Tuesday, November 19, 2013

August 12- Toronto Blue Jays

I think the first thing that I need to point out is that it’s obviously not August 12, 2013. I’m not even sure why I’ve continued to keep up with the charade that I’ll be able to get back on pace of doing one blog post per day. When I started this mission back on January 1st it seemed like it was going to be an easy thing to do. After all, the first month-and-a-half consisted of posts that were barely two pages long. Don’t get me wrong, I love researching, learning, writing and educating, and I am not throwing in the towel anytime soon. I didn’t feel I was doing you (the reader) or myself any favors by half-assing my posts. I’ve always been more of the longwinded type of writer, cramming in as much information that can possibly be conceived for the sake of not leaving anyone in the dark on even the smallest detail. My journalism professors at the University of Oregon can back me up in that assertion too.

When I started expanding my stories, adding in my personal details and stopped worrying about if it was too long I started to notice that I was enjoying myself more and connecting with a larger audience. What I didn’t expect was that after four-and-a-half months of doing that every single day I would break physically and mentally. I can pinpoint the exact moment too, it was right after I post my June 15th story about LaTroy Hawkins that I quickly started to unravel. My follow-up post was a San Francisco Giants post on June 16th for Father’s Day, a story that dealt with the hardships my dad and I went through for well over a decade, my bouts with depression and thoughts of suicide and then the resolution of the two of us patching things up in the summer of 2012. The hard part wasn’t really writing it as much as it was the personal struggle of whether or not I should post it. After all, something that raw could potentially be a red flag for employers. But, like a lot of my posts after the middle of February, it was met with a lot of positive feedback, the kind of stuff that motivates me to keep going and keep improving upon what I do.

I don’t feel that I’ve thank you all enough for taking the time to read these posts that I care about so much. Even though I’m well over 100 days behind, I will be surpassing 100,000 total views on my blog within the next two days. I find that kind of funny because I thought writing every single day was going to be the key to achieving anything close to that. Turns out that re-posting at the right times was a huge factor, but also spacing things out, allowing people to fully-appreciate each post instead of cramming them down your throats every single day. It’s all a learning process I suppose. Most importantly though in the thanking department, I haven’t thanked you all enough for the experiences that you’ve shared with me. I love sharing New Era Cap stories, baseball stories and just stories about life with all of you. I’ve always been kind of a social butterfly, but I don’t really know how to show it sometimes. I love to laugh and joke, but sometimes I don’t know how to share my feelings unless I write it out. All of your relatable stories and appreciation for what I do is the best reward I take from my blog. Without all of you, this would be nothing. From the bottom of my heart I thank you all for sharing this journey with me. I promise to quit being a blubbery bitch now.

One person who has been a wonderful treat to meet and get to know is my friend and fellow #CrewEra13 New Era enthusiast and die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan Andrew Mitchell-Baker (@AMitchell_416). 

Andrew was born and raised in Toronto and has been an avid visitor of the Sky Dome/Rogers Centre since he was old enough to walk. He’s one of the few people I had the luxury of meeting during my trip to New Ere headquarters in Buffalo, New York. Like the rest of the gang, we met in the lobby of the hotel we were staying at, but we didn’t really hit off until we took the first leg of our trip to Niagara Falls. Andrew had been to the falls before, but only on the Canadian side, so it was a pretty cool new adventure for him. One of the first comments that Andrew bestowed upon me was that I look a lot like RA Dickey, something that I will leave up to y’all to decide with the photo above and below as your frame of reference. 

He is also not the first, nor the last person to make this assertion. On the inverse though, I said he looks a lot like Tim Duncan. You be the judge.

As we toured around the Falls we swapped stories about how we came up with our respective baseball teams. His story was a little bit more intriguing as he was there in the early days of the Sky Dome and was going to games during the Blue Jays’ most dominant years. I was six-years-old when the Oakland Athletics won the World Series in 1989, but I was living four hours away in Bakersfield when it happened. Andrew was getting introduced to the game in full on the back of the back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. From there, it was a birthright. For the past 15 seasons he’s been in house for every season opener and almost every series against the New York Yankees because, well… everyone has an enemy. His shining moment at a game came on June 2, 2001 when Chris Carpenter; yes, THE Chris Carpenter, gave up an absolute muderstroke to Manny Ramirez that hit the wall at the top of the upper deck. Oh, and when I say upper deck, I mean upper deck. Watch this. Just to give you a little perspective of how far away that is, here…


I’ve been to four games at the now-named Rogers Centre, but I know I’ll be back for more, shooting the breeze with my friend, and sipping on only the finest Alexander Keith’s they have to offer.

