Feb 20, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro (30) heads to batting practice as the Blue Jays work out at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays Got One Free Agent. Why?


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.

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  • https://twitter.com/mikeinboston mike in boston

    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.

    Disagree. Many people regard the AAV that pitchers have signed for this off-season as a bargain relative to the baseline established in previous years. There were improvements to be had this off-season that would not have significantly hampered the long-term financial flexibility of this team, on the assumption that this team is comfortable spending in the 120-140 million dollar range.

    I think that assumption is highly questionable in light of how this off-season has unfolded. That is worrisome, since the moves made last year were premised on this team being financially “in it” for the next 2-4 years, while their assets (Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion) are in their prime. If Rogers doesn’t want to spend at that level any more then last year’s one shot at it cost them a ton of prospects in addition to money.

  • Justin Jay

    Houston is not a small market. It’s actually quite huge but it’s television coverage is limited thanks to its previous ownership

  • Justin Jay

    Btw, you hit the nail on the head! Winning cures a lot of things. If you’re team is failing, you have to overpay to bring people in. It’s that simple. The team has to make it worthwhile for a good player to come here. No All Star caliber player is going to go to a bad team at market value. This team wins, the players will come. But this franchise just looks lost and a lot of hipster fans seem to think there’s a master plan with back-ups to follow. You can’t go all in and then decide to not be ALL IN. You lose at that. This team will be better but EVERY TEAM got significantly better in the AL East and that will offset it for sure.

  • SM

    If we can eat Reyes’ and Buehrle’s massive salaries putting in another pitcher is no excuse, especially with the profit the Jays made last year.

    Its a self-fulfilling prophecy: Rogers has tightened the leash this year because they don’t see the excitement in the fan base they saw last year and are thus anticipating a dramatic reduction in attendees, seasons pass holders, tickets sold and tv audience as well.

    Since they (Rogers) didn’t spend, people have become disconnected with the team – so you can see how this goes both ways. Ultimately Rogers will be able to ‘justify’ the spending cuts and us fans will be left with the same bad taste in our mouths we’ve had for over 20 years.

    • Justin Jay

      The excitement would be there if they made some moves to make the team better

      • SM

        hence i called it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rogers will eventually
        justify not spending money becuase the fans never came – the fans on the
        other hand didn’t buy in cuz Rogers didn’t improve upon the team.

        Rogers
        is a huge corporate business. They got a HUGE deal with the Leafs,
        already have the Raptors and Toronto FC under their belt as MLSE.
        They’re making money even when the Jays lose – and probably quite a bit
        (a Blue Jays Plus blog article is where I’m getting this from). They
        don’t really care if we win or lose. Also, to be fair, no one/not nearly
        enough in Toronto care about Baseball – yes you’ll fill the Rogers
        centre with the occasional 40,000+ fans but a whole bunch of them come
        from outside of Toronto on the weekends to party in the city anyway and
        the Jays are not usually their top priority. Canada needs to care for
        baseball which’ll give a kick up the corporate owners a**es that they
        deserve.

        • Justin Jay

          There was once a time when I checked the box scores for attendance, and the Blue Jays regularly sold out the Skydome at 64-65K people a night. Hasn’t been like that since 1994. I feel you’re right. You have to wonder how invested Rogers really is in all of this. You have to wonder if the Blue Jays front office are all on the same page as far as “the plan.” The initial idea was “we’re building for the future” and it became “the future is now, we’re all in,” and now it is “this team can win as is.”
          This team will be “better” but the entire division got better. The JJ staff was talking about X Factors for team success this year, and I really believe it has to be Brandon Morrow. If Morrow gets 24-25 QS, as well as Dickey and Buehrle, that’s about 75 QS and I like the Jays odds with the strength of the bullpen. Teams will need to score more than 3 runs against this team. 75 QS by your top 3 starters isn’t unrealistic and all your asking is for the arms to put this team in position to win. Then the fans will come… It’s just a lot of pressure on Morrow.

  • Quincy-Sam

    I think you are partly right and partly wrong.

    Toronto has not had much success signing FAs. Over the last 10+ years very close to the leaders in the AL east and a contending club. And still they wind up both not signing FAs and being on a no trade lists for many players. Canadian taxes can’t be ignored, though I suspect players, agents, Jays and MLB don’t want this to be a public discussion. Just as other teams have their own tax issues, and don’t want it to be either an excuse or have to address something they cannot fix.

    And regular border crossings aren’t doing us any favours either as the smallest little hassle likely overblown as spread around players even if they have never been to Toronto on a visiting team. Not even going to get into dogs and other things that are just different.

    But you are partly right on ownership. Labatts was willing to spend. Interbrew was not (which ended the FA era). Rogers can, and will, within reason. Jays have stuck to budgets, which is both good and bad. Change in exchange rates doesn’t affect what a player is paid, but does affect what the Jays can spend.

    I highly doubt Reyes or Buerhle would have signed as FAs. But now that they are in Toronto, doubt they would have a problem resigning when the time comes.

    But you hit the nail on the head with Navarro. Players who come here have to have a reason to want to come. Playing time being one of them. I suspect the Jays have been competitive on many FAs, but if they equaled other teams offers lost out due to taxes, lack of US tv time/exposure, advertising revenue (US), or just being closer to home. A latin player might be less concerned than the traditional US born player. The Jays MUST pay a premium to get FAs. But to sign an elite FA, it would take a super premium.

    So if the Jays get back to being an elite team on a regular basis, elite players may want to come, with the other stuff less of a concern. Give them a reason to want to come. That’s about the only way I see the Jays being in the FA market on a regular basis. Just the way things are, and something Jays fans have to accept, even if they don’t like it.

    I would really like to hear from players that didn’t sign with the Jays, to say whether the reasons stated affected their decision on whether to sign. It would probably have to be a retired player, willing to be honest. But it probably would stir up a bunch of problems for MLB. Teams (not just Jays) might not be happy if fans realize their team is always at a disadvantage when it comes to FAs or keeping players they do have.

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      All excellent points. Only thing I would add is that Rogers Centre’s recent reputation as a bandbox probably doesn’t make it any easier to convince pitchers to sign here either.

  • RyanMueller

    Can I poke a little hole in the ‘winning = FA” theory that we are debating? Two words Robinson Cano…..some players are in it for the money.

  • Oscar Arciaga

    I think that if the Blue Jays management doesn’t want to invest to free agents because of the price and the long term contracts, then give up and sell the team somewhere else. AA philosophy is far from reality so he doesn’t deserve to be managing. Wake-up AA. Sorry fans.

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