Many Blue Jays fans feel frustration this off-season with the lack of free agent acquisitions. Well, lack is not an appropriate word; compared to last year, the most fitting term should be dearth. The only significant player Toronto got during the off-season was catcher Dioner Navarro.
Navarro signed with Toronto because he wanted to play full-time. His wish to be a first stringer catcher was not fulfilled by his last team the Cubs. He also rode the buses in the minors for a while so he was hungry to get back in the majors. Toronto gave Navarro the opportunity to play everyday.
However, Navarro is not a top free agent. He is not a super star like second baseman Robinson Cano or starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. He is not even a second tier free agent like starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
So are top free agents avoiding Toronto? Yes. The answer why is concise too, but it would be good to look at two misconceptions on why they are not coming.
Misconception number one: free agents are not coming because Toronto is a small market team… far from it. The Toronto Blue Jays have a whole country as their fan base. People in BC do not yell hurrah for the Mariners so much. Manitobans and other westerners do not embrace the Twins. The majority of Quebec and Atlantic Canadian baseball enthusiasts are not Boston fans. The team to cheer for, for most fans in Canada, are the Jays because they are Canadian. Canada is not a small market. The Jays are not the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, or the Florida Marlins who run on an extremely tight budget. The Toronto Blue Jays rank in the top 10 in salary payments.
Misconception number two: free agents do not come to Toronto because they fear paying too much in taxes. In the mid 80s and early 90s, free-agents looked upon the Jays as a going concern… a contending club. In those days, CNE Stadium and the Sky Dome were packed every night. The Jays were winners. Free agents cared little about Canadian taxes.
Free agents, in general, are at a time in their career where they have a good deal of money already. They are not fools though, they try to get as much as they can. Who wouldn’t? Still, most are looking for something that has alluded them… being on a team that can go all the way to the World Series. Such free agents are not coming to Toronto, just like they are not coming to Houston. It is not a place that is seen as a winner… for now. They do go to teams that contend.
How can that change? Win! In order to do that, Toronto needs to rebuild its farm system and create a winner. They also have to work on staying healthy… injuries decimated this team for the last two years. If they do that then the Jays will be a contender, then the most high level free agents and their mommas will be banging down the gates of Rogers Centre. Everyone loves a winner. Players become heroes. GMs and managers turn into geniuses as opposed to goats. Holes in the line-up become filled by stars not AAA replacements. Those stars are free agents.
Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous said he wanted a starter at the end of last season to help out the rotation. He worked hard at getting one. He failed but it was not his fault. Anthopolous was right in saying that the asking prices and contact lengths were too high for starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. Still, if Toronto was looked at as a winner then free agents would make compromises and deals could be made. If you are not a contender then you pay top dollar. Period. If you are a contender then free agents will drop their asking prices.
It is true that money talks and something else walks, but a winning team makes free agents run to sign up. Think back to the late 80s and the early 90s… free agents like Jack Morris or Paul Molitor came to Toronto. They came to Toronto to win.