A Tough Month For The Blue Jays Is About To Get Tougher
It has not been a good two weeks for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The most recent body blow was the news that the New York Yankees, the Jays’ bitter AL East rivals, had won the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes. The prodigious Florida Marlins slugger spurned deals to go to San Francisco and St. Louis to accept a trade to the Bronx. The fact that the 2017 NL MVP is owed a staggering $265 million on his contract had eliminated most MLB teams— including the Jays.
The prospect of Stanton, who hammered out 267 home runs and drove in 672 runs with the sad-sack Marlins in seven seasons, added to the brobdignian Aaron Judge, who slugged 52 homers for the Yankees in 2017, will give everyone in the American League pause. No one more so than their opponents in the AL East.
Yes, neither man is exactly a gazelle on defence. It will still take a revived Yankees pitching staff to get the Yanks to the top of the heap. Still, the bulking of the Yankees comes at a time when the management of the Blue Jays has decided to step back from the high-salaries models they’ve embraced the past few years.
The 2017 Blue Jays are going to get younger, cheaper and, presumably, worse than the star-laden lineup that they have fielded recently. In the last two years they’ve jettisoned Edwin Encarnacion, José Bautista and (perhaps) Josh Donaldson with few bonafide prospects to replace them. Matched against the Yankees and the young, exciting Boston Red Sox— who will look to match the Yankees move themselves— the Jays chances in 2018 are going to be slim and none outside of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroma
Toronto, like the rest of MLB, saw what the Houston Astros did in stripping out their team, taking a drubbing for four or five years to accumulate young stars— with a World Series title to show for their suffering. Could Jays management be thinking of handing Toronto fans a nothing burger for a couple of seasons to rebuild themselves? There say not. But how will that be received by the fan base that has grown accustomed to winning lately?
And how does that figure into the recent disclosure that the Blue Jays owner, Rogers Communications, might consider selling the team? Clearly, Rogers is straining under the weight of its bold US $5.2 billion purchase of the NHL’s Canadian TV/ digital rights. The Blue Jays’ roaring success helped Rogers get over the financial shock of no Canadian teams in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.
But it’s clear that carrying so many sports properties is a challenge for Rogers’ bottom line. While it keeps them out of the clutches of its rivals at Bell (which owns TSN), Rogers needs financial flexibility as well. If Rogers dumps its baseball property, the question for Jays fans becomes, Who in Toronto or Canada can afford the billion-dollar investment it will take to wrest the team from Rogers? Will anyone buy the team and let Rogers keep the TV rights? Does Rogers hold onto the Rogers Centre itself?
Jays fans don’t need a long memory to recall the dark days after Labatt gave up ownership of the Jays following their 1992/ 1993 World Series triumphs. In the hands of indifferent corporate leadership, the team’s management was given a budget that would make it hard to compete in the AL Central, let alone an AL East armed with Stanton’s Yankees and the dynamic Red Sox. The postseason was a pipe dream.
Even in its early ownership of the Jays, Rogers was accused of being cheap. It wasn’t till they took the cuffs off GM Alex Anthopoulos’ budget that the team vaulted back to contention. What if the new owner is undercapitalized after paying Rogers’ asking price for the team?
The logical play seems to be Bell buying the Blue Jays. They’re desperate for a spring/ summer property since losing Stanley Cup rights to Rogers three years ago. They claimed to have had the $5.2 B Rogers paid for the NHL— using even $2 B to buy the Blue Jays enterprise would seem to be doable. Plus it would give them a shot in the arm after losing their hockey prominence in a nasty negotiation with Gary Bettman.
Finally, Blue Jays fans are sure to miss Gregg Zaun, who was turfed from his job as analyst for inappropriate behavior last month. There’s not much clear about what prompted the shocking move, except Rogers is feeling the pressure in the current hysteria to respond to any semblance of sexual tensions in the workplace.
But Zaun was the honest man in the Blue Jays broadcast crew. While other former players mouthed platitudes and excused shoddy play, Zaun cut to the chase. His stinging criticisms landed him in trouble with a Rogers management scared of its own shadow. But he was the fans’ voice in a trough of equivocation. That may be as hard to replace as Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson.
(Full disclosure: Zaun and I have worked together on a book, spiked by Rogers, and I consider him a friend.)
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)