For quite a long time, the Toronto Blue Jays have been an afterthought in the American League. I will not rehash the middle-of-the-road history since 1993. If you wish to go into the gory details of the three general managers and their struggles to put the team back into contention, you can find that story on the internet, without looking too hard. I’ll put it all into one sentence.
The Toronto Blue Jays have neither won nor lost as many as 90 games since 2005, and only once since they won it all in 1993.
That makes them the most in-limbo team in the MLB.
This week, the Toronto Blue jays entered a new phase. A phase in which Rogers Communications Incorporated money travelled directly to the location of Alex Anthopoulos’s mouth. AA put Toronto back on the MLB map by adding seven players in a week, five of whom will, if healthy, be in the starting lineup on opening day, 2013. The baseball world took notice. In fact, some of the baseball scribes stood up, spun around, had their eyes bulge out in a cartoonish manner, and started typing madly away. The was a Big Deal, bigger than Alomar/Carter for McGriff/Fernandez. No more being lost in the middle.
I am not in the business of making predictions, in fact I avoid them with very definite purpose. I haven’t the faintest clue of how this team is going to perform when they have to take the field for a 162 game grind, so I certainly don’t expect them to be a lock for the playoffs. What I think is more measurable is the way in which other teams in the league will approach facing the Jays.
This team has a lineup of solid players everywhere except first base. If you are coming to Toronto, Johnson, Morrow, and Beurhle are a very difficult three pitchers to see in a row. None of them walk a ton of guys, they have all had success at this level. If I am the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Orioles, Tigers, A’s, I’m trying to think about how to be better when the Blue Jays come to town. Opposing managers are going to be playing a Contender, not a team with aspirations of third place.
The team has four speedsters in the lineup, and two guys in the middle with as much power as Cano/Granderson or Pujols/Trout, or Cabrera/Fielder. Colby Rasmus is now a number eight hitter, if he hits like a number two hitter while he’s down there, that’s a bonus. JP Arencibia will not have to hit cleanup. The bullpen is well stocked, with more than 8 arms ready to throw smoke. The rotation only has one question mark. The swagger the team left spring training with in 2012, I remember that. Guys believed they could beat anybody on any given night. This year, every change that’s been made on the roster has been an upgrade. How can that swagger not be even more justified for 2013? The betting houses in Las Vegas think there’s a real change, putting the Jays a 11-1, 4th best odds of winning it all.
I have read a lot of celebration over these moves, and a lot of teeth grinding about what it means in the long term. I’m not worried about the long term. Why? First, I don’t try to predict the future. (I mentioned that above, if you skipped over that bit.) Second, I have watched Vernon Wells, Carl Crawford, and Jose Reyes all get traded in the last two years with very back-end loaded contracts. Anything can happen.
So, what if it doesn’t work out? Well, if the people show up to see them try, and if enough of them don’t come disguised as blue seats, (if you catch my drift), then the Dome becomes a popular destination again. I believe that the support the team gets will tell us a lot about whether this kind of spending will continue into the future, or whether this is one and done shot at the big time. There were 300,000 extra tickets sold from 2011 to 2012, and that jump was during a season in which the team looked like a last place club for two whole months. The offseason has brought a whole pile of players and dollars onto the payroll, maybe another jump of 300,000 tickets keeps them all around for a while.
Now I wait. Three months until spring training, and every other team has yet to make their move in the Hot Stove chess game. You can wait with me… I’ll be right here, hoping for the best.