With 12 teams racing to the bottom and bonafide stars waiting for contracts, this looks to be a season of fan despair. Will the Blue Jays join the club?

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Bruce DowbigginThe Major League Baseball season just began and already 12 teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. What’s that, you say? We’re only three or four games into the season, how can teams already be eliminated?

Yes, it’s a little early for the traditional tragic number, counting down to a team’s elimination from the playoffs. But we can say with certitude that the Dirty Dozen clubs are out of the hunt, because they’ve already told us they have no intention of competing for the post-season. Losing ’R Us.

For fans of Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City, Oakland, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and San Diego, it’s no soup for you in September. Management on these teams signalled to everyone that they’re assuming a cringing position as we head into the season.

With no bonafide chance at winning, this Dirty Dozen told the world this spring that, instead of losing gobs of money on a team that would probably fall short of glory, they were going on an austerity kick. They dumped hefty contracts for stars the way a 300-pounder drops calories in a weight-loss crash.

Led by the Miami Marlins’ new ownership, the underachievers peddled stars such as Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Marcell Ozuna, Lorenzo Cain, Gerrit Cole, Ian Kinsler and Dee Gordon. They allowed a number of others to go to free agency without offering them contracts. More telling, there are bonafide stars still looking for contracts whom these needy teams will not approach.

Yes, this 2018 season will be known as the Jenny Craig campaign as franchises cinch their waistlines. And they’re not done. As the trade deadline approaches in July, you can expect these clubs to dangle even more of their top players in trades to the top teams.

This fainting goats approach to 2018 has been duly noted by the union representing the players. MLB Players Association director Tony Clark has been asking how owners can foist this refusal to compete on fans. “This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom,” Clark has said. “This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”

Creative destruction is made easier in MLB because, as opposed to the National Hockey League and the National Basketball League, there is no minimum payroll in MLB. While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman forces teams to keep useless contracts to reach a payroll floor, baseball lets its franchises take it down to the wood – so long as they keep 25 contracts on the MLB level.

It’s also been expedited by the fact that this austerity agenda has worked for the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. As we wrote earlier this year, teams like the Astros and Cubs recognized that getting lost in the middle of the standings and losing money was no way to live.

I wrote: “The Astros owners decided that just missing a wild card playoff spot each year with an average team was a Sisyphean exercise. If they were ever to win the first Series in the club’s history, they needed to lose a lot (check), accumulate the best young players they could (check), and rise to fight and win another day (check in 2017).”

And so it was that the Astros won the Series last fall. Just as the Cubs had won it all in 2016. Losing has its uses. As the Dirty Dozen have noted.

They could be joined by the Toronto Blue Jays if things don’t go as planned at Rogers Centre (amidst rumours that the team is up for sale). With a handful of high-priced vets eating a hole in their payroll, the bosses at Rogers will be only too willing to deal Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki – if he ever gets off the DL – Russell Martin and Marco Estrada to willing buyers looking for one final piece for a World Series bid if the Jays’ hopes go up in smoke (no, not Justin Smoak).

The first series of the 2018 campaign at Rogers Centre against the Yankees powerhouse showed that Toronto has a recipe for respectability. If heathy, their starting pitching can keep them in games. Their defence looks like a work in progress with Yangervis Solarte spelling a sore-shouldered Donaldson and Devon Travis trying to make it back from yet another injury. Left field is a void so far.

But can the heart of an offence that once boasted Edwin Encarnacion, José Bautista, Tulowitzki and Donaldson score enough to compete against New York and Boston in the AL East? It was comforting to see Smoak blasting homers as they split the four-game set at the concrete convertible by Lake Ontario. It’ll still take a lot more of that creativity for the next 150-plus games if the Jays are to avoid a selloff.

If they do go that route, they’ll at least have the comfort of knowing they have plenty of company in losing. The Dirty Dozen are always happy to accept new members of the Losers Anonymous club.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.


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