August 2, 2015
By Tyler King
Shortly after pulling off his curious, albeit ingenious, trade for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was asked last Tuesday whether his team - which was seven games back at the time - could overtake the New York Yankees given their lack of pitching.
In other words, could the bats cover-up their shoddy arms.
“You can save that one for Friday,” Anthopoulos said. “Hopefully we’re not having that discussion.”
And to be sure, we aren’t.
The acquisition of ace starting pitcher David Price shocked just about everybody around baseball (how he keeps pulling off these stealth trades is anyone’s guess).
I’m pretty sure this one even shocked Anthopoulos himself - who went home on Wednesday thinking there wasn’t a deal to be made, and by the next morning had one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
That reminds me, if I hear one more person make a “price for Price” joke .. it’s really going to cost them... *Ba-dum Tshh*
The Jays also added veteran relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, as well as speedy outfielder Ben Revere (who, to my surprise, led the National League in hits last season). In other words, they addressed every need.
You can go ahead and pinch yourself... ‘cause you ain’t dreaming.
Nor is this Playstation’s MLB The Show, these are real life players we’re talking about. But when you see those names together - all acquired in a span of four days - it is almost hard to believe.
The excitement of Blue Jays fans multiplied ten-fold over night. If you happen to be part of the “twittersphere” (or whatever the kids call it these days), you’d know that the online baseball world still has their jaw to the floor.
#BlueJays has been trending for days now, but I think the funniest tweets came from #AlexAnthopoulos.
Jays fan @frontporchjunky writes: “And on the 7th day, #AlexAnthopoulos rested! Go have a *beer emoji* Alex, you deserve it! #InAAWeTrust
Judging from twitter alone, it’s hard to believe that Anthopoulos was public enemy number one a mere week ago.
But despite this revamped fan engagement, the fundamental question posed to the Jays GM last Tuesday still remains: Can the team make up what is now a six game division deficit heading into Sunday?
(There is always that extra wild card too...)
However, to now question the makeup of this team - that is, whether they are actually good enough to do it - is about as ridiculous a thought as trading Daniel Norris for a rental .. Hey, wait a second...
Of course I’m just kidding, give me the popcorn King David Price any day!
Just look at the Blue Jays roster...
This team is plenty good.
They added arguably the best shortstop in baseball in Tulowitzki and the undisputed best starting pitcher available in Price.
With the newest acquisitions, the Jays now have nine players on their active roster who have participated in at least one All-Star game. They have five players (Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Price) who were all stars last month.
But even if, for some godforsaken reason, this trade deadline to remember goes all-for-naught, Jays fans should still applaud the effort put the front office.
One of the biggest complaints from fans over the past decade has been the perception that ownership is unwilling to spend money, making it very difficult to attract top talent.
Although that has clearly changed this season, that criticism wasn’t entirely warranted to begin with. The Jays have actually been in the top half of the league in team payroll for the last five years.
Admittedly, they have been limited by their own internal restrictions, such as a refusal to offer contracts over five years. Under the Anthopoulos regime, they have also been (rightly or wrongly) reluctant to pursue “rental players” at the deadline.
Last year, instead of being a catalyst for a post-season push, the trade deadline acted more like a vacuum, and sucked the life right out of the season.
On July 31st, 2014, the Jays were 10 games above .500 (60-50). They were also only 1.5 games back of the division.
This year, on July 31st, they were only two games over .500 (53-51) and six games back.
Yet there seems to be A LOT more optimism surrounding this team now, even though they are further from a playoff spot.
Recall that last year there was a great deal of public disappointment from both fans and players when management failed to bolster the roster at the deadline.
Former Jays closer Casey Janssen and current slugger Bautista were particularly critical.
“Everybody does that at the deadline, and figures out a way to improve the roster,” Bautista said in 2014. “We just somehow didn’t.”
Those were particularly harsh words, and a clear dig at management, from the clubhouse leader of a team right in the thick of a pennant race. It also became a foreshadow of things to come.
The Jays went 9-and-17 the following month and their post-season dreams were all but dead.
Although he’d never admit it, perhaps that was a learning experience for Anthopoulos on just how much a vote of confidence in July can mean for a team, both in terms of on-field play (unconfirmed) and team morale (confirmed).
