Roll Over Shapiro, Tell Toronto the News-Jays Are Not Taking Requests As They Prepare For Off-Season Performance
Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase
When your team is no longer involved in the post-season, it is easy to turn your sights away from the screens and into the crystal balls. Especially during the COVID Era, when just about everyone wants to see the stories of 2020 edited from their memory banks. So it is comforting to read and follow the thoughts and opinions of Blue Jays fans as they look ahead to the 2021 season. More to the point, towards the steps the Toronto front office will take to improve upon a surprising playoff roster. But one must raise a cautionary warning flag before the Hot Stove begins heating up and actual transactions begin to be reported.
When I refer to a “cautionary warning flag”, I am in no way trying to dampen anyone’s excitement for the Toronto off-season. There should be no reason not to take Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins at his word when he stated the team is financially and competitively poised to make significant additions to the major league and 40-man rosters. Even with the team arriving in the playoff picture a year ahead of expectations, fans and front office alike have significant improvements in their sights for 2021.
At the risk of shameless promotion, Jim Scott of Jays From The Couch has recently published two terrific articles detailing the “wish lists” Blue jays supporters should be drawing up as well as the sources to fuel those dreams. Fellow Coucher AJ Andrews has devoted her podcast Locked On Blue Jays to similar conversations about the “what ifs” and “better happen” approaches to an active off-season for Atkins and Mark Shapiro. In previous years, my voice would have been joining Jim and AJ from the chorus to encourage all Blue Jays fans to sing the praises of an aggressive trade and free agent approach.
There are many things the 2020 Wild Card Series should have taught us about the current regime’s approach to building a perennial playoff contender. Even when taking a sobering “one day at a time” approach to the 2021 season. There are the obvious rotation depth questions and the obvious farm system depth answers to long term roster construction. One cannot look at projected every day lineup possibilities without breaking out into a broad-faced grin, even if the full potential of Bichette, Biggio and Guerrero have yet to be realized.
But it was the strategic approach to game planning and roster utilization that spoke the loudest. For better or worse, the Toronto front office has committed itself to digitized lesson plans for its manager and players to follow; more classical orthodox brush strokes than free-form inspirations. Much has been written and debated about the preventative prescriptions for pitching and lineup ills that absolutely had to be followed regardless of in-game symptoms. But Shapiro and Company have already told us what is going to happen in the off season and in the 2021 season.
Let us start where all successful teams need to start-pitching. Consensus from Couchers and social media speculators is the Blue Jays should add a front-line starting pitcher to enhance an already enviable staff of young arms. Hyun-jin Ryu earned every penny of his 2020 salary (adjusted or not) and will be a lynchpin in the Blue Jays rotation for 3 more years. But as dependable as Ryu is, the youth of potential rotation mates in 2021 dictates the addition of a premiere veteran starter.
Atkins could choose to bring back Taijuan Walker(28) and/or Robbie Ray (29), but both are more back of the rotation performers than #1 or #2 options. The name everyone seems to bring up is Trevor Bauer-I personally would tithe 10% of my 2021 earnings to facilitate such a signing. But how the front office instructed Charlie Montoyo to utilize his starters, especially in the Wild Card Series, is not going to prove attractive to a free agent with a preference for 1-year contracts. Innings equals dollars for a starting pitcher. So whatever additions Atkins makes to the 2021 rotation will need to come via the trade market.
Given the prospect price tag attached to established front-line starters, do not expect “big names” to appear in Toronto transaction reports. Veterans who contractually will have no say in their usage are the route this team will go. What the 2020 mini-season and playoff run has taught Blue Jays fans is pitchers will be utilized according to pre-conceived plans and those plans are not going to be influenced by talent and track records. If money is going to be spent on the free agent market, it will go to a Liam Hendricks/ Shane Greene/ Alex Colome– relievers who have thrived in roles with teams that employ a similar approach to staff management. The addition of starting pitching will come via trade.
I can see Atkins using free agency to add to offensive production and lineup flexibility. But again, big name free agents like George Springer, JT Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna will probably not be priority targets for this front office. Would these players provide significant upgrades at their respective positions? The answer is “probably” But when Shapiro was the leading man in Cleveland and Atkins his understudy, their approach to trade and free agent additions was more one of adding dependable depth pieces with club control as opposed to big ticket items. When Shapiro added to his young core of Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, the return tended to be controllable assets like Andy Marte, Shin Soo Choo and Michael Brantley. When Atkins talked about adding to the roster, his words were very telling of what type of player will be coming to Toronto over the winter:
“This is an exciting young group with a lot of really young pitching that hasn’t transitioned as far as our young position players. There’s still a lot of growth for our young position players, but thinking about the amount of exciting pitching that we have to complement that group already on our roster with really exciting pieces not on our roster.”
Two takeaways from this quote: 1) The Blue Jays have the young pitching depth to turn into useful roster additions and 2) The phrase “really exciting pieces not on our roster” does not necessarily translate into “adding big name free agents”.
The 2020/21 Hot Stove will throw off a lot of heat to fuel fanbase’s interest and excitement. Wish lists are an indispensable part of any off-season for baseball fans-especially fans of up-and-coming teams like the Blue Jays. But remember this-we did not always get all the presents we asked Santa and relatives for at holiday time. That did not prevent us from enjoying the gifts we did receive. The Toronto front office is putting together a playlist that will provide enjoyable entertainment in 2021 and beyond. But that does not mean Shapiro and Atkins will perform every song we want to hear when we want to hear it. So stay tuned.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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