Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Snitches Get Stitches: The Secret Life of Baseball's Silent Assassin

There was an afternoon a couple of weeks ago where having neglected twitter all day--a very uncharacteristic thing for me to do since my embarrassingly recent discovery of this bit of social media--I tuned in to find several writers discrediting reports from earlier in the day that the Blue Jays had made a deal to acquire San Francisco’s starting pitcher, Matt Cain.  What was strange about discovering this story only after it had been already been dis-proven was that instead of being pleased that I had avoided the heartbreak of once again having erroneous rumours get my hopes up, I was kind of saddened that I had been robbed of a morning spent fantasizing about having Toronto’s starting rotation bolstered by the talented right-handed pitcher.  

By now, fans of the Blue Jays will be very familiar with the feeling of false hope they are given each time Toronto is inevitably linked to a coveted free agent.  Sadly, they will be just as familiar with the subsequent feeling of disappointment that takes hold when said free agent goes to another ball club.  Those who have been following the team over the last two seasons will know that because of the tight-lipped nature of Toronto’s general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, they are doomed to re-live this process each time a notable free agent becomes available.  For those of you unfamiliar with the way Toronto’s GM does business, don’t beat yourself up.  His M.O. is characterized by complete media silence and though this is likely a policy that every general manager has in place, under Anthopoulos the Blue Jays have become a veritable Fort Knox when it comes to keeping their potential transactions under wraps.  

In defending the secretive way Anthopoulos’ and his fellow executives have gone about their work, the most frequently cited piece of evidence is the deal that sent Vernon Wells to the Anaheim Angels.  Many argue (myself included) that had the media caught wind of the deal before it had happened their venomous reaction would have helped Angels’ GM, Tony Reagins, realize what a catastrophic mistake he was about to make and Toronto would still be toiling under V-Dub’s albatross of a contract.  (Side note: when this deal went down Vernon’s contract was called an albatross a LOT.  I like to think of Coleridge writing in the 18th century thinking, ‘one day people will understand the despair and the psychological burden I write of.  One day, the Blue Jays will owe 86 million dollars to a 32-year-old Vernon Wells.’)  

The disadvantage of Anthopoulos’ shroud of secrecy is that because he will never publicly confirm or deny whether or not the team is attempting to acquire a player, opportunistic agents are able to use Toronto’s hypothetical interest in their clients as leverage when negotiating with the teams that are interested.  The result has been that during the past two seasons, regardless of their actual interest, the Blue Jays have been reported as possible suitors in every rumored trade and a potential destination for every available free agent.  The frequent disappointment inherent to this way of doing things has had its toll on a growing number of the Blue Jays faithful.  This digitally vocal group believe that its time for the organization to take the ideological next step, sign a couple of big name players and take a run at the playoffs.  For this sort, every free agent that the Jays don’t sign is a slap in the face and when the Fielders and Darvishes and even Beltres (!) end up signing with other teams these people huffily litter comment sections with threats about how they’ve finally given up on the team and how the Anthopoulos honeymoon is over.  (Sidenote: I also like to think of Austin3:16* writing in his basement thinking, ‘by the looks of things Anthopoulos must think that the honeymoon isn’t over.  I’ll show him!’)  And though you wouldn’t expect the Blue Jays front office to put much stock in these threats, Paul Beeston acknowledged the team’s PR troubles in an interview earlier this month, going as far as to admit that they could have done a better job of “managing expectations.”  To me, this is nothing more than Beeston providing something of an opiate for the hysterical masses.  What’s more is given the circumstances, I believe Anthopoulos has made several moves that demonstrate a strong ability to manipulate Toronto’s public image in order to generate buzz around the team.  

If we believe Anthopoulos is telling the truth when he says that the Rogers corporation is willing to beef up Toronto’s salary when the time is right, then what is there for a GM to do to create excitement around the team while his young prospects develop into a suitable supporting cast?  One possibility would be to bring up a Canadian player bravely attempting to convert himself into an outfielder after his pitching career was cut short by injuries, as he did last September with Adam Loewen.  Another possibility would be to bring up an unlucky former star pitching prospect who’s career was all but destroyed by injuries and who’s unwillingness to give up has made him a fan favourite, as he did with Dustin McGowen.  Both moves were celebrated by fans and sports writers alike.  And considering that Loewen was unceremoniously released this off season and McGowen is currently fighting for the fifth spot on the rotation, I believe its safe to argue that the decision to bring them up to the big club had more to do with the impact they would have on the team’s public image than the impact they would have on the actual team.  
For me, there are several reasons I support not only the moves--or lack thereof--that Anthopoulos has made, but the policies he has in place that allows the Blue Jays to be mentioned as suitors for every available free agent.  The most obvious of which would be a complete lack of concern for the outrage expressed by the Austin3:16’s of the world who announce that they’ve given up on the team every time a star player signs elsewhere.  I mean, what exactly is Mr. 3:16 going to do?  Not show up to the games?  (Cue picture of empty Roger’s Centre.)  Furthermore, would he have preferred that his expectations be better managed as Mr. Beeston suggests they should?  Because, I can remember a time not so long ago when the Toronto Blue Jays were the furthest thing from anyone’s mind when a big name free agent became available and that wasn’t very much fun either.  

Even if you can’t derive as much pleasure as I do from simply fantasizing about Prince Fielder following in the footsteps that his father left in Ontario rather than the ones he left in Michigan, you have to admit that it can’t hurt the Blue Jay brand to have American sports writers confirming Toronto as a possible (and even likely) destination for star free agents.  Just ask the Toronto Raptors: its not always easy selling American athletes on pursuing their dreams in Canada.  Part of getting them North of the border is re-branding the team and city as a realistic alternative to the more established baseball markets.  

Eventually, the free agents will come.  And, there’s no secret to how or why they will get here.  Just like they did in the Riccardi era, the Rogers corporation will loosen the purse strings and splash out on some marquee players.  What I am hoping is that unlike in the Ricciardi era, Anthopoulos will wait until the team has a sufficient core group of players surrounding those stars.  In the mean time, Austin3:16, try to relax and let the Blue Jays’ silent assassin do his thing.  Before you know it, both the team and it’s public image will be as strong as a Steve Austin sleeper hold.

*If you’re reading this Austin3:16, 19-fucking-98 called and it wants its interest in professional wrestling back, you fucking virgin.  


  1. Haha... great stuff, Jarvis. Dare I say Blue Jays fans are starting to get worse than Leafs fans at being whiny, petulant losers with an unquenchable desire for instant gratification?

  2. You may indeed say that. Thanks for reading, gangsta.

  3. Hi James, excellent writing, I just wish I were more into
    Sports, but will pass on to Gary who will love it, plus he will recognize all the names.
    If you decide to do something on books I'll probably have more to say.
    Just read "The Sisters Brothers" loved it, you should read it when you have a chance.
    Love, Lynne