He clearly abandoned the ‘no rental player’ philosophy after the Price trade (Price will almost undoubtedly go through free agency at the end of this year). But with the response from players and the majority of fans, you wonder why he didn’t nix that little rule earlier.
Apparently after hearing that the Price trade was official, Bautista sent a text message to his general manager that said something like: “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Donaldson, the team’s third baseman and standout player of 2015, also took notice.
“It feels like you’re almost playing fantasy baseball, you know what I mean,” Donaldson told reporters once the dust had settled on Thursday.
(Side bar: I’m dead last in my fantasy pool, so hopefully Donaldson knows a little more about fantasy sports than I do.)
Up to this point, the current Blue Jays season can be viewed as a collective underachievement. There have been great individual performances, but as a whole - and based on the ridiculous amount of runs the offense is putting up - there is a general consensus that the team’s record should be better.
Perhaps this will turn out to be the push they needed.
Then again, it may not.
Although AA is clearly some type of trade ninja, he doesn’t have a crystal ball.
But regardless of whether or not the Jays make the playoffs, when the season is over the average fan likely won’t be blaming the GM for any lack of success after the past week.
(Sorry John Gibbons, something tells me that blame will fall on you.)
Fans more familiar with the team - ie. those who know and care who Jeff Hoffman is - might be a little more cynical of this whole “all-in” mentality.
Like their more jovial counterparts, another faction of fans have also taken to social media, not to praise the revamped team, but rather to chastise Anthopoulos for allegedly condemning the team’s future.
It’s no secret that the Jays had to give up some top prospects (almost entirely pitching prospects) in order to make the moves that they did...
And herein lies the great debate.
At what point do you say, “let’s win now”? And at what expense?
The truth is, the majority of fans who enter the Rogers Centre on a given night have probably never heard of Jesus Tinoco - a pitching prospect who was traded to Colorado as part of the Tulowitzki deal. They don’t care that he had a 3.54 ERA for the single-A affiliate Lansing Lugnuts. They don’t care that Jeff Hoffman - also part of the Tulo trade - was drafted ninth overall in 2014 and was ranked as the Jays third-best prospect.
Might they care in a few years time? If those guys become studs - like Noah Syndergaard and others - then probably, yes.
(Although I do have a few female friends who were immediately heartbroken by the exodus of Daniel Norris - traded to Detroit for Price.)
But delayed gratification is not something a lot of sports fans have the ability to cope with - hence why you’ll rarely hear GM’s use the term “rebuild” anymore.
The Jays had the chance to get better instantly. And they took it. That may hurt them in a few years... but if they make the playoffs this year it’ll hurt a lot less.
Additionally, the belief that the Jays’ long-term future is all but screwed after the past week isn’t exactly true. Which is what makes Anthopoulos’ feat that much more unbelievable.
The Blue Jays have a corps group in place for the remainder of the decade that could rival some of the top teams.
Donaldson is under club control until 2019. Russell Martin is signed until 2020.
The middle infield is set for a while, as Tulowitzki and rookie infielder Devon Travis aren’t scheduled to become free agents until 2021.
If the Jays are able to lock up Bautista or Encarnacion for a few more years, you’re looking at a real “murderer’s row” for years to come.
The team also has control of several support players, like Kevin Pillar, who at centre field is an above average defender and has shown the potential to become an above average hitter. He is actually second on the team in Wins Above Replacement (3.1).
Newly acquired outfielder, leadoff man, and career .300 hitter Revere is also under team control for the next three seasons.
The bats are just fine.
And even with all the pitching prospects that vanished recently, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Jays arms.
Marcus Stroman (remember him?) and Aaron Sanchez are both signed until 2021. They also appear to have a solid, young arm in Roberto Osuna, who now serves as the team’s closer (but was originally projected to be a starter - interesting).
When healthy, and with the addition of one or two more pieces (aka resigning David Price - somehow, someway, please!) the rotation doesn’t seem that hopeless.
So if you’re one of those fans who took to scolding the Jays GM for selling the farm, try to take a deep breath.
As the old saying goes, ‘whatever will be will be’ - who knows what the future will bring?
Until then, just try to enjoy this ride.
If you’ve been to the ‘Dome since Thursday, you’d know the rest of the city is.
Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108