The Kansas City Royals became America’s team this past October when they snapped what was a 29-year postseason drought. It was easy to get behind the Royals because, as a country, we love a good underdog story. It’s the reason why movies such as “Hoosiers,” “Rocky,” and “Rudy” have withstood the test of time. We see similarities in ourselves and can relate to their adversity. It makes us think, “Hey, if they did it, so can I.”
But is the United States ready to root for a feel-good story from Canada?
No team in North America’s four major sports has gone longer without a playoff appearance than baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays. The highlights of Joe Carter’s championship-clinching walk-off home run in Game 6 of the World Series are shown so much that it sometimes seems like the Jays are part of our lives every October, but Toronto itself hasn’t tasted the postseason since that memorable night in 1993.
That’s a long time ago.
Hoping to put an end to the infamous streak, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos went out and did some Black Friday shopping of his own last week when he traded for A’s All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson. It was Anthopoulos’ second major move of the offseason, previously signing Toronto-born catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract. And it’s likely the Jays’ GM isn’t done shopping. Offensively, the team can still use a left-handed hitting left fielder to balance out their righty-dominated lineup, and upgrades at second base and center field wouldn’t hurt either.
As currently constructed, the Jays can out-hit any team in baseball. Donaldson and Martin find themselves in a lineup that is absolutely loaded. Last season, Toronto ranked second in the American League in home runs and OPS, third in on-base percentage, and fourth in runs – so the rich just got richer. Donaldson slugged 29 home runs last season in Oakland, and Martin is coming off arguably the best offensive year of his career.
While both new acquisitions are good with the bat, where they can really stand out for the Jays is with the glove. Advanced defensive metrics are somewhat of a sensitive subject because they’re not as cut and dry as offensive statistics. Numbers like defensive WAR have their detractors, and it’s fair to point out their flaws, but the metrics rate both Donaldson and Martin rather favorably – which means at the very least, the pair is more than capable of fielding their position.
Defense is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted by Toronto, especially given its lack of pitching. Look no further than Kansas City to see just how far a good defense can get you. The expectation is that young starters Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison will continue to improve, though you can never have enough pitching. The Jays are still a below-average team on the mound, and taking into account how many bats the Blue Jays have, it’s certainly possible Anthopoulos deals from strength and acquires an arm in what is a pitching-rich trade market. Don’t be too surprised if someone like Dioner Navarro – in the last year of his contract with an affordable salary – is dealt elsewhere for bullpen or rotation help.
No matter what moves the Jays make from here on out, the same question will always be asked: How does Toronto stack up against the rest of the AL East?
The division finds itself in a bit of a transitional period. The Red Sox have opened their wallets in hopes of bouncing back from last year’s disastrous last-place finish, although that guarantees them nothing. The Rays are dealing with a shakeup in management and Tampa Bay still hasn’t named its new manager. The Orioles are losing Nelson Cruz to Seattle, and the defending division champs haven’t been able to agree to terms with outfielder Nick Markakis. And what’s going on with the Yankees? Things have been eerily quiet in the Bronx. Almost too quiet.
If the Blue Jays are going to make a run at October, now is the time. This is a team that won 83 games last year despite poor pitching, so they’re not that far away. Trading for Donaldson and signing Martin are certainly a step in the right direction, but the roster can still use a few minor tweaks.
There’s only one way to know if Americans will embrace Canada’s team as our own should the Jays reach the postseason, and something tells me we’re awfully close to finding out.