With one stunning trade, the Blue Jays become what they claimed they could be
The Blue Jays were the team that talked big, but acted small. They were the team that collected talent, but never really crossed over into trying to put together a team that could win. They promised to act like a big-market team, but never did. Now, with one huge trade, they have.
|Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays’ 35-year-old GM, pulls the trigger on a trade that revamps his team. (US Presswire)|
The Blue Jays said they would do things like this.
We never believed them.
The Blue Jays said they could switch from collecting to contending.
We never saw any evidence.
Alex Anthopoulos said he wanted to be in position to pull the trigger on a big trade.
We waited for the proof.
The proof slammed down from Canada on Tuesday evening, with all the power of a winter storm. The evidence piled up, piece by piece, with every big name (and every huge salary) confirmed as part of baseball's first megatrade of the 2012-13 winter.
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The Blue Jays really are trying to win. The Blue Jays really are willing to spend. And Anthopoulos, the 35-year-old general manager who admitted to agonizing over trading Nestor Molina to the White Sox last winter, really can complete a deal that is much, much bigger.
In one night, he added two big-time starting pitchers (Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle), and a big-time shortstop/leadoff hitter (Jose Reyes). He added more than $160 million worth of contracts, but he turned the Blue Jays into a team that some people will no doubt pick to win the AL East next summer.
There are two sides to any trade, and the Marlins' side of this one is an ugly admission that they aren't anything they claimed to be.
Meanwhile, across the border, you can read this as one stunning statement that the Blue Jays are exactly what they claimed they could be.
And really what they should be.
Toronto is a huge city, one of North America's biggest. The Jays have an entire country to market to. They have a fan base that way back when allowed them to draw 4 million fans for three consecutive seasons.
You know how many teams have drawn 4 million in any of the last four major-league seasons?
The Blue Jays haven't come close to 4 million in any of the last 19 seasons. They barely got to 2 million this year, after three straight seasons of missing that modest target.
Their fans weren't convinced they were worth the effort, and I can't say I blamed them. Until Tuesday night, the Blue Jays were more promise than action.
They were the team that would never go more than five years on a contract, a deal-breaker with most of the biggest free agents. They were the team that could trade for players with big talent but big questions (Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar, who now goes to the Marlins in this trade).
They were the team that was rarely awful, but never great. Only once in the last 19 years have the Jays either won or lost 90 games (in 2004, when they lost 94).
Anthopoulos, and J.P. Ricciardi before him, said year after year that in the AL East, it's not enough to just be good. But the Jays would never make the commitment to try to be great.
I remember sitting with Anthopoulos in spring training 2011, and listening to him talk about what Toronto could -- and should -- be. But at the time, it was all talk.
I remember standing and talking to Anthopoulos in spring training 2012, listening to him talk about how tough the Molina for Sergio Santos trade had been on him. I remember wondering aloud whether he'd be able to make a deal that involved giving up prospects that were much better than Molina to put his team in position to win.
"I hope we're in that position," Anthopoulos said.
His team this past summer was a disappointment, even by standards of a team that hadn't really contended in years. Pitching injuries doomed them. They traded manager John Farrell to the Red Sox, where he quickly admitted that he had asked to be dealt there last year.
Even now, the Jays are the only one of the 30 big-league teams without a manager. But I'll bet their fans are willing to forgive Anthopoulos now for his tardiness in hiring one.
I can't imagine he'll have any trouble getting any candidate he wants on the phone now.
Who wouldn't want to manage this team? Who wouldn't think this is now a better opportunity than the one Farrell grabbed at with the Red Sox?
Sorry, John, I don't think the Blue Jays would take you back.
This trade doesn't make the Blue Jays the best team in baseball. Johnson's huge talent has always come with health concerns. The rotation behind Johnson and Buehrle is still questionable. The Reyes contract, which jumps to $22 million a year in 2015, doesn't look any better when you convert it into Canadian dollars.
But if there was one team in baseball that needed to make a trade like this, the Blue Jays were the one.
If there was one team that needed to prove to us that they were serious about trying to win, it was the team that won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93, and hadn't sniffed the postseason since then.
It was the team that sat around in 2008 and watched the Rays do what they said couldn't be done, breaking the Yankee-Red Sox monopoly. It was the team that sat around this summer and watched the Orioles prove that they could win, too.
The Blue Jays had far more resources than the Rays. They had never fallen as far as the O's.
They kept telling us that we should take them seriously.
Now we will.