North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Jays Trade Makes for A Big Day in the GTA

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Yesterday was a pretty big day for Toronto sports: the Blue Jays pulled off what’s maybe their biggest trade of all time. How big was it? The Jays were splashed over the Toronto Sun’s front page today, even over news of new evidence at Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s libel trial (to be fair, that also made the cover). It didn’t bump hockey off the Star, though.

The trade, briefly: Toronto gets Jose Reyes, Mark Beuhrle, Josh Johnson and John Buck from Miami in return for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez and Jeff Mathis. The Jays gave up a shortstop everyone already figured was on his way out anyway, a nice prospect in Hechavarria and a nice young pitcher in Alvarez. And Miami has shed something close to $90 million from it’s 2012 opening day roster now.

It’s hard not to be of two minds with this deal: it’s great for the Jays, who at the least are showing a willingness to spend. After all, as per a TSN report, their payroll is up to $120 million now. Gone are the low-budget, sabremetric days of JP Ricciardi, where the mandate was to win while spending as little as possible. This is a nice splash in the AL East and at the very least, it shows the Jays are willing to compete for players with the rest of the division. Maybe the surging Baltimore Orioles last year lit a fire under ownership. Maybe a season plagued by injuries gave cause for a deeper rotation.

After all, the Jays pitching was seriously short in depth last year. Four of their five starters, including Alvarez, were hurt in one 12-game span last June. They made moves to bolster their rotation, including a trade for JA Happ, but without a ton of success. They slipped down below .500 and stayed there as the season wound down. Now there’s reason to believe their 2013 rotation will look something like this: Romero, Beuhrle, Johnson, Happ and Morrow. I think it’s great.

But it’s hard not to feel a little bad about this. Yesterday was the third time the Miami Marlins have had a fire sale in their short history. Three times they’ve dumped a large portion of their talent and slashed their payroll. As recently as last season, when they adopted new uniforms, a new stadium and signed big names, it looked like they wanted to make a run at the postseason. Now? This is yet another time Jeffrey Loria’s name is attached to the gutting of a baseball team. In a typically fiery column, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan levels blows at Loria, Bud Selig and others. He’s joined by a chorus of voices from disgruntled fans and disgruntled players. It’s a really shitty deal for Marlin fans.

It reminds me a little of a famous Toronto trade people here like to remember.  A little over 20 years ago, Cliff Fletcher fleeced the Calgary Flames in a trade that brought Doug Gilmour to the Leafs. In essence, Calgary traded a Hall of Famer for someone who was flipped again after 60 games, someone who scored five goals in two seasons, two replacement level defenceman and a career backup. Where you live depends on how you view that: was it the best move the Leafs ever made? Or did a big city team with money to burn rip off a small market team? I don’t really know how I should feel, at least not yet.

A final thought: right now, I’m reading Rosie DiManno’s new biography of Pat Burns. I’ll have a review of that shortly at The Good Point, but an excerpt seems appropriate right now.

When Burns came to the Leafs in the summer of 1992, the Jays were the darlings of Toronto, even over the Leafs. Truth be told, the Leafs had been pretty awful for a long stretch – hadn’t posted a .500 season since the 70’s – and the Jays were winning the AL East. But still, it’s weird to imagine something like this happening now:

By October 26, Toronto had surprisingly racked up five wins in their last six starts. And still most sports fans were far more preoccupied with baseball. Burns liked it that way, even when the Gardens crowd broke off to applaud Jays score updates on the scoreboard. “It’s a tough feeling for the players, hard to concentrate with all the baseball cheers.”

Just yesterday, I was lamenting how Toronto’s a Leaf town first and foremost. And while I don’t see that changing anytime soon, it’s pretty easy to overlook how successful the Jays were 20 seasons ago. They were selling the SkyDome out on a regular basis, were being blasted all over Canada via CTV and TSN (back when they weren’t the same company, I believe) and people were cheering for them even at Leaf games.

Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that Stephen King called the SkyDome the “Spookydome” because it was cavernously empty during a 2004 Leafs playoff run. If the Leafs are still awful (or even not playing) when opening day comes around, could we see something like this happen again? God knows I’d love to see it.

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Written by M.

November 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm

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