The Toronto Blue Jays were a great team to watch back in the glory days of the '90s. They had everything you need in a competitive team. They had top-of-the-line, well-known players. They had exciting young players who were part of the present and the future.
They had guys who could come up in clutch situations. They had players who knew how to win, and win consistently. It was these kinds of players who would bring 40,000 people to the Dome every night. It was these kinds of players who made people want to watch and follow every single pitch. More importantly, it was these kinds of players who gave the city of Toronto a winner and its last professional major championship.
For the last 18 years, the city and Blue Jays fans across the nation have been waiting for that feeling to return. Many say that it is starting to happen now.
Can we really compare what happened in the past to what is happening now? Can we take that comparison and somehow draw a conclusion that would have the Jays in the postseason?
Well, we can certainly try.
Let’s look at the four factors mentioned above: top-of-the-line, well-known players, exciting young players for present and future, clutch players and players who knew how to win, and see if the Blue Jays of 2012 are setting themselves up to recapture the glory days of the '90s.
In most baseball player rankings, the highest-ranked Blue Jay is Jose Bautista, who is hanging around in the top five, and rightfully so after the last two years. But beyond that, no Blue Jays player is ranked in the top 40.
Brett Lawrie was next best at No. 44 among all players, which is remarkable considering he played just over a month. His projected stats are what put him up there. He was 34th among hitters only.
I know player rankings don’t have everything to do with how well-known a player is, but it does factor into it somewhat.
Having only one guy near the top is not going to be enough to consistently draw in the “casual fan.” In the glory days, people were lining up to see some marquee players. Whether they were there for the starting pitcher—Jack Morris, Juan Guzman, Dave Stewart, David Cone, Pat Hentgen and earlier Dave Stieb—or whether the fans were there to see one of the top position players in the game—Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Devon White, Rickey Henderson and John Olerud—the fans knew they were going to get their money's worth on any given night.
These guys were known around the league. They were feared by the opposition and they did their jobs. People, to this day, still wear these players' jerseys while attending Jays games. Some of these players have gone onto the Hall of Fame.
It’s these kinds of players that will help the Jays fill the stands and become a better ballclub.
Do the Jays have any of these players on their roster now?
I think Bautista, Lawrie, Romero and to an extent, J.P. Arencibia are on their way to being able to draw in crowds just based on their names, but they will still have to perform well.
Comparing it to the glory days: I think guys like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder or Yu Darvish would have been amazing to sign in the offseason. These are three guys who would have drawn interest from all kinds of fans. I think people would have paid just to see them play at Rogers Centre for the first little while and then they too would have to perform well.
This would have been reminiscent of the Winfield or Molitor signings, giving the Jays a top-of-the-line, well-known player.
I agree with them not making that move just yet, though, as they are still trying to figure out who the long-term piece will be at certain positions. The Jays have set themselves up well for going after a big free agent within the next few offseasons.
The core of this Blue Jays lineup is very young, with most of the guys being born in the late 1980s and on the right side of 30. This means they have time to grow and develop and be together for a while and learn from each other. While some of them are expected to be performing right now, others are still in the “learning curve” process and are expected to take their bumps along the road.
They also have some great prospects down on the farm waiting for the call.
Comparing it to the glory days: Most of the roster was made of guys closer to or over 30. They had a little more experience and were helping the few younger guys and showing them what it took to be winners.
They were a team that had been together for a while, who knew each other’s style and they were expected to win. That Blue Jays team was not overly concerned about the long-term future. They knew that they could win now and that’s what they did. They had some budding prospects in Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green and Alex Gonzalez who made it to the big leagues.
But some of their best prospects, like Jeff Kent, were traded away for pieces that brought them a ring.
I think this 2012 roster is better set up for the future than the glory days' rosters. Lawrie, Eric Thames, Arencibia, Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Colby Rasmus are all making good cases to be around for a while. If they win, they will be.
