What a difference a year makes.
At this time one year ago, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was the toast of the city. He was universally loved by everybody, and could have easily walked into any bar or restaurant in Toronto and been mobbed by jubilant fans.
Even after the debacle that was 2013, most fans (myself included) were willing to give him a pass. “It was just a bad year,” we all said. “Alex will retool in the offseason and the Jays will come back stronger than ever.”
And then this winter happened.
Perception is a funny thing. Different people perceive different events in different ways. Never has that been more evident than with Blue Jays fans this winter.
When the last out of the 2013 season was recorded, anybody who watched any portion of the Toronto Blue Jays season knew three areas of the ball club where improvement was mandatory: catcher, second base, and starting pitcher. What Alex Anthopoulos did to improve those areas is perceived by many to be a colossal failure.
At catcher, he dumped J.P. Arencibia for a player who hasn’t recorded 300 AB in a season since 2009. While Dioner Navarro should be an upgrade, I don’t think it was the type of upgrade most fans had in mind. “But that’s OK,” we said. “The money they saved on Navarro can be used to reel in a 2B.”
But then the club decided that second base would be manned by one of the following: a player who was among the worst everyday players in baseball last year (Maicer Izturis); a rookie with under 35 games of MLB experience (Ryan Goins); or a light-hitting, journyeman brought into compete with the first two (Chris Getz). “Not ideal,” we all said, “but think of all the money they can use on the rotation now.”
And if there ever was a year to upgrade pitching via free agency it was this one. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, the usual high spenders were relatively quiet when it came to pitching, with the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, and Rangers making other moves. In a year that had plenty of useful upgrades available, the field was wide open for Toronto.
But then Ricky Nolaco signed with last place Minnesota, Bartolo Colon went to the Mets, Bronson Arroyo signed with Arizona, Matt Garza went to Milwaukee, and Ubaldo Jimenez joined division rival Baltimore. Suddenly, the public perception of Anthopoulos began to change. He was no longer the saviour. In fact, many started to call for his head. Though none of those pitchers can be considered to be Cy Young calibre, any would have have been an upgrade for Toronto and make the Jays a stronger team.
But just as a coin has two sides, so does public perception. For every person who jumped off the bandwagon, there was one who remained firmly entrenched. The contracts signed by guys like Garza and Jimenez were insane. To be saddled with that burden down the road was a risk not worth taking.
I was one of those on that side of the fence. Did it make sense to pay Ubaldo Jimenez $15-million four years from now? No.
And then came Ervin Santana. When word came that he was only looking for a one-year deal, the entire baseball world looked to Toronto. This was a perfect fit. Yes Santana is considered a fly-ball pitcher and having him pitch in a homer friendly park is a risk, but for one year? Well worth that risk. The public implored Anthopoulos to sign him. The media implored Anthopoulos to sign him. Even Blue Jay players publicly implored Anthopoulos to sign him.
Late Tuesday night, Ervin Santana inked a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves.
And just like that – poof! There is no more Alex Anthopoulos bandwagon. Those who still believed have mostly fled. There is nothing good that can be said about losing out on Santana. Nobody can make a compeling
case that missing out on him is a good thing.
Although it was widely reported that the Jays offered the same contract, and that Santana wanted to pitch in the National League, and that Toronto might have never really had a chance to sign him – none of that matters. After all that had happened this winter, Alex Anthopoulos HAD to sign this player. There could be nothing otherwise, no ifs ands or buts. With the wealth of ownership, with the holes in the rotation, with the contract length so favourable (seriously – ONE YEAR!!), this was a player that Alex had to have.
Because he didn’t, nothing that he has accomplished to this point matters.
In the eyes of the public, Alex Anthopoulos has been branded a failure.
Those are the perils of perception.