Something that’s often lost with nostalgia around the 2015 Blue Jays is just how bad the vibes were following the previous season.
The 2014 team had a scorching-hot month of May, going 21-9 and leading the American League East by as many as six games early in June. The Blue Jays then erased a cold month of June with a five-game winning streak against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to close out July and were just a game-and-a-half back of the division lead.
But rather than going all-in at the trade deadline and pushing to end a playoff drought that had gone on since 1993, Alex Anthopoulos just stood pat. The decision not to add any reinforcements to the team rubbed some players the wrong way, as Jose Bautista came out and said the front office’s deadline approach was “a little disappointing.”
“Of course it’s a little disappointing that we somehow weren’t able to get anything done, but everyone around us that’s in contention — and even some teams that aren’t in contention like the Red Sox — somehow figured it out,” Bautista said. “Maybe they believe enough in our talent that they didn’t feel like they wanted to break up our group and sacrifice our talent and what we’ve got going.”
The Blue Jays fell flat in August, kicking things off by losing three in a row to the rebuilding Houston Astros and ultimately going 9-17 over the month. By September, they were 10 games back of the AL East and the focus shifted to the future.
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Once the off-season rolled around, so did the additions. On November 1, 2014, the Blue Jays sent Adam Lind, the longest-tenured players in the organization at the time, to the Milwaukee Brewers for Marco Estrada, a swingman to give the pitching staff some depth. A couple of weeks later, Anthopoulos made the biggest free-agent splash since taking over as general manager, signing Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract.
At the end of the month, this trade came completely out of the blue…
AA packaged up Brett Lawrie along with prospects Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman, and Franklin Barreto to the Oakland A’s for Josh Donaldson.
There was a bit of nervousness at the time, as Donaldson was coming off of somewhat of a down year with Oakland following his breakout season in 2013, while Lawrie was once viewed as a franchise cornerstone and Nolin and Graveman were talked about as arms who could soon contribute at the big league level.
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All of that worry was wiped away pretty quickly, as Donaldson slashed a .319/.370/.550 line with five home runs in his first month as a Blue Jay. Donaldson, of course, wound up winning the AL MVP in 2015 and the Blue Jays ended their two-decade-long playoff drought thanks to an incredible run that came after a huge trade deadline.
In terms of value in and value out, there’s no doubt that the Donaldson trade is the best that Anthopoulos made during his time in Toronto. That off-season addition coupled with the trade deadline acquisitions of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki completely erased the negative sentiment around Anthopoulos from the failures of the previous couple of years.
The current front office has made multiple big splashes, such as adding George Springer and Kevin Gausman in free agency and acquiring Matt Chapman in a trade with Oakland (in a deal that was hilariously similar to the Donaldson one, I’ll add) but there’s still a sentiment among many that they won’t make the big splash necessary to push the Blue Jays over the top.
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Whether it’s right or wrong or fair or not, the reality is that Ross Atkins can make a Springer signing or Chapman trade every winter and a good chunk of observers won’t change their view of him until the team goes on a run. This was the case with Anthopoulos, as the narrative didn’t change with the Donaldson trade and the Martin signing, it changed when the Blue Jays won the AL East.

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