By CATHAL KELLY
Friday, June 21, 2019
TORONTO -- How low has it gotten for the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays?
They are now being upstaged by a baseball team that has neither a stadium nor a team.
The Montreal Expos are coming back. Maybe. To share a club with Tampa Bay.
It'll be halfsies. Florida gets the first three months of the season; Quebec gets the last three. It's like Montreal and Tampa Bay used to live together, decided to call it quits, but want to keep things civil for the kids, of whom there are several thousand.
Baseball has some good ideas, a lot of bad ideas, a few shockingly stupid ideas and then it has whatever this idea is.
This is an idea so ridiculous you know in your bones someone in a boardroom said, "That's just crazy enough to work," and, a dozen terrible decisions later, we ended up here. With an indefensible idea.
Here's Jays general manager Ross Atkins on Montreal's as-yet theoretical resurrection model: "Really cool idea."
Atkins would say that. As long as people are talking about an imaginary baseball team in Montreal, they aren't talking about his team. That's a PR win (the only sort the Toronto Blue Jays can hope for any more).
A few days ago, the club was forced to pitch Edwin Jackson.
God love him, but Jackson can't pitch any more. Jackson should be enjoying his retirement instead of throwing batting practice every fifth night at 7:07 p.m. for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Why would you pitch Jackson?
"We don't have anybody else," Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.
All over this great continent, there are thousands of twentysomething men who play baseball. Many do it at a high level.
Some of those are in the minor leagues. They wear uniforms, which makes them easy to spot.
But the Jays - a professional baseball club with a whole scouting department and everything - can't find them.
This is a game of "Where's Waldo?" wherein everyone is Waldo, and the Jays are still losing.
But don't worry. Pretty soon they'll jettison all the decent remaining players so that no one has to feel bad about themselves.
Then everyone can be an anybody. Atkins, who has to front this mess, came out on Thursday to speak about a brighter future.
His comments require translation from baseball executivese into English.
On when Marcus Stroman and all the other tradeable veterans will get it in the neck: "The nature of deadlines is that we wait for them." (TRANSLATION: Tomorrow, probably.)
On the current state of the club: "We're encouraged."
(TRANSLATION: By how cheap they are.)
On what's generally gone wrong: "When you aren't as aggressive in free agency or with short-term trades to acquire players with shorter term, we realize that risk is there."
(TRANSLATION: We got most of these guys at Dollarama.)
On what precisely has gone wrong: "It's been our overall ability to prevent runs and score them."
(TRANSLATION: Translation machine begins to spark and pop and then explodes.)
Atkins noted that he has been pleased by the performance of his signature signing, Randal Grichuk, because "he's been working hard."
At what? Has he learned to crochet or something?
This sort of magical thinking is what makes this team so maddening. "Encouraged"? What for? Owing to a combination of extreme cheapness, bad luck and poor planning, the Jays are going to lose 100 games this year. People are still paying to watch this organized incompetence.
Everyone who made those decisions should come out during the anthems and march up and down the foul lines whipping themselves with wet noodles in a display of public contrition.
Or they should at least own up to what everyone already knows.
Everyone knew the Jays would be bad this year (despite all the team's preseason "We live to win!" nonsense). But they didn't know it would be this bad. Not "Horror Movie, People Go Off Into the Woods and Just Never Come Back" bad.
This club makes a roster move pretty much every day in order to fill the gaps because this club is nothing but gaps.
On Thursday, Montoyo was talking about how beneficial that can be for a guy's development - a few midseason weeks in the minors to work out the kinks against inferior pitching. Really find yourself, in the Zen sense.
Yes, I'm sure that's exactly how the Yankees do it - "Great news! You're not good enough!"
We've gotten to the point where the slow erosion of an athlete's confidence is somehow a positive. The Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They are the world's least effective temp agency.
Will this get better? Absolutely, since it is difficult to imagine how it can get any worse.
The question is what is left after two or three more years of this. Losing teams continue losing because losing is what they know. The easiest way to flip a losing culture is the judicious injection of a few winners. It has been made abundantly clear no one wants to do that because it would cost money.
What you will some day be left with is a tight core of talented young players who have never done anything at the big-league level but have their heads handed to them on a nightly basis. Many of them will have been run up and down between majors and minors like dumbwaiters. If not born losers, they will be conditioned that way.
But in the Orwellian outlook of the Jays, losing somehow translates into winning if you do it at an ambitious-enough level.
If they won't hire some established talent, a semi-bearable alternative is telling people you overshot your tank targets. And may do so for years to come.
Because the Raptors are gone and the Maple Leafs don't return for three months, the Jays are all that's left to talk about in this town. And three months is a long time to spend hiding.
The Rays received the go-ahead from MLB on Thursday to explore playing some future games in Montreal, where the Jays have enjoyed good turnouts for exhibition games in the past.
PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS