The ship be sinking

“The ship be sinking,” was the famous quote Michael Ray Richardson gave to reporters as the 1981-82 New York Knicks’ season collapsed. Yet 35 years later, the quote can perfectly be applied to the dysfunctional Toronto Argonauts. The Boatmen’s ship is sinking faster than the titanic after a self-destructive off-season.

Following a 5-13 season, the Argos decided to fire their long-time general manager Jim Barker. The team’s poor record was justification for that decision. The only problem was how poorly the Argos executed their decision. The Argos were eliminated from the playoffs on Oct. 22. The decision to fire Barker was made on Jan. 24. The Argos decided to fire Barker three months after the team had been eliminated from the playoffs. The only question anyone can ask is, what took so long?

For three months, Barker was in charge and able to make personnel decisions as he had for the previous six seasons. Barker was able to sign quarterback Drew Willy and pass rusher Shawn Lemon to contract extensions. Now the team sits, without a general manager just weeks before free agency opens Feb. 14.

Argos President and CEO Michael Copeland made the decision to part ways with Barker and replace him with head coach Scott Milanovich and assistant general manager Spencer Zimmerman. The solution is nothing more than a stop gap. The unexplainable delayed decision to fire Barker has disrupted the entire structure of the organization.

Two days after firing Barker, Milanovich resigned as head coach to accept the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback coaching job. Within a span of 72 hours the Argos were left without a head coach and general manager. The Argos window to interview candidates on other teams’ coaching staff closes Jan. 31. The Argos will be interviewing candidates without being able to offer any structure or job security to whoever they talk to.

One of the reasons Milanovich left was because of the lack of job security. Milanovich was smart enough to realize the situation he was in. Whoever accepts the Argos general manager job will want to start fresh with their own head coaching hire. Knowing that he was in a no-win situation, Milanovich bolted. Everyone who the Argos interview knows that they will be in the same situation that Milanovich was in until the Argos figure out their front office structure.

“The ship be sinking,” Richardson quote was echoed by current Argos defensive back Jermaine Gabriel. Gabriel tweeted “I need a sinking ship emoji.” For Argos fans, there is little reason to be optimistic. The organization is a mess, and the team appears headed for another disastrous season.

The Argos hired Copeland in July 2015, after nearly a decade serving as the CFL’s CEO. But he could be next on the Argos firing line. Copeland failed to get fans in the seats in the Argos first season in BMO field. Good luck getting people to buy tickets this year, after the team’s awful offseason. He failed to properly judge the market for the Grey Cup. The team over-priced tickets, forcing them to drop ticket prices and paper most of the stadium for the CFL’s showcase game.

The CFL needs Toronto to be a strong market but Toronto has never figured out how to build a successful organization. Instead, the team has constantly made excuses. BMO field was supposed to be the solution to the team’s problems. But now Toronto is learning that the Argos’ problems run deeper than the stadium. The problems are everywhere and it’s time for Toronto to stop making excuses and start coming up with creative solutions.

Picture courtesy of Laura Groza/The Sputnik

 

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Management shuts Blue Jays championship window

The Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series window has prematurely closed after years of bad management, and spring training has not even started yet.

The past two seasons, the Blue Jays made the playoffs and advanced to the ALCS, but that is where their playoff run ended. Enjoy the memories of walk off home runs and bat flips Toronto sports fans. It will be a while before you see another playoff game inside the dome.

After winning the American League East two years ago, the Blue Jays elected to move on from General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. New president Mark Shapiro hired his former apprentice Ross Atkins, but the decision to move on from Anthopoulos was the correct decision.

In the last year of his contract, Anthopoulos traded away the future to save himself. Anthopoulos figured if he could make the playoffs he would get a new contract, he guessed wrong. Despite making the playoffs, the Blue Jays moved on and so has the rest of the Major Leagues. Two years later, Anthopoulos has not landed another general manager job.

In the summer of 2014, Anthopoulos gambled with every chip he had hoping to hit the jackpot of a championship. Ultimately Anthopoulos made it to the final table, but when he pushed his stack of chips to the middle of the table, he was sent home with nothing.

In separate deadline deals, Anthopoulos unloaded highly touted pitching prospects Jeff Hoffman and Daniel Norris, along with others. Initially the gamble proved worth it and the Jays won the AL East for the first time since 1993.

