Blue Jays’ players willing to commit to Toronto these days

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Marco Estrada
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Marco Estrada /

There was a time when it was very difficult to get players to come to Toronto in free agency. These days, plenty of stars are willing to commit to the Blue Jays, a welcome change north of the border.

As the only Canadian franchise, and the only one outside of the United States, the Toronto Blue Jays have a slightly different playing field to navigate in Major League Baseball. They have the benefit of drawing fans from a national audience, but also have obstacles to play with, such as currency value and that sort of thing.

At various points throughout their franchise history, the Blue Jays have been one of the more difficult draws for free agents. Whether it’s the unknown of living in Canada, playing in the American League East, or whatever the reasons may have been, the Jays frequently had to overpay in order to land the free agents they desired, something they haven’t always been willing to do.

That is slowly but surely changing for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Taking a look at the roster over the last couple of years, there have been several players who have had the chance to leave for potentially greener pastures, only to put Toronto on their consideration list, and sometimes at the top of it. We’re often left wondering how much lip service is paid to us as fans, but I believe we have had several genuine examples recently, some who have stayed, and others who have moved on.

Edwin Encarnacion 

I’ve actually read comments from a few fans who have said things like, “Edwin never seriously considered Toronto”. All I can say is, “you’ve gotta be kidding me”.

Sure, you could argue that he would have signed in Toronto if he REALLY wanted to stay, but you have to consider the whole picture here. EE was 33 at the time, and facing his last chance at a major contract before his career comes to an end. He can’t be blamed for going to free agency to see what was there for him, even if it was only to use as leverage against the Blue Jays.

Unfortunately for all parties involved (except the Cleveland Indians… and well, likely Encarnacion), the Blue Jays’ front office had no patience to wait around, and struck quickly to sign his replacement in Kendrys Morales. If you Edwin’s statements in the following weeks, and/or watched his sit down special with Hazel Mae, you can’t tell me that he didn’t want to return to Toronto, or at the very least would have been happy to finish his career as a Blue Jay.

Marco Estrada

You could argue that Estrada took the safe bet, signing a one year, 13 million dollar deal to return in Toronto. However, there’s a good chance you’d be wrong with that argument.

If there’s one thing that rings consistently true in baseball, it’s that teams can’t have enough pitching. That usually means they’re willing to pay for it, and if you think Estrada wouldn’t have had any offers this offseason, then you haven’t been paying attention the last few years. He almost certainly could have had a multi-year deal, especially after turning things around in August and September.

His track record in Toronto has been excellent if you remove June and July of this year. In 2018 he wanted to return to where he’s most comfortable, and prove to everyone that it was a blip on the radar, rather than a sign of regression. He was also quoted in a recent interview with Mike Wilner, talking about just how much he wanted to return.

Josh Donaldson

I know there are people out there who will scoff at his inclusion on this list, but it came straight from the horse’s mouth not long ago. Donaldson flat out said he would be “tinkled pink” if he could stay in Toronto for a long time. The Blue Jays should really take advantage of this attitude and work on an extension this offseason, if you ask me.

He’s going to command a hefty salary if he makes it to free agency at the end of 2018, so the front office would be wise to see if they can talk extension before things hit that stage, if they’re serious about retaining him that is. It definitely helps that he’s not counting down the days until he’s able to move on.

Jose Bautista

“Joey Bats” has a huge heart for Toronto and the Blue Jays fans across Canada, and it’s been a great marriage throughout his nearly 10 seasons in the organization. He’s always been committed to playing in Toronto, and showed that as a free agent twice before. Sure, his market didn’t shape up the way he thought it would, but he always wanted to stay in Toronto, he just wanted to be paid for the performance he gave them over the years.

As his tenure with the club came to a close in 2017, it was hard to say goodbye to a franchise icon who clearly doesn’t want to go, but it’s simply time for both parties to move on. The Blue Jays need to get younger, more well-rounded, and athletic. Hopefully for Bautista, he can latch on with a new team next season and prove that he’s got some gas left in the tank.

Fortunately it appears that the two sides are parting on amiable terms, which should eventually lead to the team working with their long time star again down the line, in a post-playing career role. At the very least, he’s likely destined for a spot on the “Level Of Excellence” someday.

I could list more players, but my main point is that the Blue Jays are arguably a desirable location these days. As the team has contended recently, and as the Blue Jays’ fan base has grown to the top mark in the American League (despite a 76 win season), there is greater marketing potential, and a shrinking stigma about playing for Canada’s team in “America’s Pastime”.

Next: Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- Kevin Pillar

Maybe the front office hasn’t always been able to land their desired free agents, but the fact that they’re able to retain their in-house stars is a step in the right direction. With that in mind, it should be an interesting offseason, and hopefully a more productive one than last year.