Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Blues (Looking Forward)

Welp, hello again. The calendar's flipped to January, and with it an unseasonably warm season has turned wintry all of a sudden here in the Pacific Northwest, balmy Victoria drenched in a foot of white while across the border Washington enters a state of emergency. (Remember all those brown Christmases from Vancouver to Winnipeg to Toronto? Seems long ago, now.)

Anyway, January seems to be the nadir of the baseball offseason - on Prime Time Sports last week Alex Anthopoulos hinted as much by setting February 1 as an unofficial deadline to make any more significant acquisitions this offseason - as the last few free agents sign and teams begin to enter season-prep mode. For Blue Jays fans, that means grandiose hopes (indian summers?) fade for much starker realities. Instead of Prince Fielder we get Darren Oliver, and a whole bunch of cagey talk about payrolls and money management. But it's not so bad. With realignment and the second wildcard presumably delayed until 2013, one gets the sense that the 2011-12 offseason was more about getting ducks aligned. With only Kelly Johnson, Edwin Encarnacion and some of the RP options looming as significant free agents after 2012, I would certainly hope that barring a disaster there will be some semblance of "going for it" next offseason.

It's been mentioned by quite a few people with some surprise that Darren Oliver's free agent contract is the largest handed out by Anthopoulos since taking the reins. I'd argue that statement does more to laud his skills as a trade negotiator than indict the Jays' financial straits - but that surprising fact does point the finger right back at his predecessor. For all of the differences between Anthopoulos and Ricciardi - and there are multitudes: media savvy; scouting and development; focus on defense - it strikes me that the shape of their terms has some similarities. Like Ricciardi, Anthopoulos spent the first few years stripping and realigning a talented but misplaced roster, with trades for prospects and scrap heap free agent acquisitions. (Now, if only AA could grow himself a Scott Downs...) It wasn't until the '05-'06 offseason (his fifth) that he received the big cash outlay for Glaus/Burnett/Ryan/Molina/Overbay. The '12-'13 offseason will be AA's fourth, and with the looming wildcard available, it might make sense to go after a Hamels/Cain/Greinke, a real second baseman, maybe a couple of superior bullpen arms. Add Technicolor visions of a seasoned Lawrie, repaired Snider/Rasmus/Linds, Travis d'Arnaud relegating JPA to backup status, a not-at-all-regressed Bautista, and that roster may have the makings of a division winner, as opposed to a distant-from-competitive 87-win roster. But for 2012...looks like we're holding onto our chips. And that means I've got a whole year to learn how to start caring again.
(Yeah, I did.)

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