely possible we saw some of that attitude begin to emerge this spring in Dunedin with Travis Snider, and I suspect the organization wants to see if he can build on it now.
You can look just down the dugout at a 21-year-old Brett Lawrie and see that whole package ready to explode onto the Major League scene. It’s the kind of supernova arrival that we fans of Snider have been hoping for – expecting, even – for about three years.
But Travis Snider isn’t Brett Lawrie. He’s also not Billy Beane, or Lenny Dykstra, or anyone else. There’s no template for success in the major leagues. There’s just thousands and thousands of prospects and non-prospects trying to find a way to put it all together. We probably shouldn’t forget that Snider is still – still, after all the false starts and dashed hopes – closer than most are to doing so.