The Toronto Blue Jays, like any other team, are always changing around their bullpen in the off season. You want to bring in guys who are coming off of peak performances or who can add something to your team that you don’t quite have or need more of. So when there was noise that the Jays were targeting free agent Jason Grilli, it seemed like a good move. The guy came off of a season where he struck out 13.8/9 innings (good for 4th best in the NL) and owned a very respectable 2.91 ERA, 2.80 FIP and a 2.68 xFIP. He actually gave up more runs than he would be pitching independently from fielders! Alas, he re-signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have done nothing but take players that Jays fans are fond of. He might not have been on the level of Travis Snider fandom, but he even signed for less money than the Jays were offering him.
So what went wrong? The Blue Jays fan inside immediately thinks, “Why would this free agent pitcher sign with the up-and-coming Toronto Blue Jays? Didn’t he see how much better our team is after trade-defiling the Miami Marlins? The Pirates haven’t even broken .500 in 20 years!” It’s the knee jerk reaction that I had before realizing the world outside of the typical sports fan.
There are a few possible reasons why he didn’t come play for the Blue Jays. First off, Jason Grilli is a 36 year old American. He may have been born in Michigan, a border state with Canada and only a couple hours drive away from his home state, but he lives in the United States. Not too many people like the idea of spending around 6 months of their lives living in a foreign country, even a country as similar to the States in Canada. Additionally as an American, no matter what State you live in you are likely to get a much better tax rate than you would playing for the Blue Jays. For a player who signed for $6.75M over two years, every dollar counts. Another possible reason is that it may put undue stress on a family with a young child who is about to enter school. Grilli would not be the first player who would be concerned about having a child go through the Canadian school system. The most logical reason would be loyalty, as the Pirates gave Grilli a chance by signing him in the middle of the 2011 season.
All of that pales in comparison to the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t proven to be a playoff contender.
You see, anything can happen in a span of a 162 game season. The Blue Jays on paper look to be ready to compete in the post season, but the team always seems to look strong early going. The countless times fans have seen 26-14 starts or a strong April going into May recently only sets up eventual heart break as either batters or pitchers are “found out” and players go down to injuries. The last time the Blue Jays made the post season was in 1993, also the last year they won the Commissioner’s Trophy. Since then, it’s been a history of coming up short. Even when the team (in the past) would go out and get big name free agents like A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and even the great Roger Clemens, the playoffs were not in the cards for the Blue Jays. The team was lucky to sign Melky Cabrera to a relatively fair deal, but only because he needs to re-establish his playing ability clean of PED’s.
If the Blue Jays are to usher in a world where free agents rush to play for the team, they’ll have to earn it. A post season berth will more than likely show players that the Blue Jays are ready to make a statement playing in the tough AL East division. Until then, Alex Anthopoulos will have to craft the cookiest of trades, go through mountains of scouting data and build a team from the organization up. You can’t sign every free agent you want, but if the Blue Jays can prove that they can win, it will be a lot easier going in the future.