The Toronto Blue Jays have reached an inflection point in their history. After three seasons of skittering backward in the standings, the coming year should be better. It needs to be.
There are signs that after the past few seasons’ strategic retreat, the collection of young and emerging talent assembled by the Blue Jays will be prepared to step up and move the team’s fortunes in a positive direction. Maybe not into contention just yet, but something better than 67 wins.
You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find much optimism for the state of the team among the fanbase lately. Maybe it’s the echo chamber of snark and negativity that thrives on social media, but the overriding sentiment is frustration, and maybe even worse, a growing disheartenment and apathy with where the Blue Jays stand.
Some of this is simply the turgid rot of modern sports fandom, where a segment of every team’s fans believes that if they aren’t in ecstasy, then they should be affecting agony at the top of their voice. But some of it runs deeper, and some of it is less cynical and more true, and it should be a concern for the brain trust and stewards of the franchise.
The public trust in the Blue Jays is bottoming out, to a point where the management team can seemingly do no right. If they add starting pitchers like a Tanner Roark, or a Chase Anderson, it’s viewed as bargain shopping to raise the floor. And there’s not much reason to get excited about that.
If the Blue Jays take a serious run at players who may be slightly more skilled or revered, but come up empty, it feeds into the negative perception of the team. Either Toronto didn’t do enough to lock the player down, or nobody wants to come play for them. Both explanations leave fans demoralized and frustrated.
It has created a situation where, if the Blue Jays aren’t able to lock up a top player by the time they report to Dunedin in February, the season will begin to feel like another failure before it even begins.
This crisis of consumer confidence didn’t happen all at once. While there are arguments to be had over the team’s transactions in the past year, the messaging around the deals that sent long-serving players out of town for uninspiring returns helped to feed into a bitter pessimism about the team and those managing it.
From a purely rational perspective, one can’t blame the management team if they walk away from the off-season and pocket the “payroll flexibility” until a better player becomes available. But with the current perception of the team as low as it is, it’s hard to imagine how they could get away from the winter without making at least one big splash.
This isn’t an unprecedented situation. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Alex Anthopoulos found himself in the same spot. Following a disastrous 2012 season, in which manager John Farrell left for his “dream job” with a divisional rival, shortstop Yunel Escobar walked onto the field with homophobic slurs written on his eye black and the team’s future core seemingly imploded in unison, something needed to change to save the perception of the team.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
By Christmas of that offseason, Anthopoulos had pulled off two mega deals to bring veterans, league-leaders, all-stars and a reigning Cy Young laureate. They brought back a well-liked manager (John Gibbons) and those blue uniforms — and their offseason boldness was rewarded with a level of reinvigorated fervor from the fans.
It didn’t actually work so well on the field, mind you. Not initially, at least, as the 2013 Blue Jays won just one more game (76) than the shambolic 2012 team. It took two more seasons before some of that massive haul could contribute to the moment when the team’s fortunes truly turned. But the big deals at least created the impression that the team could be bold if it needed to be.
There is some hazard in attempting to turn around the public perception all at once. The free agent market this year ran hotter and faster than any in recent memory, which left the Blue Jays – and many other teams – chasing after a scant few players at the top of everyone’s lists. It has left them in a situation where the decision of a single player could make or break their offseason, potentially sinking the customers’ trust that much more.
This is likely an argument for why teams shouldn’t wait until the perfect moment to begin adding substantively all at once when they are “ready”, and why they should always be looking to make their team better. But that’s another treatise for a another day.
It’s one thing to sneer at the notion of “winning the off-season,” but there comes a moment where if you don’t do something notable, you risk losing more fans’ faith.
New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job
The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.
A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.
Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.
He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.
He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.
The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.
Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media
NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon
The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.
“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”
Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.
The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.
In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.
–Field Level Media
Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.
As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.
Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.
The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.
Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.
Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.
As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.
“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.
“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”
-Field Level Media
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