The current edition of the Toronto Blue Jays is a far cry from the team general manager Alex Anthopoulos inherited from J.P. Ricciardi in 2009. Through a series of trades and savvy free-agent signings, Anthopoulos has managed to turn the franchise’s fortunes around in a little under two years. Sure, the team is still in many ways a middling underachiever. But now there’s renewed hope that the Jays could very well be legitimate playoff contenders in the coming years. Where during the Ricciardi era the Blue Jays were a tangled mess of expensive underperforming veterans and unproven prospects (and Roy Halladay), with Anthopoulos at the helm a plan appears to be in place: namely, stockpile young prospects, build from the farm system and ink those same prospects to long-terms deals before they hit their prime. And with top prospect Brett Lawrie making his major league debut tonight against the Baltimore Orioles, the team’s long-overdue overhaul will be nearly complete. With that in mind, we look at five of the key players in the Anthopoulos makeover after the jump.
1. Brett Lawrie, 3B
How he got here: In a move that raised more than a few eyebrows, Anthopoulos shipped all-star pitcher Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers for Lawrie this off-season.
Our take: One of the top infield prospects in baseball, Lawrie came with a hefty price tag—but we think he’ll be worth it. Lawrie has been demolishing the competition in the minors and will likely be a major contributor for years to come. Plus, he’s a Canadian kid.
2. Brandon Morrow, SP
Acquired: Anthopoulos dealt reliever Brandon League to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for the starting pitcher.
Our take: It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Morrow in his two seasons with the Jays, but the 27-year-old fire-baller looks like he might be coming into his own as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation guy.
3. Yunel Escobar, SS
Acquired: Yet another Anthopoulos trade—this time swapping aging shortstop Alex Gonzalez to the Atlanta Braves for the young and fiery Escobar.
Our take: Escobar’s attitude and repeated run-ins with veteran manager Bobby Cox made this deal a gamble. Today, Escobar is entering his prime as one of the best (and most underrated) shortstops in the game.
4. Colby Rasmus, CF
Acquired: Last week, in a three-way deal with the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
Our take: Like Escobar, the 24-year-old Rasmus wore out his welcome with his previous club. But if he can both perform and behave with the Blue Jays, by all account Toronto will soon be reaping the rewards.
5. Jose Bautista, 3B/RF
Acquired: Bautista came to Toronto from the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later.
Our take: This was technically a Ricciardi move, but with Anthopoulos’s support Bautista gained the confidence he needed knowing he would be an everyday player. The rest is history.