Hope is high in Toronto, Blue Jays fans. The Red Sox are looking beatable after a late-season collapse, and the Jays are just getting better and better as they emerge from their rebuilding phase with a strong core and rumors of cash to spend. They have one of the best outfielders in the league. They have a highly-touted rookie (albeit with some questions about his glove at his current position) who stormed through the minors and absolutely mashed in September when he was called up last year.
They have an ace who is undeniably one of top pitchers in the league, in his prime, under control for a while. Behind him comes a fireballer with huge potential who is dominant at times and could be a Cy Young if he puts it all together. Their bullpen is anchored down by a high-strikeout closer. Really, it looks like all this team needs to make a decent run is some starting pitching depth and a slugging DH, and to do that, upper management is apparently willing to put the payroll up to 100 million (it now sits just above 70) at some point in the next few years.
The PR machine is pumping vaguely but incredibly optimistic, “our time is soon” propaganda and implying that they are willing to do what it takes to get to the top. The rest of the league is saying nice things about the team in the way that you do a former rival who is no longer living on the streets but hasn’t quite pulled it together enough to cause you any trouble. It is a time of less shame. Not pride, but less shame. Look out AL East, here we come!
But wait – I don’t mean now. I’m talking about 2006! Does this all seem a little familiar? Back then, all that was true too, and the Blue Jays had just finished with 87 wins (compared to 81 last year), ahead of the Red Sox for the first time in 1.4 million years, who had gone 9-21 in August (the Bosox went 7-20 in September last season, apparently the worst streak of all time that has ever happened in this game ever). And yet, the World Series was won by the Red Sox and the Yankees twice in the next three years, and the Jays continued to drone on slightly above .500. Not a single sniff of the playoffs, let alone a chance to collapse down the playoff run, and back into rebuilding and a new GM.
So let’s call a spade a spade — this offseason has been a massive disappointment. Patience? Ha. Anthopoulos pulling off more of his wheeling and dealing magic does not change the fact that he needs a lot more money to seriously compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, or even the potential second wildcard with, for one, the Nuclear Arms Race going on between the Angels and the Rangers in the American League West. I don’t care if you can make insane contracts go away or acquire former hot prospects for nothing, you can’t wheel and deal your way past teams with almost three times the payroll, even if you have had movies made about how smart you are (*cough* Beane *cough*). And the powers that be still don’t believe that this is the year, or next year might be the year, or that it is profitable in the long-term to invest in elite players at anything other than super bargain value in order to build a fanbase. As a fan, that SUCKS.
But hey, at least they didn’t go halfway too soon and then cut all new acquisitions off in a huff when it didn’t work out. At least AA didn’t believe his own hype and sign some brutal contracts in a desperation move when the reasonable deals he wanted didn’t work out. Really, AA is stalling, and that’s not so bad — there are a bunch of players who need to bust out or be bussed out (sorry), and with a young team, why would he not wait to take his one and only shot at playing with a real team? But as a fan, the only real question is when and for how much are the pockets going to be opened? Obviously they’re willing to go up in terms of payroll, but are we talking enough to have a chance at squeezing into the wildcard, or a serious attempt at re-creating a big-money profitable team that could compete for years in the AL East? Tune in next year…