Will the Toronto Blue Jays keeping vladimir guerrero Jr. in the minors until the third week of april influence your decision to attend or watch games this year?
|Twitter Poll Date: 03-01-2019||759 votes|
At the start of this month I decided to (inexplicably) pull on the heart strings of Blue Jays faithful to see how they felt about the generational player/messianic hero that is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his northern crusade to The Show. Using my sample size of responses, I wondered if delaying his arrival to the big club made an actual difference with discerning supporters of Canada’s only major league baseball team.
More importantly, I was genuinely curious to see how fans felt about the fallout from Ross Atkins and his now fateful words concerning the promise of his mercurial young slugger – especially in the context of knowing how sensitive the issue of player control is between present-day owners and the MLBPA.
“Our vision, it really comes down to development. I just don’t see him as a major league player. Just pencil him in and it’s done. He’s 19. He has accomplished everything he can accomplish as an offensive player. There’s so many opportunities for him defensively and what he can do to really maximize the power and the size and the strength that he has. Everyone then points to defense, but it’s really not just about defense, it’s about him having a 15, 20-year career, starting with an incredible foundation. That’s everything that encompasses ‘teammate’ — the physical aspect, the baserunning, the defense. That physical aspect really plays into what type of offensive player he’s going to be. He has the ability to be so versatile and dynamic and we want to make sure we tap into all that potential.” -Ross Atkins
It’s easy to channel maximum amounts of cynicism when reading something like this. After all, fans of the Blue Jays and baseball enthusiasts around the league understand the score when it comes to interpreting how corrosive this current collective bargaining agreement really is and how little it respects the careers of young, promising star players. Aside from Vlad, there were other hotly anticipated talents like Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Eloy Jimenez who all found themselves under the same umbrella of smugly sounding managerial sound bites and bountiful ownership rationalizations. And don’t get me started on the number of times George Springer and Kris Bryant are propped up as examples of an arrangement that makes little sense to anyone but a precious handful of billionaires who love having their cake and eating it.
There’s obviously no question in my mind that an extra year of controlling an elite player capable of generating more than four (4.0) wins above replacement annually should be considered a worthwhile endeavour for any reasonably ambitious front office. What kind of profit-oriented business wouldn’t want to keep a productive employee on the clock with minimal financial commitment? But when measured up against the presumably intangible, long-term benefits of enshrining goodwill with the player, his agent, and his family, combined with the even more intangible benefits of increased hype-oriented attendance, leveraging merchandising opportunities, promoting glorious on-field excitement, and solidifying endless amounts of national respect, I think a case could and should be made for the Blue Jays bucking the trend of embracing loopholes in much the way Donald Trump lovingly embraces flagpoles.
As a baseball franchise, Toronto finds itself in a unique category of their own thanks in large part to soulless villains like Jeffrey Loria who single-handedly destroyed the Montreal Expos and left them orphaned. A boundless baseball market that stretches from coast-to-coast across multiple provinces with over 35 million Canadians should not be seen as a justifying variable against anything but a dedicated investment of money, media time, and resources into an on-field product. The Blue Jays are literally owned by a monopolized media company capable of beaming their brand intentions and marketing plays straight into your mind’s eye via streaming, television, radio, and quite possibly subliminal sonar penetration from afar. Frugality, bean-counting, and devolving from a $140-160 million dollar payroll to a small-market +/- $80-90 platform (which hilariously features Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki at a combined $36m) is a sad and grim reality for fans of this team, and it shouldn’t be happening.
But it is. Because we’ve normalized the dialogue. And because when you’re owned by a media conglomerate, you tend to echo sentiments based less on historical empiricism and critical-thinking, and more about prognostications over an unknown future whilst rationalizing every shred of real-time surrealism as it unfolds on your twitter feed.
Regardless of one’s philosophy on how to efficiently rebuild a modern MLB team in this day and age, there can be no hiding the perennial disdain which comes from an ownership group declaring that “they aren’t open for business” when it comes to improving their team via free agency. And look, I get it – it’s part of a broken system, so you expect humans to do what humans do naturally – which is to take full advantage of something that’s staring them right in the face.
But considering the poll results, I’m thinking this will only create more trouble and friction with an already beleaguered fanbase, one that’s been brutalized with successive years of profoundly disappointing and humiliating baseball after presumably turning the corner on 23 years of mind-numbing playoff futility. MLB may be shooting itself in the foot with their union, but it’s a greater shame knowing that they blithely stand by a CBA worth exploiting unabashedly until the covenant itself eventually splinters and breaks. A system that was freely agreed upon and negotiated by increasingly worried players who trusted their neophyte leadership to furnish them with a legal arrangement worth standing behind. One that has proven to be an unmitigated disaster under Tony Clark and only serves to evoke strong nostalgic desires for the insulating legacy of Donald Fehr.
One that is so fundamentally broken in how players are developed and deployed into the baseball bloodstream that (much like society itself) finds itself preying on young and old alike. Control over a prospect’s destiny has gravitated from understanding what’s best for the player and instead focuses on the delivery mechanism and “control” projections (especially laughable since the chances of Guerrero Jr. outlasting the Shapiro/Atkins regime in Toronto is a veritable slam dunk). Free agents over the age of 26 are ruthlessly ignored in favour of home-grown assets predicated on an executive philosophy of “compete” or “hibernate” – a disease that’s spread to roughly 2/3rds of the league today. I shudder at the thought of what a baseball player on the wrong side of 30 will need to do in order to prove his mettle and self-worth in a market governed by cold, cruel sabermetrics and zero consideration for intangibles. As former Blue Jays infielder Homer Bush once told me during an interview: “I was quick, I was fast, I had a decent glove, but they didn’t want me because I couldn’t take a walk.”
These holier-than-thou, seemingly preordained mighty front offices across North America that act as if *they* are the reason we come to watch baseball and thus are able to embrace a moral high ground on justifying their spending cuts, head-scratching personnel moves, and controversial trades brought forth from addressing liberal spending regimes known for taking risk and serving fan ardor (see: Anthopoulos + Beeston); now it’s an era where contract signings and salary projections are as fashionable as player personalities and actual game scores. It’s beyond pathetic, and smacks of old-fashioned ageism mixed with paternalistic hubris that has irrevocably changed a game once revered for glorifying scouting instincts, diamonds in the rough, and front office hunches as if they were manna from heaven. Such things are almost verboten in today’s game and have been relegated to the trash heap of what is perceived as outdated, anachronistically-minded baseball thinking.
Marvin Miller must be spinning in his grave. And probably wondering how the hell Bud Selig beat him to Cooperstown while the rest of us are left to absorb the modern day gong show that is baseball labour relations. One thing’s for certain; there will be a work stoppage soon, and you won’t have to look very far to trace back the exact points of manipulation and disjointed greed that will invariably end over a quarter century of labour peace.
And if your team happens to be the Toronto Blue Jays, you won’t have to look very far to find one of the biggest culprits of a system gone to rot.