At roughly this point in time one year ago, Toronto baseball fans were excited.
Way too excited.
Following a series of moves and acquisitions, Alex Anthopoulos had put together a group of players that immediately moved everyone’s perception of the Blue Jays from a struggling franchise to not just a playoff contender, but a favourite to win the World Series. ESPN’s Dan Shulman wasn’t fooled. I discussed the Blue Jays collapse with Dan last year, you can find that interview here.
Oh how excited we all were.
Ticket sales were up. Merchandise sales were drastically up. New, royal-blue caps became very noticible throughout Toronto streets, bars, and of course Rogers Centre. Spring training was a media frenzy, with much focus being on the two biggest names Anthopoulos had acquired, being Reyes and Dickey. Suddenly, it was cool to be a Blue Jays fan again.
And then the Toronto Blue Jays won the 2013 World Series, we all held hands and sang Kumbaya, THE END.
…sorry, where was I? I must have been daydreaming again…
Obviously we all know how 2013 really ended for the Jays, and I find it painful and pointless drudging up the past. However, we can all learn something from history. The past gives us something to measure progress against. And progress is what the Jays could use, having come off a 74-win season (sorry, sometimes I rub salt in my own wounds).
Fast-forward to Spring training 2014. This off-season has been drastically different for Toronto. The addition of Dioner Navarro as AA’s only significant off-season acquirement pales in comparison to what he did last year. And as a result, the Blue Jays are now flying somewhat under the radar.
Florida is quieter this year, as far as the Jays are concerned. I spoke with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell, who said that there are significantly less reporters covering the Blue Jays this spring training. He also said it’s a welcome change for the players, considering the circus they dealt with last year. To listen to the entire interview with Jamie, click here.
Does less media mean fewer expectations?
Hardly. This is almost the same team fans were ecstatic about last year. Only healthy…so far. Think about this scenario: Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey stay healthy for the majority of the season. Let that sink in. Now feel the warmth of the Florida sun across your face as your smile grows bigger. Let us consider one more scenario: Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ also stay healthy. Suddenly the rotation doesn’t look so bad, does it? I know, there were so many big-name starters available this off-season, of which Toronto acquired none. But perhaps they didn’t need to. At the 2014 State of the Franchise, Anthopoulos suggested it might be a possibility to add another starter late spring. That possibility seems to be slipping away. Jamie Campbell doesn’t see it as a concern. He and I discussed the expectations from Toronto fans regarding acquiring Ervin Santana, but he pointed out that Ervin has been battling injuries. Combine that with Ervin’s expectation of a $50 Million commitment, and suddenly Toronto’s current options seem somewhat more attractive. Waiting in the wings are a handful of hungry pitchers, with a significantly smaller price tag. Toronto also had a very dominant bullpen last season. Delabar and Cecil both had All-Star worthy performances through the first-half. And who doesn’t like a fairy-tale/David-vs-Goliath style story that could be Marcus Stroman?
Yes, I know I just painted a very colourful picture with a rather optimistic brush. What can I say? I bleed blue.
But “worst-to-first” isn’t an impossibility. Ask Boston, they know all too well (jeez that still stings, doesn’t it Toronto?)
So get excited again.
Why not? It’s baseball season.
Anything can, and usually does happen.
For more on Toronto’s current pitching situation, listen to my interview here with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell. We also discuss the home plate collision rule change by Major League Baseball, which should prove to make for some interesting calls this season!
Follow Jamie Campbell on Twitter: @SNETCampbell
Outside my window, it’s cold and dark. There’s two feet of snow on the ground. It’s the kind of day that makes you want to just stay inside.
It’s this time of year when the lack of sunshine and vitamin D can start to get to you. Our cold, Canadian winters can get you down. But I am not down today…
Because baseball starts tomorrow!
And I for one will be watching the Blue Jays take on the reigning AL Champs, Detroit Tigers.
I can’t remember being this amped up so early in the year. I watched a few spring training games last year, but wasn’t as excited as I am now.
Here are the top 10 reasons why I am so excited, and why I am already in love with this 2013 Toronto Blue Jays team.
