TORONTO – The tendency is to idealize the modern professional athlete as a gifted, money-making machine. A person who lives a life about which most can only dream.
Remember, though, these guys are human beings. Wandering around the clubhouse before Saturday's game against the Rays, the stench of a listless effort still lingered. The Jays had been shut out the night before, two-hit by an opposing pitcher for the second time in three games. Sometimes, players aren't that far removed from the fanbase. They're stumped about the slump. They have similar inquiries.
One player pondered this in a casual conversation with TSN.ca:
“What I can't understand is when did we get so bad?”
This is a club at a crossroads. It's a team that from a positional perspective is built to win now. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes are in the primes of their careers. Aside from Mississauga native, outfielder Dalton Pompey (now with Triple-A Buffalo), there are no positional prospects of consequence playing higher than A-ball.
From a pitching perspective, there's a veteran presence featuring R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ, but it's clear where the franchise is headed. Its rotation will be built around Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris and, perhaps, Sean Nolin.
The Jays are poised to build around their cadre of young pitching. If that's the case, it's unrealistic to expect 200 innings and dominating 2015 seasons from those arms. Is the time coming to trade seasoned veterans to help replenish the positional prospect pool with major league-ready or near-major league ready players?
At what point does Jose Bautista, who will be 34 in October, believe he's got a better shot at an elusive playoff appearance somewhere else?
Will Adam Lind's $7.5-million option be picked up or will the club buy him out for $1-million and go in a different direction?
Casey Janssen, Colby Rasmus and Brandon Morrow are almost assuredly gone, although the latter could return should he agree to lesser terms after his $10-million club option is declined.
Should potential suitors be investigated for Buehrle and Dickey? Would there be any interest? There may be, but likely only if the Blue Jays are willing to eat part of Buehrle's ($19-million) and Dickey's ($12-million) 2015 salaries.
What should be particularly concerning to fans is that some players believe others in the room are still moping about the club's relative inactivity leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Here's the problem: what's done is done or, in this case, what wasn't done, wasn't done. The players need to rally around one another, forget all else and play to win each day.
The problem is some players were hoping for and expecting a move, or moves, at the deadline because they felt the team had significant holes that needed to be plugged. The August record of 5-13, entering Saturday's play, serves to confirm that notion and results in lingering frustration. It becomes a vicious circle. Guys who are upset nothing got done and are annoyed they weren't addressed by the general manager or team president in the aftermath of July 31 begin to believe the organization doesn't care.
It's impossible to imagine anybody not caring but, as is often the case in life, how an individual perceives a matter is his reality.
The Jays' offence is suffering from a power outage (10 home runs in August). The team that was stealing bases and using the hit and run during May's hot stretch isn't doing much of that anymore. Jose Reyes has six stolen bases since the All-Star Break and Anthony Gose is back to plying his trade at Triple-A, the victim of being a guy with options.
Meanwhile the pitching has gone into a funk in August (5.10 staff ERA).
The team is struggling. Its playoff hopes are dwindling. Baseball is a game of failures, confidence can waver.
If the Blue Jays are to make one final, desperate run toward an unlikely playoff spot, the team must first believe it's good enough to do so.