Toronto Blue Jays Off to Familiar Start, Despite Off-season Improvements

March 28, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) in the dugout against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
March 28, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) in the dugout against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in nearly twenty years, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays had every right to think that things would be different this season. Different not only in terms of overall performance, but also due to the fact that during this past off-season, the Jay’s acquired several players that the fans would actually want to see play. The team’s General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, made it no secret that his intentions were to aggressively pursue any free agent that could improve the franchise this coming season.

In December of 2012, Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on a trade with the Miami Marlins that would not only improve the overall roster, but also give the franchise several players who we’ve actually heard of. Of course, bringing in veteran talent such as starting pitchers Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson, as well as shortstop Jose Reyes, can often prove to be a costly endeavor. Nevertheless, the renovation continued and by the end of the winter, the Blue Jays had added National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey and former Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera who was signed prior to the Miami trade in November.

Besides the obvious improvement to their starting rotation, the team also gave their lineup two players in Reyes and Cabrera, that can get on base and not be defensive liabilities. The other side of the shopping spree however, leaves the Jays paying some pretty large bills that won’t be completely off the books for at least five years.

How much did the franchise have to spend in order to outbid baseball’s billionaire bullies you ask? All of the team’s new talent will cost the Jays around $160 million over the next five years. No need to worry though, the Marlins will be picking up a whopping $8.5 million of that total as part of the trade.

After finishing a modest 73-89 in 2012, it’s not hard to see why baseball fans north of the border were eager to finally support a GM that understood that in order to compete in the American League East, you simply have to be willing to spend. Before the first wave of pitchers and catchers descended upon the freshly manicured fields of spring training, fans in Toronto showed their support for the team which was evident through an increase in merchandise and ticket sales. On paper, the sky was the limit and Torontonians allowed themselves to dream for the first time in 20 years.

With expectations at their highest since Marky Mark got down with the funky bunch, the Jays began their season versus the Cleveland Indians in front of a packed house. Unfortunately for the Jay’s however, they lost 4-1 and proceeded to drop the opening series losing two out of their first three games. Of course, the Blue Jays could lose consistently for the first half of the year and still have a chance to play in October. What the real concern should be however, is that after filling Rogers Center for their home opener, the second game of the series with the Indians saw approx. 20,000 fewer fans than the day before. After the initial interest surrounding all the expensive new faces subsided, attendance numbers for the first two series of the season [versus Cleveland and Boston] were significantly lower than expected.

With attendance figures where they have been for the past 15 years, the hype is quickly wearing off and without a drastic turnaround on the part of the Bluebirds, the future will look suspiciously similar to the past. R.A. Dickey, who was brought in to be the ”ace” of the staff, has struggled with his control, and has lost some of the movement on his knuckle ball. Thus far, Dickey has given up 10 earned runs with a 8.44 ERA in 10 2/3 innings over two starts.

The teams veteran newcomer Mark Buerhle who generally displays good control, was tagged for six runs on seven hits including two home runs, and also hit two batters. After having a career year in 2012, Edwin Encarnacion has gotten off to a slow start and adding to the frustration, perennial powerhouse Jose Bautista has already been sidelined in order to rest his wrist which has been causing him discomfort. Newly acquired starter Josh Johnson’s debut wasn’t anything to get excited about either as he surrendered three earned runs, on nine hits in just six innings of a no-decision versus the Red Sox. Jose Reyes has been one of the early bright spots hitting around the .435 mark and providing a solid defensive presence in the middle of the infield.

After their first seven games, the Jay’s record sits at just 2-5

Yes, the expectations are high and with a payroll comparable to that of baseball’s best, they should be. For not only the sake of the franchise, but also for the growth and development of Major League Baseball in Canada, the resurgence of the Blue Jays is absolutely necessary. For now, sports fans in Toronto are for the most part, focusing on the NHL’s Maple Leafs making the playoffs.

That won’t last forever and unless the Jay’s are in the midst of nothing more than a slow start, another year of mediocrity awaits baseball fans in Canada.