North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Toronto sports

Price, at what Price (or: Why Are You Hate-Reading the Papers?)

Optional soundtrack to this post: “Do you know what I’m telling you? Is there something you don’t understand?”

A couple of days ago, David Price signed one of the biggest contracts in Major League Baseball history. Like, it’s huge: $217 million over seven years. For comparison, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park cost $216 to build. We’re past talking about regular money here, we’re into the world of gobs of liquid capital.

So, was anyone surprised Toronto didn’t re-sign Price? That they didn’t offer him a contract? That, allegedly, ex-General Manager Alex Anthopoulos would’ve offered him a deal? Apparently, yeah, a lot of people were.

I’m not really here to argue the merits of ignoring or non-signing or whatever you’d like to call what Toronto did; personally, I’d call it smart roster management, but that’s just me. After all, Price is 33 years old and will now be on the books until he’s 40. Toronto is a win-now team, sure, but seven years is a long ass time and who know where they’ll be in three or five, let alone seven, years anyway?

Besides, they’re still good. I guess not as good as they were last August, but remember: Toronto didn’t have Price or Stroman last season until the back-end of the year and they were still pretty damn good going into July. They have Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. They’ve finally added a lefty starter: JA Happ, who was a fun Jay back a couple of years ago. Let’s not start grinding our molars here.

No, what I’m interested in is the media and the doom and gloom attitude around the Greater Toronto Area around this signing. It’s in the media and it’s on Twitter. It’s probably on the radio, too, but I’ve recently transitioned into a person who listens exclusively to 680 News because there’s less bullshit on a 30 Minute News Wheel. And man, the takes just keep on comin’.

Let’s start with Cathal Kelly. He’s best known for purveying steaming hot takes as a way to establish his brand as the new lead voice for the Globe and Mail (see here, here and here) and really topped his usual fare with his Dec. 1 column! To wit:

If (the Blue Jays) were seriously committed to winning now, they would have. They’d have enjoyed those good early years in the deal, and eaten the rest.

Since the Jays are not committed to winning – not in the dictionary-definition sense of the word – they chose not to bother.

Ah yes, Toronto doesn’t care and they’re not committed to winning. He reminds his ideal reader – someone who can’t handle more than one sentence in a paragraph, I assume – never to mix up winning with turning a profit, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure the Jays turned a profit when they sold out every game in September and October, when their ratings were higher up here than in the United States. But Kelly has the inside scoop, sources telling him exactly why Rogers doesn’t want to spend money. Oh wait, no, he’s actually got a lot of subjective opinions. Almost the same thing.

You remember that feeling you had in September? That queasy, unfamiliar tingle? An all-over nervous tension that came on in waves in the evening?

In all likelihood, you won’t be feeling it again any time soon.

Mmm, yes. That tingly feeling. I get that every time I read a Kelly column, too. I think it’s called “anxiety.”

But wait, there’s more! A story broke today suggesting Anthopoulos would have offered Price a deal. This’ll feed right into the baser elements of the Toronto media market, which liked AA because he talked to them (even if he didn’t really say much) and because it gives them a new spin on things: an American guy kicked out a Canadian and decided to let the best player they had ever walk.

It’s all pretty “ugh” and “oh boy” with little revisionism mixed in. For all the cool moves AA made, he also made a lot of clunkers. Sure, he brought RA Dickey to Toronto and gave the rotation a solid 200-inning guy, but the pieces he sent to the Mets were a big part of a team who made the NLCS. Sure, he brought in Tulowitzki and Donaldson, but the deals that brought in the players whom he traded? That big deal with Florida, for example, doesn’t look so good now.

In sum, AA made some good moves, but he made some bad ones too and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he really raided the farm system, particularly this year. At the same time, he saw an opportunity to make a World Series run and he exploited what he had. Flags fly forever, as the stock line goes. But he’s gone and nothin’s going to bring him back.

