November 20, 2012 9:15 PM | By Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

Anthopoulos courts risk to give Blue Jays fans playoff hopes

Regardless of how his recent moves turn out, the Toronto GM deserves credit for boldness

Regardless of how his recent moves turn out, the Toronto Blue Jays GM deserves credit for boldness (© CANADIAN PRESS-Chris Young)

In a best-case scenario for Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, the recent power moves he's made will mean a return to the playoffs for the Jays and hopefully no more gloomy ball games littered with empty seats.

Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin next week in Nashville, Tenn., so it is entirely possible Extreme Makeover: Blue Jays Edition could feature more blockbuster episodes.

To recap the show to date: Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos pulled off three unpredictable but tantalizing moves over a handful of days earlier this month. He made a 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins, obtaining shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and utility player Emilio Bonifacio, then signed free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera and hired John Gibbons for his second stint as the Blue Jays manager.

Beyond Anthopoulos’s control, but a boon nevertheless, is that all the movement came at a time when the Maple Leafs are nowhere to be seen and the Raptors appear even more toothless than they were last season. As a fan remarked to me, it should be much easier to sell tickets this winter.

Indeed. Let’s not dwell on nuance. These deals give the Blue Jays their best chance to make baseball’s postseason since they won their second of back-to-back World Series titles in 1993.
The aftermath of the big trade featured much snorting about the Marlins’ duplicity, perceived or otherwise, toward its fans. Flip that around, though, and heave some praise at the Blue Jays for giving their long-suffering fans palpable direction out of the wilderness.

The pure baseball aspects of the trade have been diagnosed nicely by Ian Harrison of MSN Sports and remain to be played out. What is paramount about all the moves — even if some or all of them flop — is the daring display by the Blue Jays, a quality that leads this typist to believe Anthopoulos is not finished adjusting his roster (there are rumours of another move at a catcher). Even if he were to sit on his hands for the remainder of the winter, Anthopoulos has shored up key weaknesses on his team with proven, veteran talent.\

Just as bold, Rogers Communications, the Jays’ corporate masters, has backed the hefty salary commitments due to all the ex-Marlins, a combined $163.75 million (US) through 2018.

The risk is greater, though, than ensuring there is enough cash in the vault for each and every payday. Remember that Cabrera, who signed for $16 million (U.S.) over two years, was considered something of a pariah by baseball after he was suspended Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone test. That announcement was followed by news of a fake website created by a Cabrera associate, a ham-handed attempt to avoid the suspension. Cabrera, who had been leading the National League in hitting while with the San Francisco Giants and had been named the most valuable player of the all-star game, could have returned to the Giants lineup for the National League Championship Series. But the Giants, the eventual World Series winners, nipped that notion well ahead of time, shutting the door on Cabrera before the regular season ended. Cabrera now brings all that baggage with him to Toronto.

It is apparently no matter to Anthopoulos, who tripled down on his makeover by bringing Gibbons back to run the team. Retreads also bring their previous mileage with them, Gibbons compiling a largely undistinguished 305-305 record with the Blue Jays from 2004 to 2008. During that tenure, Gibbons showed an occasional testy side that, if still present, could flare again. Oh, hello there, Colby Rasmus.

With expectations being allowed to gallop at a breakneck pace this winter, the second guessing for all — Gibbons, Anthopoulos, the players — could begin as early as spring training. That is a craziness all its own but for the Blue Jays to challenge in the ultra-competitive American League East, it is part of the job.

One gets the feeling that Anthopoulos doesn’t mind a bit. He may look as if he still shaves with a credit card but it would be an enormous mistake to trifle with him at a poker table. Or at baseball’s winter meetings.

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