Blue Jays' shrewd moves put AL East on notice
Toronto GM Anthopoulos has knack for buying low, selling high
One of baseball's smartest front offices is at it again. The Toronto Blue Jays, with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, have an eye on the perennially overachieving Rays, always squeezing out that "extra two percent." But they have their sights set higher: on the big dogs, the big-money Yankees and Red Sox.
Toronto believes it can surpass Tampa Bay and compete with New York and Boston, and with every transaction, it gets easier to believe in that vision. The Blue Jays buy low and sell high. They do what's smart rather than what is obvious or expedient. They've gotten out from under terrible contracts and taken on undervalued assets.
Getting toe-to-toe with Tampa Bay was the first step, and the Blue Jays have done that. Now they're aiming higher, thanks to a lengthy series of shrewd moves.
For the second year in a row, one of the best July deals -- considering the long view as well as the short -- was made by the Blue Jays. In 2010, they picked up Yunel Escobar when the Braves tired of him, and now Toronto has a team-controlled, reasonably priced star-level shortstop for the next four seasons.
This year's big Toronto move looked a lot like last year's. A National League team, for a variety of reasons, became weary of a young, cost-controlled, massively talented player at a premium position. And the Blue Jays swooped in. It was neither buying nor selling. It was simply smart baseball.
Anthopoulos was willing to take on some salary in the short term in order to pick up the last piece that allowed him to land Colby Rasmus. In dealing for Edwin Jackson, who was then flipped to St. Louis in the Rasmus deal, Toronto also accepted Mark Teahen. If you're drawing comparisons to the Rays, that's one big difference. Tampa Bay wouldn't pick up Teahen, even in the short term, because of the financial ramifications.
The Blue Jays were in position to swallow that money in order to pick up a piece that could well be part of an elite-level core within a year or two. They had to look past some perceived personality issues, but many of the best trades in recent years have resulted from teams doing just that.
"We all have warts," Anthopoulos told reporters on Wednesday. "I have them, everybody in this room does, and sometimes they get magnified. But it all comes down to what kind of human being are they. Are they a good person? At the end of the day, if they're a good person ... Oh, they might be flashy or they might be arrogant or they might not run hard all the time. But if you're a good person deep down to the core, you're going to be fine."
And if a good person happens to be in a tough spot with his current team, that may not be a problem at all. For the Blue Jays, instead, it's an opportunity to buy low.
Even in the moves they don't make, you can see the wheels turning. Toronto has a promising young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, so you wouldn't think Anthopoulos would be in the hunt for a backstop. But he still placed a call on Colorado's Chris Iannetta, an undervalued asset who could have served either in a job-sharing role with Arencibia or as a trade chip in a coming winter.
The deal didn't go through, but it shows one of the best attributes of this Toronto front office. They're not playing checkers, they're playing chess. The Blue Jays see one, two, three moves ahead. It's a quality that every really smart team shows, but it's particularly essential for clubs operating on a tight budget.
It's certainly something we've seen the Rays do. And while Tampa Bay serves as an excellent model for the Blue Jays, the upside here is higher, for a very simple reason. There's more money.
There's not Red Sox or Yankees money, but there's already more than the Rays have, and the potential to spend a lot more. Toronto has, within the past two decades, led the Majors in both attendance and payroll. There's an infrastructure. There's history. If things start to click for the team on the field, it should have a snowball effect in the stands, and therefore in the front office.
And while the Rays serve as the model, that's not who Toronto is aiming for. The Blue Jays have their eyes on the big boys. They recall the not-too-distant past, when they ruled this division of behemoths.
"We can compete with them [Boston and New York]," club president Paul Beeston said in January. "What we've got to do here, we've got to build this team up. We raise our revenues, we raise our expenses at the same time and our salaries. ... We should be a city that can have $140 million, $150 million in the way of salaries. We could support that, and that's the direction that we're headed."
Which is to say: Look out, Rays. And Yankees. And Red Sox.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. Gregor Chisholm and Arden Zwelling contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.