The Toronto Blue Jays are going to have to spend money eventually and there are ways to make that more fruitful
The Toronto Blue Jays are in an interesting position this winter in that they have very clear needs, have money to spend and are likely hesitant to tap into their farm system too much. That points to be rather active on the free agent market.
Recent comments from GM, Ross Atkins (via Gregor Chisholm at The Star) would suggest that the Blue Jays are very much looking to free agency. After discussing how much he enjoys the situation his club is in, he does the typical hedging of expectations by asking for patience. But, he ends with some rather interesting comments:
“We will add, significantly. Obviously, there are plenty of opportunities on the pitching side … We’ve got a great foundation for guys to continue improving and getting better, and at some point, making significant impacts on our major-league team. But we’re going to add major-league pitching that will help our guys develop and ensure that their timelines are appropriate.”
What stands out is the comment on timelines, which would indicate that Toronto is not ready to go ‘all in’ this winter, which makes perfect sense. However, if they are going to be in that position over the next couple of winters, they have to have enough foresight to look ahead at what is available now and what could be in the future. If the future doesn’t look as likely to yield as much star power, then signing someone now might absolutely make sense. That way, they have high end talent already in place for when they are ready to take over the AL East.
If they were 5 to 10 years out, it wouldn’t make sense, but realistically, this Blue Jays club is an offseason or two away. That means that maybe they should be spending money now with guys like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler available.
The immediate response to this kind of thinking is to point out that the Blue Jays have always had a difficult time signing top shelf free agents. So, the question is: How do they do it?
The first thing the Blue Jays will need to come to grips with is that they may need to overspend. There have always been multiple things thrown around as reasons why free agents don’t want to sign in Toronto. From taxes to playing in a ‘foreign country’ (cue eyeroll). Because of this, they may need to spend more than the next organization to make the move more enticing.
While we’re on that topic, the compensation pick for signing players with qualifying offers should also be seen as an expense. If the Blue Jays are going to sign one of those type players, they have to be OK with losing that pick. The penalty for signing Wheeler, for example would be Toronto’s 2nd highest pick and $500,000 of bonus pool money. If the Blue Jays think they are close enough to competing in a year or so, this should not scare them off a Wheeler.
Aside from spending more than they might like, the Blue Jays are going to have to do more to sign free agents. This next task is actually tied to the previous and much more difficult to do. It’s easy to throw money around, and Toronto should, but in doing so, they have to show potential free agents that they are ready to win sooner, rather than later.
In the interest of full disclosure, this idea came to me from a Twitter discussion with a good baseball guy. Essentially, in order to attract fee agents, the Blue Jays need to field a good, competitive team. They have started to do this with a line up that features Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. But, the reality is that this core hasn’t exactly had much time to assert themselves in MLB. They’re exciting, but hardly proven.
In order to convince free agents to come, Atkins may need to pull off a trade or two to show he’s serious about building a winner. Could he pull in a Mitch Hanigar from Seattle? The rumours about Yasmani Grandal were interesting enough to give the idea that Toronto is serious about improving right now. They could make the argument that they have a Gold Glove finalist catcher in Danny Jansen, which has to be attractive to pitchers. Trading for a Hanigar, a proven center fielder or even another starter who might be just a bit better than Chase Anderson shows a club serious about winning.
Likewise, Toronto could look to spend some money on a mid-tier starter that sends the same message. A Dallas Keuchel or a Michael Pineda might accomplish this. Hyun-Jin Ryu certainly would. Free agents would look at this as a young, exciting team with the means to take major steps toward winning.
Of course, even if the Blue Jays are reading this and agree to follow these steps, there is no guarantee that a Cole, a Strasburg or a Wheeler want to sign with a club that is a couple years away from competing when there are other teams out there that are closer…teams with better weather, taxes, etc etc etc.
However, if the Toronto Blue Jays are serious about their comments about spending money and making major additions, they are going to have to follow a couple directions: 1) get ready to spend more than you want 2) put effort into raising the entire floor of this club to make it more attractive. These tasks are not a sure bet, they certainly aren’t to be done in isolation from each other and in a linear fashion. Baseball doesn’t work that way. But, that doesn’t change the truth of it all.
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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.