We interrupt this year in review to bring you Steve’s analysis of the Toronto Blue Jays offseason. If this doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to skip it; if you’re one of the people who was literally demanding that I write a season review back in October, then you’re probably a good candidate to read on.
So–remember 1993? That was the last time the city of Toronto genuinely cared about its baseball team. There were flashes of enthusiasm in 1999, when the team should have won the A.L. Wild Card, but things haven’t been the same since the strike wiped out the 1994 season. And if people weren’t convinced, then the rows of empty seats at the SkyDomeRogersCentre should have been ample proof that the bandwagon had indeed left town. Then came 2005. A week after shipping Carlos Delgado to Long Island, Ted Rogers took over the team, bought the stadium for pocket change–$25-million, if I’m not mistaken–and promised to bring back the glory days. In the wake of the team’s moderately successful 2005 season–the Jays finished two games under .500, which is about where they were expected to end up–general manager J.P. Ricciardi set about resurrecting the franchise.
Everybody who followed the Jays in 2005 knew they were missing two vital components: a legitimate #2 starter and a middle-of-the-order power hitter. A third ingredient–a closer who didn’t strike fear into his teammates–was also necessary. Ricciardi immediately remedied the latter problem by luring B.J. Ryan to Toronto. Then, when the winter meetings started in Dallas, Ricciardi fought off half the teams in Major League Baseball to land A.J. Burnett, only the offseason’s most sought-after free agent pitcher. A week later, he dealt two fringe players (Dave Bush and Gabe “Eye of the Tiger” Gross) and a prospect (Zach Jackson) for Milwaukee’s first baseman Lyle Overbay. Then today, Ricciardi completed his winter of blisscontent by acquiring slugger Troy Glaus from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Orlando Hudson and Miguel Baptista–the aforementioned closer who, towards the end of 2005, was summoning forth the ghosts of Mitch Williams whenever he stepped onto the mound.
Glitter, glisten, Glaus. All of a sudden, the Toronto Blue Jays are contenders again.
Am I being premature in this assessment? Maybe; as all the relevant parties have been quick to point out, there’s still an actual season to be played. But I won’t apologize for being excited. This is the first time in over a decade where the Blue Jays are creating a stir in Toronto. Tomorrow, the Glaus trade will almost certainly be the headline in the Toronto Star sports section–this despite the fact that the Maple Leafs had their first look at Sidney “Look At Me! Look At Me!” Crosby earlier this evening. Me, I’ve already spent an hour this evening meticulously dissecting the trade and its implications with everybody’s favourite Yankee fan, Adam. Our conclusion: that the Jays are, at least on paper, the second-best team in the American League East. When’s the last time we could have said that?
As for the four new acquisitions, I hated them all to begin with. With Ryan and Burnett, I was shocked by the amounts of money being thrown at them; I became a lot more comfortable when I realized that hey, it isn’t my money. With Overbay, I wondered why Ricciardi wanted another player in the mould of Shea Hillenbrand, Eric Hinske and Corey Koskie–but the stability he’ll bring to the first base position (not to mention his gaudy OBP) seemed justification enough. As for Glaus, I’ve got no complaints–although it pains me to bid adieu to Orlando Hudson, who was probably my favourite Blue Jay player. Still, if you need to lose Hudson’s defence for Glaus’ bat…well, you’ve got to make that trade ten times out of ten, right?
Riccardi did, and in the process solidified the Blue Jays’ designs on contending in 2006. Like I said, it isn’t guaranteed to happen…I mean, a lot can happen in 162 games. But for the first time since 1993, people are starting to genuinely care about the Blue Jays again. Speaking as one of Toronto’s sixteen remaining baseball fans, that’s about the least I could have asked him to do.