Blue Jays: How a fiscally conservative fanbase was born

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Toronto Blue Jays fans react in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Toronto Blue Jays fans react in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Despite the fact that the Blue Jays play in a massive market and have a wealthy ownership group, there are many fans who argue against spending. Why is that?

We’re now less than a week from pitcher and catchers starting to report for Spring Training, which means we’re going to have legitimate baseball to watch very soon.

For the Blue Jays the offseason check list is pretty much completed at this point. They’ve jettisoned a few veterans like Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and more to make room for emerging youngsters, and also brought in a handful of veterans to help fill the void and supplement their young roster. The state of the franchise rebuild has lead to a pretty quiet winter in Toronto, but that was expected from the majority of us who follow the team on a regular basis.

As the Blue Jays embark on said rebuild, so too are many other teams around the game. There are many others who intend on competing of course, but these days teams aren’t spending in free agency the way they used to, and the evidence is as obvious as it could possibly be. I say that because the top two free agents in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still waiting for a new contract, as are other top-tier free agents like Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, and even Marwin Gonzalez.

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There are fans all over the game that have been arguing their team’s case for Harper and Machado all winter, and there are a handful of Blue Jay fans who have done the same. That said, I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of us have come to expect that the Blue Jays just aren’t the type of team to play in a pool for the very best of free agents. They’ve been running a more than respectable payroll for the last several years, and even led the game back in the early 90’s. But their best players and biggest names have arrived mostly as a result of the trade route. Russell Martin’s five year, 82 million dollar deal is about as big as it’s gotten recently, and there are even some fans that lament how much he was paid.

We’ve come to accept this as the “Blue Jay way”, and it started before Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins were at the helm. Back when Paul Beeston was the president of this team, the Jays were noted for having a five year limit on free agent contracts, which frequently took them out of the running for the best players available. Fast forward to today and it looks like Beeston’s thinking was just a little ahead of it’s time, but that doesn’t change that the Blue Jays have been reluctant to make significant free agent investments for many years, even if they’ve run fairly sizeable payrolls at times.

These days the reason is a little different, as the front office is looking to build a winner from the ground up, to provide an opportunity for their talented minor leaguers to gain valuable experience, and hopefully provide the foundation for the next winner. To that end, I can understand why they don’t want to re-sign a Curtis Granderson, or keep veterans like Tulowitzki and Martin around to block playing time. However, if they are truly looking to build a sustainable winner in a few years time, why aren’t the Blue Jays legitimately taking a run at someone like Bryce Harper?

I realize that it would take reciprocal interest from Harper and his camp, and that’s not the easiest sell right now. I also recognize that many fans are aware that Toronto would be a tough sell to an all-time free agent like Harper, as it’s often popular to seek out the more storied franchises, and even bigger US markets.

What bugs me though is that it’s considered laughable by some folks to even suggest that the Blue Jays should make an offer on someone like Harper or Machado. As I’ve noted above, the Blue Jays aren’t lacking for ownership resources if approved, and the market is much bigger than just the city of Toronto, especially with being the only big league team in Canada. The reality is, there’s no reason the Blue Jays couldn’t or even shouldn’t be a legitimate suitor for Harper, or at least be making a competitive offer. Why not? They only have two guarantee MLB contracts on the books next season, and just Gurriel Jr. going forward after that.

Instead many of us have slowly but surely convinced ourselves that there’s no point in even getting our hopes up for such a thing, and even that it wouldn’t be a financially responsible move. We even ran a poll a few days ago on our Jays Journal Twitter account, and only 65% (!) of people voted in favour of the idea of signing Harper. While I understand the fear that signing Player A for big money might mean that you can’t pursue Player B down the line, it shocks me to see the reluctance among fans, as if the Blue Jays would be spending our own money or something. I’m not advocating for fans to make uneducated, irrational demands, but it seems odd to me that we’re grown so accepting of this type of thing, and that includes yours truly at times too.

Maybe it goes back to Beeston’s policies, or from watching guys like Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson depart when they were both interested in extensions at one time. Maybe it’s because the Jays play in the same division as the financial bullies that are the Yankees and Red Sox. Or maybe it’s because fans truly understand that the latest version of this team was aging and a rebuild is truly necessary.

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Or maybe it’s the consistency of the message for so long, that was really only broken by the wild and exciting work of Alex Anthopoulos at the 2015 trade deadline, when he likely had an inkling he was on the way out the door. Otherwise, many of us have grown far too used to the conservative approach in Toronto. Maybe there’s something to Scott Boras’ complaints after all.