Jays' Update

Goodbye Vernon Wells. Now that’s a major league baseball trade!

It’s a daring strike by Alex Anthopoulos.  Mike Napoli is a veteran catcher who offers protection for the emerging, promising, yet completely unproven, J.P. Arencibia.  Napoli can also play first base – which might be necessary if Adam Lind can’t adjust.

Principally, the move is a coup because the Jays are out from under Wells’ gargantuan contract.

If Anthopoulos is savvy, Jose Bautista will become the face of the Toronto franchise. Unloading Wells’ albatross of a deal should open space to sign Bautista, a player who seems capable of leadership off and on the field, to a medium term contract. I’m never expecting another 54 home-run season from Bautista, but he’ll provide steady power and stellar defense whether he’s in the outfield or third base.

Late last year, I wrote about the “hollowing out” of the Blue Jays.  Allow me to re-assess in light of recent developments.  The trading of Wells, a fine player and perhaps a likable chap, but a 32 year-old on a superstar’s contract without superstar performance, is a significant step forward. Further, the addition of Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch means that the bullpen is reconstructed.

Boston is set to run away with the American League East. However, the Yankees are weaker; and so are the Tampa Rays.

Here’s hoping that Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston don’t resume their, ‘we’re in a development year’, blather in the few weeks prior to spring training. The Jays are maybe, just maybe, set to make a run for a playoff position this year.


Woe the Toronto Sports Fan

Bah! Hum-bug!

How numb and uninformed are Toronto sports fans?

Let’s see:

Brian Burke spends millions to build a losing NHL team without centres. Waffle chuckers aside, the ACC still sells out and the pathetic ‘Leaf Nation’ remains loyal with its $$$$ – which is all that counts with MLSE.

The Raptors, another MLSE product, cannot and will not play defense. This does not require great talent. It takes will – which is lacking at an NBA outpost where even quality players excel only while plotting their moves back to a real basketball city.

Finally, let’s look at the Blue Jays.  Alex Anthopoulos gets a free ride from fans, perhaps because he’s Canadian,  young and has a cute family. This, while he has spent the off-season dismantling a winning, entertaining team.  Anthopoulos traded viable Major League pitcher Shaun Marcum for a AA minor league player (also a Canadian).

When will Toronto sports media cotton to the fact that dear Alex’ real agenda has been to assist owner Rogers in cutting costs?  As I wrote earlier, Jays’ fans, contemplate 75 wins this year on the upside.

The New Ballard? J.P. - It's no contest!

Those familiar with these musings will recall that last month I posed the existential question: ‘who is most likely to qualify as Toronto’s next Harold Ballard – Brian ‘Testosterone’ Burke of the Loafs or J.P. Ricciardi of the Jays ?’

As the Jays limp towards the golf courses of October for which they have been clearly pining since early July, the answer is clear. It’s J.P all the way.

Ricciardi the fellow who managed to finish fourth last year in the A.L. East when Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett combined for 38 wins, has simply outdone himself in 2009. Alex Rios? Gone..for nothing. That’s NOTHING as in nada, zilch, S.F.A. B.J. Ryan? A  franchise cornerstone who is out of Major League Baseball three years into a multi-year contract. Vernon Wells? Well unfortunately the Jays still have him, but he’s a burnt out husk; the most expensive failure playing everyday in major league baseball. It says here Wells will never again actually amount to more than the fourth outfielder on a good team.

Ricciardi has been kind of circumspect this year. I miss the days when he would come on the radio to routinely insult Jays’ fans for their lack of intelligence. Remember last year when he went off on a caller who wondered why the Jays would not go after Adam Dunn when they were still close enough to compete for the Wild Card? J.P. dismissed that fan and insulted Dunn for “not really liking baseball”. This year to date Dunn has disliked baseball enough to hit 38 home runs. That is 8 home runs more  than the spent Wells and the similarly unproductive Lyle Overbay combined.

You are a terrific judge of talent and character, J.P.!  For all of this and more, I happily reward you the title of Toronto’s Next Ballard. Only you could reduce Blue Jays’ attendance to 11,000; only you could dangle Roy Halladay in July like stale bait when the Jays had the same record as the still competitive Minnesota Twins. Take a bow, Dude. Then get back to Boston on October 4 and never return. Please. Pretty please.

The Next Ballard: Ricciardi or Burke?

It’s tough to be a sports fan in Toronto.

After an explosively successful start to the 2009 season, the Blue Jays collapsed into mediocrity or worse. The principal reason for the swoon is that two very highly paid players Vernon Wells and Alex Rios failed to provide the performance or leadership that fans in Boston and New York have come to expect of their stars.

Wells and Rios were signed to lucrative, long-term contracts by J.P. Ricciardi, Jays’ Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations and General Manager. Ricciardi believed the two together would be the big swingers on a competitive team – he believed the same thing in vain for 3-4 years. This week the Jays pulled the plug on Rios by literally giving him (and his bloated contract) to the Chicago White Sox. No such luck with Wells who is simply the highest paid failure in Major League Baseball.

As if the annual demise of the Jays wasn’t bad enough, we have another Leafs’ season just ahead of us. As August nears its end, the hockey mad Toronto media will drone on and on and on about the prospects for this season’s Toronto Maple Leaf team. The “Leaf Nation” will learn just how much the team has been improved! Don’t count your chickens, Loaf fans!

Brian Burke became President and General Manager of the team promising “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” (does that means he wants a team that fights but also sleeps together?) The fact is that in Burke’s first year, the Leafs were simply terrible.

It is true that Burke has added an impressive number of defensemen this off-season. Sadly, he did so while marginalizing and insulting Tomas Kaberle his one defenseman of all-round talent. Burke has also put the team’s fate not-so-firmly in the hands of Vesa Toskala, a goaltender who has yet to deliver. More fundamentally, the Leaf roster is singularly lacking in goal scorers. So, expect low scoring, violent hockey. It says here that if the Leafs don’t find someone who can score, they will fail to make the playoffs yet again. Only they will be more boring in doing so.

Toronto fans recall the ‘bad old days’ when Harold Ballard ran the Leafs. Ricciardi, certainly, and Burke, potentially, have no reason to feel superior. In fact Loaf fans, Harold was a Maple Leaf executive when the team last won the Stanely Cup in the 1966-7 season. Rest assured that J.P. Ricciardi’s name will never be asociated with a championship baseball team in Toronto. And I would be AMAZED if Burke’s name ever gets etched on the Stanley Cup along with a Maple Leaf team.