The Toronto Blue Jays had the breath knocked out of them barely a month into the 2018 campaign. The final gasp essentially came halfway through the season.
Any embers still flickering from back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015-16 were snuffed out when star players were moved before the trade deadline. Manager John Gibbons eventually made a final bow and now the future has become the present at Rogers Centre.
It will likely take at least a year of pain — maybe two or even three — before the Blue Jays are in a position to contend again.
“Timelines are so difficult,” general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday. “I don’t expect us next year to be jumping up and down on mounds. If that starts to look more realistic in the following year or the year after that, then that’s what we’re shooting for and that’s what we are optimistic will happen.
“I can tell you this, I’ve never felt as confident in working in baseball as I do now about the future of an organization.”
Things never really lined up for the 2018 squad, which settled for a 73-89 record.
More movement than stability
Former MVP Josh Donaldson battled injuries and was eventually traded. Closer Roberto Osuna was suspended for 75 games and shipped out. J.A. Happ was the only consistent starting pitcher and he too was eventually dealt.
There was more movement than stability throughout the lineup and it proved costly. The infield seemed to have a different look every day.
Some bright spots did emerge and a few young players took advantage of their opportunities. But the team’s defence was a consistent problem and fundamentals were often lacking.
However, the minor leagues are well-stocked and stud prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette aren’t far away.
“There are waves of talent that are coming,” Atkins said at a wide-ranging season-ending media availability. “It’s not just the guys that we saw in September. There’s a wave below that and a wave below that.”
Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are the best bets to anchor the 2019 rotation despite struggling with injuries and underperformance this year.
“Their trajectory is a bit different but they both could return to being regular take the ball every five days at the front or certainly the middle of a rotation,” Atkins said.
The future is a tad murkier for big-ticket veterans like catcher Russell Martin and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
The Blue Jays have several options at catcher while Tulowitzki didn’t play a game in 2018 after undergoing heel surgery.
“[Martin] makes such a difference for pitchers with his receiving, with his leadership, with his instincts, with his confidence,” Atkins said. “If he’s near his best, he’s playing. How regular? We’ll see.”
Tulowitzki, meanwhile, will get an opportunity to return at shortstop. Whether he sees regular playing time remains a question mark.
“If Tulo is healthy and performing at a very high rate, then yes,” Atkins said. “If he’s healthy and his performance isn’t to the calibre that major-league environments demand, then no. But it starts with health.”
As for the managerial search, Atkins expects that he’ll need at least three weeks to fill the position.
Team officials were still gathering information on a “vast number” of candidates and talks have already started with others. In-person interviews with final candidates — there will likely be at least five — are tabbed to begin around mid-October.