The Rebirth of a Franchise

December 5, 1990 has often been cited as a turning point in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.  That was the day that the biggest, boldest, and most important trade the franchise has ever seen went down.  The Jays traded three time All-Star Tony Fernandez and former AL HR King Fred McGriff to San Diego for two players who would become the cornerstone of the team and lead them to back-to-back World Series titles: Joe Carter and future Hall-of-Famer Roberto Alomar.

Now we have a new contender.

While it’s far too early to speculate what the impact will be, there is a good chance that November 13, 2012 will rival, if not surpass, December 5, 1990 in terms of importance. 

Last night the Blue Jays, in what is being called a swindle, a robbery, and a theft, acquired five players from the Miami Marlins, in exchange for seven players.  The trade is massive in terms of the sheer number of players involved, but is downright gargantuan when you consider the quality, the name-value, and the contracts changing hands.

Gone are four players from last year’s major league roster (Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Henderson Alvarez), and three prospects (Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani).  In are former Jay John Buck, super utility man Emilio Bonifacio, and three potential All-Stars: Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson.  And if that wasn’t enough, Toronto also gets $4-million in the deal.  Crazy.

Last night’s deal trumps the 1990 trade with San Diego in terms of number of players – that is a no-brainer.  The ’90 deal likely trumps last night’s trade in terms of quality as all four guys were major league ready stars, as opposed to prospects.  But here is where last night’s trade takes the cake: importance.

In 1990, the Toronto Blue Jays were a very good team.  They had just completed their eighth consecutive winning season, and had won two AL East titles in six years.  But they were missing something to take them over the top.  Afer the trade they went from a very good team to an outstanding team.

In 2012, the Blue Jays were horrendous.  They were a team that had legitimate hope to contend for a Wild Card but fell flat.  They had little depth, a bad rotation, a weak top of the lineup, and no confidence.  For a team that was supposed to take the next step, they instead took five steps backwards.  Even worse, they weren’t only a bad team – by season’s end they had become irrelevant, written off by media, by rivals, and by their own fans.  The only headline made was when they were abandoned by their manager.

This trade suddenly propels them from irrelevance to the spotlight.  Even better – to contender status.  This trade proves to fans that they are serious about moving forward.  Most importantly, this trade proves to the rest of the league, to prospective free agents, and to potential managers that the Toronto Blue Jays are committed to winning.

On paper, the deal makes Toronto a much better team.  Look at the middle infield:  Jose Reyes and either Maicer Izturis or Emilio Bonifacio make for a much better combo than Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.  Look at the leadoff spot, where Toronto put up a .294 OBP in 2012, and haven’t had a legitimate threat since the days of Devon White and Shannon Stewart.  Now we have Reyes, one of the greatest in the game.  Even look at left field, where instead of a full-time Rajai Davis, he can now move back into a part-time role with Bonifacio and maybe Sierra or somebody else.  That is at least a marginal improvement.

Most of all, look at the rotation.  The 2013 starters looked to be Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and then take your pick from J.A. Happ, Aaron Laffey, Carlos Villanueva, Brett Cecil, Chad Jenkins, Joel Carreno – and that was  assuming that all of those guys would be brought back.  Now, suddenly, a guy who is one year removed from a 15-11, 2.92 ERA season is the new #4 starter!  With Mark Buehrle they have a horse: no Jays starter threw 200 innings last year – Buehrle has accomplished that feat for 12 consecutive years.  In Josh Johnson, they have a legitimate ace, something not seen in this town since the departure of Roy Halladay.  The improvement just in the quality of the rotation alone has to be worth several wins to the ledger.

Add to that the return to full health of Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie, and the Jays look to be if not the best team in the AL East, at least in the conversation. 

And we haven’t even mentioned Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, and the bullpen….

Of course, we still have to play the games.  And look – Toronto is still far from a perfect team.  The Yankees have more power, the Rays have more pitching, the Rangers and Angels have more money, and the Tigers have last year’s World Series trip to draw on.  The Jays still have a void at first base (barring a miraculous rebound by Adam Lind), and likely not enough production in LF.  They will need a rebound year from both Ricky Romero and Colby Rasmus.  They need Edwin Encarnacion to prove that 2012 was not a fluke.  They need something, anything, from Sergio Santos.  They could use another solid arm in the rotation.  And of course they still need a manager.

But they now have depth, something that was sorely lacking last season.  Maybe Buck will be moved for a LF.  Maybe another of the big three (Sanchez, Syndergaard) will be packaged with Arencibia for a 1B.  Who knows what Anthopoulos will get up to next.

We do know, though, that finally, for the first time in a while, he has options.

And we also know, that for the first time in many years, the Blue Jays are back.

It’s 1990 all over again – hope has returned.

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