Optimism for Toronto sports teams beginning to wane

By Torben Rolfsen

The Raptors and guard Kyle Lowry have agreed in principle to a three-year, US$100-million deal. (Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network/Files)

The Raptors and guard Kyle Lowry have agreed in principle to a three-year, US$100-million deal. (Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network/Files)

What happened, Toronto?

In April, the world was your oyster.

The Maple Leafs were the hottest young team in the NHL, the Raptors were hoping to challenge the Cavaliers for NBA Eastern conference supremacy, and Blue Jays observers were cautiously optimistic they were heading into another playoff season with one of baseball’s best starting rotations.

Three months later, and things look a little muddled.

The Leafs and Raps signed aging, marquee players to questionable contracts that either hinder growth or, at best, maintain a status quo, and the Jays were absolutely crushed at home in the biggest series of the year.

For the cherry on top, the Argonauts lost at BMO Field to the Lions before, ahem, 11,219 faithful fans.

It all added up to Toronto’s lost Canada Day weekend.

Let me be clear: I’m not a Toronto hater.

Quite the opposite: I like the city a lot and have usually had a good time there.

I also find it hard to build up dislike for franchises (eg. Maple Leafs) who have gone so long without a title.

In fact, I think strong Toronto sports teams are good for their respective leagues and good for Canada.

More fun and excitement all round for everyone.

Sure, a case can be made in defence of the Patrick Marleau and Kyle Lowry signings.

But it feels like the Leafs and Raps had their holiday weekend beer goggles on.

Marleau will be a steady, veteran presence, and adds goal-scoring depth, but that’s a lot of money (3 years at AAV $6.25 million) to be paying a player who turns 38 in September.

He brings experience, yes, but not a Stanley Cup on his resume.

He’s a player head coach Mike Babcock trusts, and clearly signals that Toronto has switched to “win now” mode.

The Lowry signing is a bit more problematic in the bigger picture.

By re-upping their star, 31-year-old point guard for three more years (totaling $100 million – not a misprint) and Serge Ibaka, another key component, the Raptors have kept their core intact in what appears to be a weakened Eastern conference.

But Toronto seems to have established what they are: a second-tier team that is miles behind Cleveland and the elite squads in the Western Conference.

While the top half of the Eastern Conference may be a little weaker, here come young teams like Philadelphia and Milwaukee bringing heat from below.

The Raptors are going to have to land a big-name free agent and/or acquire a top 3-ish draft pick if they are to make the next big leap up.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, welcomed one of their biggest rivals into Rogers Centre for what should have been a 3-day celebration of baseball and this country.

Instead, they were summarily destroyed by the Boston Red Sox 7-4 (in 11 innings Friday), 7-1 and, finally, 15-1, and are staggering at the halfway mark of the season.

It was a tough pill to swallow, but emblematic of a city whose sports franchises went sideways this weekend.