Aaron Sanchez has become a one-person metaphor for the Toronto Blue Jays' Sisyphean 2017 season. They move the boulder just far enough up to the hill to ensure a good, solid crushing every time it rolls back down.
Sanchez would be Toronto's most valuable young player, if he played.
Out of nowhere, the 25-year-old has developed a recurring blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand. It put him on the disabled in April and again in May. In between, the nail split, causing another lengthy absence.
Sanchez came back from his latest rehab just before the all-star break. He managed three starts (two of them terrible) before the blister returned. Over the weekend, he went on the DL for the fourth time in three months.
When this started happening, Sanchez looked gutted. He's since advanced to an expression of resigned befuddlement. He doesn't know what's going on or why or what to do about it. The latest expert has told him it might require looking into a "tissue" solution (presumably some sort of graft), but doesn't know yet.
"If that is the case, that's kind of down the road," Sanchez said in Cleveland. "I need to worry about getting back out there within the next few weeks so that I can pitch this year."
To which anyone who does not expect the Toronto Blue Jays organization to fold next Christmas might wonder, "Why?" Why does "getting back out there within the next few weeks" matter? Getting out back out there to do what exactly? Lose with dignity? Help light the season's corpse on fire before pushing it out to sea?
This year has been headed into the tank from the outset. Nothing about that trajectory has changed.
The Jays lost again on Sunday, 8-1 to Cleveland. That's a sweep.
Toronto went 3-7 on its first trip out of the break. The Jays were outscored over those 10 games by 26 runs. They now have the worst run differential in the American League. So, however bad you think their 44-54 record looks, it should be worse. It'll most likely get there in due time. Because the one thing you can say for this year? It's been steady.
Another thing that's been consistent – no amount of on-the-fly treatment is fixing Sanchez's oozing digit. Like the team itself, it's deteriorating. Apparently, the blister is moving around the finger now, popping up in different spots.
Why no one seems particularly alarmed by this is a bit of a mystery. Another might be why a franchise would continue to sacrifice its most precious, most affordable, most controllable young commodity on the altar of a season that isn't going anywhere. Beyond the "honest day's work for an honest day's pay" ethos, what's the logic here?
Baseball isn't so different from life – you always change a losing game. Yet, abetted by his bosses, Sanchez has found no wiggle to his routine. He's just going to keep plowing forward despite repeated evidence that that's part of the problem.
You can't count on a player to know when to step back for his own good. They're professional athletes precisely because they don't have the let's-take-it-easy gene.
It's management's job to know when something has gone from "possibly doable" to "pointless" to "potentially destructive." Sanchez is already in Stage 2 and headed quickly toward Stage 3.
Don't blame Sanchez for going too hard at this. Blame his bosses.
Sanchez's micro-problem has been the Jays' macro-issue all season long – a whole lot of panicked rushing toward … well, they don't seem to have any idea where exactly. They're just moving forward. That heedless momentum allows them to put off thinking too hard about their problems.
Meanwhile, those problems are going from a slight tug on the steering wheel to a speed wobble. Over all, the Jays are the 27th-ranked offensive team in baseball (they were No. 1 in 2015 and No. 9 in 2016). This month, they're second to last in team ERA.
The Jays' two issues going into the year were that they are too old and have too little depth. You don't work your way through those challenges. You burrow deeper into them.
We're nearly 100 games in. It's time to admit that the newly bad Toronto Blue Jays are also the newly real Toronto Blue Jays.
Let's put aside for a moment what should happen at next week's trade deadline, since nothing substantive can come of it. Toronto doesn't have enough attractive assets to start a quickie rebuild or a realistic enough chance to invest resolutely in one last push. You can see what's coming – enough of a move(s) to make it look as though the Jays have tried, but nothing that commits them one way or the other. It'll be the poker equivalent of a check bet.
The Jays are stuck in the performance doldrums for as long as they decide they don't want to start throwing people overboard to lighten the load. Theoretically, that could go on for years.
What to do about it is the existential question that will dominate Blue Jays conversation for the foreseeable future, and so can be put off.
But Sanchez is a problem for right now. It makes no sense to continue pushing him out there to fail just because he wants to play.
Sanchez's year should be over immediately. Let him spend the next four months suspended upside-down in pickle brine if that's what it takes. His focus shouldn't be pitching again. It should be ridding himself of blisters, however long that takes.
It's clear the Jays are not the team they once were, even just a year ago. There's isn't anything that can be done about that right now.
But shutting down Sanchez would at least reassure people that management's focus has switched to protecting the core of a team they still might be in seasons to come. With the present disintegrating daily, it's a small gesture toward the future.