Over the weekend, Drew Storen began his career as a Toronto Blue Jay by name-checking the city’s Batman and Robin – Drake and city councillor Norm Kelly.
The relief pitcher is from Indiana. He went to college in California. He played minor-league ball in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Syracuse before landing as a 23-year-old regular with the Washington Nationals.
This is not generally a recipe for cosmopolitanism, but it shows how much PR value there is in just one great year. Everybody down south has taken notice of the Jays, and memorized the landmarks of local culture.
Toronto acquired Storen for left-fielder/leadoff hitter Ben Revere. Given their surpluses (hitting, particularly in the outfield) and deficits (pitching, particularly everywhere), the trade is a clear win for the Jays.
Over six seasons, Storen, 28, has proved himself a durable performer who is particularly effective against right-handed hitters. He has twice as many career saves as the rest of the Jays relief corps combined.
Storen puts immediate pressure on sophomore closer Roberto Osuna to stay sharp, and may free set-up man Aaron Sanchez to enter the starting rotation. His presence has a salutary knock-on effect that should improve the entire staff.
That didn’t prevent a lot of reflexive anger over the deal from a segment of the fan base.
Revere was much better than expected after arriving in the midst of a playoff run, but that’s not why people cared. Since the hiring of new team president Mark Shapiro, some fans have decided everything the new regime does is wrong. At the moment, the Jays could sign the reanimated corpse of Babe Ruth and someone would moan about compensatory draft picks.
While they sit in a corporate Star Chamber trying to figure out why their WiFi is always on the fritz, the Rogers brain trust must be tickled at what they’ve accidentally managed.
As it concerns the Jays, they’ve overseen a three-month botch job of Dieppe proportions. Nonetheless, their customers are living and dying with bullpen roster moves in January. In January! Congratulations, Guy Laurence. For the foreseeable future, your least-tended-to business division is officially bulletproof.
The other plus is how plainly excited Storen is to join the Jays.
He’s coming from a basket-case organization that fired him as its closer at mid-season. He spent the rest of the year in a gradual tailspin, and began his winter holiday early after breaking his hand in a locker. The guy who replaced him – Jonathan Papelbon – ended the campaign under suspension after attacking teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout.
Fair to say, Storen had a lot of reasons to want to leave Washington.
But he was also on a team that should have contended last year, and should again this season. Unless it’s a function of money, players don’t easily leave potential winners. Storen will make the same arbitration number in Toronto (somewhere in the vicinity of $8-million U.S.) that he would have in D.C.
In his introductory presser, Storen made sure everyone knew he was happy to pitch in any capacity for the Jays. It’s the sort of thing everyone in his position says. Since he’s a free agent at the end of the year and looking to make a good impression on 30 potential employers, he may actually mean it.
Storen talked about what he was watching on TV when he got the news. He noted wryly that he’d been expecting New Year’s well wishes from Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, not a functional pink slip. Storen comes off as someone who isn’t just okay with joining the Jays, but sees it as a promotion.
As recently as July, people with choices did not sound this stoked when they ended up in Canada. For the first couple of days after Troy Tulowitzki arrived, he looked like a man who’d locked himself out of his hotel room wearing a towel. He had the thousand-yard stare of someone who didn’t figure it’d end up this way.
When LaTroy Hawkins – a makeweight in that same deal with Colorado – first arrived in the Jays clubhouse, nobody bothered to greet him. Hawkins looked bereft.
A day later, the Jays got David Price. He seemed genuinely tickled to be joining a contender.
We forget it now, but that first presser was a key turning point. Price’s contentment bled into a general atmosphere of hopefulness around the club. His high spirits convinced a lot of people – teammates and fans – the Jays were for real.
Two days later, Revere arrived. So much had already happened that no one took much notice of him. He’d come from the worst team in baseball to what was, arguably and in flashes, the best. He seemed stunned by his good luck.
By then, not quite a week later, even Tulowitzki looked relaxed. Well, relaxed by his standards. Which is to say, rigid to the point of snapping off an arm if the wind catches him the right way.
While everyone in Toronto has ridden the executive roller coaster since then, people inside the game observing from a distance only remember the run to the postseason. The team was intermittently monolithic. The fan support was bonkers. For a lot of pros watching from home, it must’ve looked like real fun.
Even without Price, that impression won’t have changed. The Toronto Blue Jays are a team you want to play for and be associated with. They are a rising tide that might float a lot of boats, including yours.
It may only last a few more months, but Toronto’s postseason halo effect remains.
With about six weeks until pitchers and catchers report, it will be interesting to see how much the Jays executive newbies can turn that impression to their advantage, or whether ownership is convinced that this magic is self-perpetuating, rather than purchased.Report Typo/Error
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