Alex Anthopoulos better have a nice shirt on Monday night. He’d better be freshly shaven and nicely coiffed because he is going to get the Brian Burke treatment: At least one camera will be trained on the Toronto Blue Jays’ general manager, ready to capture any hint of emotion.
Monday’s starter for the Texas Rangers, Yu Darvish, probably doesn’t know how big a deal he was in Toronto for a couple of weeks in the off-season. There were gusts of interest for Prince Fielder, but nothing to match the frenzy surrounding the posting process for Darvish, the highly touted Japanese free agent who ended up going to the Rangers for a six-year, $107.7-million (all currency U.S.) package, including a $51.7-million posting fee.
It was a fire spread through both conventional and social media that was impossible to snuff out, surviving even a buzz-killing statement by Anthopoulos at the winter meetings about payroll and revenue and attendance.
Blue Jays president Paul Beeston later said the organization did a poor job of managing fan expectations, because there was no way the Blue Jays were not going to be linked with Darvish. Beeston’s musings months before about a potential payroll of $120-million, plus the absence of a salary cap in baseball and a positive feeling about the club with the emergence of players such as Brett Lawrie, resulted in a confluence of sentiments that caused Darvish’s signing to become something of an article of faith, a sign that the team’s owner, Rogers Communications, was ready to let the payroll balloon in the first season of expanded playoffs.
The only problem was it wasn’t true. “It’s only money,” or “give us a cheque for $50-odd million this month,” doesn’t work in a publicly traded company. It is frustrating and means the Blue Jays must satisfy a unique set of financial questions to make the playoffs, but it’s also pretty much what Anthopoulos said at the winter meetings, no?
The Blue Jays have never admitted they made an offer for Darvish. Yet sources within Rogers have said the team did put in a bid in the neighbourhood of $20-million, roughly equivalent to the New York Yankees’ bid. It was a waste of time, frankly, but when Anthopoulos spoke at length to reporters before Sunday’s 7-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, there was an interesting nugget when he spoke about players the Blue Jays “had coming,” and how it was “not like starting a franchise from scratch,” which might explain why the organization didn’t push ownership on the matter.
Monday’s starter, Kyle Drabek, and Tuesday’s starter, Drew Hutchison, along with Sunday’s winner, Henderson Alvarez, are the green shoots of the type of cost-effective starting pitching that has provided the underpinning for the Tampa Bay Rays. Not every pitching prospect works out, but the Blue Jays have enough depth at different layers that they can reasonably expect a decent margin for error.
Besides, starting pitching hasn’t been an issue so far, not for a club that went into Sunday’s start with an earned run average (3.51) that was fourth best in the American League. And Alvarez provided the 24th consecutive start of at least five innings by a Blue Jays pitcher since Sept. 27, 2011.
That’s the longest run of that nature since the summer of 2007.
This is not to say that Darvish would not have had a positive impact on the Blue Jays. Darvish wouldn’t help Jose Bautista hit over .190 or Adam Lind rediscover the approach that made him a hitter to be reckoned with, and he wouldn’t bring Sergio Santos back to health. But his signing would have made the Blue Jays sexier and been an interesting marketing play. Darvish would have energized a sports market that has seen disappointment over repeated losing give way to the type of mean-spirited anger that makes you want to throw stuff.
Anthopoulos is right when he says it’s not his job to take that last factor into account, but that doesn’t mean a lot of people won’t be wondering tonight about the broader implications of the Blue Jays’ inaction on Darvish. The close-up will be on Anthopoulos, but the microscope remains very much on those above him. Trust is in short supply with Toronto sports fans.