The start of the plan did not make a lot of sense. It was baffling, really.
It seemed dumb to add to a clear strength at a much higher eventual cost while ignoring a weakness and the one area that could propel you toward the ultimate goal. But it was difficult to see the Toronto Blue Jays’ first blockbuster trade last week and figure they would pull off another a couple of days later.
Heavily criticized general manager Alex Anthopoulos executed a blockbuster deal for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on July 28, upgrading the position on both sides of the ball and adding $50 million to their payroll for the life of his contract. But the Blue Jays already had a dynamic offense, one that is responsible for the team’s American League-best plus-106 run differential, since the starting staff's 4.28 ERA ranks 10th.
The clear need, and the reason the club is currently out of the playoffs despite its run differential, was starting pitching. So, despite dealing away two of the organization’s top prospects to the Colorado Rockies to get Tulowitzki, Anthopoulos reached into the farm system again and sent top prospect Daniel Norris to the Detroit Tigers for one of the game’s premier aces—David Price.
With that deal, plus a couple more just before Friday’s non-waiver deadline, Anthopoulos transformed a mostly one-dimensional team into a legitimate postseason nightmare for any pitching staff and, for at least one game, any lineup.
“For this to be their second big move in the last couple days, it tells you, ‘Hey, we’re in it. We think we can win here. Now we’re going to give you guys the pieces. Now it’s up to you.’ It’s always on the players," Tulowitzki told reporters.
“It’s everything you can ask for and a little bit more.”
Sportsnet 590's Kayla Harris noted the impact of the deals:
Lethal is exactly what Price proved to be in his first Blue Jays start, retiring the last 15 Twins batters he faced on the way to a 5-1 Toronto win Monday. The 29-year-old left-hander's 11 strikeouts set a franchise record for most in a Blue Jays debut.
It was a performance that captivated many, from the Jays faithful at the sold-out Rogers Centre (a crowd of 45,766) to rehabbing Toronto teammate Marcus Stroman, who is using his time off to complete his degree at Duke University.
As evidenced by Monday's performance, Price is the game-changer for a team that headed into the day tied for the second AL wild-card spot. In a trade market where he was the premier rental pitcher and where the Tigers had plenty of suitors, the Blue Jays knew they had to strike hard.
They could not afford to leave room for the Tigers to ponder any alternatives.
So the final offer was strong, in part because the farm system is deep, the future payroll is flexible and mostly because the franchise has not reached the postseason since 1993. Anthopoulos put Norris out there for a two-month rental, and the Tigers accepted, giving Toronto its ace.
If the Blue Jays cannot catch the New York Yankees in the AL East standings, they are still in great position to win a wild-card berth. And going into a one-game, winner-take-all showdown, there are few better options to start such a game than Price and his 2.45 ERA.
Even though Price is only one arm in a flawed rotation, his is the kind that changes fortunes. Anthopoulos, and several other general managers, realized this, so he went for it.
“Alex Anthopoulos will be under evaluation, and he’s going for it right now,” Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said. “And while Price is a rental, the addition of Tulowitzki positions the team’s lineup well for the future.”
And what a devastating lineup it can be.
It was already the best, most powerful in the league before Tulowitzki arrived. His addition meant losing a shortstop with a 90 wRC+ in Jose Reyes, according to FanGraphs, and inserting one at 27 points higher heading into Monday afternoon.
Since Tulowtizki’s arrival, the Blue Jays are averaging six runs per game and have lost only once, a game in which they scored six times, reiterating the need for Price in the rotation. Tulowitzki went into Sunday hitting .357/.438/.714 with two doubles and a home run in four games with Toronto, then he went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI in the weekend finale against the Kansas City Royals, one of Toronto’s top competitors for a league pennant.
He added another 1-for-3 performance with a pair of runs Monday.
Manager John Gibbons is hitting Tulowitzki at the top of the lineup, the first time in his 10-year career he’s been a leadoff man aside from one game in 2006. That gives the Blue Jays a first four of Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson (27 home runs, .916 OPS), Jose Bautista (23 homers, .858 OPS) and Edwin Encarnacion (19 homers, .796 OPS).
Undoubtedly, this is the most frightening first four in baseball and a group that can devastate any opposing pitching staff over the next two months, in a one-game playoff and over the course of an October series.
“We need to do something now, no question about that,” Gibbons told reporters after the Price deal. “You look at the two trades [Anthopoulos] has made, they’re impact guys, they’re at the top of MLB. It’s not like he went out and grabbed some guys you’re hoping can do something. They’re guys that have been productive their whole careers. So we dove in headfirst.
“It’s a pretty impressive clubhouse out there now, no doubt about that.”
And no doubt they would be a feared team come October. Now, they just have to get there.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.