COMMENTARY | The All-Star break is here for Major League Baseball, which means it's the unofficial midway point of the 2013 MLB season.
Teams get a four-day break to get refocused and re-energized for the final grind of the regular season as the push for the postseason gets in full swing.
The Toronto Blue Jays have four players representing the team in this year's Midsummer Classic: Jose Bautista, Brett Cecil, Edwin Encarnacion and Steve Delebar. It almost makes you forget that the Blue Jays enter the four-day break in last place in the AL East with a record of 45-49, and are 8 1/2 games back of the two wild-card spots.
And while many view the All-Star break as the aforementioned midway point, the fact of the matter is that teams have already played more than half of their games. The Blue Birds, for example, have played 94, or 58 percent, of their 162 games before the break.
That leaves them with just 68 more games left to play with a task that, barring a miracle like another 11-plus game winning streak, seems impossible to achieve: getting to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.
It's safe to assume that that is highly unlikely to happen. The Jays' pitching is too suspect, and they just aren't getting the timely hits that they need to pull out close games.
So with playoffs, for the purpose of this post, out of the question, what should we expect from the Blue Jays, especially their management, for the remaining two months?
It goes without question that the first thing Jays management needs to do is reevaluate all of the talent on the roster, and find out who is a right fit going forward.
Are the pitchers in the starting rotation the men you want to have the ball on the mound in the future?
Josh Johnson has struggled mightily this season with injuries and his play. He's 1-5 at the break with a 5.16 ERA. He's a former Cy Young candidate who is heading to free agency and with a season like he's having this year, one has to wonder whether or not the Blue Jays would be willing to pay his asking price for him to return. If not, he could be a player that gets dealt at the trade deadline, which falls on July 31.
R.A. Dickey is the reigning NL Cy Young winner who started the season on a poor note. He was struggling with his knuckleball in Toronto, and saw his record fall to 2-5 and 4-7 early on in the season. Since being 4-7, Dickey has gone 4-3 in his last eight starts, and has finally started to get into the groove of things in the retractable stadium that is the Rogers Centre. That being said, I think it's safe to assume that Dickey will be in Toronto next season.
There are other question marks on the mound like Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow; the team still hopes for J.A. Happ to become a top-half-of-the-rotation man in the future. However, let's leave those discussions for a different day.
In terms of its fielders, Toronto seems to have most of its positions figured out. The only real issues it will have to deal with is getting Colby Rasmus re-signed to a reasonable contract and finding out with players currently having success at the Triple-A level will be given a serious look for a roster spot. Two players that immediately come to mind are 2B Jim Negrych and CF Kevin Pillar, both of whom having had successful 2013 campaigns up to this point. Negrych has a .983 fielding percentage while Pillar, in just 24 games at the AAA level, has a .348 batting average with 10 doubles, 15 RBIs and four HRs.
If the team is completely out of contention by early to mid-August, it may be in the club's best interest to call up these players and give them a chance to show what they can do at this level. Toronto has a very deep prospect pool, and it's time the Blue Jays start letting those players have opportunities to shine.
Once GM Alex Anthopoulos sees what he has in terms of the current players in the system, it's time to focus on the man on the bench. Is John Gibbons really the right man to lead this team?
The Jays had extremely high hopes for 2013, and rightfully so. They went out and made blockbuster trades and big-time signings with hopes of becoming a serious World Series contender sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, for them, it hasn't all come together because of a wide array of factors, including the manager.
Bringing back Gibbons, in my opinion, was nothing more than a decision that was made because they needed a quick hire after losing John Farrell to the Red Sox. He was, what I like to call, the best of a bad situation. There weren't many quality candidates out there, which led to Gibbons being brought back.
From now until the end of the season and beyond, the powers that be in Toronto need to sit down and figure out if Gibbons really is the right man to lead this team of highly talented ballplayers to where they want to be.
At times, it looks as if the players just don't believe what the preacher is preaching. At other times, the Jays players seem to love him being the manager. Anthopoulos needs to find out how his players feel about Gibbons.
While that always isn't the best route to go in terms of deciding on a manager's future, I feel that in this case, getting a census of how the team feels about him could help the team out with deciding to keep Gibbons aboard. Maybe, after talking to the team, it's not the manager that needs to change. Maybe it's the coaches surrounding the manager that need to be replaced.
There is obviously a lot that could happen with this team between now and the end of the season. The trade deadline is fast approaching, and that day could signify some major change with the Blue Jays if the team doesn't get things turned around after it gets back to playing on July 19 when it faces Tampa Bay.
Michael Straw is a sportswriter who lives in Buffalo, NY and has been covering baseball, primarily at the Triple-A level, for two years. He began covering the Blue Jays in the fall of 2012, and has been published in multiple Western New York publications.
For Blue Jays and other sports news, follow Michael on Twitter @MikeStrawQCS.
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