It’s spring, which is an optimistic time all across baseball. No one’s lost a game, everyone’s in the best shape of their lives, and the youngsters are looking to push the veterans for spots on the team. As fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, how should we be feeling right now?
The Blue Jays are in an aggravating position when we think about it. They’re a team with a lot of promise in a tough division, perpetually beating their heads against a glass ceiling with two of the most successful teams in baseball with the Yankees and Red Sox and one of the smartest with the Rays. It’s easy as a Jays fan to succumb to the frustration of having to go up against those teams, but when we look past the surface at the good work that the team has accomplished under Alex Anthopoulos’ regime, we have reason to stay positive.
It was a surprisingly tumultuous off-season for the Blue Jays, from a fan perspective. Between Twitter riots over the Jays not actually getting Yu Darvish, the surprising discontent at the State of the Franchise meeting, and the absurdity of jaysfanswantfielder.com, there appeared to be some pent-up frustration from the fan base. With a step back and a deep breath, we can look at the Blue Jays and see more reasons for hope than despair. Yes, this was a fourth place team in the AL East. But it was a fourth place team in a very tough division, that improved itself over the course of the season. In the off-season, the improvements have been more subtle: the bullpen is better, the team is planning on full years with upgrades at a few positions, and some of the talented youth that the farm system has is starting to show up at the Major League level.
Some of the angst is understandable. The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs in almost twenty years, and longtime fans might be feeling the frustration and futility of trying to make the playoffs in a division with no fewer than three excellent teams in the division. We saw this manifested at the State of the Franchise meeting: fans declaring their desire for a winning product NOW, occasionally ignoring obvious positives in the building process that the team has embraced. Would some big name free agents have been an improvement? Sure. Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols would have been obvious fits, given the deserved skepticism about Adam Lind‘s ability to play full time. The aforementioned Yu Darvish would have looked nice in the rotation, even with the two-inning spring training sample size we have on him so far.
There are analysts out there who refer to the Jays as a sleeping giant, and it’s easy to see why. Rogers Communications is one of the richest owners in any sport, and Toronto is a large city. The perception of Toronto as a small market is fueled by low attendance, and the fact that they’re in Canada, a country that would play hockey all 12 months of the year if the scheduling allowed it. The corporate ownership, like any frugal businessman, is waiting for the team to show signs of success- and the fans to follow said success- before increasing the investment in the team. Whether that’s right or wrong has been the subject of some debate amongst the fan base (and a source of more frustration).
With Anthopoulos, so much is about the process, building something sustainable and successful. If he adds those big pieces, he wants to make sure they can make them worthwhile, and that they don’t hamstring their ability to do something more important down the line. Though there’s a lot for the Jays to look forward to, it’s hard to believe that this is the year they’ll break through, even with the additional wild card. The playoff-tested Yankees and perpetually-pesky Rays improved from last year, and the Red Sox only needed a historic collapse to miss the postseason.
Do the big names put the Jays over the top now? Maybe, with a few breaks. Anthopoulos doesn’t want maybe. He wants yes. And so should we.
Regardless of how we feel about the Jays’ off-season moves, we have to be optimistic about where they’re headed with Alex Anthopoulos as GM. He traded Vernon Wells for actual players, and extended Jose Bautista before the price skyrocketed. He’s replenished a farm system that had grown barren under the previous GM. He’s shown an eye for value, good drafting instincts, a willingness to take calculated risks, and a knack for unearthing talent in trades.
I’ve often said that while everyone else plays checkers, Anthopoulos is playing chess; looking not just at the board as it is, but several moves ahead. Given what he’s done, and the promise there is in the current roster, we shouldn’t get discouraged over a seemingly quiet off-season — we should remember the positives and continue to cheer for the present while being hopeful for the future.