As the Toronto Blue Jays open up a new season today, it’s worth looking back at where they’ve taken us over the past four seasons
For the past four seasons, my feelings toward the Blue Jays have oscillated between two extremes: unbounded optimism and unrepentant pessimism.
It began with the dramatic remaking of the team during the 2012 off-season. After a flurry of unexpected activity, the Blue Jays went from afterthoughts in the American League East to early near-universal favourites to win it all. We were told to start planning a parade for early November, should it even take the Blue Jays that long to realize their destiny.
The additions of Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Emilio Bonifacio around a nucleus that already included the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Morrow, J.P. Arencibia, and Ricky Romero (rebound contender, remember?) primed the team for years of steady contention. Even the addition of Maicer Izturis (remember him?) was given a positive interpretation. All we needed was the return of John Gibbons to solidify the transition.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as planned or advertised. Gibbons didn’t fight anyone, but that was kind of the problem: there was no fight in this team despite a roster full of past, present, and future all-stars. (The Blue Jays sent four players to the Midsummer Classic that year, including relievers Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar – crazy!) The only consistent thing about the season on the whole was Johnson’s unrivaled dominance of the infirmary. (We got arguably one good start out of him, a six-inning performance on June 23 that pushed the team’s then-winning streak to 11 games, where it would also end.)
The Blue Jays finished 74-88 that season. Things were so bad, and diverged so greatly from pre-season expectations, that Shi Davidi and John Lott wrote a book about it.
Yes, it was that ugly.
The same sense of pre-season optimism gave way to mid-summer disappointment in 2014. The Blue Jays’ failure to act at the trade deadline signaled to both the players and the fans that management was not really all-in-it to win it. When the Yankees acquired Chase Headley (!) while the Blue Jays stood pat with Danny Valencia playing third base in place an injured Lawrie, a collective sigh of surrender rang out in Toronto.
Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin joined the team during the 2014 off-season, filling two major gaps in the lineup, but it looked like the same basic script would play itself out again as the 2015 Blue Jays, rebuking expectations, continued to flirt with mediocrity heading into the second-half of the season. A 45-46 record simply wasn’t good enough to compete with the division-leading Yankees (48-40), or that’s how many of us felt at the time anyway. The Blue Jays were wasting away their current core of players by failing to adjust course mid-season for the third year in a row now; a change was desperately needed, but it would never come, right?
What almost certainly would have ended in disappointment was suddenly transformed into unbounded excitement and optimism when then-general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to take the gamble that he denied himself (and the players and the fans by extension) the two previous years: out went a bunch of prospects, in came a bunch of veterans led by David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. The rest of the 2015 was pure magic – Donaldson would win the MVP award, the Blue Jays would win the division and make it to the doorstep of the World Series. Meaningful baseball was back and the future looked bright for the Blue Jays: they finally got their guys, they finally realized their potential.
The 2016 season began under the weight of these expectation. We lost Price and Anthopoulos in the off-season, but added J.A. Happ and Drew Storen. When the season began, the Blue Jays were still the best team in the division – there was plenty of reason for optimism – but the actual season played out somewhat differently. Storen was an absolute bust, and it felt like the Blue Jays never really hit their stride. They were in a Wild Card fight for most of the season while a resurgent Red Sox quickly took over the division. This was the most uneasy, uneven season for me as fan; it wasn’t even clear that the Blue Jays would make the post-season until towards the very end of the season. It wasn’t a fun ride, but it was another memorable outcome: the Blue Jays beat the Orioles to claim the Wild Card, swept the Rangers in the ALDS, and made it to their second-straight ALCS before falling to a very talented Cleveland squad.
Would I trade these memories? No. Would I like to repeat them? No.
This brings us to the current season, where I need find myself caught somewhere between the wild pendulum swings of unbounded optimism and unrepentant pessimism. The loses of Encarnacion and Cecil this past off-season still hurt, but I look forward to the debuts of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. The Blue Jays remain a good team, and the playoffs are certainly within their reach, but they’re no longer the 2015 team and Boston is the team to watch in the American League East going forward. I wouldn’t call it ambivalence since I’m very much tied into the team’s success, but I feel a sense of contentment about this team: good, but not great, it should be a fun season to watch.
This is a new feeling for me, but a welcome one as well. After all of the emotional highs and lows of the past four years, my little Blue Jays heart needs a break.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: GENEVIEVE DUCRET UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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