The past five years has been a fun ride for Blue Jays fans.
Heading into the 2012 season, our Jays were coming off 4 straight 4th place finishes (and we would finish 4th again in 2012). We had been middle of the pack in attendance and middle of the pack in talent too, finishing within 5 games of .500 in 6 of the previous 7 seasons. We hadn’t made the playoffs since 1993 and rarely had come close to making the playoffs since, finishing as high as second only once.
Alex Anthopoulos was heading into his third season as manager of the Blue Jays. Alex had been mostly focusing on the farm system, which, under J.P. Ricciardi, had been kind of lackluster. Alex talked about the team building from the bottom up, becoming a team that could be a perennial contender.
Alex doubled the size of the scouting department. He worked to get as many high draft choices as he could. He managed to trade the bloated contract of Vernon Wells. His 2010 draft netted us Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard.
In the middle of the 2012 season we started to see a shift away from building up the minor league system, and a shift to using the strength of the minors to trade for established veterans. We picked up J.A. Happ (plus David Carpenter and Brandon Lyon) for 5 minor leaguers (plus Francisco Cordero and Ben Francisco).
After the 2012 season the switch in philosophies took a big leap. We made a huge trade, with the Marlins, to get Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio, giving away Yunel Escorbar and 5 prospects. A month later two of our very best prospects (Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard) plus others went to the Mets for 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey (and Josh Thole).
The trade brought a fair bit of excitement to a fan base that really had been wanting some excitement. Not that it brought the expected wins as the Jays would finish 5th in 2013 and 3rd in 2014.
But attendance took a big jump, going from 2,099,663 in 2012 to 2,536,525 and 2,375,525 the next two years.
Alex wasn’t finished his trading. Before the start of the 2015 season he pried Josh Donaldon away from the A’s. Then, at the trade deadline, he acquired Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and others, pretty much emptying out our minor league system.
The result? We’ve made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and, last year, hit 3.4 million in attendance. Fans came in numbers that haven’t been seen since the World Series seasons.
Now, Alex Athopoulos is no longer the GM, Mark Shipiro and Ross Atkins are plotting our course. They have made rebuilding the minor league system a priority .
So what has changed for the Jays in the last five years? Well, we have gone from a team that wasn’t quite a joke (though Grant Brisbee made his fair share of jokes about us) to a contender. We’ve gone from a team that was in the lower half of in attendance to a team that lead the AL in attendance last year. A team that doesn’t have their only sellout crowd on opening day and then hopes the stadium looks half full the rest of the season.
We have gone from having to sell off any player than makes more than the major league average to actually trading for guys making top dollar.
And, maybe unfortunately for Shipiro and Atkins, we’ve become a fan base that expects our Jays to win. They have a narrow tightrope to walk, trying to build up the minor league system, while keeping a contending major league club. The next five years are sure to be interesting.