If the Toronto Blue Jays are truly committed to winning, they’re going to need to accept the opening of their purse strings
The Toronto Blue Jays say they’re looking to “compete” in 2020, which is an intentional word, not to be confused with “contend”. They’ve thrown it out there that they will improve and considering they lost 95 games in 2019, it isn’t difficult to imagine that coming to fruition. However, it is a far cry from looking to contend. They chose their words carefully because, in order to contend, they’ll need to spend more than they may be comfortable with.
The days of teams buying championships are all but over. Organizations are becoming more and more dependent on young, controllable talent. They’re looking to avoid the extremely long, expensive Bryce Harper and Manny Machado type deals. But, they would be foolish to think that they can win a championship on a payroll near the bottom of the league. The Blue Jays had the 3rd lowest payroll in 2019 ($66.63M) and lost 95 games. Joining them at the bottom were Pittsburgh ($65.92M) who lost 93 games and Miami ($62.91M) who lost 105 times.
In contrast, the Washington Nationals just won a World Series title on a payroll of $181.4M, almost 3 times that of Toronto. They won 93 regular season games. Not every team can be the Tampa Bay Rays who won 96 games on a payroll of $68.98M. Front offices have a long way to go to catch up to the likes of the Rays. Until they do, they’ll need to spend.
No one is suggesting that throwing money at a roster is the best way to field a contending team, just ask the 2019 Boston Red Sox, who had the highest payroll in baseball at $213.19M only to win 84 games, finishing 3rd in the AL East. But, what is being said is that a team cannot expect to field a roster of 26 guys making near league minimum. In an era where one win is worth ~$9M, you have to spend somewhere.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, they have very clear needs and are going to have to look to address them by spending. Let’s say they feel that they can really contend in 2021, they’ll need to look to add players that can help them take huge strides and soon. We’re not talking about adding just better than replacement level talent. They’ll need to add impact players to the maturing talent they have in house. That costs money.
Again, no one is suggesting Toronto look to add a Harper-esque contract (they’re just clearing themselves of a number of hefty contracts that were crippling, but nowhere near what Harper is making), which is what Gerrit Cole will likely land himself. They need to spend smartly. But, make no mistake, they need to spend.
Looking at the current list of free agents, there are a number of intriguing options available if you look just below the Gerrit Cole tier. But, they will still cost.
One such example, and in the interest of full disclosure, the source of this piece, is Zack Wheeler. The 29.5 year old Wheeler is coming off two consecutive seasons of nearly 200 innings and well over 4 fWAR. If he were playing for a better team than the Mets, he probably would have more than 12 and 11 wins respectively. Wheeler is exactly the “aim high” target the Blue Jays should be after.
He won’t command Cole type money, so he is a bit more affordable and he would be a great addition to a rotation full of question marks. He would step in and be the ‘ace’ the Blue Jays need. But, he will cost money. The reality is that his last two seasons were worth north of $30M each. So, you can bet he’ll cost more than his $5.75M 2019 salary. As he should.
Here’s the thing: the Blue Jays could avoid signing him and fill their rotation with cheaper options, but they are also lesser options. IF they’re serious about contending in a season or two, they need to start jumping on guys now. We’ve heard Mark Shapiro talk about being more flexible with dollars and years, so now would be a good time to look to add those pieces that will form your contending team. Wheeler is that guy. He’ll be expensive, and he’ll likely require even more to sign in Toronto, but who cares? If they’re not going to start spending now, then they probably should just say to expect another 95 losses.
Overpaying for a guy like Wheeler isn’t stupid. Obviously, that is not to say give the man whatever he wants, but if Toronto has to add extra to get him to sign, then they need to do it. You can’t just start spending next offseason and expect to compete that season. That is attempting to buy a championship and a recipe for failure. But, spending on one or two guys now, while your youngsters are still cheap, and a couple more next offseason is necessary.
Sure, there are other ways to add quality, impact players, but free agency is the only way to ensure you hold on to the high end talent you have in your system. This makes spending that much more necessary for the Toronto Blue Jays. It doesn’t have to be Wheeler that they spend on, but they need to think about landing some top level talent and soon. They can’t avoid spending forever.
Some will say that this club has so many needs right now that they couldn’t possibly spend their way out of the hole and that would be correct. But, if they’re truly going to start, as they’ve indicated, then they are going to have to spend. It makes sense to do so now.
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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.