April has come and gone. We’re around one-fourth into the MLB season- the delightful sparks to start the year or the surprise duds out of the gate are no longer becoming fool’s gold and are suddenly becoming the long-term outlooks of the team.
Windows close very fast.

There are two sides of the coin when it comes to approach. The first is the approach of the Miami Marlins, who, after making the postseason last season as the final wild card, have immediately pivoted in 2024. One month into the year, in their 9-26 start, they traded away their hit king and prized trade acquisition from just last year, Luis Arraez, to the Padres for prospects, and their President of Baseball Operations Peter Bendix blatantly said, “We are unlikely to make the postseason this year.” The South Beach residents and season ticket holders can already start focusing on Miami Dolphins football.

There were euphemisms that Bendix could have thrown out that is the usual approach when it comes to tanking. Still, the case can be made that they at least acquired SOMETHING for Arraez rather than going with the Angels-Ohtani approach, where they neglected to face the fact that they don’t have it this year and didn’t get anything back in return for their asset.

The other approach is the current state of the Houston Astros. Some may call it hubris, but they have faith in their uniform and the organization to turn it around despite their fourth-worst start in franchise history. When you’ve made 7 straight ALCS and won two World Series while still having some of the core like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, or Yordan Alvarez, you have the pedigree of being able to have faith that it will turn around and that it’s been bad injury luck, a new manager making adjustments, and an aging roster; that’s why Astros’ GM Dana Brown said he “can’t envision” them being sellers at the deadline because they’re too good.

That being said, they’ve dug themselves into a DEEP ditch at last place in the AL West; they’re refusing to look into the mirror and see a team that has a worse record than the Trout-less Angels and the selling Oakland A’s; Bregman is in a contract year, Verlander is over 40 and coming off of injury, and the most expensive bullpen in baseball is bottom-5 in ERA to start the year with 4/12 save opportunities converted.

Astros fans can still at least hold onto the belief that drives us as sports fans, unlike the Marlins, who are a marathon, momentum-based sport. However, a lost year is a lost year when you just focus on the short term.

To echo the earlier statement, windows close fast. There comes a time when you have to look past the uniform and the pedigree and instead face the mirror at a certain point and make a decision on what the long-term outlook is best by being the aggressor to improve the short-term struggles or taking a step back.

The teams that have had to or will be on the brink of making that decision are going to be interesting to follow.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are an organization looking to capture that PNC Park magic since prime Andrew McCutchen was winning MVPs but have been at the bottom of the league with an ownership group that refuses to spend. However, last year, they got off to a hot start with their young talent before the wheels fell off once again and became the same old Pirates.

After starting off the season with some highs and lows, the highs were named after rookie Jared Jones and Edward Olivares, and the lows were some terrible blown bullpen losses. They’re in third ahead of the Reds in a loaded NL Central but have decided the season isn’t lost just yet by calling up the most-anticipated starting pitcher prospect since Steven Strasburg: Paul Skenes. He went 4 innings with 17 triple-digit fastball pitches in his debut against the Cubs, just surrendering one homer, and looked like he belonged on the field despite figuring it out and working for his strikeouts. He also has the social media presence of a Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce lite due to his girlfriend Livvy Dunne’s presence, but he is the polar opposite in that he has no social media and psychotically listens to audiobooks before throwing flamethrower fastballs.

The Pirates may not actually make any noise in the NL this year after the hole they dug themselves into with a crowded NL Central, but credit to Pittsburgh for at least looking around and seeing both Cincinnati and St. Louis slumping and just seeing what Skenes paired with the rest of the surrounding talent and going for it.

San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres were the recipients of the aforementioned Luis Arraez from the Marlins and have been the biggest “we’re going to treat our roster moves like we’re a 12-year-old operating a sports video game” team. They sign and acquire every superstar infielder possible. They make blockbuster trades due to their plethora of top prospects. They take aim at the big brother Dodgers in the NL West, who are the hallmark of the billionaire franchise, with the target on their back in the league.

Just after you thought they were actually going to… stop being the Padres by trading Juan Soto to the Yankees after their nightmare-unlucky 2023, they traded for Dylan Cease and still appear to be all-in. AJ Preller continues to push his chips to the center of the table permanently with bold moves to get superstars and just figure it out later. “Fernando Tatis Jr. can just learn to play outfield!” was quite literally a strategy implemented after their fourth infielder was acquired.

It’s plug-and-play, and they have to make these bold moves because they know the Dodgers are the standard, and they just have to get in the dance—they eliminated LA once as a Wild Card recipient before. Who knows what will happen when the bill comes due, but the Padres are banking on being one of the best wild card teams in the NL this year despite hovering around .500 and getting it together in the second half.

Toronto Blue Jays

There may not be a fan base that is currently in dire straits as much as the entire nation of Canada appears to be on fire with the current state of the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2021, MLB: The Show cover star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would have won AL MVP if a guy named Shohei Ohtani didn’t exist and dropped the now infamous quote, “Last year was the trailer. What you’re about to see now is the movie.” Ever since then, Toronto has been ablaze with all kinds of dysfunction. Alek Manoah forgot how to pitch after looking like a superstar mic’d up during the All-Star Game. Vlad has batted below .275 each year, and it looks more like a fluke. They’ve fired Charlie Montoyo, seemingly can’t stay healthy, and are now 0-6 since 2020 in the postseason after making the Wild Card round two years in a row.

They currently sit in last place as a team that has made big market moves that make it appear like they’re in contention but currently sit in last place in the AL East. They have an all-right-handed lineup that’s 27th in offense and, historically, an even better all-around hitter than Vladdy, Bo Bichette, who is batting .203 with only two homers. The worst part, though, is that despite the steady performances from their starting pitching staff, their bullpen is dead last in ERA, FIP, and home runs given up, and the blown leads lead to collapses that kill the vibes of a young locker room that should be having fun as the Vlad quote should insinuate.

This is a team that has the 8th-highest payroll in the majors, had World Series expectations in the prime of this core’s career for the past half-decade, and could be at the bottom of an AL East that looks poised to have contenders that quite frankly look so much more competent than they do. They tried and failed to pursue Shohei Ohtani this year, and now the shift is turning to conversations regarding whether or not the team could use a reset; neither of their two stars have been extended despite spending a lot of money on a losing roster, and Bassitt, Kikuchi, and Romano could bring in a haul. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the window is “closing” with this Blue Jays team, as much as it feels like Toronto may need to take a step back, reevaluate expectations, and bring in different personalities or voices to get their spark from 2020 back.

Toronto may need to look in the mirror and realize that the “movie” Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was referring to may have a terrible Rotten Tomatoes score.

PHOTO: Getty Images

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