To say the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office is in a ‘do or die’ position heading into this offseason is ridiculous and forcing this narrative is silly
The Toronto Blue Jays have completed their worst season in a long time. Finishing with 95 losses does not feel good for anyone. Trying to keep the conversation going, in a positive direction, is certainly going to be difficult when the team has increasingly lost support (see their drop in attendance) over the last few seasons. Barring some sort of mega splash in free agency or via trade, it will be very difficult for those who are paid to cover this team to create content. However, that does not mean that there is a need to force narratives.
Let me start by saying I have a SkyDome full of respect for established voices in Blue Jays media. For example, Gregor Chisholm has done excellent work for years. He continues to do so, but his latest opinion piece at The Star has me scrunching my eyebrows. Firstly, the title “Shapiro and Atkins will be free agents if this Blue Jays off-season doesn’t go well” is very clearly designed to garner some clicks. While we should probably get used to those kinds of headings (see previous comment about low interest), it doesn’t ring true. I will acknowledge that the heading is not likely the work of Chisholm himself, but it just doesn’t ring true.
Sure, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have come under fire since the day they took office, partly due to their business like demeanor and partly because they were left to answer for the dust settling after the 2015 celebrations. The response they were met with was almost to be expected. Since then, the duo have worked together to bolster their front office, rework a minor league system to match a uniform vision for performance and conduct, update facilities, restock a farm system and turn over a big league roster. Whether you agree with how they’ve gone about this, or not, you have to admit that their job has been exceedingly more difficult than that of, say Dave Dombrowski who went to Boston (and has recently been dismissed). The Rogers ownership has given Shapiro and Atkins the freedom to do all of this even while fans are standing outside the gates of Rogers Centre with torches and pitchforks.
The results of their efforts is a season where the big league team lost 95 games, often in frustrating manner, but also provided the excitement of young talent that will be the cornerstone of future competitive teams. The second half of the season, with future stars in tow, was far more enjoyable than the first half. It is not difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
For that reason, I do not agree with the urgency in Chisholm’s claim that “It’s now or never for Mark Shapiro, Ross Atkins and the rest of the Blue Jays’ front office.” I don’t agree with the ‘do or die’ sentiment heading into this offseason. Now, Chisholm softens a bit when he says, “don’t need to become contenders overnight, but there must be some noticeable gains over the next few months, and an improved record next season, for this regime to stick around beyond 2020.” I suppose it depends on what Chisholm means by “noticeable gains”, but to suggest that this offseason could spell the end of Shapiro and Atkins is still a bit much for me, even if their current contracts are approaching their final year. It wouldn’t take much for an extension to be warranted.
Looking at the Blue Jays’ fWAR values, one sees an abundance of players who saw playing time due to necessity, but are not likely to see the same in 2020. Simply not needing to run out Edwin Jackson (-0.8 fWAR), Socrates Brito (-0.7 fWAR), Brock Stewart (-0.7 fWAR), Alen Hanson (-0.5 fWAR) could save the club 3 wins alone. Not needing to rely on Brandon Drury (-0.6 fWAR) for 447 plate appearances will also improve the club. Derek Fisher (-0.4 fWAR) and Luke Maile (-0.3 fWAR) very well could be gone as well. The carousel of ineffective pitching will need to be addressed, sure but that is not a secret. It is not like this front office doesn’t know their pitching was terrible.
If you consider the addition by subtraction mentioned above and the fact that the club will get a full year from Bo Bichette (1.7 fWAR), Vladimir Guerrero Jr.(0.4 fWAR), Cavan Biggio (2.4 fWAR), Lourdes Gurriel Jr.(1.8 fWAR) and Danny Jansen (1.4 fWAR), who are all looking to further their development, things look a little brighter. In fact, it isn’t difficult to see improvement over 2019 before the front office even lifts a finger this offseason.
That is not to say they should just sit back on a beach in Hawaii while the rest of baseball toils in the fields of the offseason, rather it is says that things aren’t as doom and gloom as one might try to convince people of.
There is a massive need to add starting pitching, which the club is aware of and is in a good position to address. Shapiro has said that they are able to consider term and money that they may not have been able to do previously. How that plays out remains to be seen. They are not going to go out and simply write a blank cheque for guys like Gerrit Cole, obviously, but they can afford to take on established talent instead of hoping that guys like Clayton Richard (-0.2 fWAR) can save the day. We have to keep in mind that whoever is targeted will have to fit into the window this team sees for itself. We should read that to mean that the Blue Jays see themselves close to competing and whoever is signed (or traded for) will be part of a competitive team. This does not sound like ‘do or die’.
Yes, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are approaching the end of their current contract. Yes, they need to make improvements on their 95 losses. You may not agree with the “how” of it but, isn’t improving the team always the goal, every offseason?
Yes, ticket sales are down and not likely to go up if the team looks like another 95 loss edition next season. Yes, fans have not been happy with this front office. But, to suggest that there is more pressure this offseason than in previous is simply forcing a narrative that isn’t there. It is difficult to see how there is more pressure this winter than in the one where the team was coming off a postseason run and falling apart. That’s pressure.
This offseason, the club needs to be smart about how they build the team. They won’t be looking at simply trying to not lose 95 games next year. That kind of shortsighted approach simply doesn’t fit Shapiro and Atkins. Instead, you’re going to see them look to add for now and the next few seasons when this club is likely to compete. This front office has never been short sighted and they won’t change now just because of the expiration date on their contract.
That statement is not likely to garner more clicks by tapping into the rage fans feel, but it is more accurate than suggesting Shapiro and Atkins are desperate and will become free agents soon.
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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.