Happy December Days for Toronto baseball fans

Seriously, this feels weird.

It certainly seems like the Toronto Blue Jays are going to be good. Like, really good. Like, as good as they’ve been in December since the dwindling days of 1992 when Pat Gillick was stroking his chin and trying to figure out which puzzle pieces he needed to find to keep the defending World Series champions on top.

"Let’s see, out with Dave Winfield, in with Paul Molitor? Yup, that should do it."

A different era and a different off-season. This time around the Blue Jays are trying to make the climb from also-ran to front-runner in a single fell-swoop, which explains importing most of the good players from the Florida Marlins, and now the best pitcher in the National League.

Will it be enough?

December isn’t April or May and it goes without saying it’s a long, long, way to October.

But the Blue Jays, with the all-but-done addition of National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, have gone from 73-win wallflower to supermodel sexy in the space of about 15 minutes, it feels like.

It was almost exactly a month ago, actually, that the Blue Jays still sucked, and were hoping to get some starts from Kyle Drabek in 2013.


With a projected rotation of Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Romero and now Dickey, the Jays almost certainly can’t suck. And perhaps most importantly there can’t be a single Jays fan anywhere who can look at what’s happened to their team in the past 30 days and think any stone has been left unturned.

This is what winning in winter feels like.

Last season Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez were the only Jays to make more than 30 starts and they allowed the most walks and the second most hits, respectively, in the American League.

Instead of Alvarez the Blue Jays will have Dickey, who was 20-6 last season with a 2.73 ERA while leading the NL with 230 strikeouts and 233 innnings pitched.

Romero took the ball as the franchise’s ace in April of 2012 and in the space of 30 days this off-season there’s a realistic chance he’ll be battling for the fifth spot in the rotation unless he regains the 2011 form that saw him go 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA.

On paper it might be the best starting rotation in franchise history.

At the very least its deeper than the 1985 collection of starters, where Dave Stieb, Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Key and Jim Clancy – rounded off by Luis Leal – helped Toronto to a franchise-best 588 runs allowed (in 161) games.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what former Toronto manager and noted pitching guru John Farrell thinks?

Caveats? Oh, there are always caveats.

The primary one in this case is that Toronto has given up too much of their future in this deal, in particular – Travis D’Arnaud, a triple-A star coming off knee surgery – and Noah Syndergaard who dominated single-A hitters but could go his entire career without pitching the 233 innings Dickey did last season.

Still, it might seem like a lot to give up for a pitcher who will be 38 on Opening Day.

But Dickey is a young 38.

He’s just eight years into his second-life as a knuckleballer and he’s figured it out at the major league level in the past three years.

It’s what makes Dickey not only the finishing piece to a potentially devastating starting rotation, but one of the great sports stories to ever hit Toronto, which is an added bonus.

Drafted as a fire-balling phenom in 1996, his arm wouldn’t stand up to the rigours of conventional pitching. He was ready to pack it in when the Texas Rangers encouraged him to become a knuckleballer.

His mentor in the art of the fluttery butterfly was Charlie Hough who taught him the pitch in 2005.

The former Rangers hurler seemed to age pretty well: Hough averaged 255 innings a season from age 38 to 40 and survived to pitch until he was 46.

Dickey didn’t take to the pitch right away.

He was back in the minors in 2007, a broke father of two with a third child coming and about ready to pack it in not only from baseball, but from everything, as he relates in his well-received autobiography "Wherever I Wind up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Quest for a Perfect Knuckleball."

But he persevered and last year, his third with the Mets, he mesmerized National League batters with his unpredictable arsenal.

But the Mets are rebuilding and investing a two-year, $26-million contract extension in a pitcher who was pushing 40 seemed like too much of a risk.

The Jays are rebuilding too, but suddenly at a breakneck pace, like a toboggan bouncing down an icy hill, Canadian baseball fans like a pack of giggling kids crammed on, loving every minute of the thrill ride.

In that context upping the ante for an ageing knuckleballer seems like the perfect early Christmas gift for a fan base from a franchise that has handed out its share of coal this time of year.

Not this year.

It’s only December. Everyone knows it’s only December, but it definitely has brought a different feeling for Blue Jays fans.

I think they call it optimism. (source Michael Grange SportsNet.ca)