Two years later, the Jays are paying the price for trading away prospects. Instead of having young talented players on relatively cheap contracts, the Jays are stuck paying inflated prices for past-their-prime veterans. Today, all the Jays have to show for in those deadline trades is the albatross contract, and declining ability, of Troy Tulowitzki on the roster.

Anthopoulos’ biggest blunder came in 2012 when he traded for 38-year-old R.A. Dickey. In return, Anthopoulos gave up top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard. If the Blue Jays had Syndergaard right now, the window would still be open. It would be wide open because a rotation that features Aaron Sanchez and Syndergaard has two potential pitchers capable of winning a Cy Young award. Instead the Blue Jays received four mediocre seasons from Dickey, who the team left off their post-season roster.

The Jays hired Atkins who, in his first year running the franchise, has misjudged the market every step of the way. As Atkins was hired, sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion entered the final years of their contracts. Every move Atkins made had to be made thinking about improving the club and counting his pennies. Atkins needed to have the money required to resign two of the team’s most important offensive players, but he did not do that

Instead Atkins looked for alternative solutions. Calling them solutions is generous, calling them stopgaps would be friendly. They are just mistakes, and ultimately they lead to Encarnacion signing with Cleveland.

Currently the Blue Jays have 11 players under contract for $126.5 million. Including $20 million each for the .254 hitting Tulowitzki and for Russell Martin who Anthopoulos overpaid, and hit .231 a season ago. For the Jays, both of those players will continue to decline as they get older but both will continue to be paid $20 million until the end of the 2019 season.

Atkins is responsible for acquiring Melvin Upton Jr., Francisco Liriano, Steve Pearce, Kendrys Morales and extending Justin Smoak. Combined, those four players are making over $39 million. Trading for Lirano can be defended because the Jays got prospects in return for absorbing Lirano’s $13.67 million salary. Down the stretch with the Jays, Liriano was one of their best pitchers. But in the first half of the season with Pittsburgh, the 32-year old was awful and no one can be sure which version the Jays will get in 2017.

Upton and Smoak were midseason decisions by Atkins. Upton and his contract were acquired from San Diego for very little. The Padres are paying $11.45 million of Upton’s $16.45 million salary, but 32-year old Upton has been on the decline for four seasons since signing his contract. Upton’s batting averages over the past four seasons have been: .184, .208, .259 and .238, use whatever advanced metric you want, the player formerly known as B.J. is a replacement level player. At the $5 million the Jays are paying him, it’s a bad decision.

The decision to extend Smoak is just awful. Smoak owns a career .223/.308/.392 batting line. Like Upton, Smoak is a replacement level player, but a player Atkins is paying $4.125 million dollars for each of the next two seasons.

34-year old Steve Pearce has never been a major league regular. Pearce has been a fourth outfielder for his career. Last season he hit .217. For his career Pearce has an average of .254, but Atkins figuring you can never have enough replacement level players, gave Pearce $12.5 million for the next two seasons.

Combine the contracts the Blue Jays gave to Pearce, Smoak and Upton and the Blue Jays have committed $21.625 million. The Blue Jays gave Morales a 3-year $33 million dollar contract. Morales solves one problem for the Jays, batting left handed. Morales averages 25 home runs and a .273 average, but he is a downgrade from Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays tendered Encarnacion and Bautista $17.8 million contracts. Both players could accept the one year deal, but it also gave the Jays a first round pick when Encarnacion signed with Cleveland. It also means the team was willing to commit over $36 million to the two players.

Would 42 home run hitter Encarnacion have resigned for a 5-year $110 million dollar contract? We will never know. Reports said the Blue Jays offered $80 million over four seasons. If they had not signed Pearce they could have given that money to Encarnacion. If the Blue Jays resign Edwin, their window is still open.

If the Jays had not extended Smoak they could have potentially signed Morales for the same contract and signed Bautista. It is not unreasonable to think that the 36-year old Bautista would have accepted a one year contract for $20 million and attempt to rebuild his value and be a free agent next season. The Jays could have potentially had a lineup as they had a season ago, with Upton replacing Michael Saunders in leftfield and Morales replacing Smoak.

