You think Paul Beeston was dreaming when he talked Monday about getting grass to grow at a baseball-specific Rogers Centre?
That's nothing. It turns out he envisions the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs two or three times in the next five years. Boom, as the kids say.
Again, Beeston, the president of the Blue Jays, actually said to a gathering of some 900 season-ticket holders: "I would expect that in the next five years, we would be in [the playoffs]two to three times."
This is important, considering his blue-sky musing about a $120-million payroll as far back as April, 2010, turned into some kind of article of faith with Blue Jays fans without the caveat he attached then: Revenues would need to be sufficient to sustain a payroll at that level.
It is also important because, in a not-very-subtle way, Beeston just told team owner Rogers Communications Inc. the time to test its resolve is just around the corner.
Time, in other words, to ante up.
For an organization that has done a poor job of managing its message this baseball off-season – and make no mistake, in the Twitter world that is an absolute necessity – Monday's function was a masterpiece of subtlety.
There were the usual questions about ticket prices, merchandise and replays on the videoboard and, while there was some criticism of the Blue Jays' quiet off-season and aforementioned failure to manage their message, it was master of ceremonies Buck Martinez who dragged out the 300-pound elephant in the room by asking Beeston and general manager Alex Anthopoulos about first baseman Prince Fielder, who signed a nine-year, $214-million (U.S.) free-agent contract with the Detroit Tigers without getting a sniff from the Jays.
That gave Beeston a chance to hammer home the point that he is philosophically opposed to long-term contracts of more than five years. Anthopoulos would later say "nothing is carved in stone" and Beeston had "evolved" with the game to the point where he had moved beyond his stance that a contract should not be longer than three years. But Beeston crafted his answer carefully, noting that to offer contracts of six or seven years to free agents this winter would have meant going against principles the team had put in place in previous negotiations.
Such as the five-year, $65-million deal outfielder Jose Bautista signed last spring, for example.
A cynic would of course note it's a convenient excuse for not spending in the free-agent market or running interference for ownership – arguing about a person's philosophy for running a team is like arguing with a manager about a decision based on a gut feeling – but it's a better and much-clearer explanation than had been given previously.
It was almost as if the Blue Jays didn't know what to do with the good will and sense of fan excitement they found themselves with at the end of the 2011 season.
They squandered some of that currency and Monday was an attempt to build it back up, with Anthopoulos getting in the act and stating clearly that a particular trade he didn't make – let's take a wild stab here, folks, and say it was for Seattle Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda – fell apart because the other team wanted a major-league-ready player off the Blue Jays roster.
(Several sources say that player was third baseman Brett Lawrie; the Blue Jays balked and instead the Mariners did some good business with the New York Yankees, landing catcher Jesus Montero.)
One of the most intriguing suggestions put forth by Beeston – in response to a fan question – was that there had been discussion into the logistics of putting down a permanent natural grass field at the Rogers Centre.
The technology exists, to the point where Beeston said it was not just a theoretical discussion.
That would necessitate the Rogers Centre being configured as a full-time baseball stadium, Beeston said, which would not be good news for another building tenant, the Toronto Argonauts. The Argos' lease expires after the 2012 CFL season.