When Alex Anthopoulos overpaid for Russell Martin heading into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, he made it crystal clear about what he was buying at a high price.
I wanted someone who not only knew how to win, but who was central to the process of building and changing a culture. Martin had been to the playoffs seven times in his first nine years in the majors and had been particularly significant in Pittsburgh, where the largely irrelevant Pirates returned to the playoffs after a 20-year absence.
Anthopoulos didn’t have to overpay for Josh Donaldson in dollars in one of the greatest trades in Blue Jays history. And Donaldson not only filled a need — he was AL MVP in his first season with the Blue Jays and finished fourth in MVP voting in his second — but he also had a brief history of being in the playoffs. in Oakland. He had played three full seasons for the A’s and had made the postseason three times. With the Blue Jays, he continued that streak. In his first five seasons, Donaldson made the playoffs five straight times.
While there couldn’t be more of a difference in the way Anthopoulos operates as a GM than Ross Atkins has operated for seven years in Toronto, this offseason points to that winter of 2015, in a different way with a kind of team
The signing of Brandon Belt the other day, a 34-year-old who has seen his best days as a Major League player, continued the clear, unspoken vision that Atkins and president Mark Shapiro have for this Blue Jays team. It’s time to win, now.
The last three seasons have ended in disappointment. The Blue Jays lost that as-yet-unexplained game to Seattle on a shaky Saturday night in October. The year before, they missed the playoffs by one game. The year before, in a shorter season, they made the playoffs in an expanded format and were promptly eliminated by the Tampa Bay Rays.
To date, Atkins-Shapiro’s playoff tally, with his team, not the one they inherited from Anthopoulos, is four games played, no games won. Two managers were hired. Two managers fired. Lots of talent, but lack of understanding of what it takes to get the most out of this roster.
Belt understands winning. He came from a San Francisco Giants organization that won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. He was in double-A when the Giants won that first Series, but he was a central figure on the San Francisco teams that won in 2012. . and ’14. There he was known as El Capitan. You don’t get that kind of name by accident.
He comes to the Blue Jays to play a little bit of first base, a little bit of DH, a little bit of a left-handed hitter, but mostly to be a mature 34-year-old figure in a clubhouse and bench that needs him.
It’s pretty much the same situation with Kevin Kiermaier, who was signed by Atkins this offseason to play center field. He’s 32, tough as Donaldson and Martin, a brilliant outfielder with a regular bat.
Belt has been to the playoffs three times. Kiermaier has played in the postseason four times. Like Belt, he understands winning and hitting left, and like Belt, he has a built-in understanding of the combination of culture and winning.
That has been the theme this offseason. Goodbye Teoscar Hernández and all that talent. Goodbye Lourdes Gurriel and all that talent. Goodbye Raimel Tapia. Goodbye young Gabriel Moreno and all that talent. It’s about now and getting a little more serious and not wasting the best years of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette’s careers.
The three starters the Blue Jays have signed this offseason, Daulton Varsho, Belt and Kiermaier, all hit left, and that’s no coincidence, they all play defense at a reasonably high level and are all considered solid citizens, which which is always important in team building and clubhouse structuring.
And the signing of Don Mattingly as bench coach is part of that shakeup, from a team that won 92 games last season and played at a 100-win pace after John Schneider was promoted to coach. Expectations exceed 92 wins.
Mattingly is a figure of great importance in the game. Everyone knows Donnie Baseball and almost everyone knows what he did in his playing career with the New York Yankees.
When I say something this season, it will mean more because it came from Donnie Baseball, who was a star before Vladimir Guerrero, Dante Bichette or Craig Biggio, the dads of the Blue Jays, played their first big league games. Mattingly brings 12 years of managerial experience to the Blue Jays to work alongside Schneider, who has 74 games.
And add Chris Bassitt to the starting rotation, a 34-year-old future whose career stats read like a straight line, and there are more veterans, more players with postseason résumés,
There’s nothing flashy about any of the Blue Jays’ offseason acquisitions. This isn’t getting Donaldson from Oakland or Martin as a free agent. MVP is not brought here.
But it’s about changing the outfield defense and adding left-handed bats to an everyday lineup, changing the bench, changing the clubhouse, and replacing nonsense with seriousness.
Clearly, Atkins, Shapiro and probably Schneider didn’t like what they saw from last year’s team. This has been a quiet but significant winter of culture shock and culture change for the Blue Jays.
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