After winning 85 games in 2010 and 81 in 2011, the Toronto Blue Jays entered last season thinking that they were on the verge of playoff contention. Alas, Murphy's law took effect for them in 2012: pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
The Jays fell to 73-89 as injuries befell catcher J.P. Arencibia, star slugger Jose Bautista, closer Sergio Santos and starting pitchers Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan.
Surprising, sudden ineffectiveness was the culprit in the cases of center fielder Colby Rasmus, second baseman Kelly Johnson, shortstop Yunel Escobar, opening day starter Ricky Romero and, to a lesser extent, third baseman Brett Lawrie. As if all that weren't enough, Escobar then earned a three-game suspension for writing an anti-gay slur into his eye black late in the Jays' miserable season.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos could have looked at last season and decided that the Jays were ultimately further away from contention than he had originally assumed. Instead, Anthopoulos has gone all in for 2013 this offseason.
He hit the free-agent market by signing Maicer Izturis to a three-year deal to replace Johnson at second base, and Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal to replace Rajai Davis as the starting left fielder.
In between those two free-agent acquisitions, Anthopoulos pulled off his first blockbuster trade of the winter by sending Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick to the Miami Marlins for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck and cash.
At that point in the offseason Anthopoulos had upgraded forty percent of his rotation with Johnson and Buehrle, and a third of his lineup in Reyes, Cabrera and whoever wins the second base battle between Izturis and Bonifacio.
Anthopoulos then delivered another blockbuster by finalizing a deal on Monday to bring National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas for Buck, top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, and additional prospect Wuilmer Becerra. The Jays extended Dickey, who was in the final year of his contract, through 2015 with a club option for 2016 as part of the deal.
Instead of continuing to build for the future, Anthopoulos has gone all in on 2013 by dealing away a huge chunk of his farm system to acquire Reyes, Bonifacio, Johnson, Buehrle and Dickey. The Jays traded away four of their top prospects in d'Arnaud, Syndergaard, Nicolino and Marisnick.
They'll also be increasing payroll from $83 million last season to upward of $120 million next season in order to fit all of these additional salaries onto the payroll. The all-in strategy for 2013 is not without risk for Anthopoulos. If the Jays don't make the playoffs next season, his aggressive offseason strategy will have backfired miserably.
The last so-called winners of the offseason failed to win on the field. The Boston Red Sox "won" the offseason prior to 2011 by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to a massive contract. After a September collapse in 2011 and a poor first half last season, Gonzalez and Crawford were shipped out of town as the organization pressed the reset button.
The Jays' first blockbuster trading partner this winter, the Marlins, "won" last offseason by signing Reyes, Buehrle and Heath Bell. The Marlins' offseason success yielded just 69 wins on the field last season.
The Jays have been the most active team this winter, and that could translate to success on the field in 2013. However, the Red Sox and Marlins are cautionary tales for those who assume winning the offseason translates to guaranteed success on the field.
Anthopoulos and the Jays have gone all in on 2013. It's an admirable, aggressive strategy, but it's also a risky gamble. They'll try to win now and worry about the costs in payroll and prospects down the road. Even with all of their offseason moves, winning now is going to be the hardest part of the process.
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