TSN reported the Blue Jays were willing to spend $165 million. According to Baseball Reference the Toronto Blue Jays will have a $141.8 million payroll once all arbitration and pre-arbitration contracts are signed. If you subtract Pearce and Smoak’s $10.375 and add $42 million the Jays sit at $173.425. Still over the reported $165 million, but that includes contracts for Aaron Loup, Ezequiel Carrera and Darwin Barney. If you subtract the $4 million those replacement level players make, and you are closing in on that $165 million payroll. Instead the Blue Jays will be paying over $140 million for a third of fourth place team in the AL East.

Toronto sports fans are the worst

Toronto sports fans are the worst. Throwing cans of beer, racial and homophobic insults are just the beginning of why Toronto sports fans are some of the worst behaved fans in North America.

During the seventh inning of the Toronto Blue Jays American League Wild Card game, Baltimore Orioles left fielder Hyun-son Kim made a routine catch on a warning track fly ball. Or at least it should have been a routine play, except for a Toronto fan throwing a beer can at the Orioles’ outfielder.

This was not the first incident of Toronto fans throwing cans of beer onto the field. In the prior season’s playoff series against Texas, Toronto fans littered the field with everything they could throw onto the field after the fan base disagreed with the umpires call on the field. In previous years’ home openers, fans have stolen rolls of toilet paper out of the bathroom and thrown them from the upper deck onto the field. Sit in the lower level outfield for a game and you will hear and chances are you will a few comments yelled at the opposing outfielders that are offensive.

But what can you expect; the Blue Jays have made going to the game more about getting drunk than baseball. By removing a restaurant and replacing it with a beer garden it’s more about drinking than enjoying the game. The Blue Jays should be taking more accountability for their fans bad behaviour. But the fans need to behave like responsible adults and not toddlers who throw toys when they get upset.

But Blue Jays fans are not the only bad sports fans in the Ontario capital. Earlier this summer Toronto FC fans brought a sign to Montreal that depicted a Montreal Impact fan performing oral sex on a Toronto FC fan. The team had to apologize for the sign, but it’s not the first instance of the fan base has behaved poorly. In 2008, approximately 2000 TFC fans travelled to Columbus for a game. But prior to the game, fights broke out between the two fan bases in the parking lot.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans, besides being delusional in their expectations of Stanley Cup parades, are known for running players out of town and again throwing stuff on the ice. With the Leafs finishing near the bottom of the NHL standings for the past few seasons, fans threw jerseys on the ice. The fans were charged with trespassing, forced to pay a fine and banned from the Air Canada Centre for a year.

Scarborough native and Hockey Hall of Famer, Larry Murphy was traded for virtually nothing after the fans constant harassment became too much for management to ignore.  In 151 games, Murphy produced 19 goals, 100 points and just a minus one rating. It wasn’t enough for the delusional fan base, and Murphy traded away to Detroit and won two cups with the Red Wings.

Want a more recent reference see Kessel, Phil; who was ripped by the fan base before being trading to Pittsburgh where he would go on to win the cup. Toronto fans complained that Kessel was fat, lazy and consumed too many hot dogs. Oh and let’s not forget, that Maple Leaf fans threw waffles on the ice and at the aforementioned Kessel.

The Toronto Argonauts and Toronto Rock are the two most successful teams in the city. But the city fails to support them. For years, the city’s sport fans made excuses as to why they would not go to an Argos game inside of the Skydome. First it was the sight lines, and then it was the fact that there was no tailgating. But when they moved outdoors to BMO field and introduced tailgating, attendance was expected to improve. Spoiler alert, attendance has not improved. With the exception of the home opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (and their fans who made the trip), the Argos have not exceeded 18,000 fans in any of their other seven home games.  The Argos current average attendance is 16,550 fans per game. The team ranks dead last in the league, averaging over 3,500 fewer than second last British Columbia.

The Toronto Rock won championships in 2012-13 and 2015. But attendance has been on the decline since their 2005 championship when attendance peaked at over 17,000. In 2015, attendance was hovering around 10000, an all-time low for the franchise.

Maybe the best behaved fan base within the city is for the Toronto Raptors. The fans travel well to opposing cities, and sell out home games. The fans don’t just sell out home games, they jam pack the plaza outside of the arena to watch the games. If there is one complaint, it is the bandwagon nature of the fan base. A few years ago when the Raptors found themselves near the bottom of the NBA standings, the arena was not coming close to selling out, and it was incredibly easy to find tickets on the secondary market for significantly less than face value.