No. 15 Blue Jays: 16th in a series counting down to spring training. Next: Dodgers.
One more year, two at the most.
Unless that pesky Mayan calendar is correct, and the Earth drifts into a black hole or is attacked by a higher species we never knew existed, Joey Votto will be with the Blue Jays in the very near future. When that inevitable acquisition is finalized, they will have the full attention of the American League for the first time since the early '90s.
Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, is the perfect piece to complete Alex Anthopoulos' upgrading of a team that had averaged 80 victories during the eight seasons J.P. Ricciardi was in the general manager's office. Ricciardi took over for Gord Ash, who had the misfortune of taking over for Hall of Famer Pat Gillick.
Anthopoulos, with a scout-heavy approach that is in sharp contrast to Ricciardi's streamlined operation, has created more excitement in his two-plus years on the job than there has been at Rogers Centre since Joe Carter stepped in to face Mitch Williams in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.
He has benefited heavily from Ricciardi's most inspired move — trading catcher Robinzon Diaz to the Pirates for Jose Bautista — but showed an ability to make a tough call in trading Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum for badly needed flexibility and four prospects, including third baseman Brett Lawrie, catcher Travis d'Arnaud (.914 OPS last year in Double-A) and pitcher Kyle Drabek. The Blue Jays need to hit on all those players — potentially creating a great bargaining chip when d'Arnaud starts pushing J.P. Arencibia, who as a rookie started 118 games and hit 23 home runs last year — to close the gap between themselves and the three powers in the AL East.
Anthopoulos has created a glut of top pitching prospects in the Blue Jays' system, the best of which are lefties Daniel Norris and Justin Nicolino and right-handers Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchison and Asher Wojciechowski, according to Baseball America. The inventory is so deep Baseball America had rated control freak right-hander Nestor Molina, sent to the White Sox even up for 30-save closer Sergio Santos, as the Blue Jays' 18th best minor-leaguer.
And all roads lead to Votto.
The left-handed-hitting first baseman has a .955 career OPS. For sure, the Reds' Great American Ball Park has helped his power numbers, but it didn't have a whole lot to do with the batting eye that helped him lead the NL with a .424 on-base percentage last year. The sight of Votto next to Bautista (wisely signed to a five-year, $65-million extension before last season) would be like the Tigers' coupling of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, or back in the day the Red Sox's tandem of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
Oh, there's one other thing. Votto, who had his coming-out party playing for Canada's disappointing team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic games at Rogers Centre, is a Toronto native. He's two years away from free agency, and the Reds face at least as many obstacles in signing him to an extension as the Cardinals and Brewers, respectively, did Albert Pujols and Fielder.
The question is whether the living-for-the-moment Reds will make the suddenly deep-pocketed Jays wait until after 2013 or trade him a year from now. Smart money says general manager Walt Jocketty will trade him when Anthopoulos makes an overwhelming offer — one that might have to be a three-team deal as the Reds like 23-year-old catcher Devin Mesoraco as much as the Jays like Arencibia and d'Arnaud, one of whom will make a tantalizing bargaining chip.
Because of his aggressiveness, and maybe also his youth, Anthopoulos is something of a cult hero in Toronto. He will need Jennifer Lopez's closet to store his swagger if he can bring Votto home.
• Confident that they're on the right track, the Blue Jays focused on improving the bullpen this winter. They acquired Sergio Santos from the White Sox, and anointed him closer. They also added 41-year-old left-hander Darren Oliver, left-hander Aaron Laffey and right-hander Jim Hoey.
• Anthopoulos is gambling on Brandon Morrow to develop consistency that has eluded him. He signed a three-year, $21-million contract extension and is under club control through 2015, one year less than ace Ricky Romero.
• The one Blue Jays starter no one has heard of is Henderson Alvarez, a 21-year-old Venezuelan right-hander who had a 3.53 ERA in 10 starts after a promotion from Double-A.
• Bautista, 31, might be the safest preseason MVP pick on the board. He has hit 97 home runs, has driven in 227 runs and has walked 232 times the last two years.
• John Farrell would be managing the Red Sox rather than the Blue Jays if he had stayed one more season as Boston's pitching coach. The Red Sox wanted him back this winter but he has two more years left on his contract. He is an ideal manager for a team that will spend at least the next two seasons sorting through its storehouse of pitching prospects — minus the ones that will be traded for Votto, that is.
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