The Toronto Blue Jays have transformed into a powerhouse team in the American League this year. After making some big moves early in the offseason, Toronto is now considered a serious contender in the AL East. The acquisition of some high-end talent from Miami is obviously a major factor, but the Jays have been building a strong team for the last few years. GM Alex Anthopoulos has completely changed the face of the Blue Jays organization, and it seems like 2013 will be the year the Jays will make their strike at the championship.
The Jays are currently in the midst of one of the longest postseason droughts in the big leagues. They’ve failed to make the playoffs since their back-to-back championships in 1992-’93. Those glory days are long gone now, and the team has been a perpetual disappointment over the last two decades. Changes needed to be made. The Jays consistently finished around .500, which was not nearly good enough to beat first-class teams like the Yankees and Red Sox for the division title.
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The transformation began when Anthopoulos was promoted to general manager in 2009. His seemingly tireless efforts have transformed a struggling Blue Jays organization into a youthful, dynamic, exciting and, most importantly, competitive ball club. The Jays began a true rebuilding phase of the team after Anthopoulos became GM. Roy Halladay was dealt to the Phillies in a trade that eventually resulted in top-rated prospects Anthony Gose and Travis D’Arnaud. Following that deal, the Jays sent Brandon League to Seattle in exchange for Brandon Morrow, who has since secured a position in the starting rotation.
As an organization, the Blue Jays went through significant changes under Anthopoulos. Rather than spend large sums of money on big league contacts, the team spent on scouting and minor league development instead. This was a big change from previous GM J.P. Ricciardi, who was fond of signing big-name/big-cost players in the offseason.
Anthopoulos began to build a ball club from the ground up. He drafted lots of young talent, groomed them through the minors and developed players that added value to the organization. Some of these players may never even suit up as a Blue Jay, but are nonetheless proving useful to the team. Players like Gose and D’Arnaud should be ready for the majors this year, and that makes them valuable trade bait around the league. Rookie Adeiny Hechavarria proved exactly that when he went to Miami as part of the mega-deal last month.
The rebuild process has been painful as Jays fans have endured only mediocre success since Anthopoulos took the helm. The team continued to finish at, or around, .500 on the season and continued to struggle against division rivals. The Blue Jays began to turn the tide in 2012, though their record of 73-89 doesn’t show it. First, the Jays redesigned their logo to be more reminiscent of the winning teams of the past. They had strong-looking rookies in Brett Lawrie and Travis Snider; Jose Bautista was coming off of another powerful season at the plate; Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout year; and even Adam Lind turned things around after a short trip to the minors. An injury-plagued starting rotation killed a promising season for the Jays, and they struggled through the second half of the season and limped across the finish line.
What gets lost in the statistics is that the Jays managed to draw nearly 2.1 million fans, something they hadn’t done since 2008. The emergence of young talent like Lawrie and Snider has brought baseball excitement back to Toronto. Even though he was traded to Pittsburgh, Snider had built a strong following of fans in his short stint as a Jay. All of this rebuilding caused a shift in the Jays’ fan base. Fans once looked back with fondness at the dynasty team of the past, but now they looked forward with new-found excitement in their ballclub.
Anthopoulos has rebuilt the Toronto Blue Jays from the ground up. There is a renewed sense of optimism amongst Jays fans that hasn’t been felt for quite some time. After the Miami trade, Toronto boomed with excitement for weeks. Even Vegas felt there was a shift in power in the East and set the Blue Jays as 14/1 odds to win the World Series (they were previously listed as 35/1). The Red Sox will likely be awful again next year as they go through a rebuild of their own, the ever-venerable Yankees and Rays will continue to be difficult opponents, and the Orioles are coming off of their best season in years. (Remarkably, this was the first time the Orioles were over .500 since 1997). The AL East will again shape up to be the strongest in the MLB, but the Jays look to be right in the hunt in 2013.