Which is what makes this current media cycle almost unbearable. Both AA and Price are gone and instead of being happy for what they had, the media is getting people mad over what could’ve been, if things worked out perfectly. It misses the point and almost undermines what Kelly might call that October Feeling: instead of remembering how goddamn fun playoff baseball was, the media wants to do is get mad and read the latest hot take. It’s a cycle, feeding off itself and cycling ever downwards. It reminds me a lot of another media-made scandal from about a year ago, when the columnists riled everyone up because the Leafs wouldn’t raise their sticks after games.

I think what I’m trying to say is be happy for the good times and look forward to what could be, not what you can’t have. Rather than getting mad about losing Price, look forward to a full season of Stroman and Donaldson. Instead of hate-reading Kelly, Simmons or the other outrage-purveyors, go read Andrew Stoeten or Stacey May Fowles. Go follow Ruhee or Chill Kessel on Twitter. Ask yourself: why would I spend my days getting all mad about the Jays when they’re literally as good as they’ve been in over two decades.

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Summer Madness – The Jays In September

When I last checked in on the Jays in mid-June, they’d won 11 straight games, often crushing their opponents. Especially Boston in a 13-5 win. Funny how things change, eh?

 

Yesterday, the Jays beat the Detroit Tigers by 15-1, just absolutely crushing them. It was a hell of a day at the plate for everybody (except Tulowitzki, who struck out four times), but especially for Edwin Encarnacion, who hit three home runs. Which is, holy shit, a lot of dingers. It’s great and I love it.

 

Right now – an hour or two before Sunday’s game against the Tigers – Toronto’s record is 73-56. They’re a game and half up in the AL East, are planning on selling playoff tickets for the first time in decades and everybody #LovesThisTeam. Even the grouchy Toronto sports media (who, you’ll notice, aren’t calling on Gibbons’ firing any longer).

 

Things are swell, which is a weird kind of feeling to have about the team this late in the season. Normally by this point, I’ve seen the Jays live a few times and they’re out of the pennant race, so it’s easy to get tickets and wander around the Dome.

 

Not so this year. Not only has security been amped up, but also it’s harder to get around the stadium these days. I’ve been told that the Flight Deck (nee Windows Restaurant) is being sold as standing room only seats. No more dropping ten bucks on 500 seats and spending the day down in the patio.

 

Earlier in the summer, my buddy Eric and I decided to hit the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame instead of watching a game; since then tickets have become expensive on the re-sale market and almost sold out from the box office. I’ve been waiting until I can see them live before I write about this team, but I won’t be seeing a game until September (I’m planning on seeing two, actually).

 

I’m just glad I can get to a game at all, since the Jays are a hot ticket this summer. And just about everybody I know has some strong take on how cool this team is. The guy at work who’s never mentioned sports at all before now says he loves baseball, all the bars in town suddenly have big Jays flags they trot out for games and the local bakery has broken out a Jays-themed birthday cake, complete with a big logo in the middle and what looks like basepaths around the trim.

 

The big difference between this team now and back in June is basically just two players, both of whom are fan favourites and are really, really good. One is Troy Tulowitzki who replaced Jose Reyes at shortstop and the other is ace pitcher David Price, picked up from Detroit at the deadline.

 

Although Tulo hasn’t been hitting as well as he did in Colorado – .300/.348/.471 there vs .227/.331/.373 here – but is still a blast to watch. In his first game as a Jay, Tulo smacked a dinger off of Philadelphia’s Jerome Williams. He’s only hit three more since then, but I’ve quickly seen a spike in people wearing his jersey. He’s a popular fella.

 

Price, on the other hand, is a blast to watch. Not only is he the best pitcher on the team, but he’s arguably one of the best in baseball: a 2.42 ERA, a 5.4 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) and about 10 strikeouts per nine innings. I think my favourite start of his came against the Los Angeles Angels a week or so ago, when he struck out nine through eight innings, including Mike Trout twice. For the first time in a long time, the Jays have a pitcher who gives a feeling that anything can happen with a start, even a no-hitter.

