The Blue Jays join the party

Sarah Glenn

There was a cover charge. I'm not sure how the Jays got in. Someone probably left the back door open.

I've probably written a lot of words about the Blue Jays over the past two seasons, but I remember only the gist of those articles. They were, for the most part, a variation on the theme of stasis. Since their back-to-back championships, the Jays have been baseball's C student: rarely doing enough to disgust, rarely doing enough to excite.

Here's a pretty good way to explain it:

Payroll rank (out of 30)
1998 - 19
1999 - 14
2000 - 22
2001 - 10
2002 - 11
2003 - 21
2004 - 21
2005 - 25
2006 - 16
2007 - 16
2008 - 13
2009 - 16
2010 - 22
2011 - 23
2012 - 23

Those rankings are a good indication that the Jays stayed away from the off-season feeding frenzies for the most part -- pitchers with initials for first names excepted -- but it also means they didn't hand out a lot of big contracts to the players they wanted to keep. Mostly because there haven't been a ton of players worth keeping around for many years and many millions. They tried with Vernon Wells, and well, that would be enough to make any team rethink their priorities.

This middle-to-bottom spending rankled a lot of Blue Jays fans, with the team being owned by a wealthy, dashing playboy billionaire named Rogers Communications, who makes a pretty good show about entertaining and jet-setting around the world, mostly because it's good cover for secretly fighting crime at night. But, Jays fans asked, why couldn't Mr. Communications throw some of that money at the Blue Jays?

Then came the Great Yu Darvish Craze of '11. The idea was that an international superstar like Darvish would be a great fit for an international city like Toronto, and if the Blue Jays were ever going to go nuts on a free agent, this was the one. Jays fans were abuzz. Could it be? An exciting free agent, coming to Toronto?

And the answer to that question was "nope." The answer would always be "nope," save for the occasional "nuh-uh" or "nah." When the Jays signed Maicer Izturis, Mike Wilner pointed out that Izturis signed to the longest and most expensive deal of the Alex Anthopoulos era. Izturis signed for three years and $10 million. Anthopoulos has been around for the last three years. You can see how there might be a faction of Jays fans who were waiting for a big move that would never come.

Then came the hostile takeover of the Miami Marlins. The Jays absorbed $157 million in contracts in one trade. Then they signed Melky Cabrera to a $16 million deal. And if you believe the scuttlebutt, they aren't done. They still haven't pulled out of the Anibal Sanchez derby, and they might be interested in Edwin Jackson. The Blue Jays tricked us all, and now they're making a move for the A.L. East.

And what timing. The Red Sox have a bunch of crap strewn about the floor, like a father who just realized an hour before the kid wakes up that some assembly is required. The Yankees are old -- no, this time for real -- and they picked now to pay attention to the luxury tax, and they'll actually have to make tough payroll choices like a normal team. The Orioles were last year's surprise, but they don't feel like a season-in/season-out juggernaut just yet, and the Rays will always have the toughest juggling act in the league when it comes to developing and employing talent before it gets too expensive.

This is the best window for the Jays to spend in decades. It's the first time in a long while where you couldn't just pick the Yankees and Red Sox (and sometimes Rays) for the East winner and the Wild Card and move on to more taxing predictions. And as the Cardinals proved this year, the second Wild Card isn't just a ribbon to tape on your wall somewhere next to the NKOTB posters.

It's one thing to point out it's a good idea. It's another thing to act on it. If the Marlins didn't decay into marlinitude, it's possible the Jays weren't going to go crazy for Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, second-tier guys like Nick Swisher or Anibal Sanchez, or even third-tier guys like Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster. They might have made a conscious effort to stay the same Jays. But when the opportunity to spend came up in just the right way, the Jays went for it.

I'm not going to say the trade was good for baseball -- because, jeez, Marlins -- but the Jays being a power in the East is good for baseball. It continues to break up the monotony of what was a boring A.L. East, just a few years ago. The Rays did it first. Then the Orioles did it. And now the Jays.

They probably aren't the favorites in the division, of course. Not yet. But they're relevant. And in the off-season, they've easily been the most relevant. It's been a while since we could say that about the Jays. If we've ever said it at all.

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