While other contending teams were throwing themselves into the spirit of Tuesday’s trade deadline, what were the Toronto Blue Jays doing? Dealing for a guy who wasn’t allowed into the country a couple of weeks ago.
Whit Merrifield, baseball generalist and amateur virologist, was the one guy on the Kansas City Royals who tried mounting a defence of his anti-vaxx stance. It went over about as well as you’d expect.
When the inevitable apology rolled around, it got even worse. Already on the record that he doesn’t believe vaccines work, Merrifield said he might get vaccinated anyway if he was on a winner. Oh boy, they loved that one in Missouri.
As of 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Merrifield is a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. So I guess we’ll see exactly how conscientious his objections are.
(Bizarrely, Jays GM Ross Atkins ‘no commented’ when asked about Merrifield’s vaccination status. So you traded for a guy who might never be able to report for duty? That seems a bit careless.)
Aside from this unintentional comedy, there is one important thing to remember about Merrifield – he’s not that great. There’s nothing wrong with him. He just doesn’t move anyone’s baseball needle, no matter how sensitive. If he’s the guy you’re counting on as a difference maker, you’ve got problems.
Everybody the Jays got on Tuesday – it’s a short list – falls into that category. Reliever Anthony Bass is having a nice season, but this is someone the Jays already had and didn’t feel compelled to keep. Starter Mitch White is rotation insurance. Reliever Zach Pop is Canadian.
None of the bold-face names Toronto had interest in (that’s a baseball term of art that means ‘did not want to pay for’) materialized.
Meanwhile, the Yankees and Astros got significantly better. The Twins made strides. The Mariners took a huge swing.
Assuming the Jays make the playoffs, everyone they are likely to run into there made tangible improvements. Toronto stayed the same. Not much the same. Nearly exactly the same.
This doesn’t mean the Jays can’t win the World Series. But it’s a clear indicator that the Jays don’t think they’re going to win the World Series.
You knew this was a great disappointment when, in summing up the day, Atkins repeatedly, almost metronomically, used the word “exciting.”
Merrifield is “exciting.” Pop is “exciting.” The bullpen makes him “excited.”
When directly asked if Toronto still has a shot at the brass ring, Atkins was back at it.
“We’re so excited about this team and these acquisitions. The continuity aspect of it,” he said.
By continuity, Atkins means keeping all their current players. This would be the first time in sports history anyone has ever been this excited about not doing anything.
Of course, this is total nonsense.
If the Jays were excited, they wouldn’t be standing around right now with their hands in their pockets, while every citizen of San Diego lines up to high-five Padres GM A.J. Preller for landing Juan Soto.
The Jays may be excited in a few days when everyone in Toronto forgets this happened, which would be very like Toronto. You’ll know that’s happened when they stop saying the word ‘excited’ like they’re amateur hypnotists trying to get you to cluck like a chicken.
If not salutary, this complete lack of executive ambition is at least understandable.
Toronto is in a weird no-man’s land, standings-wise. The team should be good enough for long enough to make the playoffs. Getting that far is the minimum acceptable for this season.
But then there’s the division. The Yankees are so far out ahead of the Jays that they’ve become a smudge on the horizon.
Over the weekend, New York got impact outfielder Andrew Benintendi. On Monday, it got one of the best available arms in Frankie Montas.
New York was already bigger than the Jays. But by the time the Tuesday frenzy started, the Yankees and Jays were in different weight classes.
There’s only one reason Toronto would start dumping prospects to rent second-tier stars like Noah Syndergaard or Ian Happ. That’s if the Jays believe in their hearts they can beat the Yankees.
Since they are not delusional, the Jays don’t believe that.
It’s possible some of the Jays players believed it. The stubborn ones still may. But no one who has to answer for any theoretical trades believes it.
After all these years, it’s possible that the Jays executive – Atkins and president Mark Shapiro – are beginning to understand their market.
Canadians aren’t New Yorkers. They don’t demand excellence. All they demand is improvement.
The more incremental that improvement the better. People here love a small, reliable dividend on their investment. Anything more ambitious frightens them. The only thing that will drive them to revolt is consistent backsliding. Toronto – it’s a really great place to work, as long as your salary isn’t incentive based.
If we agree that the Jays will make the playoffs this year after missing out last year, well then, that’s more than good enough for most Jays fans.
The important thing is not to risk all the current good vibes on a chance that could blow up in your face a few months down the road. So what do you do? Nothing. Then act like it was something. Trust that your average customer isn’t that discerning.
That approach doesn’t work in big American markets. Which is why they win the occasional World Series, and up here, we talk about the World Series we won back when we took huge, expensive, potentially disastrous swings on the trade market.