Friday, July 13, 2012
On Buying and Selling, and Salient Questions
“Will they be buyers? Or will they be sellers?”
This binary concept is beyond prevalent throughout the discourse around sports. It’s the dominant worldview that drives so much of the narrative construction throughout the world of sports.
You’re either going for it, or you’re rebuilding. You’re selling success, or you’re selling hope. You’re showing the fans, or you’re bailing out. You’re proving to your players that you’re serious, or you’re moving them out of town. Win now, or tear down.
It’s little wonder, since this simplified approach allows for the creation of dichotomies, in which the two opposing views are given the illusion of “equal time” by reporters, while commentators are allowed to stake out a position and defend it vehemently.
So on that level, it’s great. It’s just too bad that in reality, it’s a load of hooey.
For Blue Jays fans, we’re already seeing these false dichotomies manifest themselves. Stephen Brunt indulged in the “either/or” discussion – yet again – on the back page of the July 2nd edition of Sportsnet Magazine. José Bautista’s remarks about wanting the team to “go for it” to ESPN have led to people analyzing every emergency injury substitution on the roster through the lens of “What Will José Think of This”. The Jays sign Edwin Encarnacion to an extension, and the analysis leans into the questions of whether this means the Jays are not sellers after all, and whether if it might mean they are buyers.
This is the sort of discussion that is fine for idle chat over cold brews on a patio or at the end of the dock. But while you’re assuming those stances and taking those positions in your arguments, recognize that the last person that you would want to be engaged in such a thought process is Alex Anthopoulos.
More than any other sport, baseball is a sport which is labour intensive. Teams don’t just load up or tear down all at once, or turn over half their roster on an annual basis. Each franchise likely has 70 to 80 players in their system that they seriously consider as a potential major leaguer. Filling those spots is an arduous task, and assessing a team’s level of talent and how that will play out over the course of the next thousand days is a process that should probably be isolated from the vagaries of the annual championship season.
If you read that last statement to mean that this season doesn’t matter…well, you’re not far off.
This is especially the case when a team’s roster is plundered by the misfortune of multiple injuries to key contributors, and yet the team remains tantalizingly close to contention. The second Wild Card berth is just 2.5 games away, after all. Wouldn’t a Matt Garza help keep them in the mix? Wouldn’t a Ryan Dempster help them compete for a shot at the playoffs?
Ultimately, though, shouldn’t the question be: Is it worth it to deviate from the roster development plan in order to salvage something out of this one season? Especially if it creates roster holes in the future?
It’s been a long time since the Blue Jays were this close to a post-season spot this late in the season, and Toronto sports fans are beside themselves with a strange mix of desperation, anger and exasperation that comes from rooting for a collection of hometown teams that have underwhelmed for much of the past decade. But the upside of the 2012 season seems like such a rusty prize that it hardly seems worth it to move valuable human resources for the shot at a shot at shot at a remote spot at the October tournament.
This might look to you like an argument for the Jays to sell. Which brings us back to how indelible the false dichotomy is. But that’s not the argument at all. Ultimately, a smart franchise – and we’d all like to see the Blue Jays qualify as that, wouldn’t we? – should not be defining themselves as either buyers or sellers, but should be at all times view themselves as both.
In recent years, the Jays have shown this propensity for going against the grain, adding key major league pieces like Yunel Escobar and Colby Rasmus while better fitting the description of “sellers”. These were young, long-term and controllable solutions at areas of need that might help in the short term, but would also play important roles for the coming three or four seasons. If the Jays are hanging in the race in spite of the long list of faulty arms, it’s because of those sorts of moves.
The question that ultimately keeps emerging when it comes to the Jays is “when?” Are they ready now? Or do we have to wait even longer? Why not this season? The nature of the game awarding championships on an annual basis creates this urgency, which is completely understandable.
On the other hand, “when?” is not a question that we should hope is rattling around the cranium of Alex Anthopoulos. That question creates the imperative of wanting to answer “now!” And “now” makes people do crazy things for immediate gratification.
The wiser questions for the man with his hands of the levers of the good ship Blue Jays are both “how?” and “who?”
How do we build this team into one which doesn’t merely battle for an outside shot at a one-game play-in to the playoffs? Who on our roster now is really going to be a contributor with that next-level team? How do we develop our guys so that they reach that level? Who can we find to fill the holes left by those who won’t achieve what we expect of them? It’s a much more complex set of questions, with answers that are in constant flux. But these are the salient questions.
This team might well becomes what we all hope it will: A perpetual contender. But if that is truly the goal, we’d all do well to take our eyes off our watches and fix our gaze on the horizon. Let’s focus on the destination, not the time of arrival.