It’s been a crazy, exhilarating, optimism-inspiring week for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. Superlatives run dry. For my money, Andrew Stoeten summed it up best, as he so often does. In one week, Alex Anthopoulos has rewritten the fortunes of this water-treading franchise buoyed, of course, by the depths of Jeffrey Loria’s soulessness, the Miami Marlins’ panicked desperation, Paul Beeston’s careful stewardship and, indeed, Rogers’ new sense of educated daring.
Plenty of writing, speculating, pontificating, calculating and muckraking’s been done on the subject. So we won’t effort to replicate that here. This thing’s brewed for a week. Only today is it official. And, now, so is so much more. Here are our thoughts:
In this landscape, it’s an unbelievable trade for Toronto. Not one without risk.
But an unbelievable real-world move.
Toronto gets Jose Reyes. A first-class, middle-of-the field star. Josh Johnson, an injury risk perhaps, but also a genuine #2 starter. Mark Buehrle, the model of consistency himself. Soft-tossing, “crafty,” bankable. Emilio Bonifacio, a utility guy who can steal 40, play 6 positions and is under team control. And the ghost of old friend John Buck, who at best is flipped for some other piece or, at worst, inherits the veteran catcher ™ role from Jeff Mathis. It’s a huge haul.
On the financial risk. It’s legitimate and steep but… is it? As Gregor Chisholm notes, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle are key here. Neither wanted Toronto’s money a year ago. Both will now be under Toronto’s control for years (2018 and 2015, respectively) and, incredibly, may represent ultimately represent good value. Reyes has 5yr-$96M on his deal. He enters next year at 29. He’ll be 34 in 2018. He’ll have lost a step and may end up shifting to second base. It’s hard to see anyone in the Jays’ system pushing for a job at short or second in 3 years. If he has to move across the keystone, and he may not, Toronto can afford to do it. Buehrle will be 34 at the start of next season. He is now signed for 3yr-$46M. You know the criticisms. He’s never had power stuff, he’s bound to break down one day, life in the AL East may not treat him nicely. Fair points. But watch the free agent market this winter. Come April, ask yourself if you’d rather have three years of Buehrle or three years, for the dollars, of Edwin Jackson or Kyle Lohse. Johnson will 29 on Opening Day and, in his case, the risk runs both ways. There’s debate about how durable his shoulder is a year removed from major surgery. There are questions about how he’ll adjust to the AL East. Fact is, starters without question marks aren’t available. Few can match his upside. And Johnson is entering his walk year. A free agent himself in 12 months. Plenty of incentive there. Bonifacio has speed to burn and may end up the starting second baseman. Buck is a spare part.
The talent required to make the deal was also significant but… was it? The prizes are Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino. Marisnick has major tools. He’ll play in the majors. He can handle centre and will likely play a strong corner. He can run. But his hit tool and approach bring questions. Nicolino has polish and may arrive this summer. More likely, he’ll stick in 2014. But his ceiling looks like a mid-rotation starter. Adeiny Hechavarria will stick at short. He may win gold gloves. He may not hit enough to start. During his brief trial in Toronto, he showed improvement with the bat. But his approach remains very raw after 1500+ minor league at-bats. Miami could have rightly asked Toronto for these three just for Johnson. Henderson Alvarez is young, cheap and eats innings. But will he ever develop a breaking ball? He hasn’t shown the ability to yet. He may end up a reliever. Same goes for Anthony DeScalfani. Jeff Mathis is a caddy and mentor for Miami’s young catchers and whoever ends up pitching. Yunel Escobar has talent, particularly afield. But his quick dismissal should leave few doubts about Toronto’s expectations for player conduct. That his talent was as selectively applied as during his Atlanta years only made the decision to cut bait easier. From a PR standpoint, his dismissal is a net win. For all the question marks accompanying the new Jays, there are no sure things destined for Miami. I am most bullish on Nicolino.
The deal is a game-changer. As Shi Davidi writes, it is the move that will be seen as broadly defining Anthopoulos’ career. And yet it is also another example of Anthopoulos striking when an instance of (in this case profound) value arises. It is perhaps more the culmination of his work than the definition.
Few signings could inspire the few righteous, holier-than-thou detractors that sit in the Rogers Centre stands more than the signing of Melky Cabrera. He took a banned substance. He apparently tried to create a fake website to leave a paper trail as proof of his ignorance or, gulp, innocence. He has a reputation for dogging it. He’s also been worth 8.8 wins above replacement over the past two years — the last one halted after just 113 games. He disqualified himself from the batting title but still lead the National League in hitting. He was the MVP of the All-Star game. He benefitted from an insane BABIP and ran out 6/7 bunt attempts. But he also enters next year at age 28. And will spend the next two years making glorified Adam Lind money. He’s worth the risk.
According to a report from Bob Elliott in the Toronto Sun, Anthopoulos was spotted having dinner with a familiar face in Yorkville Sunday night. John Gibbons. And, come the morning, Gibby will be announced as the Blue Jays’ new manager. The first instinct is, obviously: !!!!!
But allow us a bit more nuance. Gibbons fits all the criteria Anthopoulos has been referring to these past weeks. He knows the city, the staff, the division. He knows Anthopoulos. And, for all the chiding he receives because of past dust-ups with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly, not to mention his Rasmusian southern drawl and old-boy manner, he demonstrated strong tactical skills in his first go-round here. He’s willing to platoon players for maximum effect. Exhibit A: Freed Johnsonalatto. He showed very effective bullpen management, too. Back then, his big problem was that the Jays’ rotation consisted of Doc, A.J. (for a time) and, essentially, a bunch of shit-ballers. No more.
With most of the industry settling Thanksgiving plans and posturing ahead of the December GM meetings, Alex Anthopoulos has remade his ballclub, reignited a city and restored his ninja status once and for all. What the hell else does he have to do? Find a platoon-mate for Adam Lind or, hell, David Cooper? Maybe. Decide on a catcher of the future? Not necessarily. Convince Darren Oliver to play again? He’s off to a some start.
The Rule 5, the base coaches, they’ll shake down fine. Reinforcements (Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Luis Perez) are on track for late-summer returns. For now, a big welcome back to Gibby. A very big welcome to the Marlin 5. Some unobtrusive supervision of the Melkman. And a very sincere expression of gratitude to the new King of Toronto.