Friday, July 13, 2012

On Buying and Selling, and Salient Questions

As we proceed into the second half of the MLB season tonight, with the non-waiver trade deadline looming at month's end, you’ll increasingly hear these customary questions from every corner of the sports media infospace.

“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.


mike in boston said...

The "going for it" paradigm is mistaken, but it is mistaken in both directions: since you can't assume it is all going to come together in any given year you need to acquire talent when it is available and not defer to some time down the road "when we're ready to compete."

I was glad to see Bautista's comments and don't believe they are directed at AA but rather at ownership. An increase in payroll would allow this team to be more competitive both this year and next, and a commitment to that level of payroll would keep the competitive onwards into the future.

AA has done an excellent job overall with the resources he has been given. But the question I come back to is the following: can the Jays be a perpetual contender while relying primarily on internal development and secondarily on trades while at the same time refraining from adding A level talent through free agency? ... I don't believe so.

kharron said...

True 'Dat.

Anonymous said...

Would not a wise course be, as an example, ask brewers for permission to negotiate a contract extension for Grienke, prior to a trade. The Brewers could ask for more back in a trade and Jays would gladly give more for an asset that could help this seasons and seasons to come. Plus by negiotiating an extension prior to free agency may save some money.

Tao of Stieb said...

Well Mike, I disagree.

I think that you can add talent through free agency, and maybe even splurge here and there, but ultimately, the real core of your team is going to come from your system or through trades.

The problem is that teams get ahead of themselves and think that the best arm or bat on the market is the best option for putting them over the top...when it turns out, it's just Jaret Wright. Or Jayson Werth.

Tao of Stieb said...


Why would Greinke do something that is going to result in less money and less choice for him?

Sign and trades won't happen in baseball because there is no salary cap, and these mechanisms only work as a manner of circumventing the cap to get the player more money.

Anonymous said...


If you apply that same logic to players on their own team then why would anybody sign an extension. It limits their choice and money.

If what you say is true everybody would hit free agency.

For Grienke, if he were negotiating a deal with the Brewers it most likely would be for less money then he would get on open market and would dealing with only one team.

I'm not saying it isn't a long shot but what's the harm...ask for permission...see what he is open to? If he set on testing the market ohh well, nothing lost.

Tao of Stieb said...

Players can choose to extend with a team, and they are usually trading off some security for some money. But generally, those extensions don't come that cheap.

Also, Greinke's not going back to Milwaukee. Because he doesn't want to. He's the sort of guy who needs to hit the market.

When you say it's a long shot, I'm telling you that it's not even really worth discussing. If you want to trade for Greinke, you do it, and you throw your hat into the ring with everyone else for his services at year's end...which is why his value on the trade market will be depressed.

Anonymous said...

I see your Jaret Wright & Jayson Werth and I raise you a Manny Ramirez & CC Sabathia.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. I think the Jays will get a "filler" type of guy like Guthrie when prices come down but also should be looking at filling the hole created by Drabek and Hutch's injuries in terms of young, controllable pitching talent. We can't afford to have both Hech and Gose in the lineup next year and both are redundant to current starters. However, we could use one of those starters, preferably Escobar, along with Gose to pick up a young controllable SP. The dream pickup would be Trevor Bauer but the point is to swap MLB ready position talent for MLB ready pitching talent.

Anonymous said...

Jays play 70 of their remaining 76 games vs. .500 teams or better...

meaning that our chances of making it this year with our patch-work pitching staff is very slim. I would like to see the team stand-pat, make upgrades for now AND the future, or just the future, but in any case, not selling our chances for the long-term future in any way, shape, or form. This year is almost as good as a write-off IMO, we still have a shot, it's a good developmental year, but realistically, the odds are Long (for this year). Next year is shaping up to be, dare-I-say, contention, with 1 or 2 more SP's.

bakatron said...

i can see us trading for upton in the off season and losing either hech or yunel in the process. i cant see us adding impact starting pitching through free agency in anyway...

...not because AA and Beest don't want to...'s because Rogers is Cheap!

Ron Brown said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

What a load of bullshit! And I see you are still incapable of pontificating without making grammatical and spelling errors!

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