Well, just yesterday I was suggesting teams need to take their cue from surprise contenders like the Athletics, Nationals and Orioles and go for it, and little more than a day later, the Blue Jays have done that and more. With their potential blockbuster trade with the Marlins in the works, the Jays provided reminders of two things fans may have forgotten.
First, that this won’t be the first superteam built north of the border. The Blue Jays were “just” a good, competitive team in the late ’80s, but starting with a pair of megadeals with also-ran franchises (the Angels and Padres), GM Pat Gillick started reaching for big solutions to build a superstar-laden team strong enough to beat anybody in any number of games. On Dec. 2, 1990, the Blue Jays got center fielder Devon White from California for stuff that didn’t amount to one Devon White, and on Dec. 5 they sent Fred McGriff and shortstop Tony Fernandez to the Padres to land second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielder Joe Carter.
Gillick was only just getting started, though. He’d wind up adding Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris and Dave Stewart in a quest for total domination that brought two World Series trophies to Toronto in 1992 and 1993. Gillick even managed to rent a heavily discounted Fernandez (from the Mets) to play short on the ’93 team before becoming a free agent.
In retrospect, that added up to four future Hall of Famers and four other guys who were among the best of the decade. All it took was a willingness to deal, a farm system built up assiduously over time to deal from, and a whole lot of money.
But that brings me to my other point: That this deal provides a reminder that Toronto is a big market, and the Jays happen to be owned by Rogers Communications -- Canada’s provider of sports television. When you’re a big-market team with deep pockets, you can afford to pull the trigger on something huge, especially when it comes to exploiting one of baseball’s weak sisters (or rotten Fish).
So why get in touch with their inner behemoth just now? Here, I don’t think you can really blame Alex Anthopoulos for not doing something sooner: When the Yankees and Red Sox were ruling the roost and the Rays were already inviting themselves in at a time when there was just one wild-card slot to gun for, it made sense for the Jays to keep their powder dry and their loonies in the bank. But the Orioles just provided proof that the old AL East balance of power is deader than Elvis, and with two wild-card slots to chase, there’s plenty of postseason money and October glory to be won.
Anthopoulos had already made a name for himself as one of baseball’s canniest operators, especially when it came to gaming the arbitration compensation system when that was still an option. His striking early when the Marlins were looking to get out from under a ton of salary wasn’t a deal done with a sock puppet, and he deserves congratulations for putting fear of the future in executive offices in the Bronx and Boston -- and maybe even in a sports media that had gotten used to the Yankees-Red Sox dynamic defining the AL East. Because right now, it’s anybody’s division to win, and that’s something we haven’t been able to say since before Gillick built a superteam worth remembering.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.