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Blue Jays: The other side of “missed opportunities”

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 8: President and CEO Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays with his daughter Sierra and general manager Ross Atkins on the field before the start of MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 8: President and CEO Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays with his daughter Sierra and general manager Ross Atkins on the field before the start of MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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For every time you hear “if that’s all it cost to sign him, why didn’t the Blue Jays pay up?”, just remember that it takes two to tango.

Now that Spring Training is officially underway I think we can start to evaluate the offseason work of Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays’ front office. There are reports that they’re still keeping an eye on the pitching market, but I think it’s same to assume that the majority of the work has been done, if not all of it.

In a rebuilding year it makes sense that the Blue Jays were pretty light on free agent additions this winter, even if it’s way more fun to be heavily in pursuit of premium free agents. Atkins and company insisted that they want to make sure playing time is available for the youngsters that they plan on building the foundation of this team around, and we saw the evidence when the traded away Aledmys Diaz and Russell Martin, and also released Troy Tulowitzki and Yangervis Solarte.

That strategy isn’t always easy to sell to Blue Jays fans, especially when we’re witnessed another free agent market that has been heavily in favour of the teams. There are bargain contracts being signed to all the time, which leads to questions about why Atkins and the Jays wouldn’t beat the offers we’re seeing agreed to, especially this late in the offseason.

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Why didn’t the Blue Jays offer Marwin Gonzalez more than the two years and 21 million he got from the Twins? Why didn’t they beat the four million that Marco Estrada ultimately signed for to play with the Oakland A’s? Could they seriously not beat the MiLB offers that went to guys like Curtis Granderson?

The answer is either: a) They didn’t want a veteran blocking the playing time opportunity of their youngster, regardless of the bargain deal, or b) Maybe they did make a better offer, and we just didn’t hear about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting here and defending Atkins and company for being so thrifty this winter. I think there’s a legitimate argument that they could have spent a lot more money on the rotation and/or on the bullpen, both in the interest of improving their 2019 roster and also their asset list for the trade deadline this year. As easy as it is for me to point the finger at them for not getting the job done, it is also possible that they tried and weren’t able to convince some of these guys to come to Toronto this year.

Let’s look at Gonzalez for example. I actually doubt that the Blue Jays made any offer to him this offseason, mostly because they have a plethora of middle infielders that they need to find playing time for already, and their outfield picture is starting to get a little more crowded. Even if they had been interested in Gonzalez though, would he want to come to Toronto for the short term deal that he signed in Minnesota? You might be able to convince a high-end free agent to come on a longer term deal, but signing up for a rebuild on a two year contract is a different proposition.

There’s also the idea that some of these bargain contracts might be guys looking to rebuild their free agent value after a frustrating winter, and I’m not sure the AL East is the best place for that. Playing with the Blue Jays means squaring off against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays for a third of your calendar, and that’s not an easy proposition for pitchers. Sure, Marcus Stroman might love the challenge, but a free agent like say, Cody Allen, is far better off trying to rebuild his value with the Angels in the AL West.

I find myself in a weird position when it comes to how I feel about the offseason. On one hand, I’m not terribly satisfied with what Atkins and company got done as I feel like the roster could use some more support, especially on the pitching side of things. On the other hand, I admire their discipline and that they stuck to the game plan this offseason, even in a market that’s producing some tempting deals right now.

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There is also the distinct possibility that there were other plans in mind, and some that just didn’t end up coming to fruition. For every trade or free agent signing we hear about in baseball, there are probably half a dozen other possibilities that didn’t end up working out. During a rebuild in Toronto, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Blue Jays were on a lot of those lists.

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