Toronto Blue Jays fans just want their team to do SOMETHING this offseason, but waiting might be more beneficial
The Toronto Blue Jays front office is not winning any brownie points this winter. Things are moving at a glacial pace as fans are screaming for GM, Ross Atkins, president, Mark Shapiro, to return the team to its previous postseason form. There are very clear needs, which the front office has acknowledged on more than one occasion. So, if they know what their needs are and there are options available, why haven’t they done anything?!
First of all, before we even dive into Toronto’s slow playing the winter, we should acknowledge what happens when you hurry things along. Last offseason, after offering to pony up for Edwin Encarnacion at 4yrs/$80M, the club felt that it would lose out on an impact bat and rather than risk losing Edwin AND not getting a replacement, they jumped at the chance to sign Kendrys Morales. In fact, by this time last year, the Blue Jays had long since signed Morales and Steve Pearce. These were two deals that certainly seemed a tad rushed.
And, what did it yield? Well, Morales did provide some form of an impact bat, but he also provided this team with some limitations that are going to hurt for a couple more years. His speed is problematic, as is his roster inflexibility; he not only clogs the bases, but the roster as well. As for Pearce, his two dramatic grand slams aside, he played in just 92 games to the tune of 99 wRC+ and 0 fWAR. Sure, he only cost $6M, but in this day and age, it is relatively easy for a player to play up to that kind of money. And, he didn’t.
This is not to say that these deals were bad or to criticize the front office. In the context of last offseason, they made educated guesses. However, we should look to these two deals when we are shouting on social media that this offseason is a disappointment because management is seemingly doing nothing. The reality very well could be that they’ve learned a valuable lesson. Maybe the waiting game will work out in their favour.
At this time, it is worth mentioning that the Blue Jays are not alone in their slow game. All across baseball, very little has been happening. Sure, deals have been made, but the frequency is nowhere near what we’ve witnessed in the past. And, it can be tough as your team seems to sit on the sidelines and you see a signing run across your Twitter feed. Because so little is happening, any deal gets a lot of attention, which only highlights the fact that it is not Toronto making it. But, look across the league, the Hot Stove is downright frigid. We should also acknowledge that each offseason has its own character, making the context of moves unique. The current winter freeze is an example of this.
That said, at Fangraphs, Travis Sawchik outlines a very interesting discussion about the current offseason. Specifically, he discusses free agency. With guys like Lorenzo Cain – guys who would look very good in Blue Jays uniforms – still out there, Sawchik explores MLB teams waiting things out. He quotes Max Rieper of Royals Review, who found that “…from 2013 to -17, free agents who signed before Jan. 1 received guaranteed dollars 4.6% below FanGraphs’ crowdsourced estimates. Free agents who signed after Jan. 1, meanwhile, received 25.3% less than FanGraphs’ estimates.” This also applies to length of contracts, which tend to shorten as time goes on. Sawchik goes on to show that the number of players signing into February has increased dramatically in recent years. As time goes on, free agent feel more pressure to sign, perhaps taking less money to do so.
This could work out in the Blue Jays’ favour. Let’s use Lorenzo Cain as the example. MLBTR had him projected to see 4yrs/$70M this winter. If we apply the 25% ‘waiting tax’ (obviously, an oversimplification of things), that brings his overall outlook to $55M, which is a much more palatable number for Toronto. If we also say he gets three years, instead of four, his soon to be 32 years less of a concern. Now $55M over 3 yrs still works out to $18.3M AAV, which does eat a significant portion of the supposed ~$25M Toronto has to work with. Consider what this offseason could do to Lance Lynn, who is projected to see 4yrs/$56M or Alex Cobb and his 4yrs/$48M. Both of these guys could find themselves in the Blue Jays’ field of vision as time goes on.
Perhaps, we could also extend this conversation to trade talks. If teams are waiting out free agency, which Mark Shapiro has already said is not the most efficient way to improve your team, trade talks could heat up. So, for a guy like Josh Harrison, there could be more action in the coming weeks. But, this may actually prove to be the more expensive route over the long run. The long term cost of trading prospects, etc could outweigh the financial commitment of free agency. It will be interesting to see how the waiting game impacts trade talks. Maybe the trade route could be used by teams to leverage free agent deals.
For a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, who are approaching a crossroads, this offseason is an interesting one. They will be putting off retooling for at least one more season. Beyond that, the future is anyone’s guess. They could take this franchise in a number of ways. That means that rushing into offseason signings doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Instead, they could be waiting things out to maximize deals to best suit their current roster, as well as the future.
It can be incredibly frustrating knowing your team needs to pull off some deals in order to compete in what is turning into a rather stacked AL East. They can’t simply do nothing. And, so far, their approach has yielded very little. But, maybe they are playing it smart. Maybe, waiting things out and striking at the right time will end up being a beneficial way to go. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.