A return to the past
It might not seem like it, but the Blue Jays have been down this road before and the truth is it wasn’t even that long ago.
Back in 2005, J.P. Ricciardi had just finished his fourth year on the job as Toronto’s general manager. He oversaw a club which finished two games below .500 but had plenty of optimism for the future with the promise of an increased payroll.
The club’s ownership group, Rogers Communications, was a multi-billion dollar corporation that in theory had plenty of money to spend while the public pressure only increased after the company purchased what was then called SkyDome for a measly $25-million.
Ricciardi and president Paul Godfrey presented ownership with a plan on how to get baseball relevant in Toronto again. In order to compete against the likes of Boston and New York in the American League East, the club would have to start spending like it belonged.
Rogers responded in kind favor and agreed to provide a major influx in cash to get things started. What followed was one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history as Ricciardi’s phone number suddenly was put on speed dial by all of major player agents from around the league.
The first major move was signing closer B.J. Ryan to a five-year, $47-million contract. Right-hander A.J. Burnett followed a few weeks later armed with a five-year, $55-million deal while the club then put the finishing touches on a major trade which saw third baseman Troy Glaus and the remaining three-years, $36 million on his contract come to Toronto.
But Ricciardi didn’t stop there. He would also pull the trigger on a trade with Arizona for first baseman Lyle Overbay and later signed veteran catcher Bengie Molina to a one-year contract valued at $5-million.
The Blue Jays committed more than $145 million in total salaries as part of those deals. The club went from being ranked 25th in baseball with a $45.7 million payroll in 2005 to No. 15 the following year with $71.9.
The quick-fix solutions were supposed to turn the Blue Jays into potential contenders for the postseason. Ryan and Glaus managed to earn spots on the All-Star team and the club also finished with 87 wins — its highest total since 1998 — but it still wasn’t enough to overtake the Yankees atop the AL East.
With the postseason seemingly within striking distance, the Blue Jays decided to go all-in for a second consecutive offseason. Toronto began once again made an early splash by signing designated hitter Frank Thomas to a two-year contract valued at $18-million in what seemed like only the beginning.
Ricciardi then took a strong run at free agent pitchers Ted Lilly and Gil Meche. He boasted about having enough money to potentially sign both hurlers but was ultimately spurned in their decisions to go elsewhere.
Not to be outdone for long, Ricciardi continued along with his offseason and once again it seemed as though money wasn’t an issue. He signed Vernon Wells (seven-years, $126 million) and Overbay (four-years, $24 million) to long-term extensions while ensuring his core would remain in place for the distant future.
It was another $168-million in guaranteed money and Toronto’s overall payroll jumped to $81.9 million for the 2007 campaign. Looking back, it was the final positive news of Ricciardi’s eight-year tenure in Toronto.
The Blue Jays suffered more than their fair share of injuries during that 2007 season en route to a disappointing 83-79 record. The following year, things didn’t get much better as Toronto managed to finish 10 games above .500 but were still a distant 11 games back of New York for first place in the division.
After a series of failed attempts for the postseason, the club ultimately was broken up and the slashing of payroll slowly began. Glaus and Wells were dealt, Ryan and Thomas were waived, while Burnett and Overbay left via free agency.
But now everything has come full circle with Alex Anthopoulos having just finished his third at the helm as GM and Rogers Communications apparently once again eager to spend money. The end result was Tuesday night’s reported deal with Miami that sees Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck on their way to Toronto.
The Blue Jays will take on upwards of $160 million as part of the blockbuster trade and their 23rd-ranked payroll ($75.5 million) could move into the upper-third of the league with salaries expected to approach $120 million in 2013.
Anthopoulos made the bold megadeal knowing full well that there’s a strong chance it will ultimately define his time in Toronto. Ricciardi was aware of that, too, back in the spending sprees of 2005-06.
That’s where the Blue Jays hope the similarities between the two will end. Right now, there’s only optimism for the future but also go in knowing that nothing is guaranteed.