Grange: Blue Jays have a likeability problem

June 5, 2013, 2:23 PM

The Toronto Blue Jays have a likeability problem.

You want to like them and given they are Canada’s only MLB team, you don’t necessarily have a choice. But at this point of their miserable season their best attribute may be that John Farrell doesn’t work here anymore.

Their best pitcher, R.A. Dickey, the feel-good story of all of baseball last year, is throwing less like a Cy Young winner and more like the struggling journeyman he was until he caught a knuckleball in a bottle and became a best-selling author and humanitarian.

Their all-Canadian boy, Brett Lawrie, has emerged as a spotty major-league performer whose nervous system seems to have been altered by a combination of Red Bull and loud European house music. And he gets hurt all the time.

And their best hitter — at least in terms of average — keeps getting his name dragged into MLB’s never-ending PED morass.

Melky Cabrera could be a redemption tale if it weren’t for the fact that his transgressions were so precisely self-inflicted.

When asked about signing Cabrera in the off-season Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he was comfortable being an organization of second chances, although not necessarily mulligans three or four.

The Jays may get to test that theory. The latest iteration of baseball’s PED problem dropped on Tuesday afternoon and promises to ensnare the game in a web of legal skirmishes with its players union and beyond for months.

Tony Bosch, the proprietor of Biogenesis of America, the so-called anti-aging clinic that purportedly served as a front to supply performance-enhancing drugs to some of the biggest names in baseball, is prepared to flip and provide corroborating details on his star-studded client list.

Most notably it includes former NL MVP Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, the forever tainted Yankees slugger. It also includes Cabrera, among a loose total of about 20 players.

The Jays and Cabrera were optimistic this was behind them when Toronto signed him to a two-year, $16-million contract in the off-season as a key piece in the Blue Jays’ aggressive makeover from AL East bottom feeder to what has turned out to be the most expensive, most hyped AL East bottom feeder that Rogers’ money could buy.

The Blue Jays and Anthopoulos were confident that Cabrera, having served a 50-game suspension last season for a positive PED test while with the San Francisco Giants, would be free of any additional discipline even after he was first linked to Biogenesis — dubbed “Balco East” — after an investigation by the Miami New Times in January.

And Cabrera may well avoid any additional discipline, and rightly so. There’s no evidence of an additional infraction since his failed drug test last season; he’s apologized and has otherwise been cooperative.

A second suspension — and this one would be for 100 games as a second “offence” — merely because new information emerged confirming where Cabrera got the PEDs he was suspended for using in the first place seems like administrative overkill.

But whether Cabrera escapes additional punishment or not doesn’t tidy up the fact that the Jays were so quick to forgive and forget. In the spirit of Moneyball you could argue they exploited a market inefficiency. Just like the old Oakland A’s got good value on players who walked at a high rate, Anthopoulos got a discount on Cabrera, who would have got a lot more years and a lot more money had he not peed in a cup at the wrong time last season.

The Blue Jays and their fans have always kind of stood idly by as the rest of baseball has had to wear the worst of the game’s PED scandal. It was in Toronto that Jose Canseco had his last, glorious, enhanced season when he launched 46 home runs in 1998. That tainted total was good for second most in Blue Jays history until Jose Bautista had his out-of-nowhere 54 in 2010.

It was in Toronto that Roger Clemens, allegedly with the help of “trainer” Brian McNamee, rediscovered his mojo and reeled off consecutive Cy Young Award-winning seasons.

Not that the city or the organization has been a safe haven, just that the Jays signing Cabrera this past off-season as part of their all-in effort to compete again in the AL East wasn’t the club’s first dalliance with baseball’s darker side.

Perhaps that’s just the price of doing business in baseball. Hopefully MLB’s persistence in pursing the Biogenesis scandal will help eliminate that particular column on the ledger.

But this off-season was such a giddy time for Blue Jays fans that no one really seemed to mind that they paid it in the first place. If getting a discount on Cabrera was going to get Toronto back to the playoffs, so be it.

Unfortunately the Blue Jays are nine games out of a wild card at the moment. Giddy is long gone, with bitter rapidly rounding into view.

Dickey, their civic-minded Cy Young Award winner has an ERA of 5.18 and Lawrie is on the disabled list again where his .209 batting average stares back at him, sullenly. The Jays’ brightest ray of sunshine from their makeover, Jose Reyes, is at least poised to start his rehab assignment after being out since April with an ankle injury.

Against that backdrop Cabrera has been one of the Blue Jays’ better stories as he shook off a horrible April to pull his average up to .284 after going 2 for 4 against his old team Tuesday night.

A likeability program or a winning problem, that Cabrera, the Jays’ on-the-cheap drug cheat, is the best performer among the club’s new additions, is the harshest pill to swallow of all.

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