By the time they get closer to the prime age, they will have been around for a while and will hopefully by then know what it takes to win. If not, there are guys on the farm waiting for their chance. I think GM Alex Anthopoulos would rather see his prospects pan out over trading them at this point, but we don’t know what will happen down the road.
If A.A. continues to draft and trade for prospects as he has, the Blue Jays' future will always look bright. It’s just a matter of seeing if he can turn that future into a present.
Right now, it is difficult to say who is truly a clutch player on the Blue Jays.
Jose Bautista has come up with some big home runs in the past, but so far, he can’t seem to do it when needed most. Edwin Encarnacion is having a very good season, but he too, mostly hits solo bombs.
Casey Janssen is being a very stingy closer in place of Sergio Santos and it’s great to see, but we have seen this before; B.J. Ryan injured, Jeremy Accardo fills in—neither pan out in the long run. I’m not saying that will happen to Janssen, but I do see similarities. I think Janssen is proving to be the most clutch player for the Jays this season.
The rest of the bullpen has been up and down.
The Jays offense has had some big hits: J.P. Arencibia’s walk-off on Opening Day, Brett Lawrie’s walk-off against the Rangers, and plenty of late-inning go-ahead hits that have factored into their wins. But there hasn’t been one consistent player that can show they can do it day after day.
Compare it to the glory days: The Blue Jays bullpen in the glory days was absolutely fantastic. The bullpen did not give up a lot of runs. Led by the tag team of Tom Henke and Duane Ward, for the most part the Jays were playing seven-inning games.
If they had a lead, they weren’t giving it up. Both Ward and Henke were clutch players and didn’t make the crowd as nervous as today’s bullpen does.
The lineups also featured clutch players. Carter’s World Series home run was certainly the biggest of his career, but he had plenty of late-inning winning hits, along with Winfield and Alomar. Anytime those guys were at the plate and the Jays needed a big hit, they could deliver it.
The 2012 roster is still trying to figure out who those players can be.
Last night against the Orioles, Drew Hutchison gave the Blue Jays exactly what they needed: a win and a good pitching performance. They had gone through the full rotation once without a starter getting a win; they also, for the most part, didn’t look good at all.
The Blue Jays are relying on Ricky Romero to be that guy to set the table and lead the rotation. He has to be the one that gives them a good start every fifth day, going deep into games and giving the bullpen a rest.
He's got to make the opposition fear him.
Romero was well on his way to doing that last season, but has gotten off to a rough start this year. He is still trying to establish himself as not only one of the top pitchers in a deep division, but one of the top pitchers in the game.
The rest of the rotation has tons of upside, and for the first two months they showed it, but they have started to hit a bit of a speed bump. The Jays and their fans are hoping they can start to bounce back and once again carry this team.
Compare it to the glory days: As stated earlier, the Jays had a host of top-of-the-line pitchers. When they needed help, they went and got David Cone in '92, who went on to lead the league in strikeouts that season.
It was said during the entire offseason that the Blue Jays need one more starting pitcher to have a very good rotation.
Right now, though, it would be tough to tell one of the five that they were going to be demoted. But recent reports from Fox Sports that suggested A.A. was looking at Cole Hamels had my head spinning in a good way.
Hamels is a guy who knows how to win.
He's a World Series champion and World Series MVP with the Phillies, having made multiple playoff appearances. This is a guy the Blue Jays need to get to that next level.
I think the Blue Jays have been lucky to this point that the No. 3 through 5 pitchers have pitched that well, and I don’t see it continuing at this pace for a whole season for all three. If it did, it would be fantastic, but not realistic. If they are close to contending they should take a page out of Pat Gillick's book and go after a premier pitcher and hope to sign him for a few years.
It is these factors that, if executed well, will bring back the glory days.
If you ask a lot of the Jays now, though, they want to stop being compared to those teams and build their own memories for the younger fanbase. Memories that will hopefully conclude with a ring and a banner and will last for a lifetime.