 

Two things have marked Toronto this summer. The first is the Jays, who were eight games back in the AL East on July 28. The other is Drake, who found himself in a hip-hop beef after Meek Mills accused him of using ghostwriters. Both struck back with force: the Jays ripped off a win streak and jumped three teams to lead the division within a month; Drake dropped “Back to Back,” and took Mills to the cleaners both in a record and on the stage at OVO Fest. Fittingly, Drake’s album art was a photo of Joe Carter rounding the bases after hitting the series-clinching home run in the 1993 World Series.

 

Yes, it was a shot at noted Phillies fan Mills, but in another sense it’s fitting; just like Drake, the Jays have bounced back with a vengeance. It’s going to be a fun September.

Written by M.

August 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Off Season: The Jays in 2013

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A few Fridays ago, me and maybe 17 thousand of my closest friends caught a Jays game at the Rogers Centre. It was a fun game: RA Dickey pitched well, settling down after allowing two dingers in the first two innings and Brett Lawrie caught a pitch in the face, then slid into second a few minutes later because why the hell wouldn’t he. I enjoyed myself. It was one of those late summer games that felt fun, even if the lineup was all second-stringers and AAA callups and the results didn’t really matter. It was a feeling I had for most of this Jays season.

Last winter, the Jays revamped the team, adding a great young shortstop, another good pitcher and a guy who’d pitched a perfect game once. Then, in a separate deal, they added a Cy Young-winning pitcher for good measure. This came on top of an already a promising young team: in 2012, the Jays had hung in there until a disastrous injury streak blew their season to shreds. They had dangerous hitters like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnación. Hanging out in centre field is Colby Rasmus, who alternately disappeared and played like a beast.

The big expected question mark was hanging out at third: Lawrie, who has a ton of potential and a ton of rage. He’s like the guy who knows what he wants and knows he can do it, but when he tries, everything just slips through his fingers like sand. As it turned out, there were more pressing concerns this year than him, but watching Lawrie progress was an interesting experience. There were times when he seemed like everything was coming together and there were times when it seemed like everything was falling apart, like when he banged up a water cooler.

Indeed, the biggest question this season is “what happened?” As in, what happened to the team that 19 different ESPN Experts thought would win the AL East. Hell, four people even had them in the World Series (one even had them winning!).

It’s a question I’m kind of tired of hearing about. This summer, sports talk radio was brimming with angst and loathing, with pundits picking at everything and offering their expertise. Some people had better ideas than others; some people even held out hope the Jays could compete until mid-May. But by the time Canada Day rolled around, it didn’t matter what any of them had to say. Between injuries, problems with the starting rotation and an overtaxed bullpen, this wasn’t the Jays season. The moments that stick in my mind are the ugly ones: JP Arencibia dropping knuckleballs in the home opener, Rasmus walking back to the dugout after yet another strikeout and Jose Reyes exploding at an umpire.

The only positive thing standing out is the legend of Munenori Kawasaki. Called up from Buffalo in late April, he had a memorable year and, improbably, became a fan favourite here in the GTA. An example: against Baltimore on May 26, Toronto went into the ninth inning down by three runs. They rallied: Arencibia knocked in Encarnación, Mark DeRosa scored Adam Lind. With two out and runners on first and third, Kawasaki hit a line drive, scoring the game-winning run. His postgame interview went viral; I actually remember it getting more coverage than the game itself. He had other moments: a game-tying home run (his only one of the year) in June, getting four hits against Baltimore in September, knocking in two runs (with another scoring on an error) in the ninth against Cleveland in July. By the time I saw the Jays in late September, Kawasaki – who hit just .229/.326/.308 over the year – was playing at DH. His 66 jersey was all over, too: I’m sure I saw more of those around than I did Reyes, Buehrle or Encarnación jerseys.

So, what happens from here? I don’t really know. Some of my friends think the Jays should fire Gibbons. My dad thinks both Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos. I don’t think Toronto needs such a drastic change: pitchers have bad seasons, injuries can strike any time and sometimes they can all happen at once. It wasn’t bad management that led to Reyes getting hurt early in the season and Brett Lawrie getting hurt before it even began. But there are gaps: Arencibia’s struggled and barely remains more than a replacement-level player and the pitching rotation often seemed ragged: Happ was constantly lackluster, Josh Johnson’s battled injuries and an ERA that rose above 6.00 and quick fixes like Chien-Ming Wang often went down in flames.

