As a lifelong Jays fan born and raised in Toronto, I’ve come to accept the fact that almost no one south of the 49th parallel – outside of you lovely people in western New York State, perhaps – cares about the Blue Jays.
After the ’94 strike robbed the team of a chance at a three-peat, the Jays have wallowed in mediocrity and irrelevance, bemoaning their fate in a stacked AL East featuring the free spendin’ and contendin’ Yankees and Red Sox. With the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays – and more recently and most bewilderingly – the Baltimore Orioles, the excuses for not fielding a playoff contending team were getting worn out and deemed no longer acceptable for the fanbase of Canada’s lone MLB team.
Then Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos decided to go all Bremner Boulevard Ninja on everyone, transforming the team from an also-ran into a serious contender in the American League in a flurry of moves over the past week.
As most Americans are in full-fledged Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Obama hangover mode, I’ve decided to follow AA’s lead and casually slip in this handy guide to the suddenly relevant Jays, so that no one’s surprised if/when the team becomes a reincarnation of the 1992-93 juggernaut (raised expectations, you guys! We’re not used to them up here in Canada!)
The Jays now feature a lineup consisting of 44% of the 2013 Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic team.
Thanks to a 12-player mega-deal with Miami and a shrewd free-agent signing , the Jays have added All-Stars Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to an already above-average offence led by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. It’s conceivable that the four Dominicans will bat in that order, which is downright terrifying. When you include Canadian third bro-smen Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and a myriad of speedsters and switch-hitters throughout the order and on the bench, the Jays offence could be a matchup nightmare for opposing staffs.
The pitching rotation and bullpen are deep and talented.
The Marlins trade also netted two desperately needed front-line starters in Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Before the deal, Jays fans were resigned to the likely and familiar scenario of picking up good-but-not-great pitching help, along the lines of Shaun Marcum, while being priced out of the likes of Zack Greinke. Now the Jays boast the best rotation they’ve had since the days of Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen (and whatever day it was when Roy Halladay was pitching), and have quietly accumulated an arsenal of power arms out of the pen.
John Gibbons is the manager again.
You might remember Gibby from the summer of 2006, when his public feuds with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly gave the Jays the level of attention akin to that one drunk uncle at Thanksgiving who lets fly with a racial slur or inappropriate remark about someone’s cousin.
What you might not remember – and really, isn’t that the point of this piece, my American chums? – is that Gibbons was a pretty darned good manager, leading the Jays to a 2nd place finish in 2006 – the highest since the glory days – book-ended by two third-place finishes, a mark the team has failed to reach since.
Gibbons can handle a lineup, a bullpen and, most importantly, a clubhouse with either sandpaper or smoothness as the situation warrants. Plus he’s hilariously Dubya-esque, despite being a Montana native, so casual baseball fans who also happen to miss the daily chuckles of G.W. Bush will love this guy.
Alex Anthopoulos ain’t care.
Hoping to finally erase the stink of J.P. Ricciardi, aka the last guy who got everyone in Toronto marginally excited before everything spectacularly failed, GM Anthopoulos has made bold move after bold move with seemingly no regard for what a complacent and trolling Toronto media/Twitterverse might think. It’s his vision, his way, and he’s got one goal in mind: winning.
Excitement and hype in the Greater Toronto Area has reached early 90s levels. If things finally go the team’s way in both the health and luck departments, fans can expect meaningful late summer baseball at the Rogers Centre for the first time in nearly 20 years, and perhaps a few prime-time ESPN Sunday Night Baseball games (we miss you, Dan Shulman).
It’s legitimately a great time to be a Jays fan – so get your tickets now, residents of Rochester and Erie County.