2012 Hero: Alex Anthopoulos
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2012 Hero: Alex Anthopoulos

Nominated for: building the Jays into a team to be reckoned with.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Last year was supposed to be a good one for the Toronto Blue Jays. Brett Lawrie had ended the 2011 season impressively, the team had acquired the promising Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals, and star Jose Bautista was coming off his second consecutive season as the MLB’s home-run leader. The team still faced tough competition in its division, but with a new wild-card slot in effect, a post-season appearance seemed, at least, possible.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out. Pitcher Ricky Romero completely fell apart and the Jays’ bullpen was decimated by injuries. Rasmus and Lawrie didn’t play to expectations, and Bautista was on the disabled list for a large part of the season. Encarnacion did better than expected, passing 40 homers and 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, but it wasn’t enough. The Jays ended the 2012 season with a 79-83 record, far from a playoff spot.

And then came the offseason. In November, the Jays’ young GM, Alex Anthopoulos, executed a surprise raid on the Miami Marlins’ roster, pulling off a blockbuster trade like some kind of baseball ninja, and giving Blue Jays fans the best reason they’ve had to be excited since the team’s back-to-back World Series wins in the early 1990s.

Anthopoulos has made his mark on the team through some big player moves. He started his career as the Jays’ GM with the Roy Halladay trade. Later, he made a deal to offload Vernon Wells and his enormous contract. But those trades now seem dwarfed by the 12-man deal that puts Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio in Jays uniforms in 2013. Just a few days later, Anthopoulos added Melky Cabrera to the roster, before announcing that John Gibbons would be returning to the team as manager.

The moves aren’t free from controversy. Marlins fans weren’t happy to see their team decimated just a year after the opening of their very expensive, publicly funded stadium, and there was some concern that Major League Baseball wouldn’t approve the trade. Melky Cabrera was having a great season with the San Francisco Giants last year (he won the MVP award at the 2012 All-Star Game), until he received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for high testosterone levels. And John Gibbons was generally well regarded as the Jays manager, particularly in his use of the team’s pitchers, until a few negative incidents with Jays players earned him a reputation as a hothead.

But risky moves show that the Toronto Blue Jays are finally willing to put it on the line in order to make a real run at the post-season, both in terms of the team’s roster and of the money put on the table. It’s been argued that the Jays just can’t compete with big-spending teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, but the team’s payroll for 2013 should hover around a hefty $120 million. Now it remains to be seen if Jays fans will open their own wallets and support a team that can finally, realistically be called a contender.

There’s no way to know yet how the 2013 Jays season will play out. Our pitching rotation could get taken down by injuries again. Our stars could underperform. Or it could be that the other teams in the AL play better than we do. But the moves Alex Anthopoulos made this fall have made it so that the upcoming season could realistically be the Jays’ best in 20 years. For a city that hasn’t had much to look forward to from its pro sports teams in a very long time, it’s nice to have a reason to be excited for April.

See the other nominees in the Culture and Sports category:

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

A rare home for first-run documentaries.
  Academy of the Impossible

Making education accessible, and breaking down barriers.
  Sarah Polley

Staying true to an uncompromising path.

G 98.7

Making commercial radio worth listening to again.
  The Beguiling

Supporting independent graphic arts for 25 years.

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