For me, the big takeaway from this season is the disastrous effects of hype. Toronto went into this season riding a crest of anticipation and hyperbole, in no small encouraged by the also Rogers-owned Sportsnet radio and TV stations. They were hyped to the heavens and sold as a winning team. The ads for the Jays had them posing on a stage in front of wild crowds as Metric’s Stadium Love boomed in the background. The implication was celebration before anything had been achieved. Funny how that one turned out: when things didn’t go swimmingly, people felt scorned and turned on the Jays. As the sportswriter cliche goes, that’s why they play the games.

Remember how four ESPN staff picked the Jays to win it all? The same number of people had Boston making the playoffs. Nobody had them winning anything. It’s like William Goldman says: “Nobody knows anything.”

And I suppose Boston is the flip side to this season. They went from worst to first, poaching the Jays old manager in the process, and had all the success people thought would go Toronto’s way. Maybe some part of me is supposed to be upset about them winning, maybe I’m supposed to still feel angry at John Farrell. Truth be told: I don’t really care anymore. He didn’t want to be in Toronto so he left.  Personally, I’ve have fired him for losing control of the clubhouse, but I don’t have any sympathy for him either. I just don’t care. Last night, for the first time in a few years, I turned the World Series clinching game off early and went to bed. 2013 wasn’t a great baseball season, but at least the new one is only a few months away.

Written by M.

November 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

What Brian Burke’s Toronto legacy should be

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It’s been a few days now since the Maple Leafs relieved Brian Burke  of his duties as General Manager and the media storm is only now starting to subside.

The key word is starting: this weekend, both TSN and Sportsnet led with his Saturday afternoon press conference. But I think that’s probably the last gasps of this story. Thank fucking god.

They fired Burke last Wednesday afternoon. It led all the sports networks that night and even got mention on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (albeit at the tail end of their rapid-fire, final minute segment). Toronto’s media more than made up for any lack of US attention though: the Toronto Sun had over a dozen pages on Burke’s firing on Thursday, not to mention supplementary coverage over the past few days. They’re not alone in this blanket coverage: the Toronto Star has some 23 stories on Burke’s firing, not to mention coverage in the Globe and Mail and National Post. It’s being spun in every direction, including towards teams I enjoy watching like the Raptors (is Colangelo in trouble too?) and always mean to watch (is this related to the FC hiring a coach who still plays soccer in Europe?).

Honestly, though, I’m having a hard time working myself up to caring. I’ve written about Burke here before (and at The Good Point) and I don’t really have anything new to offer about his tenure: he rolled the dice and lost. The Leafs aren’t really in a better position now than they were before he came here. But that happens and I’m not really interested in discussing what happens next.

I don’t really care if the Leafs trade away Kessel, trade for Luongo or buy out one of their several overpaid players. I’m more interested in what’s going to happen to the stuff Burke did to the Leafs that isn’t related to the on-ice play.

As a great post at The Leafs Nation makes clear, Burke was a pioneer in inclusiveness in hockey. He was behind the Right to Play campaign, he marched in the Toronto Pride parade and he was an outspoken opponent of homophobia in sports. As much as I might disagree with some of his opinions – especially on the merits of Brad May – I’m a fan of these. I don’t think anyone else in the NHL has done what he has to make their team inclusive.

And it goes beyond the Leafs, too. Last summer, Canucks forward Manny Malhotra marched in Vancouver’s Pride parade. San Jose’s Tommy Wingels marched in the Chicago Pride parade, too. The NHL is leading all four leagues in this regard, even if there’s still some jerks.

But of all four Toronto teams, the Leafs are the most active on this front by a wide margin. The Jays haven’t made an It Gets Better video, even after what went down with Yunel Escobar. Neither have the Raptors, Toronto FC or Argonauts, although to be fair, the Raptors had a pride night in 2011. So there’s plenty of room for improvement in Toronto sports.

