Just Like That
It seems like just last week that Alex Anthopoulos was twisting uncomfortably in the wind.
Actually, it was a bit longer ago than that. Late October, to be precise. But a few episodes in the disastrous 2012 season had raised a lot of questions about who was in charge at Camp Blue Jays, and whether smart and courageous decisions were being made.
First, there was the Yunel Escobar public relations disaster. It wasn't just that Escobar played with homophobic slurs on his eye black. It's that somebody should have noticed, or even that somebody MUST have noticed but let him proceed anyway. The sense that nobody was really minding the store, or that John Farrell and/or Anthopoulos weren't, or that the team lacked leadership and direction from veteran players, was pervasive.
Poisonous stuff, really. Stuff that tends to linger. Just ask the fried chicken folks in Boston.
It was made worse when the decision was made by Anthopoulos, or probably Paul Beeston, not just to send Escobar home, but to give him a few days off as "punishment." A festering sore began to stink.
So there was that, and then there were public accusations by Omar Vizquel that the clubhouse was in disarray, thoughts echoed by Sportsnet analyst Greg Zaun, who described the atmosphere around the ball club as "consequence free" and seemed to question Anthopoulos' credentials.
At this point, nobody was saying Anthopoulos was in trouble, exactly, but questions were starting to be asked that hadn't been asked.
Then came the Farrell-to-Boston debacle, which was perceived as little Toronto getting pushed around by big-money Boston. It wasn't that the Jays were losing a Hall of Fame manager. It was the way in was happening, particularly when it became clear that Beeston was doing the negotiating with the Red Sox over Farrell, not Anthopoulos. When the Jays received only infielder Mike Aviles in return as Farrell went to his "dream job," there were suddenly a lot of folks saying a lot of unkind things. Many of them had to do with whether Rogers Communications was willing to spend money to compete.
Now, just as suddenly, there aren't unkind things being said.
Escobar is barely a memory. With Farrell, the joke is whether he might now try to tell the Bosox his dream job would be to go back and manage the Jays starting rotation. People would laugh if you said the Rogers people won't spend.
Anthopoulos, given cash to spend on the spectacular deal with Florida, the signing of Melky Cabrera and the stunning acquisition of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, is getting kudos all around for his off-season maneuverings.
Just like that, the storm clouds receded on the youthful Jays GM. if Brian Burke and Bryan Colangelo could only be so fortunate.
Now the pressure shifts into a different type of expectations for Anthopoulos and the Jays. It's clearly playoffs or bust. Anything less will be seen as a disappointment.
All those prospects given up for experienced players over the past few months are unlikely to prove terribly costly on their own. But cumulatively, the Jays have surrendered a lot, and if the result is the Jays don't get to where they want to get to and some of those kids blossom into quality major leaguers, then the warmth with which Anthopoulos is now being heralded will change.
But such a disaster is at least two years away. At least two years before Travis d'Arnaud or Travis Snider or Noah Syndergaard or Jake Marisnick come back to bite the Jays in the butt.
And maybe they never will.
Also, at least two years before the feel-good hiring of John Gibbons to come back and manage, one universally applauded by the media in a show of solidarity with a manager seen to be a "good guy," might prove to have been incorrect.
What the Jays get, and Jays fans get, is at least two years of being perceived as playing with the best franchises, of having a folksy manager who wants to be here, of being in the conversation when it comes to the more competitive teams in the sport, of having arguably the best starting rotation in the American League, of a team that isn't all about Jose Bautista anymore.
Its not yet a return to the golden days. But in a hockey town with no hockey team to cheer for or at least worry about as the owners and players hurt their business without seeming to care a great deal, this feels like a return to a time when the Jays ruled in these parts because they gave people a reason to cheer and feel pride.
When people start making pre-season prognostications in just a few weeks, many will pick the Jays for the playoffs, some might even imagine a World Series berth.
Incredibly, it was less than two months ago that the Farrell controversy threatened to make the Jays look like a second-tier franchise, a feeder club for the big boys.
It has all healed and being covered over with remarkable speed through a series of remarkable Anthopoulos moves.