The time is Now, Alex!



Pity Alex Anthopolous. The GM of the Blue Jays really has to pull off about 3 jobs, not just one. He has to sell tickets to the Rogers Centre, and in effect “sell” his company, the Blue Jays. He has to try to put a winning team on the field. And he has to do so on a budget provided him by one of Canada’s largest communications conglomerates which screams “Target”, not “Gucci”. Dominos take out, not French bistro sit-down. He could have it worse, mind you, he could be in Pittsburgh where the budget handed him screams “Dollar Store” or “mac n cheese.” Nevertheless, he has a difficult task at hand. He’s not at the helm of the good ship Maple Leafs nor the USS Yankees. Pity Alex Anthopolous.

Only not too much. Hell, much of last year, I had to do 3 jobs in one too– I had to follow blueprints to set up shelving in big, vacant stores, had to unload trucks and put the merchandise onto the said shelves, and had to try to supervise and motivate groups of kids about the age of MLB rookies to show up and do the same for ten bucks an hour. We managed to open 8 or 9 stores successfully, and for a whole lot less than Rogers is rewarding A.A. with. I’m sure many of you have challenging jobs as well, and that is why Alex, nice young man that he from all accounts is, better get upto speed, and fast while there still is a little public mercy at his disposal. Fact is, I’m not sure Mr Anthopolous grasps the challenge of his job, and as well, I’m not sure anyone involved with Rogers understands the depths of frustrations we Toronto fans suffer. Last weekend’s big and unexpected trade of Vernon Wells to Anaheim made me pause and feel a glimmer of hope that maybe- just maybe – Alex and the Jays juggernaut are starting to get it. Then they decided to trade the player who’d be of most use to the team – a veteran catcher who can hit, something the jays are sorely in need of now that John Buck has flown the coop – for yet another aging relief pitcher when they already had at least 11 viable candidates for a bullpen of seven. Not the apparent work of a baseball genius or of an organization which has much of a clue as to how to make a winner for its fans.

Yes, I’ll grant you, for awhile we ball fans up here were spoiled. From the mid-80s til the time of The Strike, we were pretty lucky up here. The Jays were consistently competitive, and of course managed to reward us with back to back World Series wins. We, in turn , rewarded them with the biggest attendances on record in the history of the game, something not often remembered in this day and age. Give us Ontario fans an exciting team with a chance to win and we’ll flock to them like Pearl Jam fans to a lumberjack shirt giveaway. But whenboth we and the franchise are neglected and even scorned by the ownership, our attention (and dollars) tend to drift away.

Alex has a gameplan, I’ll grant him that. Unfortunately, it is a continuation, more or less, of the gameplan put in play by his predecessor. A “5 Year Plan”. Forget the here and now; plan ahead for a decent team five years from now. We had some patience with that idea in ’96. And ’06. But the problem with that “plan” is that like “someday” in that Creedence song, the Jays 5 years never comes. We wait five years to be told, “another five years…”. We’re fed up. Your five years is up, Jays organization– we want a challenger now!

And the timing couldn’t be more apt. It is true that the Blue Jays would have had difficulty competing for a playoff spot in the past couple of years. But this season is different. Yes, the Red Sox will be good, and logically should be the odds-on favourite to win the division now that the likes of Ellsbury and Pedroia seem to be healthy and they’ve supplemented their roster with the under-rated Carl Crawford- possibly the only player ever with a nine-digit contract to be so-described. However, the Bosox do seem to have a proclivity for players who are injury-prone and even if they manage to stay healthy, which David Ortiz will DH for them… the lethargic, sub-.200 hitter, or the robust, RBI-producing money man of last year’s stretch (and of the championship years)? Even if we concede the division to New England (which we shouldn’t), there’s still a realistic chance for a well-managed Jays team to make the playoffs via the Wild card. And as last year’s playoffs showed, once the second season begins, anything can happen… the best team can have its best pitcher hurl a no-hitter to open the playoffs then somehow collectively forget how to put bat on ball a few days later. The Jays only aim should be to make the playoffs this season.

It is entirely doable, as neither New York nor Tampa are going to be as formidable as they have been recently, nor as they will likely be down the road. The Rays have simply thrown in the towel for the time being and as much as they will be entertained if nothing else by Manny being Manny they’ll still have difficulty finishing on the happy side of .500 this season. Don’t be fooled though– their minor league talent is quite deep, so give it a couple of years and the Rays may be stinging the opposition once again.

The Pinstripes on the other hand haven’t suffered from the loss of many name players on the roster. Quite the opposite. They’ve been cursed by the adherance of the name players to the roster.  It could be a long hot summer in the Bronx, enduring future Hall of Famer but now increasingly irrelevant Derek Jeter, the still good but far from great (in all but his own mind) A-Rod , and of course Mr. “i’m too damn good to pitch in canada” and his 5+ ERA taking to the mound with his tattoos and tantrums every fifth day. Sooner or later, the Yanks will ramp up their budget, bring on  Albert Puljos and/or Justin Verlander and/or Hanley Ramirez, and will be a 100 win juggernaut once again… but 2011 is not looking like that time.

Meanwhile, the Orioles, are shaping up at last, and have young talent…but not enough to fly too high in ’11. clearly,THIS is the year the Blue Jays need to put the pedal to the metal and win a championship, while there are still a few of us fans up here who give a damn.

As I said above, the job of the GM is multi-faceted. Certainly he has to have long-range vision just as much as short-term. But he also needs to please the fanbase, to ensure there will be people in the stands and on the couch watching the game on TV, tomorrow and 5 years from now. This part of the job seems just as elusive to Alex as it did to the constantly fractious JP Ricciardi who seemed to almost revel in upsetting and alienating Canadian fans. Everything the jays have chosen to do in the past few years has had the effect of annoying and alienating those of us who comprise the loyal fan base, from changing the team’s logo and colours to an ugly-Tampa Bay clone (even outgoing manager Cito Gaston told one Toronto newspaper that he didn’t like the current look of the team and preferred the earliest logo ) to trading off the best player the team ever developed, Roy Halladay, the player who, (unfortunately for the team) on the very day that Roberto Alomar was voted into the Hall of Fame , was chosen as the all-time favourite Blue Jay by a major newspaper poll. All for not-ready -for-prime-time kids, including a kid with “attitude” who’s dad sure could pitch! To make room for him this year, they gave away the new opening day starter, Shaun Marcum, something of a young Greg Maddux, for another damn minor leaguer. But we fans are supposed to cheer because the minor leaguer we got in return is Canadian. And has “attitude”.

Well, enough is enough! It’s making me have an “attitude”! I don’t want 19 year old snotty-nosed kids who MIGHT, just possibly MIGHT, become decent ballplayers a decade down the road. names like Guillermo Quiroz, Russ Adams, Gustavo Chacin and even less memorable can’t misses who, in fact, missed have soured me (and most of Toronto) on that concept.  I want a winner now! And Toronto isn’t that far away, Alex, so go for it!!


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