Despite the Blue Jays being in one of baseball’s biggest markets, they’ve never been big free agency spenders. Don’t blame them for this offseason mess, at least no more than any other year.
If you ask someone like Super-Agent, Scott Boras, teams like the Blue Jays are exactly what’s wrong with the free agency market this offseason. In fact, he’s gone on record in the past as accusing the Blue Jays of being cheap relative to their spending power, and in some ways he makes a valid point. They are the only team in Canada after all, and that’s a pretty unique, and profitable position to be in.
Still, when it comes to this year’s free agency market I would stop short of blaming the Blue Jays for being the source of the hot stove moving at a snail’s pace. With a little over a week to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, there are still more than 100 free agents on the market, and many of them are elite contributors including the likes of Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and many more. That’s a problem for the MLBPA, which we’ve heard about a great deal over the past week or so.
When it comes to the Blue Jays though, should we be that surprised? If you’ve been following the team over the past decade, they’ve almost never spent big in free agency. Yes, they handed Russell Martin a five year, 82 million dollar pact, but other than the Canadian backstop can you think of another significant free agency brought in from outside? They’ve handed big contracts to the likes of Josh Donaldson for 23 million this offseason, or the 18 million to bring back a franchise cornerstone like Jose Bautista, but they always stop short of spending big on free agents.
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Part of that has been a result of philosophy, whether it was Paul Beeston’s five year limit on free agency contracts from the past leadership group, or the cautious nature of Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro’s approach these days. There’s also the whole piece of luring free agents to Toronto, which is a more difficult task than it sounds. The prospect of playing in the AL East against the Yankees and Red Sox can be daunting, the Rogers Centre is one of the last ballparks in the game to have turf on their field, and it is the only Canadian city. For some players, none of those facts matter much, but for others they can be deal breakers.
I’m not making excuses for the Blue Jays at all, in fact I would have loved to see them spend on someone like Lorenzo Cain, or even still shock us and the baseball world by spending for someone like Yu Darvish or even a lesser name like Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. I’m not saying it isn’t still possible either, especially with the latter two names, I just don’t know how likely it is. The opportunity has been on the table for months now, but they’ve almost completely disregarded the free agent market outside of a one year deal for five million with Curtis Granderson. As usual, the majority of their impact moves have come via the trade route.
The Blue Jays have also done the bulk of their impact work through trades over the last 5-10 years, with the list of acquisitions including All-Stars like Donaldson, David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, and many others such as those they brought in this offseason. If you make a list of outside free agents, it’s highlighted by Martin, bringing back J.A. Happ, Kendrys Morales…. Melky Cabrera… see what I mean?
Agents like Boras can point at the Blue Jays and say they should be spending more, but the fact is they’re pretty much keeping with their usual approach. The biggest difference is teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and more are exercising financial restraint for one reason or another, not a lack of uncharacteristic spending from the Blue Jays.
We can talk about why the Blue Jays should be spending more and/or taking advantage of the potential free agency bargains another day, but Ross Atkins made his philosophy about things pretty clear at a Pitch Talks event the other night, pointing to the end of “overpaying for a player’s aging curve”. Whether we like it or not, this is nothing new in Toronto even if it is for the rest of the game.