- Alex Anthopoulos is putting his (Rogers’s) money where his mouth is. We all had our doubts about A.A. (he was/is the youngest GM in Jays franchise history). And prior to A.A. there was the whole getting promised the moon by Ricciardi, who promptly gave Wells and Rios MASSIVE contracts, then kept using the term “building for next year” to the point where hearing that caused every Jays fan to feel sick to their stomach. But then in one (or three or four) foul swoop, A.A. pulled off what is arguably the biggest (and most talked about) off-season in Blue Jays history. No more building for next year. THIS IS next year. Anthopoulos has made it clear the time is now. And quite possibly for the next few years to come. The man has some serious swagger. He OOZES confidence. And I love him for it. It’s about damn time that Jays fans can have confidence in their GM to build a winning team.
- R.A. Dickey – Toronto has a new Hero. So why is an entire city excited about a 38-yr-old pitcher? It could be that we have the reigning CY Young Award winner, who by the way throws devastating knuckleballs, and who also happens to be an articulate and caring human being (what a refreshing combination!). Dickey shared some of his darkest secrets in his book “Wherever I Wind Up”. It’s a must read. I finished it in a few days. He also spent time this past winter in India with a charity that fights child sex trafficking, which is a true testament to the incredible human being that he is.
- Jose Can You See? We have Jose “Mr. Triples” Reyes, and Jose “Mr. HR” Bautista (neither to be confused with Jose “Mr. Steroids” Canseco). Speed and power. Wow.
- Melky “Mr Controversy” Cabrera. The Jays aren’t completely without controversy. Which I like. Isn’t being Canadian supposed to equate to “being nice”? Yes, but even Brett Lawrie is more bad-ass than good-boy, so what do you expect? Plus controversy can be good. It puts butts in seats. And even if Melky produces 3/4 of what he did last year (which was likely chemically enhanced), at $16M over 2 years he’s still a bargain. And the Jays finally have a regular left fielder. A.A. does it again.
- Two Times Lucky? Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? A.A. believes Gibby does. And really, what’s not to like about the guy? Sure, he’s a bit rough around the edges (just ask Ted Lilly), but most importantly he commands respect from his players. Respect is HUGE. Without it the machine breaks down. You can be certain there’s no LOLLYGAGGING on Gibby’s watch.
- No Holes in that Rotation. The pitching rotation 1 through 5, is arguably the best in the majors. Romero may still be a question mark (hey, who isn’t at this point?), but I think that with some of the pressure off of him to be an “Ace”, he’ll settle into his spot nicely. When you break it down, the rotation is scary good. They can alternate between lefty – righty. One day you’re going to see speed, the next, junk. And CY Young calibre Knuckleballs. Finally, you have two veterans (Dickey & Buehrle) to lead by example for the younger guys. You also have no-hit/perfect game potential (Morrow – almost & Buehrle). All that mixed together into one well-oiled machine is virtually unstoppable.
- Induction of a Blue Jays Legend. Tom Cheek was recently awarded the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. He was the voice of Blue Jays baseball for 4,306 regular season games IN A ROW (+ 41 postseason games). Those numbers don’t even include preseason games, which he also broadcast. The man had a set of iron vocal cords. Sadly, Tom passed away in 2005 from cancer. Cheek will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on June 29 at St Marys, and will be honoured at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 27 in Cooperstown.
- Familiar Faces. With so many familiar faces around, every day will feel like a reunion. Dirk Hayhurst is back as the co-host of baseball central, and will fill in occasionally for newest member of the broadcast team, Jack Morris! Paul Quantrill joined the organization as a consultant, and of course Pat Hentgen is returning as the Jays bullpen coach. What’s with all the former pitchers sticking around?
- Two Dark Horses. It might seem unusual to bring on two older players who don’t have great stats. But what numbers don’t show, are mentorship and leadership. That’s exactly what Blanco & DeRosa will bring to the team (and more specifically, to Arencibia & Thole, and Lawrie respectively).
- This City is Ready for a Championship. Toronto has been dying for a championship team for quite some time now. The Leafs haven’t done it since ’67. The Raptors haven’t done it at all and still have a long way to go. Even though the Argos are the current Grey Cup Champs…the city just doesn’t seem to get behind them. The Jays last won in 1993 as the second half of the championship repeat. The city was electric back then. And now suddenly the Jays are on everyone’s radar. Vegas has them on 8-1 odds as World Series Champs for 2013 (they were 100-1 odds at the end of the 2012 season). Do you feel the electricity in the air? Big things are happening. It’s time. Toronto’s ready. And there’s still two feet of snow on the ground.