I hope Burke’s efforts in this vein are what his legacy in Toronto is, not his awful trades or draft picks that haven’t panned out or a revolving door in net. Burke made great strides and I hope the rest of Toronto’s teams keep moving in this direction. Especially the Leafs.

Written by M.

January 14, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Is this the bottom for the Raptors?

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Maybe you stayed up late on Monday to see the Raptors western road trip end in a disastrous 92-74 loss to Portland. Maybe you gave up halfway through. I wouldn’t blame you. Bargnani seemed to check out sometime last week.

The Raptors are coming off their worst road trip I can remember. They lost every game on the trip, have lost five in a row and 10 of their last 11. Kyle Lowry, arguably their best player this year, is hurt for the second time this season. So is Bargnani, which just might send his trade stock into the sub-basement. In so many words, things are not good. And everyone’s feeling the pressure.

Hours before gametime on Monday, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo hit the airwaves for some damage control. He appeared on Sportsnet 590’s Prime Time Sports and later on TSN Radio 1050. Both times he talked about how the season is salvable. He insisted coach Dwane Casey is not on the hot seat. Never mind how he said the same about Sam Mitchell once upon a time, when the team was playing a lot better.

But the thing is, Casey should not be on the hotseat. Colangelo should be. He’s been with the Raptors since 2006, had three coaches and drafted at the top of the lottery. Under him, Toronto made the playoffs twice and lost in the first round twice. In one of those series Toronto even had home-court advantage. They have a young core in DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas but he refuses to build around them: hence big contracts for Bargnani and the luring of Lowry.

I’ve written before about Toronto’s cult of the now: go big, swing for the fences and win now! It’s the rationale behind the Kessel trade, behind the Jays bringing in Roger Clemens. And it never works, either. None of the moves Colangelo has tried since 2006 has worked, really. It’s always a huge cut of a swing and it always whiffs. Just look at one such chain: at the 2008 draft, Toronto drafted, then flipped Roy Hibbert to Indiana as part of the trade bringing Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto. It didn’t work. O’Neal was later flipped for Shaun Marion, who was actually kind of a decent Raptor. But his expiring contract helped give Toronto room to trade for Hedo Turkoglu. Not only did this move fail to accomplish the noted goal of improving the team, but it helped force Bosh out the door. Eventually, Toronto somehow turned Turkoglu over to Phoenix for Leandro Barbosa. Still, look at this chain: the drafting of a young center – the kind of player they hoped Bargnani would become – into a revolving door of parts that didn’t fit.

And that’s what Toronto looks like now: a bag of ill-fitting parts. According to a recent Bruce Arthur column, tempers flared at a team meeting after an ugly loss at Utah. Sure, Bargnani got some blame, but anger was directed Lowry’s way too. Tempers continued to boil on Monday when Amir Johnson threw his mouthguard at a ref. Now he’ll miss the next game, too. The Raptors aren’t fitting together on the court: Ed Davis has been one of their best players – but he’s stuck in a  rotation behind Johnson, Bargnani and Valanciunas. All people he’s outplaying.

Things are bad here. I’m not too sure how they can get worse, but I’m sure they’ll find a way. I’m not sure Bargnani will last the season here, but I don’t even know if that’s the right move: he’s going to be hard to deal away after all this and you’d have to really sweeten the pot to get a team to bite. Sure, Toronto should try and play great this season since they’re not likely to have a pick this year – their pick is protected only if it’s between 1 and 3 – but is making another big splash going to improve this team? And given Colangelo’s track record with big splashy moves, is it worth the risk?

Written by M.

December 12, 2012 at 12:17 am

Trading Bargnani for a three-dollar bill

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I’ve written about this before, but my favorite Hunter Thompson line is the one he used to describe a meaningless NBA trade in a later ESPN.com column: Like flipping a used mattress for a three-dollar bill. The unwanted for the useless. It’s kind of sad how often I think about that line when I think about Toronto sports.

