When the Toronto Blue Jays brought former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell on board this past offseason, the talk was entirely of the future. This was a team with goals for beyond 2011. The comments of Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos at the introductory press conference were entirely long-term in nature.
Toronto actually enters Wednesday fifth in the American League wild card race and have been around the .500 mark all year, so it's not as if the present is entirely grim. It's just so-so. With the acquisition of Colby Rasmus (considered one of the best CFs in the majors) to a team already rife with young talent and a pitching staff that should blossom under Farrell and his staff, the ability to contend with the beasts of the American League East is there.
The Rasmus deal sends a signal that the fight is on, or it will be in time.
Rasmus, 24, will join a brigade of young bats that figure to anchor the lineup for years to come. Adam Lind is enjoying a standout campaign in his age-27 season. There is upside in outfielders Travis Snider and Eric Thames, 23 and 24, respectively.
Brett Lawrie, acquired in the Shaun Marcum trade this past winter, is tearing apart Triple-A and figures to be a star at either third base or second base in the very near future. Lawrie is the shining star of a minor league system that is ranked as one of the best, a system that may only get better after a strong 2010 draft and a 2011 class that featured five of the top 57 picks.
Keeping the seat warm in the hot corner is Jose Bautista, who at age 30 is a bit older than many of these promising bats, but signed through 2015. Shortstop Yunel Escobar, 28, is a .300 hitter. Catcher J.P. Arencibia, 25, is not, but he ranks second in the majors in home runs (15) as a catcher.
If Rasmus and the rest of the gang develop on a similar path, the Blue Jays lineup, already quite capable, could one day hang with the likes of the Red Sox and the Yankees, both on paper and in reality. The potential for a typically bruising AL East lineup is there. And if it comes of age, many of the key components will be locked up for a long time.
Outside of All-Star Ricky Romero, the pitching staff has struggled in 2011. The staff ERA is 4.30, good for ninth in the AL. However, only one pitcher over the age of 26 has made a start for the Jays. That would be Carlos Villanueva. He's 27.
While Farrell is not the pitching coach, he was partially responsible for the coming-of-age scenarios which played out for Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and also helped Josh Beckett immensely in their time together. Farrell knows how to handle young, talented hurlers.
Where Toronto lacks is in some of those oh-so-important ancillary spots. The bullpen has been a disaster, but that's something that can fluctuate so much from year to year and can be corrected with one or two fortunate moves.
The defense, similarly, is poor. However, many players, such as Lind and Bautista and Lawrie, have been moved around in recent months. In time, with stability and experience, the ability for the team to catch the ball will improve.
When will it be enough? When will the Jays catch the Sox and Yanks and the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won two of the last three division crowns on a more limited budget? Certainly not in 2011. Rasmus doesn?t have superpowers. What he does have is the ability to stand as a strong signal that Toronto's future remains bright, perhaps brighter than it did that day John Farrell came aboard.