With the Tampa Bay Rays (the freakin RAYS!) on the verge of finishing off the Red Sox and completing their journey from AL East doormat to possible World Series champions, a major change in strategy is necessary if the Blue Jays ever want to get back to the postseason.
Because for the last decade or so Jays fans only had to worry about the two Evil Empires: the hated Yankees and the (now equally) hated Red Sox. However, with Tampa and their ridiculously stacked team of young star players, Toronto now has three very good teams directly blocking their path to the playoffs.
And it's clear the Jays are the worst of the four teams by a wide margin. With or without A.J. Burnett. If the AL East were 'Entourage', Boston would be Vince, New York would be Ari, Tampa would be E and Toronto and Baltimore would flip a coin for Turtle and Drama. Constantly on the outside, forever mocked and left behind.
During the offseason the Red Sox will tinker a little, add more pitching and be better next year. The Yankees are getting ready to spend roughly half a billion dollars on superstar free agents to add to their already formidable core, and the baby Rays will be a year older and armed with ample playoff success. Hell, B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria might surpass 100 homeruns all by themselves. The point is, none of the three teams that finished ahead of Toronto this year are getting any worse.
Toronto is no closer to the playoffs today than it was 5 or 10 years ago. If anything, they’re further away.
The cut and paste technique that has been employed by the Blue Jay front office for more than a decade isn't working. The core of the team simply can’t compete with the best. Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay are complimentary players. The holes at shortstop and behind the plate aren’t going away. Adding mid-level free agents and swapping mediocre veterans for more mediocre veterans (Brad Wilkerson or Kevin Mench anyone? Anyone?) isn’t going to change the fact that the nucleus of this team doesn’t have enough skill to go head-to-head with the three AL East powers.
For that reason, it’s time to move in a new direction. Think ‘firesale’. Or see: Marlins, Florida (1998).
Which means it's time to cash in the biggest chip the Jays have and move Roy Halladay. It will absolutely be tough to watch ‘Doc’ go. The guy has been unbelievable in his decade as a Blue Jay and is unquestionably the best pitcher in the AL over the last five seasons. He's thrown more complete games than entire teams and has consistently been amongst the league leaders in ERA, wins and strikeouts, but he was always more than just stats. Watching him work every fifth day was truly a treat, every time out you thought "this could be the day Roy throws the second no-hitter in franchise history".
But the thing is, no matter how well Halladay pitches next year, or even the year after that, he won't be able to pitch the Jays into the postseason. It will not happen. Can't happen. Impossible. Unless baseball changes the playoff format and adds more teams, Toronto has zero chance of reaching the playoffs in the next two years. So what is the point of finishing fourth with a high-priced veteran club? Wouldn’t it make more sense to tear the whole thing down?
Moving Halladay, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and B.J. Ryan would net a significant haul of prospects that in combination with Travis Snider, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill and the surplus of young pitching already in place, could form the type of core group it takes to realistically stand up to the free-spending Yanks and Sox.
Re-directing free agent cash towards drafting high-ceiling, expensive amateur players is the obvious formula. That could be the only way to ever really contend in this division. It’s certainly how the Rays did it.