Blue Jays content flying under AL East radar

Improved, confident Toronto squad feels good about playoff chances

February 28th, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays added more than a half-dozen players to their Major League roster this offseason, bolstering it in a number of areas.
So why is the team that made back-to-back trips to the American League Championship Series in 2015 and '16 being completely overlooked in the AL East?
Granted, , , , , and aren't headline-grabbing names such as or J.D. Martinez, the sluggers acquired by the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively.
But each of those players are improvements to the Blue Jays' roster, and when you add in the trio of veteran relievers signed to Minor League contracts -- , and Jake Petricka -- it's indisputable that Toronto has taken significant steps to improve upon its disappointing 76-win season in 2017.
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To , who has played for both the Yankees and Dodgers during his 12-year career, it comes down to playing in a market that typically doesn't get the same kind of recognition that the supposed powerhouses receive annually.
"Even in the years that we did make the playoffs, it felt the same way," Martin said. "Boston and New York are probably the two biggest markets in the game, so they get a lot of attention. We're on the other side of the border, so that's kind of the way things are. When you don't make a blockbuster move, you tend to not really get talked about."
Not that the Blue Jays are spending much time thinking about the shortage of attention. A lack of health, not hype, was the primary factor in Toronto's first sub-.500 season since 2013, as Martin, , , Josh Donaldson, and J.A. Happ all spent time on the disabled list during the season.
"Getting praise from anywhere doesn't really help you win or lose games; you have to go out there and get it done," Martin said. "The key is staying healthy; that was really our downfall last year, especially after having a horrible beginning to the season. We were never able to get our best team on the field. To compete in our division, you have to stay healthy, because the other teams are stacked."

The consecutive ALCS appearances gave the Blue Jays a taste of October's bright lights, while last season served as a harsh reminder of just how quickly things can fall apart. The Blue Jays opened the season 6-17, leaving them with a steep hill they would spend all year trying to climb.
"It's not going to happen just because you want it to; you need to grind, especially in the American League and especially in the East," Martin said. "Other teams are trying to get better as well, so you have to stay focused and not take anything for granted. Once you get a taste of it and you get to go to the postseason, you just want to keep going. You keep that hunger.
"Winning can teach you, but losing can, too. When you don't get to the postseason and you don't play the way you want to, that can motivate you as well. Having the year we had last year, we definitely don't want to repeat that."
FanGraphs projects the Blue Jays will win 87 games and earn the second AL Wild Card spot.
Swish's wish
Longtime Major Leaguer Nick Swisher tried to prolong his big league career in 2016, playing 55 games with the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate. Swisher never made it back to the Bronx as a player, but his months in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre paved the way for the latest chapter in his career.
Swisher was recently tabbed as a special advisor to general manager Brian Cashman, and while that job can have a wide-ranging collection of duties, Cashman envisions Swisher spending a good chunk of his time working with the club's Minor League players.
"I'm a big fan of Swish and always have been," Cashman said. "He had a huge impact on that crew in Scranton when he was playing with [Aaron] Judge, [Greg] Bird, [Gary] Sanchez and all those guys. The atmosphere on that team and in that clubhouse was one I was not used to walking into. Triple-A usually is players feeling disgruntled that they're being held back, that they should be in the big leagues. Swish had complete control of that situation; he brought the joy of playing the game on a daily basis, and it was infectious throughout that locker room. The opportunity to bring him into the fold and sprinkle him throughout our farm system was attractive."

Swisher recounts his time at Triple-A with such delight, you'd think he was talking about the Yankees' 2009 World Series season. As the veteran in a young, talented clubhouse, he tried to impart his wisdom on his junior teammates, helping prepare them for the big league life they were clearly getting ready to experience.
"I just feel proud of those guys. It's like watching your younger -- but bigger -- brothers kind of grow up right in front of you," Swisher said. "I'll always have a bond with those guys. I wonder who the next young crop is, so to be able to go across to our complex, to work with our Minor League teams, hopefully I can have a small impact on them, too."
Swisher was one of four ex-Yankees named to the position, joined by Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson and Hideki Matsui.
"If there's someone that has a chance to contribute, gives back and impacts us in a positive way, I want you around," Cashman said. "None of these are scholarships; these are people we think can impact us in a really strong way. I'm lucky that Swish is part of our group."
Swisher will work with the Major League club during parts of Spring Training, then continue his work at the team's Minor League complex in Tampa, where he resides.
"I just want to help, man. I want to give back," Swisher said. "I've got a lot of knowledge in this game, and I've been around it for a long time. If I can help someone reach their ultimate goal and get to the big leagues, that's my job. I know it took a village for me."