Alex Anthopoulos unveiled his long awaited blueprint for the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday and a by-product of his ambitious philosophy is likely more waiting for fans desperate to see a winner.
The rookie general manager from Montreal's vision is to build a franchise that can consistently win 95 games on the principle of sustained success through scouting and player development.
That's no simple undertaking in the American League East, home of the freshly minted World Series champion New York Yankees and wild-card winning Boston Red Sox, and Anthopoulos is adamantly against trying to take shortcuts to leapfrog them through free agency.
The gist for fans seeking signs of hope and an imminent end to a postseason drought stretching back to 1993? Be patient, forget about a boat-load of free agent signings this winter to bolster the club, and prepare yourself, barring a miracle turnaround, for ace Roy Halladay's departure, if not via trade then as a free agent after the 2010 season.
"I know that everything we will do will be obviously to improve the team, but it won't be the quick fix, or it won't be to sacrifice the ability to have a long, sustained run of success here," Anthopoulos said on a conference call ahead of his first general managers' meetings, which start Monday in Chicago. "We're not going to put all our eggs in one basket ... for one year at taking a shot at success and then sacrificing four years down the road."
It's a sensible approach both different from and similar to that of the fired J.P. Ricciardi, but one unlikely to resonate with an increasingly indifferent fan base or sit well with Halladay's win-now mindset, pointing to a looming divorce.
While Anthopoulos, clearly learning from his predecessor's mistakes, wouldn't out and out say Halladay was on the block or put any time frame on when the Blue Jays might be contenders again, you didn't need a magnifying glass to read between the lines.
"There are several players I'd be very reluctant to trade. That being said, I have to be open-minded to anything that could make this club better going forward," said Anthopoulos, adding later that: "[Halladay]stressed his timeline for winning and ours may not mesh and may not match."
Turning around a club that went 75-87 last year isn't overnight work, but that's essentially the timeframe in which they have to get a buy-in from Halladay. Anthopoulos assessed the roster by saying, "right now I think we have some of the pieces, I don't think we have all the pieces that we need" and surely one season isn't enough to fill all the holes.
Dealing Halladay has the potential to speed up the process, potentially bringing back several pieces to deepen the foundation, but it's a risky business, as the underwhelming return the Minnesota Twins received from the New York Mets for Johan Santana a few years go shows.
Anthopoulos is going to have to get it right.
The Blue Jays have few other chips to play - reliever Scott Downs and first baseman Lyle Overbay are the most obvious - which is why Anthopoulos characterizes the Blue Jays as a team that's building, rather than rebuilding.
"I think when people talk about a rebuild, it would be tearing down a team and trading away numbers of players. I don't know that we have that necessarily," he said. "I think we have a lot of good young players, I just don't think we have enough. I think we need to continue to add to those players."
The futures of free agents shortstops Marco Scutaro and John McDonald plus catcher Rod Barajas can be viewed through the same prism, as the Blue Jays would like to retain them but only if keeping them represents better value than allowing them to walk for compensatory draft picks.
Anthopoulos says he's looking at all his options and one rumour from the Arizona Republic said the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays were discussing an Overbay for catcher Chris Snyder deal. Such a move would be unlikely unless Arizona kicked in some cash since the Blue Jays would have little interest in taking on extra $4.25-million in salary, but it underlines his options.
"I'm not going to and I'm currently not actively shopping any of our players," said Anthopoulos. "What I'm actively doing is going after and pursuing what the alternatives are to some of our free agents, what the alternatives are to improving our club and maybe upgrading at certain spots."
Anthopoulos says he's more likely to be active on the trade market than in free agency this winter and that's likely to be the case until he feels the Blue Jays need a player or two to put them over the top.
He believes in building through the draft, international free agents, trades and minor-league free agents, which is why he's put so much emphasis on scouting and player development. Quietly, he's been scouring the majors trying to lift people he feels can help on those fronts, and plans to continue doing so.
"We've gotten a lot of people in this industry promoted, and a lot of people significant raises," said Anthopoulos. "We've targeted the best in the industry in all fields and teams have been very competitive to keep their employees."
Still, that doesn't sell tickets and that's something the Blue Jays need to do. They established a record low for attendance at the Rogers Centre when 11,159 attended Halladay's 4-1 loss to the Twins on Sept. 9, and their season total of 1,876,129 was their lowest since 2003, and well off last year's count of 2,400,416.
There's a chicken-and-the-egg argument to be had over whether you first spend money on players to get the crowds or wait for the crowds before you spend on players, but Anthopoulos believes that will all take care of itself.
He envisions the day when four million fans start streaming through the home turnstiles again and the Blue Jays have a payroll approaching baseball's top five, somewhere around $120 million.
"With respect to payroll, there's really no defined number going into next season ... ownership is fully committed to giving us the payroll if the right baseball opportunity presents itself," said Anthopoulos. "This place can be an incredible opportunity because the fan base is here, when we start winning the fans will come out, there's no doubt in my mind, and we do have the wherewithal with the market and with our ownership to keep our players going forward.
"We certainly can be up there with the Anaheims, the Chicagos and even with the Bostons. When we do get to the point where we are winning, we can sustain it."
The vision is a grand one. Now to the business of delivering on it.