For the first time in almost 20 years, Canada's lone remaining Major League Baseball team is creating more of a buzz than the country's favourite national sport.
Lost in the sea of legal jargon that has engulfed the NHL lockout
, alienated fans have been in desperate need of something to distract them from the 'make whole' provision, hockey-related revenue, 'disclaimer of interest,' or any other mind-numbingly frustrating terms associated with the months-long labour dispute between the owners and players.
After all, part of the essence of sport is the entertainment value. Sports are supposed to help us temporarily step away from the day-to-day grind and have something to get excited about. They're supposed to help spark lively debates and create a sense of unity, not drag people through the trenches.
Cue Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
He's turned a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since it won the second of back-to-back World Series titles in 1993 into a contender. While in doing so, he's simultaneously helped to pacify swarms of angry hockey fans.
And with the moves, Anthopoulos and his team have emerged from this off-season with a brigade of new bandwagon fans in addition to those die-hard ones that have supported the Blue Jays through hard times.Blockbuster deal
It started last month when the now revered GM raided the Miami Marlins' starting rotation and top of the batting order in a mammoth 12-player swap
Although it took several days of deliberation for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to approve the deal, Anthopoulos added one of baseball's most coveted prototypical leadoff hitters in Jose Reyes to the top of the lineup.
He also managed to turn Toronto's starting five into one of baseball's best almost overnight. Right-hander Josh Johnson is arguably one of the top hurlers in baseball when healthy. Lefty Mark Buehrle gives the Jays credibility and a crafty veteran presence on the mound. And let's not forget that Buehrle has a perfect game to his credit.
It's a rotation that already boasts fireballer Brandon Morrow and if lefty Ricky Romero can rediscover his touch and rebound from a horrific 2012, opposing offences will have their work cut out for them.
The team gave up a couple of promising youngsters including shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and pitcher Henderson Alvarez among others, but it was a price Anthopoulos was willing to pay.
The Blue Jays then went out and added All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera
. Granted, he comes with question marks after a 50-game drug ban last year, but if he can find even a fraction of the form that led the National League in hitting (.346 batting average) before his suspension, he'll be an invaluable piece to Toronto's puzzle.Not done yet
But just when the buzz around the Blue Jays was beginning to cool off, Anthopoulos found himself in the middle of the R.A. Dickey sweepstakes
a couple of weeks ago.
The 38-year-old Cy Young Award-winning knuckleballer didn't come cheap - at the expense of one of Toronto's best farmhands in catcher Travis d'Arnaud, along with pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard as part of the deal - but it continued to shape the Blue Jays into something they hadn't legitimately been in nearly two decades: a contender.
The deal pushed Las Vegas oddsmakers to declare them 15-2 World Series favourites as recently as last week.
And while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr continue to butt heads with the hockey season in jeopardy, Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays will be gearing up for spring training in a couple of months.
And so will droves of frustrated NHL fans.
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