The Toronto Blue Jays made the biggest trade of the winter during the 2012-13 offseason, acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a megadeal with the Miami Marlins. It was a 12-player swap that seemed to signal that the Blue Jays were ready to get back into serious contention in the AL East.
After making the deal with the Marlins, the Blue Jays turned around and picked up NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets. These were the type of bold, aggressive, win-now moves that Toronto needed to make in order to return to contention.
The moves were long overdue and made Toronto one of the teams to watch going into last year. The new additions were expected to propel the Blue Jays into the playoff race and bring the once-successful franchise back to national recognition.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs—the Blue Jays finished in last place in their division at 74-88.
The fact that neither one of the huge deals provided the desired effect seemed to make the Toronto front office extremely timid going into this winter, turning the Blue Jays into one of the least active teams during this offseason.
It's enough to make someone on the outside looking in wonder if it is time for the organization to clean house in the dugout and front office and start over if this season ends up being more of the same.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has gone 228-258 in his three seasons running the team. The Blue Jays have reached only as high as fourth place in the division during Anthopoulos' tenure, all the while spending $273.4 million over the last three years, per Cot's Contracts.
Anthopoulos can't say he doesn't have the financial means to contend. If baseball has shown anything over the past couple of years, it is that it's more important how a team spends its money than how much is spent. That's how the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's are in contention every year. All the Blue Jays have to do is look at the Rays and A's and realize that they can't play the small-market card.
Even more perplexing for Toronto was the decision to rehire former manager John Gibbons to the same position with the team. Gibbons already served one somewhat unsuccessful tenure with the team from 2004 to 2008. During that time, his record stood at 305-305. Gibbons wasn't terrible in his first time around, but he never really took the Blue Jays anywhere, and the team struggled under him again last season.
Gibbons might not be a bad manager, but his rehiring certainly gave the appearance that Toronto was willing to settle for a safe, known quantity after losing John Farrell to the Boston Red Sox. Farrell left Toronto under a heap of criticism and questions about his ability to manage.
A year later, those questions about Farrell seem silly after he led the 2013 Red Sox to the World Series championship.
Farrell's success puts the spotlight squarely back on the Blue Jays. How did Farrell manage to go from being a question mark to one of the best managers in the game in just one season? Is it as simple as switching uniforms, or are there bigger issues at play?
This year, the Blue Jays are expected to spend roughly $132.6 million on their 2014 roster. Toronto has talent on offense and defense, but it is hard to envision this club finishing much higher than fourth place in the AL East. Toronto's core looks solid from the outside, but due to injuries and poor performance, the Blue Jays seem to perennially underperform.
It hasn't gone unnoticed.
Agent Scott Boras, the highest-profile player agent in MLB, questioned the Blue Jays' direction in a recent interview with Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. Boras directs most of the blame at the ownership of the Blue Jays, saying the team hasn't given the front office the freedom to make moves.
I understand that Boras is trying to drum up interest in his players, but I am not sure that I agree with his sentiment that the front office has been hamstrung by ownership. Players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Reyes and Dickey should be successful with any organization. Toronto has spent money recently; it's just that the Blue Jays haven't received a very good return on their investment.
Toronto needs to set its sights higher. Until the Blue Jays make the decision to clean house or contend, they will appear to be settling for being an also-ran in the AL East.
For a once-proud franchise, it truly shows how far the Blue Jays have fallen. The question now is: Will the Blue Jays settle for also-ran status, or will they make the necessary moves to get back into contention?