The Toronto Blue Jays are the Toronto Blue Jays of the American League East. It's true. They don't have the plucky upstartitude of the Tampa Bay Rays, coming along every couple of years to stun one of the two superpowers in the division. And they aren't the comic foil to the rest of the division like the Baltimore Orioles, allowing runs at the same quick pace at which they aren't scoring any. The Blue Jays are the Blue Jays are the Blue Jays -- often hovering around .500, but mostly an annual footnote to every baseball season.
The 2011 World Series, though, has Blue Jay tracks and droppings all over it. If you can't make the playoffs, you could do worse than to help two different teams make the World Series. Here are four transactions that the Blue Jays made that will affect the 107th Fall Classic:
Michael Young for Esteban Loaiza
It's odd to think that Super Ranger Michael Young: Super Texas Ranger was drafted and developed by another team, but the Blue Jays picked him up in the fifth round of the 1997 draft. And in 2000, the Blue Jays could hit a little bit -- Carlos Delgado was having his best season, Brad Fullmer was a rising young star, and Tony Batista hit 41 home runs (for an OPS+ of 102!).
The rotation, though, was awful. Just pitiful. They had two clowns in the rotation with an ERA over 6.00, and they needed starting pitching if they were to compete. When the Jays traded Young for Loaiza, it was July 19th, and Toronto was just 1½ out of first place. Loaiza pitched well for the rest of 2000, but it wasn't enough for Toronto, who finished 4½ back of the Yankees.
Releasing Chris Carpenter
Funny note about those two starting pitchers in that last section, the ones who were so awful that it made the Blue Jays trade away Michael Young:
It was a historical rotation, just in the wrong way. It's hard to blame the Blue Jays for releasing Carpenter, as he was already making millions in arbitration, and he had a torn labrum. You don't just put a dab of Neosporin on those. The Cardinals picked him up on the cheap, and eight seasons and a Cy Young later, Carpenter is starting Game 1 of the World Series for the Cardinals, five years after he helped them win another championship.
Also, Releasing Chris Carpenter would be a good name for a movie about transactions. It would sound like an arthouse flick, and that way you could con your significant other into seeing it. Surprise! The protagonist is Dave Duncan, and he spits a lot.
Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco
Getting someone -- anyone -- to trade for Vernon Wells is the most amazing trade of our generation. It should have been impossible for someone to keep a straight face during those talks, but it happened. An amazing, amazing trade. Even more amazing: they actually got a good player in exchange. Wells for a bag of stale Hydrox would have been a coup, but they actually got Mike Napoli, who was a plus-hitter at a premium defensive position.
Then the Blue Jays traded Napoli to the Rangers for a reliever.
It's not that Frank Francisco is bad. He's okay. But for all the Alex Anthopoulos feting in internet baseball-nerd circles, he really did commit an old-school mistake by trading Napoli for a reliever. You can find Franciscos if you turn over enough rocks. But even if Napoli didn't turn into Mike Piazza this year, the older versions were still a pretty rare commodity.
Colby Rasmus for Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, and Edwin Jackson
In five years, if this deal doesn't look like an obvious steal for the Blue Jays, it will be a major upset. They traded a huge chunk of their bullpen away (including Jason Frasor to get Jackson), but in return they got a coveted bag of tools in his mid-20s. It still looks like a trade that will favor Toronto.
But if the Cardinals complete their miracle run with a title, this trade will be forever hailed as a stroke of genius. The St. Louis bullpen became an immediate strength, and considering that the Cardinals won the wild card by the slimmest of margins, it's not a stretch to suggest that if just one of the three players involved in the deal isn't on the team, they don't make the playoffs.
It's been a long time since Joe Carter, but the Blue Jays finally figured out how to get back to the World Series. Sort of. In a slightly roundabout way. But most of the other teams in baseball can't claim that they're affecting the 2011 World Series like this. It's something!