The Toronto Blue Jays are making significant investments in winning, but it is a more subtle approach than we think
The Toronto Blue Jays won’t be signing big free agents this winter. You can forget about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, not that anyone wants to see the latter in a Blue Jays uniform anyway. The fact is that Toronto is not in a position to be handing over boat loads of money for those top tier free agents this winter. Of course, how often have we seen them do that at all? The reality is that spending upwards of $30M or more per season makes little sense for most teams, let alone the Blue Jays. There are more logical ways to spend money to improve your team.
Those big spending teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox always have to worry about going over the MLB luxury amount lest they be hit with significant financial penalties. The argument in favour of this is that it puts winning products on the field. Unfortunately, as Toronto has seen, teams run the risk of paying $20M per season for a player who gets hurt. It is a risky investment, to be sure.
For the Blue Jays’ part, they are willing to spend money to improve their team and they are doing so in a way they feel is less risky, and more likely to yield long term results.
Recently, President, Mark Shapiro, hosted a media availability where he spoke of the extensive renovations and upgrades to the Spring Training facilities in Dunedin. The next day, he spoke with Jays From the Couch to provide more insight into the proposed upgrades and how they will lead to winning.
“I think when you talk about the specifics of the advantages, they’re really in two categories. One is culture and the second is resources.” Shapiro explains. “From a cultural perspective, it’s shifting from what is a split spring training now. Our Major League does all its training out of the stadium, which is really just a field and a half of batting cages. a) That’s pretty substandard amount of space, small weight room and a pretty low level clubhouse, but beyond it being a very modest space, we’re separate from our minor league players and staff. The organic interactions where a minor league player sees a veteran major league player taking batting practice, working on his swing in a cage, they see a guy working in the weight room and they understand the level of focus and intent, intensity of preparation that goes into being a major league player, the informal instruction and modelling that happens, the collaborating from staff, whether it be on fundamentals or team fundamentals or hitting mechanics or pitching delivery, those conversations almost never happen…not to anyone’s fault, it’s just almost impossible. You’d have to get in the car and drive 10 minutes to have those conversations. We’re all gonna be training in one place form day one until the end so I think there will be alignment and the opportunity to bring those two groups closer , connect our player development to our major league team and that’s really important because that’s something that’s lacking here now.“
The reported $80M (the Blue Jays are not responsible for all of that) in renovations are being done with a mind to building a space of collaboration. This doesn’t sound like spending to have an immediate impact, not in the way that signing a Bryce Harper might. Teaching players to fish, though, has a better, more sustainable, impact than giving them a fish. That’s what the Blue Jays are putting in place with these new renovations. Allowing minor league youngsters to learn from their big league counterparts, directly in the same space is an incredibly valuable opportunity. These kids get to see the work that goes into being a big leaguer.
Of course, the “work” isn’t just limited to physical training. “The other part of the culture would be the positive energy that comes from a space, a building, that is designed for player experience, it’s designed to be best in class.” Shapiro explains. “If you look at education research there is a clear tie to students’ ability to learn when they’re in the best classrooms, constructed in the best way, with the best books or computers and the best teachers. I think this building is going to give us the environment that is positive and that leads to the resources, the best possible programming by our staff. The building is a resource culturally both from the positive energy it will create and the positive space, the collaborative spaces as well as the alignment of the major and minor leagues.”
He further explains: “It’s everything from a kitchen that will be the largest kitchen in major league baseball spring training that allows us to think about not feeding our players, but fueling them in a way that educates them and helps them understand where nutrition fits in to their sustainability as major league baseball players to technology spaces like hitting labs and pitching labs that incorporate technology, analytics and emerging technology, whether it is VR or force plate technology, cameras. It would incorporate the current cutting edge technology, but maintain the flexibility for future technology to collaborative spaces that allow our hitting coaches from top to bottom to combine with our video coaches, with our strength coaches to be in one space where they can access video and access other resources and collaborate and work together.”
There is a great deal going into the renovations in Dunedin, but it isn’t all about simply updating shower stalls. Upgrades are being done with a purpose. That purpose is to create, what the club believes to be, the best environment possible to establish a winning culture. Whether it works, or not, remains to be seen, but the front office can’t be faulted for undertaking such an endeavor.
The Blue Jays front office believes that investing heavily in these areas will result in winning. Unfortunately for some fans, this methodology will take some time to come to fruition. Going down this road is not the quick fix that spending the GDP of a small country on free agents might be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious financial commitment.
It might be a slower process, but on the surface, it sounds less risky. By the sounds of it, the Blue Jays are willing to commit to the process, regardless of cost: “I guess I would say I feel the greatest competitive opportunity out there, I’m not claiming this to be a market inefficiency, as much as a competitive opportunity probably lies in the player development and coaching landscape. I say that because there’s no limit to what can be spent there.” says Mark Shapiro.
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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.