Right now the Raptors are sinking fast. They’ve lost three in a row, nine of their last ten and sit on the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They’ve lost every in-division game this season, only won one road game and have more losses than the hapless Washington Wizards (to be fair, the Wiz have played fewer games).

Toronto is losing games at the buzzer and losing games by 30 points. They’re losing thanks to blown calls and losing after a near-miracle near-comeback. In so many words, they’re finding ways to lose, new creative ways I’ve never seen before, even in those ugly post-Carter, pre-playoff years. It’s disheartening, at least when I can bear to watch. More and more this year, I’m finding myself listening to the games on the radio, where at least I don’t have to see the Raptors blow a lead or see Bargnani toss up another clutch airball. I try to be an optimist, but it’s hard with this team. I don’t think I’m alone.

I’m only familiar with him through his resigned-sounding Twitter account (example: a “topes lose” post after every Raptors loss), but National Post beat scribe Eric Koreen has turned on Bargnani, writing first how the forward’s pretty much what he’ll ever be and more recently looking at trade options. Over at Sportsnet, Holly MacKenzie recently wrote it’s time to break up with Bargnani, making a case that this season isn’t exactly Bargnani’s fault, but:

The reality is it has been nearly seven years and the Bargnani + Toronto equation has not produced the answer each side wants.

And that’s the biggest mark against Bargnani. Everyone likes to hammer the things he does wrong: his lackluster help defence, his tendency to settle for shots rather than going to the basket, the strange ability to be defended by someone much shorter than him. But those are all echoes. We know those, we’ve known them for years. It’s 2012 and as Koreen pointed out, we know who Bargnani is. He’s not going to walk through that door playing like Dirk Nowitzki anytime soon.

So, the question about him and this probably-lost Raptor season boils down to what happens next. I think it’s a safe assumption Jose Calderon will be gone after this year, probably to take a backup role on a much better team. With a recent contract extension, DeMar DeRozan is the de-facto face of the team. And waiting in the wings is Ed Davis, who can’t play while Jonas Valanciunas and Bargnani are on the floor. Something has to change.

Enter the trade rumours. One, which keeps getting word of mouth and got as far as sources telling ESPN about it’s rejection is a trade where Bargnani and Calderon would be flipped to LA for Pau Gasol. From a GTA-point of view, it sounds fantastic. From a LA point of view, not so much. I’m not sure there’s any reason why LA would make that trade: there’s not much of value coming to the Lakers, especially given Bargnani’s play of late, and it’s obvious Toronto needs to make a move. I can’t say I’d blame them for pressing to a move like this which also nets them DeMar and rids them of an excess point guard.

Enter the above metaphor. Given how he’s played this season, I can’t imagine Toronto will get anything of value back for Bargnani, unless he’s paired with one of the teams assets. But the Raptors have precious few: Jonas, DeMar and Ed Davis, all of whom I hope are the core of this team, making them nearly-untouchable. There’s no first-round pick to package Bargnani with. There’s one nice expiring contract, but good luck finding someone willing to ship you back nearly $20 in salary on a contract that won’t become an albatross around this team’s neck.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the eventual Bargnani trade will end up looking something like this. It could be worse. They’ve made worse trades in the past.

Written by M.

December 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

Toronto’s a Leafs Town, even when they’re not playing

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Over at Backhand Shelf, Christ Lund has a good piece about the state of minor hockey in the GTA. I suggest you read it, he’s nailed the problem with the OHL in the greater Toronto area: it’s not working and it’s going away quickly.

This is the last season for the Brampton Battalion, who will play next season in North Bay. This can’t be much of a surprise, since the Battalion couldn’t even draw 2,000 people per game in 2010-11. Other teams, like the Mississauga Steelheads (formerly the Majors) or Oshawa Generals do a little better but are hardly on the same map as the Leafs. There’s a good lesson here: Toronto likes it’s hockey, but mostly when it’s wearing blue and white and playing in the Air Canada Centre.

And the lesson there isn’t just specific to the AHL and OHL, either. It covers a little bit of everything for the Toronto teams, too.

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