Toronto makes statement with bold offseason moves
We are about to be reminded that Major League Baseball is not merely an American game. It is more precisely a North American game.
The Toronto Blue Jays have returned. The province of Ontario is back, too, as a baseball destination.
This may not compensate fully for the continued absence of the National Hockey League, but within the confines of what some of us persist in calling the national pastime, it is a large deal.
The Blue Jays were at the top of the baseball world in 1992-93 with wonderful teams, World Series championship teams. In many of the subsequent years, they found themselves in unfulfilling roles as supporting actors in the drama of the American League East.
The Yankees became dominant, in terms both competitive and economic. Then there was, after a long dormant period, the resurgence of the Red Sox. The Rays, after a decade of futility, transformed themselves into a model franchise and a perennial contender. Last season, the Orioles dusted themselves off and became a postseason qualifier.
There was no room at the top in this group. There wasn't even any room within shouting distance of the top. There were numerous seasons in which you could look objectively at the Toronto organization and say: "These people are doing a nice job, but ..."
The "but" was that somebody always had more money or more players, or, in some especially difficult situations, both. But this year, while we remember that no baseball championship celebrations should be held on New Year's Eve, the Blue Jays appear to have made the maneuvers that would move them all the way from contender to winner.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has transformed the nature of his club with a series of deals. He took advantage of the Marlins' retrenchment to land two valuable starting pitchers, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, and to make a major upgrade at shortstop, moving from Yunel Escobar to the dynamic Jose Reyes.
The Blue Jays also reeled in a reliable second baseman in Maicer Izturis and a speedy, versatile utility player in Emilio Bonifacio. The only move Toronto made that might raise an eyebrow was the signing of outfielder Melky Cabrera. He was having a career season in 2012, but was suspended for 50 games after a positive test for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.
But the overall effort was officially made whole Monday when the Blue Jays finalized their trade with the Mets by working out a contract extension with the reigning National League Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey.
Given the current market for pitching, Toronto got Dickey at a bargain rate in terms of salary, an average annual value of about $10 million for three years, with a reported club option of $12 million for 2016.
The higher price paid by the Blue Jays might have been the talent that went to the Mets in the trade. That would include a prime catching prospect, Travis d'Arnaud, and a highly-regarded pitching prospect, Noah Syndergaard.
This may seem like a high price to pay for a 38-year-old pitcher, but this is a 38-year-old knuckleball pitcher. The history of capable knuckleball pitchers is admittedly not a large piece of work, but it does suggest that they can continue to do their best work well into their 40s.
Plus, Dickey is, one way or another, one of the most remarkable, not to mention admirable, people in the game today. A man who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for charity might be the kind of person you would want on your side in an endeavor requiring persistence and determination.
With the acquisition of Dickey, Anthopoulos has completed the transformation of the Toronto starting rotation. What was once a question mark for the 2013 season is now an indisputable strong point.
The middle-infield defense has been strengthened. The roster has added depth. Yes, a steep price in prospects has been paid for these advances, but opportunities such as these don't come around often, particularly in the AL East.
There are three-plus months remaining for debate before the games begin to count. But it is neither difficult nor inaccurate to say that from this distance the Blue Jays' chances are as good or better than anybody else in their division.
It has been some time since that sort of statement could be safely made. But in 2013 the race in the AL should once again be a two-nation event.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.