Today marks a crazy day in Major League Baseball history as one year ago today one of the biggest trades in the history of the game was finalized between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins. The deal technically took place on November 13, 2012, but it took until November 19th for MLB commissioner Bud Selig to approve it. The deal consisted of the Blue Jays acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins in exchange for shortstop Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis and four minor-league prospects including Adeiny Hechavarria. Cash was also sent to the Jays in the trade. Well, as you all know, the Blue Jays weren’t done yet. On November 16, 2012, they signed outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal. On November 20, 2012, it was announced that the Blue Jays had re-hired former manager John Gibbons for the same position signing him to a two-year deal after the team had sent then-manager John Farrell to the Boston Red Sox along with pitcher David Carpenter for infielder Mike Aviles. Finally, on December 17th the Blue Jays acquired the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in a trade with the New York Mets that sent prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, minor leaguer Wuilmer Becrra and catcher John Buck to New York. Toronto also received catcher Josh Thole and minor league catcher Mike Nickeas in the trade. As part of the transaction, the Blue Jays signed Dickey to an extension worth a total of $29 million over 3 years with a $12 million fourth year option. In short, things went batshit insane in Toronto in a very short period of time. The crazy part in all of this is that I had predicted it seven moths earlier.

Ok, maybe I didn’t predict the exact specifics of the deal, but the exchange between the two parties was on the money. See, back in the early days of my MLB Fan Cavery I had been involved in a discussion about where the league was going over the next two-to-three years. This of course was right after the Marlins had “spent” a boatload of cash on new talent, Ozzie Guillen as the manager and was getting ready to open the door to their new stadium in the heart of Little Havana. One of two things were going to happen in 2012: the Marlins were going be incredibly successful OR they were going to fall apart; and not just fall apart, but have one of the worst meltdowns in MLB history. During the interview process in Arizona for the Fan Cave a question about the Marlins had come up from one of the executives as they were curious how I thought they would finish. My close-to-exact words were, “Based on the history of the Marlins I can totally see them making a solid World Series run because every time they reload their roster they’ve won the World Series (1997 and 2003). But, if they don’t even make the playoffs this year, expect the team to abandon ship and deal as many players as they can to one team who needs the talent and has the money to afford the contracts; someone like the Blue Jays.” I know, it all sounds like bullshit in retrospect, but I have yet to lie to any of you in these posts, and I sure as hell am not about to start. The reality in all of this is that it was a lot easier to predict than you might imagine.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since they last held the Commissioner’s Trophy above their heads at the end of their second World Series victory in a row in 1993. 18 years, the second longest drought next to the Pittsburgh Pirates who finally broke their streak after 20 years in 2013. The Blue Jays may not have the biggest payroll in MLB, but they do have quite a bit to spend, especially when you have to consider that they play in the American League Eastern Division with the Red Sox and New York Yankees. With the emergence of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, the Blue Jays were on the cusp of being able to assemble a star-studded team that would finally revive the glory days of the early 1990s. The only thing that had been missing was they key person to make such a deal a reality….

AA: Alex Anthopoulos, a native of Montreal, Quebec who is fluently bilingual in English and French, became interested in baseball in the early 1990s after seeing the Montreal Expos play at Olympic Stadium. He attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario where he studied economics. After his father's passing, he realized that he wanted to do something that he loved for a living. He proceeded to call several Major League organizations, looking for a foot in the door. His chance came when he got a direct line to the Expos GM Jim Beattie's office in Florida. He offered to work for free doing something he loved, and he was given his chance. He worked in the media relations department with the Expos, and moved to their scouting department in 2001. In 2003, when the Expos' days in Montreal were numbered, he accepted a lower-paying job with Toronto in order to remain in Canada. The job was as the scouting coordinator.

Anthopoulos quickly climbed the ladder. By the end of 2005 he was promoted to the position of assistant General Manager by then GM J.P. Ricciardi, which was then complimented with the title of Vice-President of Baseball Operations following the 2006 season. In 2004 he was a major reason why the Greek National baseball team was assembled for the Olympics which took place in Athens, Greece. For three years Anthopoulos waited in the wings, keeping an eye on how to conduct himself with the hope that he would move all the way to the top, either with the Blue Jays or another team who showed interest. When October 3, 2009 came rolling around Anthopoulos found himself in an interesting position as his mentor, Ricciardi, was fired after the team went 75-87 in former World Series-winning manager Cito Gaston's first full year back as the manager. Anthopoulos was promoted to General Manager, and got to work immediately.

