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The Jays are burning their team to the ground, starting with Tulo

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018 – Page B15

TORONTO -- Disassembly can be hard work. So rather than bother with an orderly teardown, the Toronto Blue Jays have decided to burn their roster to the ground.

On Tuesday, the team released shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He is now a free agent. He'll still collect the US$38-million owed to him over the next two years by Toronto.

It isn't the most expensive kiss-off in sports history, but it's up there.

Tulowitzki, 34, missed last season with heel injuries. Every once in a while, he'd pop by the dugout to remind reporters he was born a shortstop, lived as a shortstop and would die a shortstop.

At that point, Tulowitzki no longer had the agility necessary to be the team's bus driver, but that didn't stop him from obsessively protecting his patch of the infield. It didn't endear him to anyone.

As recently as last week, he was still rehabbing.

Tulowitzki will be best remembered in these parts as the leading edge of the predeadline trade wave that swept the Jays into the 2015 postseason. Beyond that, he didn't make much of an impression.

When he was fit (which wasn't nearly often enough), he played good defence, provided "leadership" and spoke in public as if he was an enemy combatant under interrogation.

He was the only baseball player I'd ever known to bring his personal assistant into the clubhouse. He was, in every sense, big league.

Cutting him doesn't cost the current management anything.

He wasn't their guy; the team was going to be wretched with or without him; the money is a sunk cost; and it's not even their money.

Since Tulowitzki was too wooden to be anyone's favourite, it doesn't even make them look heartless. This was pure pragmatism.

In that spirit, why stop now?

Russell Martin should be the next guy out the door. Unlike Tulowitzki, Martin is well liked - Canadian, ready-for-prime-time and capable of providing ancillary performance value (managementese for "can no longer hit his bodyweight, but can catch").

But it's long past time to worry about anything as meaningless as feelings or emotional attachment. It is instead time to take advantage of a general apathy.

Management has given up.

The veteran players have given up. The fan base has spent the past year getting ready to move into a doomsday bunker.

The idea that the next two, three or infinity years will be absolutely awful has been baked into this club. Wherever Martin goes, it's bound to be better than this. Trading him will be a mercy.

The Jays would have to eat a significant portion of the US$20million Martin is owed in the final year of his contract, but you know how shopping sprees work. Once you've dropped the cost of a Fijian island to make someone go away, what's another 80 Rolls Royces?

All Rogers Communications Inc. needs to do is move a decimal on a few hundred thousand phone bills.

After Martin, Marcus Stroman is up next. Unless he transforms himself from an Instagram obsessive who pitches in his spare time to the reincarnation of Sandy Koufax, there is no world in which Stroman remains a Blue Jay once his free agency hits in two years time.

What's going to happen in those two years? The Jays are going to lose a ton of ball games.

And the point of keeping Stroman would be what exactly?

Hoping he doesn't go squirrelly on what will be pretty close to the worst team in baseball? Because the odds on that are a lot worse than 50-50.

Last week, the Washington Nationals gave starter Patrick Corbin - who's had one really good major-league season - a sixyear, US$140-million deal.

Stroman is the generic version of Corbin - potentially just as effective, but less than half the price. Despite his struggles, Stroman's value just went up.

The same argument could be made of Stroman's former best pal and current frenemy, Aaron Sanchez.

You probably need one or the other to keep this season respectable, but both are expendable.

The difference is that Stroman may fetch a better return, while he's also the one more likely to be a clubhouse headache if he stays.

You can go up and down the Jays roster with a red marker and it will not make any difference to a) performance b) attendance and c) future performance and attendance. If a player is not at least three of these four - good, cheap, beloved or has huge upside - they should be gotten rid of.

For the next two months, the Jays get a mulligan on all of this because at the moment, they are not an actual baseball team. Instead, they are a conceptual baseball team.

In people's minds, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the next coming; Bo Bichette is an everyday player as soon as you take him out of the box; and Cavan Biggio deserves a lot better than always being the third guy thrown into these comparisons.

Without any evidence, people believe things are going to get a lot better, and relatively soon.

Since they believe that, they're willing to put up with a shocking amount of short-term pain. They may even be looking forward to it.

More failure means better draft picks means more theoretical Guerreros. You can play this game of delayed gratification all offseason.

But once they get a look at this sorry excuse for a major-league outfit on the field, tanking may not seem like so much fun. No one likes paying to see their side humiliated. There's going to be a lot of humiliation.

It will be much worse if Guerrero isn't Barry Bonds right away; or if Bichette is terrible; or Biggio turns out to deserve the "Third Man" consideration.

If everything doesn't go just right, the "Why doesn't this team spend any money?" chorus kicks up again. That in turn will lead people back to thinking about why this teardown was started too late, how the Josh Donaldson trade was screwed up and so on and so forth.

So they have this small window to do a proper demolition.

Just for a moment, the Blue Jays shouldn't be worrying about building their future. First, they need to destroy the present.

Associated Graphic

Troy Tulowitzki missed last season with heel injuries. As recently as last week, he was still rehabbing. FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Huh? How did I get here?
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