Change is in the air here in Toronto. It seems that most of the city's sports teams are in the midst of an overhaul. The Raptors are transitioning into the new era without Chris Bosh. Brian Burke continues his push with the Maple Leafs in hopes that they can make the playoffs, acquiring Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong this offseason.
Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos also continues to put his impressive stamp on the Toronto Blue Jays.
When he was appointed the new general manager this past offseason, he quickly signed several veterans to help defensively and guide the young pitching staff. He made a pledge to put a greater emphasis on scouting and player development.
Anthopolous then proceeded to make good on his promise, increasing not only the staff, but the range covered by those scouts.
This concept might have all been in vain had the Jays organization not put up the cash to sign international prospects. In past years, they have either not pursued the free agents or they continually lost bidding wars to the Yankees or Red Sox.
Surprisingly, the Jays have been very active in the pursuit, successfully signing some highly coveted young players.
The Blue Jays beat out the Yankees earlier in the year to sign 21-year-old Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria to a four-year, $10 million contract. Since it should be a few years before the prospect is ready for the big leagues, Anthopoulos traded veteran Alex Gonzalez to the Atlanta Braves for Yunel Escobar.
At 27 years old, Escobar provides a better bridge to Hecheverria. He has a career .291 average and a .368 on-base percentage and he could provide an important small-ball component on a team of sluggers.
Since the Jays are currently 27th overall in both batting average and hits, their one-dimensional offense needs the abilities of Escobar in the lineup. Though Yunel Escobar has been struggling this year with Atlanta, he has already shown signs of breaking out of the slump on the Blue Jays.
The Jays GM continues to put his scouts to good use with the signing of two 16-year-old prospects from Venezuela. Adonis Cardona is a 6'4" 180lb. right-handed pitcher and Gabriel Cenas, a 6'1" 175 lb. third baseman; both will begin their professional career playing in the Dominican Summer League for the Blue Jays.
Anthopolous has already shown, in his short tenure with the Blue Jays, that he has a strong eye for talent and will take every opportunity to improve the team immediately and in the future. His trade of Brandon League for Brandon Morrow has worked out immensely well so far for the Jays, adding to a young core of starters.
The catching tandem of Jose Molina and John Buck that he signed have proved to be great advisers to that young pitching staff. Plus, one of his biggest moves was a simple trade with the San Francisco Giants for Fred Lewis, what seemed like a depth move at first.
When the Jays started the season with Jose Bautista leading off, it was quite obvious that he wasn't quite suited for the role, and he struggled trying to adapt his game to the leadoff position.
So when Fred Lewis became available to the Jays, Anthopoulos saw the opportunity to acquire a player that could provide what the Jays lacked. Of course, it is unlikely even the GM foresaw how well Lewis would slot into the lead-off position and earn a starter position with the Blue Jays. Lewis now leads the team in two categories with a .281 average and 10 stolen bases, as well as second among the starters in OBP with .343.
Not to mention that once Bautista was moved into a spot in the order where his style would be more effective, he began to put up career numbers. Bautista currently leads the league with 25 home runs, and is the Blue Jays leader in RBI and runs, with 58 and 57 respectively.
With the MLB trade deadline coming up, it is quite possible that Anthopoulos will be working the phones once again. With the competition always at the highest in the American League East, the Jays GM knows that he has to take every opportunity to improve his team if he wants to contend.