On December 15, 2009 Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor. Hell of a way to break into the new role. Needless to say, Blue Jays fans were pissed, but Anthopoulos was just getting started. Soon afterwards, he sent Michael Taylor to the Athletics for Brett Wallace, and in July 2010, traded Wallace to the Houston Astros for center field prospect Anthony “Space” Gose. On December 22, 2009, Anthopoulos traded reliever Brandon League and minor league outfielder Johermyn Chavez to acquire Brandon Morrow from the Seattle Mariners. The move brought in a little bit of faith, but the reality was that the team was now down their ace and closer. On July 14, 2010 Anthopoulos made a deal with the Atlanta Braves to acquire Yunel Escobar, and Jo-Jo Reyes in exchange for Alex Gonzalez, and two minor league prospects: Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky. The end result, the Blue Jays went 85-77 in what would be Gaston’s final year as manager. Bautista launched a franchise-record 54 home runs, Encarnacion was looking solid and he pitching was coming around. Things were certainly looking bright, but once again, Anthopoulos wasn’t done yet.

On January 21, 2011, Anthopoulos completed a blockbuster trade, shipping another longtime face of the Blue Jays franchise Vernon Wells and the remaining $86 million over the next four years to the Los Angeles Angels for slugging catcher Mike Napoli and veteran outfielder Juan Rivera. He then sent Napoli to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Frank Francisco and Rivera to the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations. On July 28, 2011, Anthopoulos made two successive trades to acquire center fielder Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals. In the first, the Blue Jays traded pitching prospect Zach Stewart and veteran reliever Jason Frasor to the Chicago White Sox for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and infielder Mark Teahen. Jackson was then traded with relief pitchers Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, outfielder Corey Patterson, and cash or three players to be named later to the Cardinals for Rasmus and relief pitchers Brian Tallet, P.J. Walters and Trever Miller. This of course all went down in the-manager/current Red Sox manager Farrell’s first season at the helm. Oh, but Anthopoulos still had one more major deal to make. On August 23, 2011, Anthopoulos traded infielders Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks for second baseman Kelly Johnson. Even with all of these players getting swapped the Blue Jays finished 81-81. Before the 2012 Major League Baseball season, he was known to make trades in order to acquire supplemental draft picks. The most prominent example was when he acquired Miguel Olivo, a Type B free agent, and declined his club option the next day making Olivo a free agent. The Blue Jays gained a supplemental first-round draft pick when Olivo signed with the Mariners.

With Anthopoulos, the wheels were always turning. His days with the Expos taught him how to be sharp as the team was slowly being picked apart and eventually relocated. Anthopoulos loved the Expos, and vowed to bring a winning team back to Canada. In 2012 the Blue Jays went 73-89, their worst finish since Ricciardi’s final season in 2009. With his back against the way, so to speak, Anthopoulos took the call from the Marlins, talked to the higher ups and approved the blockbuster trade on November 13, 2012 (finalized on November 19).

Now, some of you may still be a bit confused as to how I could possibly know these two parties, of all the other teams in the league, could make that deal happen. It all lies within the Expos, the team Loria had first bought a 24% stake in back in 1999 until becoming the principle owner prior to 2002, right before he sold the team to MLB. So, for those of you playing at home, Anthopoulos worked for Loria for 2 ½ seasons. I’m not sure how strong their relationship is, but in the baseball world relationships like that are deep. Based on their history and Anthopoulos’s willingness to make the Blue Jays a winner, it was the only deal that ever made sense if it were to happen. Needless to say, when it did, I felt like a God damn genius… but I still don’t have a job working for ESPN or MLB. Drat!

’13: I had marked up the cap the day the deal was finalized and couldn’t think of anything better to capture the craziness that was my prediction and the season to come for the restored faithful Blue Jays fans. This cap especially is a memento of where the Blue Jays and their fans have gone in the last 19 years, a fixed mistake that never should have been altered in the first place. When this cap was introduced in 2012 it brought back a lot of warm feelings for die hard Blue Jays fans like Andrew and my other good friend and 2012 Fan Cave hopeful Dave Barclay. As Dave said, “It was like starting over again, getting back to the winning ways of the former Jays. Would you like a hot dog?” Those were his exact words. 

I still have quite a few Blue Jays posts to go, and if you learn anything from these posts, as I always mention in the Blue Jays posts, if you’re a team on the bottom and y’all decide to change the uniforms, be sure to expect good things. When you’re on top, expect some dark years. The Blue Jays finished the 2013 with a record of 74-88, only a one win improvement. Perhaps good things will be in store for Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays in 2014. Hopefully. 

As for the Marlins, they made out like bandits, but not because they made a ton of money on the deal. They only finished seven games worse than they did in 2012, but they got stellar showing from the players that the Blue Jays had dealt them. Hechavarria played in 148 games, hitting .227 with three home runs and 42 RBI and boasts a dandy glove. As for Alvarez, he went 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 17 starts. He also had one shutout and one complete game, which both came on the final day of the season when he no-hit the Detroit Tigers. I don't want to elaborate too much on that story though. Patience.

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