By being bold, Blue Jays feeling emboldened
Whopper with Miami puts Toronto in position to challenge AL East powers
Almost from the moment Joe Carter sent Mitch Williams' most famous pitch screaming down the left-field line for a three-run, walk-off homer to win the 1993 World Series, the fall of the Toronto Blue Jays began.
Nineteen years have passed since the Blue Jays stunned the Phillies to win their second consecutive World Series. And that is when the cheering stopped, when mediocrity took over at the indoor palace we once called SkyDome (now Rogers Centre).
The Blue Jays have been one of baseball's biggest disappointments since then.
I sat in the press box that night when Carter launched one of the most memorable homers in World Series history. As most everyone (except the Phillies) sifted through the euphoria that night, who would have thought this well-built and superbly run franchise would not be in the postseason again over the next two decades?
Of course, the players' strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series deprived the Cito Gaston-managed Jays from trying for three straight championships.
For long-starved Canadian fans, the glory years are a distant memory.
The Blue Jays' attendance has consistently ranked in the bottom third of all Major League teams for more than 10 years. Most of their seasons have been forgettable.
That's why I believe the bold moves general manager Alex Anthopoulos and CEO Paul Beeston have been making this offseason are reigniting the flame in Toronto.
Commissioner Bud Selig on Monday approved the 12-player blockbuster deal Anthopoulos made last week with Miami, giving the Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, outfielder Emilio Bonifacio, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, and catcher John Buck.
Anthopoulos was awaiting word from Selig if he would allow the deal when he also moved to signed 2012 All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal.
What the 35-year-old Anthopoulos has done even before the Winter Meetings next month in Nashville is completely change the landscape of the rugged American League East and send a message to the Yankees, Rays, Orioles and Red Sox: Watch out for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013.
Anthopoulos' wheeling and dealing brings back memories of the shrewd trades and signings Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick made during his celebrated tenure in Toronto.
Gillick, who left after the 1994-95 strike, built the Blue Jays from a weak expansion team to World Series champions. Pat had great success after he left Toronto, but that's where he punched his ticket to Cooperstown.
Gillick brought aboard the likes of Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield, as well as Carter, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris.
With that history, I believe Anthopoulos had no choice but to completely overhaul the Blue Jays and he's off to a smashing start. Fans were crying for it.
"There's a real buzz right now in the city," Anthopoulos told MLB.com on Monday. "Sometimes expectations get out of whack, but this just shows the interest level on the team is huge.
"All the AL East franchises have been to the playoffs [since Toronto last won] and are very well-run. Clubs are more competitive than they have ever been, so it's important to keep pace."
All he had to do was look at the 2012 numbers: In the AL East, only the Red Sox had a worse record than the Blue Jays' 73-89. Among the 14 teams in the AL, their attendance of 2,099,063 ranked eighth and only Tampa Bay drew fewer fans among those in their division. Their payroll of about $75.5 million was 22nd among the 30 Major League franchises.
Anthopoulos, in less than a week, has reworked 25 percent of his lineup.
The haul from Miami is expensive and a huge risk, but the players' credentials speak for themselves. What shouldn't go unnoticed is the fact that Anthopoulos had young players with raw talent that answered the Marlins' need for a rebuilding franchise even if their upset fans don't agree.
Soon after his spectacular performance in the All-Star Game, Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Yet had it not been for his productive pre-suspension performance, the Giants might not have won their division.
The suspension makes Cabrera a risk, but regardless of his .346 batting average and 11 home runs, he should fit perfectly with the Blue Jays' offense. They just have to hope the PED didn't enhance Cabrera's numbers.
Obviously, the Blue Jays plan to make life more difficult for their brethren in the AL East.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon agrees the division is now even tougher.
He told Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin that while the Blue Jays are considerably stronger, but "we've gone through this before, whether it's Boston or New York or whomever with all the different things they do in the offseason. Now, it's Toronto doing it. But it's about what we do and how we co-habitate and how we make ourselves better."
Anthopoulos doesn't have to apologize.
"We haven't accomplished anything during my three years on the job," he said. "We're trying to build a core and keep that in place. There's no question the city is starved for a playoff-caliber team and hopefully a World Series contender -- and things like that. There's definitely a healthy appetite for baseball across Canada right now."
The next piece will be hiring a manager to replace John Farrell, who left to become Boston's skipper in what he called his dream job.
"We're working toward that and hopefully will have it done soon," the GM said. "We're looking for the right person for this organization. It goes without saying this person has to have ability to manage a bullpen, deal with the media, has leadership skills. Any candidate will have those skills, but the final entity is someone who connects with the players and connects with management."
Anthopoulis is looking for someone with experience and if his player moves to date are an indication, the hiring will be a bold move.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.