While it was disappointing to have the first Toronto Blue Jays spring training game produced & covered by the Yankee’s YES Network instead of Sportsnet, the coverage highlighted how US media coverage of Toronto is building them up as a team to be reckoned with in 2021.
Longtime Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay usually picks the Yankees to win the AL East, as he’s done again this year.
He consistently butchers the names of Jays’ players, and had the audacity to suggest in the opening broadcast of spring training from Tampa that “the Blue Jays were able to sneak into the playoffs last year.”
However, the well respected and longtime Yankees beat writer, Joel Sherman of the NY Post, had a glowing review of the Blue Jays after the opening game of spring training. He went so far as to suggest that the Blue Jays could pose a threat to the Yankees in the AL East this year.
Despite Sportsnet dropping radio coverage of the Blue Jays, which would have helped introduce fans to their big offseason acquisitions like George Springer, Marcus Semien and Kirby Yates, Joel Sherman notes that 13 of the Yankees’ first 40 games – spring training plus regular season – are vs. the Blue Jays; through the second week of June, the Yanks will face the Blue Jays 12 times in 68 regular-season games, then not again until seven September games, including three to close the season. So the New York media circus will get a good early look at the Jays.
Sherman concludes that they are a threat after the Blue Jays invested more on free agents this past offseason ($186.25 million) than any other MLB team. And in what seems to be a trendy question among MLB pundits, he asks,
"Can Toronto use a farm system generally viewed as top five plus positional depth (with Springer in center, only two can usually play daily in the outfield from Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez) to add pitching between now and July 31?"
So are the Jays a trendy pick to challenge for AL East supremacy in 2021? Clearly the rebuild is over after the $266.25 million in free agent contracts over the past two offseasons to add Hyun-Jin Ryu last year, and Springer, Semien and Yates this year. The Jays made the playoffs last season as the eighth seed, and expectations are for a very competitive baseball team that will be in the thick of the playoff race and playing meaningful baseball in October, not only from the front office and ownership, but from the young leaders in the clubhouse like Bo Bichette.
But the Jays aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore this year. Major US media coverage seems to love them.
As per The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, the Jays “aced” the offseason:
"Six MLB teams “won” the offseason by making huge trades and/or free-agent signings that have dramatically improved their chances of either reaching the postseason or winning a world championship. In the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox did the heavy lifting."
"Even with their living situation unsettled, some of the best players available on the market this offseason flocked to the Blue Jays, an organization not typically known as a big spender. The Jays committed $186.3 million to free agents, the most in the sport, attracting top talent with the promise of joining a young, exciting roster poised for a breakout. This includes awarding the most expensive contract in Blue Jays history: a six-year, $150 million deal with former Houston Astros outfielder George Springer.The shopping spree has instantly transformed the Blue Jays into one of baseball’s most intriguing teams in 2021—no matter what city they call home."
They also have a great quote setting high expectations from the newly signed George Springer, the 2017 World Series MVP: “I wanted to win, and I believe this is a team that will win.” The WSJ concludes that the Blue Jays believe they’ve built a team “designed to consistently contend with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in the competitive AL East. If all goes according to plan, they will be back in the playoffs [again].’
ESPN’s MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle and Joon Lee also offer high praise for the team, with comments like “I love the offense,” and,
"Toronto is right there with the Rays as the second-best on-paper team in the division. If the Jays can get consistent starting pitching, they will be a much-improved team. If their young hitters — Guerrero, Cavan Biggio, Bichette — progress as a group, then a run at the Yankees is within the realm of possibility."
MLB Network host Greg Amsinger and analyst Dan Plesac also offered high praise, both suggesting the Jays will be playing meaningful baseball games in the October MLB playoffs, with Amsinger going so far as to predict they’ll win the AL East as the best team in the division.
Anecdotally, this is pretty a pretty interesting indication of interest even though it was, in part, driven by the lack of Sportsnet coverage…
So the very positive US media coverage suggests they Jays won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season. They are a trendy pick to make the playoffs and threaten the NY Yankees for AL East supremacy after Tampa lost top of the rotation arms Blake Snell and Charlie Morton.
The US media coverage is overwhelmingly positives, and with so many games against the Yankees through June (12 times in the first 68 regular-season games), the US media coverage should highlight the competitive progression of this club. Let’s hope they live up to – and surpass – these lofty expectations.