For years, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays have heard a philosophy that makes them cringe: the club’s “5 Year Policy”. This is the idea of current president, Paul Beeston. It has been a guideline that dictates whether the Blue Jays pursue, and ultimately sign, free agents. And, in theory, it makes sense. In year 6 or 7 of the contract, there is not as much value to be had for the club as history would suggest. There are a litany of examples to back this up. Heck, the New York Mets are STILL paying Bobby Bonilla handsomely.
But, in practice, this policy has stopped the Blue Jays from really being front runners in almost all of the big free agents over the last while. While it is impossible to know just when this policy ends the talks, it is certain that it ended them without the player coming to Toronto. Now, one could say that there are other reasons free agents haven’t come North. The turf, the taxes, the “playing for a foreign country” have all been excuses. But, this policy is the one thing on the list that the club can do something about. And, they haven’t.
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But, is that about to change? On Tuesday, GM, Alex Anthopoulos joined Sportsnet’s Bob McCown and Arash Madani for a little chat. One of the takeways from this really interesting conversation centers around the 5 Year Policy. Firstly, Anthopoulos may have accidentally hinted at his future by saying he was biding his time at the moment looking ahead to 2016. Madani quickly picked up on the fact that the young GM’s contract ends before 2016. Anthopoulos acknowledged the comment, but refused to actually address it.
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Form there, he was asked about the 5 Year Policy. While it does presume the GM will be with the club heading into free agency, we might have been given some insight into whether the policy will also head into free agency. With a new president in Mark Shapiro ready to take over at season’s end, it is unclear whether the policy will stay. As was mentioned on the show, Shapiro was at the helm in Cleveland when the club signed Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis to longer deals.
Anthopoulos was quick to point out that these examples were not free agency signings where other teams were included in bidding for their services. Where as “Paul [Beeston] was thinking more free agent context” with his plan. The above deals, according to the GM, are not the same as pure free agent deals. But, perhaps AA tipped us off when he said, “I would expect, like anything else, with a new CEO, there’s new philosophies and ideas and things like that.” Hello! Now, he did not come out and say that Shapiro will axe the 5 Year Policy. And, he was quick to point out that he wouldn’t want to put words in his new boss’ mouth. But it’s enough to give some of us hope. Right?
This might seem like a small issue at the current point in time. And, it might seem like it is not enough to really get you excited. But, it is significant. Here’s why: the Blue Jays are most definitely going to be looking to score in the free agent market. Anthopoulos acknowledged as much. In fact, in the same interview, he noted that the rotation will be an area to address over the winter.
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David Price is obviously target number 1. They club has had a couple months to woo him and convince him that Toronto is where he needs to sign his max years and max money contract. But, with a rotation that is set to include only two (near) guarantees in Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison, the Blue Jays look to be set to look this philosophy square in the eye.
We all know the potential for the rotation depletion. Price is not a guarantee, far from it. Marco Estrada is set to turn his magical season in to a new contract. Mark Buehrle may be riding off into the sunset…perhaps in St Louis. R.A. Dickey has an option that the club will probably pick up. But, right now, there is not even a full rotation in 2016. And, this upcoming free agent crop is looking like it will have plenty of options. Those options will not be aiming for just one year. They’ll certainly be looking to push the limit of what the Blue Jays will offer.
The good news is that the Toronto Blue Jays have established themselves as a great place to play. The fans have shown their support in spades. Will it be enough to convince some free agents to sign on the dotted line? Time will tell. Before it gets to that point, though, the club will have to make a decision about where it stands on offering deals longer than 5 years. With new leadership at the top, this ‘guideline’ could become history and big free agents could become the future.