Toronto Blue Jays’ Justin Smoak says aging team still has plenty left to give

By Steve Buffery

TORONTO — Justin Smoak is not buying the idea that the Toronto Blue Jays are a team on a downward projection, and will not be real contenders again in the AL East for at least two to three years.

The Jays were sellers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, getting rid of a couple of veteran pitchers for prospects, while their AL East rivals, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, added solid veterans for their playoff push. The Jays are also an aging team with a lot of their older players having down years — Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki, for example.

There’s a feeling that the Jays have become really old really fast and, given that and what they don’t have in the high minors, there is very little optimism the 2018 season will amount to anything despite the recent warm and fuzzy words of GM Ross Atkins. The Yankees and Red Sox, meanwhile, have some great young talent on their respective rosters.

But Smoak, by far the best positional player on the Jays roster this season, doesn’t see it that way.

“We have the same team we’ve had here the last two, three years. It’s just a matter of trying to put it all together,” he said. “We did it the last two years (made the playoffs) and we just haven’t really got it going yet. We haven’t really had that stretch where we’ve just taken off. Yeah, the season’s winding down but we still have two months and we still have that opportunity.”

Smoak was asked if he genuinely feels the Jays “still have that opportunity,” was he not disappointed that the front office did nothing to bolster the lineup for a possible wild card push? Prior to Tuesday night’s games, the Jays were five games out of the last wild card spot, with six teams to leap frog over. A tall order.

“Not really,” he said. “Not at this point. If we go out there and win games, probably the trade deadline’s different. We weren’t really in the position to probably do more (at the deadline), you know what I mean? It’s on us, really. We go out there and win games and maybe if we’re in first or second place we go out there and we make one of those deals.

“But, honestly, I feel like we still have a great team,” Smoak continued. “We’ve got a good lineup. It would be nice to get some (injured) guys back. But it’s just kind of, it is what it is.”

Smoak is not someone to get too excited about anything, on or off the field. But he did do a double-take when asked about the aging theory, that the Jays have just gotten old fast and have reached the point of no return barring a major rebuild.

“That’s not the case,” he said. “Bautista’s the oldest guy on this team (36) and he’s probably in the best shape of anybody on this team, know what I mean? It’s like one of those things, it is what it is. But like I said earlier, it’s on us. It’s not on (management). It’s just a matter of getting the job done.”

Smoak insists there are reasons to believe this present lineup (or close to it) can get the job done in 2018. They do have an estimated $60 million that will come off the books after this season.

“There’s always optimism,” he said. “We got a good team, we got guys that are returning next season that are really good players. We’ve got really good guys coming back (Devon Travis and Aaron Sanchez). Missing Sanchez was huge. He came into spring training in better shape than his entire life, ready to throw 200 plus innings. And it’s just one of those freak things again. So I think we just have to keep going.

“One through nine I feel like we’re pretty good, position player wise,” Smoak added. “Staff wise, I mean, you got (Marcus) Stroman, Sanchy, J.A. Happ coming back. You don’t know with Marco (Estrada) yet, if he’s coming back. But that’s at least three top tier guys.”

But it is reaching the point where every series — particularly those against AL East rivals like the three-game series against the Yankees at the Rogers Centre this week — is crucial. Being swept by the Yanks this week would almost certainly spell the death knell for the Jays in terms of having a chance to get into a wild card spot, though Smoak isn’t ready to go quite that far.

“Nah,” he said. “I just feel like every series you want to go in to win it. That’s the goal. Will we be upset if we don’t win two out of three (against New York this week)? Yeah, we’d be upset. So we definitely want the series.”

And to keep the faith.

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