Blue Jays should spend money this offseason in Japan
While the Blue Jays are unquestionably on the cusp of a rebuild, they could choose to invest in young pitching, something that’s available in Japan this offseason.
We’re seeing a youth movement already underway for the Toronto Blue Jays, and as the franchise moves into 2019 that will more than likely continue. After two straight losing seasons it’s time for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins to enter the rebuild they’ve been waiting to begin, and they’ve got some solid building blocks to start with.
Their minor league system is packed with talent, so much so that they are ranked #3 by Baseball America for their prospects. Obviously that group is lead by the top five talents of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, but there is plenty of others like Danny Jansen, who has already picked up three hits including a home run, and throw out two would be stealers in his first two games.
All that said, the majority of the talent in the minor league system is on the offensive side of the ball. There are arms that could make an impact like Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, Sam Gaviglio, and others still coming, but there’s nowhere near the depth of high-end talent in the pitching stables. I was surprised that the Blue Jays didn’t have a greater focus on pitching in this year’s amateur draft, but they still did well when all was said and done, and there’s more than one way to build a pitching staff.
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Another method could be to look to the international market, something that could be unexpected from the Blue Jays in the near future. However, to me it’s all about timelines for being competitive, and sometimes making an early investment in a player for down the road can pay off. The Los Angeles Lakers made a similar gamble with Lebron James this past offseason, and the Blue Jays could follow a somewhat similar path.
I’m not suggesting that they should pursue the top end pitching talent available in free agency, as that wouldn’t make much sense. However, if they can secure a reasonable contract with a controllable asset, why not look at something like that? An opportunity like that could exist in Japan this offseason, as it’s expected that at least one solid pitcher will be posted. The leading candidate would be Yusei Kikuchi, whose situation was outlined in an article by mlb.com’s Jon Morosi yesterday.
Of course, the Blue Jays would be far from the only suitor here, but it’s a situation worth exploring to be sure. Very few people expected the Angels to ultimately land Shohei Ohtani this past offseason, and it proved that making a pitch is always worthwhile. They could show someone like Kikuchi video of their young talent on the cusp of the big leagues that he would join, the international city that is Toronto, and plenty of other reasons to entice a talented arm like his.
They may not be able to offer an immediate opportunity to win, but if the front office pulls the right strings over the next couple of seasons, the Blue Jays are going to be competitive again a lot faster than most people expect. Kikuchi is just 27, so he’s plenty young enough to be useful by the time the next generation is starring, and they should also have a lot of available payroll money, even with the last of Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Kendrys Morales‘ contracts finishing up over the next year or two.
Add it all up and they have the ability and the need to pursue some high-end talent for the pitching staff, and it could speed up the development time compared to waiting on players who were drafted, or even assets acquired in trade. Of course it’s always a bit of a gamble even with high-end talent like Kikuchi, but the Blue Jays have a little room to gamble financially in the next few years.
Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Blue Jays manage their payroll in the next few years. They won’t be chasing the traditional big name free agents, at least not until they’re closer to being competitive again, so looking to a market like the one overseas might make a lot of sense.