When Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos told his manager on Thursday that he'd just acquired pitcher David Price via trade, John Gibbons had the same reaction as everyone else who's watched this team stagger about for a full generation: "You screwin' with me or something?"
For 20 years, that has been the Jays' rationale – to screw with people. They're always two guys away. Two imaginary guys.
It's going to take a little mental adjustment to fully absorb the fact that they finally got the two guys. By adding Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki within 48 hours of each other, the Jays are now better than any iteration of this team since the 1993 World Series winners. They may be better than that.
According to Anthopoulos, the deal to get Price – far and away the best starter available on the trade market – began coming together late Wednesday afternoon.
Up until that point, Price's former team, the Tigers, was trying to shorten the odds of signing him to a long-term deal. Detroit didn't want to deal him. They couldn't manage it. They decided to cut bait and cash in now.
Anthopoulos was on his way home when Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski called. He turned around and headed back to the office. The essentials were put into place after a series of back-and-forths that ended at three in the morning.
Nine or 10 hours – that's how long it takes to reinvent a sports franchise. Price is only one player, but his arrival signals a massive shift in the way the Jays carry themselves.
Toronto met a reasonable price – three pitching prospects, including famous van-dweller Daniel Norris. If baseball doesn't work out, Norris will be in the right place to transition to a career in urban farming.
In return, Toronto gets a few weeks use of the most valuable commodity in baseball – a front-of-the-line starter in his prime. The Blue Jays have had perhaps three others: Roy Halladay, Roger Clemens and Dave Stieb.
That's it – four of them in nearly 40 years.
"You kinda forget what it's like," Anthopoulos said. "When [former GM] J.P. Ricciardi was here, every time Halladay would pitch, he would say, 'Man, we're so good' … No matter what the club was like."
Thus, the power of an ace is more imaginative than statistical. He makes giants out of everyone behind him. Price, a 29-year-old Cy Young winner with electrifying power for a left-hander, is that sort of player.
The Jays clubhouse is starting to get crowded with transformative types.
Josh Donaldson – who's one of them – gestured toward the nameplates above the lockers and said, "It feels like you're almost playing fantasy baseball."
Price will be the most coveted free-agent pitcher on the market this winter. Toronto has almost no chance of signing him. It hardly matters.
For the first time since they actually won things, the Blue Jays have decided to live in the present, rather than a best-case-scenario future that is perpetually put off until next year.
"We've always really been average here," Gibbons said ruefully. He knows it's a national failing, and doesn't want to rub it in.
For 20 years, the Jays have exercised a very clichéd Canadian caution that prevents them from trying too hard or going too far. Every successive GM has been drilled on the evils of aspiring too much. Pressed by public-relations necessity, the team convinced fans that there was such a thing as a "bad deal."
Since there is no salary cap in baseball, there are no bad deals. Not for the fans. Every single deal costs fans the same amount – nothing. If one doesn't work out, you spend more on another. That's the 'secret' of the New York Yankees.
Nonetheless, the Jays' owners, Rogers Communications Inc., managed to turn their self-interested penny pinching into an upside-down virtue. This club has sold more five-year plans than Stalin.
Every abandoned deal and missed opportunity was a vote for the brighter future. In the past couple of years, we've spent more time obsessing about kids in Double-A than the big-league club. It's less painful that way. A culture of corporate miserliness was the real winner.
A temporary end to that philosophy may have been the most important shift of the past two days. Because they haven't been cheap.
The Jays will pay Price $7.4-million (U.S.) for 10 to 12 starts during the remainder of the regular season. Tulowitzki's acquisition cost Toronto at least an extra $50-million.
"It's on us now," starter R.A. Dickey said.
That's the major thing Anthopoulos has achieved this week – diverting the focus of attention from the executive suites onto the playing field. This team isn't just capable of post-season baseball. That is its only option.
Anthopoulos said Thursday he doesn't like the phrase, "He's all in." (Gibbons, the more fatalistic of the pair, embraced it, saying there was "no doubt" that's what this trade means.)
Neither should like those words. It's the thing they say about you right before you get fired.
Every GM and manager begin their tenure with a long length of metaphoric rope spooled out behind them. Anthopoulos and Gibbons have just used all of theirs.
Three years ago, they don't do this deal. This year, they've got no choice. Maybe that's why fans have foregone the usual hand-wringing about cost – because once in a while it's fun to do something just to be brave.
While we're all holding hands and spinning round gaily in a circle, let's remember that two trades – even two trades this good – guarantee nothing.
The Jays' odds of catching the Yankees in the AL East remain well on the wrong side of 50-50. The wild card is within reach, but that leads to a one-game coin toss.
All you really have on Friday morning is an unfamiliar feeling – reasonable expectation.
The Blue Jays have spent 20 years talking about winning. This week, for what feels like the first time since the glory days, they've started taking the risks necessary to doing it.