Red, white and Blue Jays: can Toronto return to playoffs?
The Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993. Since then, they have missed the playoffs for 21 straight years.
With the Kansas City Royals having made the playoffs in 2014, Toronto’s 21-year playoff drought is now the longest in all of Major League Baseball. As Canada’s only MLB team, the Blue Jays have long searched for Canadian players to help push them back into the playoffs. They hope to have finally solved the issue.
The Blue Jays play their first game of Grapefruit League spring training this week when they face the Pittsburgh Pirates in Dunedin, Florida. They will start this season with a retooled roster following several significant offseason acquisitions. Although one Canadian player was traded away this winter, the Jays actually added four more to their roster, one of them an Olympian.
The first big move was the signing of Toronto-born catcher Russell Martin, who is one of the game’s best defensive catchers and also great at contributing with his bat. Martin, known for his pitch-framing and ability to throw out runners, will be counted on to help the Blue Jays’ young pitchers come into their own.
The signing was quickly followed by a flurry of trades involving Canadians heading out of town as well as coming in.
A successful stint as a rookie had many calling Lawrie the Jays’ long-term answer at third base. However, following several injury-plagued seasons of under-performing and distractions both on and off the field, the club decided it was time to cut ties with the Canadian kid.
Only 10 days after inking Martin to a five-year contract, Lawrie was shipped to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Josh Donaldson, considered by most as a significant upgrade at third base. In addition to his big bat and good defensive abilities, Donaldson will be counted on to provide veteran leadership.
The frenzied offseason didn’t stop there, as less than a week after dealing Lawrie, the Jays added Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders. Saunders also played for Team Canada at Beijing 2008, hitting two home runs and collecting four RBIs in seven games. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, he does come with lots of questions marks as he has some potential to be great, but seems to be injured far too often.
In fact, Saunders could begin the 2015 season on the Disabled List after it was announced last week that he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee after tripping on a sprinkler head while catching fly balls. Saunders is expected to be out up to six weeks, which means he could possibly be back in time for Opening Day in early April.
One of the players now expected to step up in Saunders’ absence is another Canadian. Rookie Dalton Pompey, who made his MLB debut last September, is likely going to be the everyday centre fielder. The Mississauga-native is lightning fast, which should provide the Jays with a weapon on the base paths and in the outfield.
The final two Canadians added to the Blue Jays system this offseason were pitchers Jeff Francis and Andrew Albers, both of whom signed Minor League contracts. Albers helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara. While neither are expected to start the season in Toronto, there is a chance that they could be in the majors near season’s end.
Over the years, the Jays have had 19 Canadians play for their club, but few of them have ever turned into valuable pieces. From Paul Spoljaric to Paul Quantrill to Corey Koskie, Canadians seemed to have had trouble either contributing or bringing success to the Great White North. With Lawrie now gone, another Canadian with star potential has failed to pan out.
Hopefully Martin, Saunders and Pompey can eventually help Toronto return to the playoffs. It seems unlikely that it will happen this season, but with 162 regular season games yet to be played, anything can happen.