2013 is Blue Jays' year to contend | Baseball | CBC Sports

MLB2013 is Blue Jays' year to contend

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 | 09:33 AM

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With new acquisitions like Jose Reyes, left, and Maicer Izturis, right, joining Jose Bautista in the lineup, Toronto has the talent on board to snap its two-decade post-season drought. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) With new acquisitions like Jose Reyes, left, and Maicer Izturis, right, joining Jose Bautista in the lineup, Toronto has the talent on board to snap its two-decade post-season drought. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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A flurry of high-profile off-season moves by GM Alex Anthopoulos, plus a healthy Jose Bautista, better luck with avoiding injuries, and some improvement from younger players could land the Toronto Blue Jays in the post-season for the first time since 1993.
This is the year.

I've been blogging about the Toronto Blue Jays for a few years now and those are the words I've always wanted to say. Finally, this year I get to.

This is the year.

There were a few (too few) hopeful moments during the J.P. Ricciardi era. Unfortunately, the Jays were never able to get past the terrific Yankee and Red Sox teams of the former general manager's time.

Alex Anthopoulos's first two seasons as GM were spent rebuilding the farm system, building for the future. He hoarded draft picks and traded for prospects any chance he had. His work paid off as the Jays went from having one of the lowest-ranked farm systems to one of the best in a very short time. But, being a long-time (and long-suffering) Blue Jays fan, I kept hoping he would make a "win now" trade. He didn't seem to have that in his DNA.

Not that I'm complaining about the moves Anthopoulos did make. That he could trade the immovable contract of Vernon Wells alone should be enough to put Anthopoulos into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'd have bet any amount of cheese doodles (currency in the world of bloggers) that it couldn't be done. Without that trade, there wouldn't have been the financial flexibility to make the big moves of this off-season. 

Last spring, there was some hope that the "build for the future" tack was going to pay off early. The team had a terrific spring training record of 24-7 (repeat after me: spring training numbers mean nothing) and there was some hope that a youthful, enthusiastic team would be able to sneak up on the more experienced teams in the AL East.

For the first half of the season, Toronto was on the edges of contention, but a plague of injuries exposed a lack of depth at the top levels of the system -- not that any MLB team could have enough depth to succeed with the number of injuries the Jays had. The last couple of months of the season were very depressing.

The Trade

The off-season came, and once again I was hoping Anthopoulos had a "win now" deal or two in him.

But first came the mess of John Farrell trying to get out of his contract to go for his "dream job" managing the Red Sox. If a 22-37 record over the last two months of the season wasn't depressing enough, hearing that your team's manager craves the same job with one of your most bitter rivals, and the only team in the division to finish below you in the standings, was enough to drive a blogger to drink.

With Farrell heading out, Anthopoulos brought back John Gibbons for his second stint as the Jays' manager. In the end, good riddance to Farrell. I hope he chokes on his dream job.

For his first major personnel move of the winter, Anthopoulos signed Maicer Izturis to a three-year, $10-million US contract. It was the biggest free-agent signing of Alex's tenure as the Blue Jays general manager to that point. Not to knock Izturis -- he's an OK baseball player and all -- but $10 million is chicken scratch in baseball terms, and Izturis isn't the sort of player that gets your fanbase all excited about the season ahead. Fortunately, there was more to come.

To say the next deal surprised us would be an understatement. I didn't think Anthopoulos had this sort of move in him. To recap, though you all probably remember: Anthopoulos traded Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis and some of the Jays' top prospects to the Miami Marlins for almost everyone on their team that was to be paid more than the league minimum this season: Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck.

The trade filled the Jays' biggest needs: a leadoff hitter (Reyes) and a starting pitching (Johnson). Reyes gives the Jays their best leadoff hitter in years and is one of the most exciting players in baseball. Johnson was one of the best starting pitchers in the National League three years ago. He then ran into some arm troubles, but he's recovered now and should be back to what he was.

Buehrle has thrown 200-plus innings for 12 straight seasons. Last year no Blue Jay pitched 200 innings. On a team with as many injuries to pitchers as Toronto had last year, someone who can throw 200 innings is golden.

The trade added $30 million to the Jays' payroll for 2013, and more in future years. It instantly made Toronto a contender. I figured that was it for big moves. Wrong again.

Cabrera, Dickey arrive

Anthopoulos surprised us again by signing free agent Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16-million contract. Cabrera hit .346 last year, with a .390 on base percentage and 11 home runs. He would have been in line for a contract netting at least twice the $8 million a year the Jays are giving him, if he hadn't tested positive for testosterone, earning him a 50-game suspension last August when he was playing for the Giants. How much of his production came from a medicine bottle is an open question, but he should be much better than what the Jays had in left field last year.

Anthopoulos wasn't finished. He sent top-prospect catcher Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard (one of the organization's best pitching prospects), John Buck and a minor leaguer to the Mets for 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and a pair of young catchers.

It isn't a trade I would have made. I think d'Arnaud will become a very good major league catcher, which is a lot to give up for a 38-year-old pitcher. But Dickey isn't your average 38-year-old pitcher. He throws a knuckleball, and a 38-year-old knuckleballer can still be in the prime of his career. It takes a long time to master that pitch, but once perfected it can extend a pitcher's career well into his 40s.

Anthopoulos is betting Dickey will age well. He signed Dickey to a two-year contract extension (plus a team option year) at $12 million a season with a $1 million buyout, keeping Dickey under the Blue Jays' control through at least the 2016 season.

Beyond the big moves, Anthopoulos added some power arms to the bullpen, convinced 42-year-old left-handed reliever Darren Oliver not to retire and improved the team's depth at several positions.

With all those moves, plus a healthy Jose Bautista, better luck with injuries and some improvement from the younger players, this season could see the Blue Jays in the post-season for the first time since 1993. And most of the important Blue Jays players are signed beyond this season, so Toronto should have a very good team to watch for the next few years. 

This is the year. It's going to be a fun ride.

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