Toronto Blue Jays: The difficulty management has in signing free agents

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2: Mark Shapiro speaks to the media as he is introduced as president of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on November 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2: Mark Shapiro speaks to the media as he is introduced as president of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on November 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays have some holes to fill this off-season, but luring free agents to Canada’s only MLB team is no small task.

The Toronto Blue Jays ended the 2019 season with some areas to improve on, but the idea that the rebuild was officially underway. The young position prospects were up in the big leagues and the pitching prospects were waiting in the wings, with some players making brief auditions for full-time roles in the future.

One area that the team needs to address this off-season is the starting rotation, as well as some less imminent issues like possible depth options in centre field and first base.

Every team has difficulty luring free agents to play for their team, and the Toronto Blue Jays are no different.

The Toronto Blue Jays are this nation’s only MLB team since the Montreal Expos moved to the United States, and the fact that players have to live in Canada for six months of the year can actually work against management during negotiations.

Some aspects that players will have to consider when they sign and play in Canada is the need to set up Canadian banking accounts, transfer their US earnings into CDN dollars when in Toronto, Canadian taxes, and going through customs before and after every road trip.

These may be small things to consider in the grand scheme of playing baseball, but it is something that may make players less enticed to play North of the border. Not the biggest turnoff for players who will be making millions, but something to take note of.

Another aspect going against the Toronto Blue Jays management is the Rogers Centre.

While the dome does have some positive qualities about it, the one negative players have to deal with is the artificial turf. The Astroturf is unfortunately not the most comfortable material to play on, and players have complained that the material can be hard on the body.

If you’ve never personally played sports on Astroturf, many will tell you it is not a great replacement for natural grass, and it can leave your body scratched and bruised. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was critical of the material during his time with the Montreal Expos, and only two teams in the MLB currently have Astroturf: the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays.

There were discussions of possibly putting real grass into the Rogers Centre over the past 5-10 years, but it seems these talks have diminished over time with logistics and financial worries being the leading cause.

The last and probably most important position is the current direction of the organization.

The Toronto Blue Jays are smack dab in the middle of a rebuild, a tumultuous period of time where young players are finding their place in the MLB and growing pains are on full display. I can imagine it would be tough for Ross Atkins and co. to go into a meeting leading with, “we may not win it this year or the next, but we have a really good feeling for 2022”.

Trying to entice players to play for a team that is still trying to figure out their identity and doesn’t possess many veterans to lead the squad in the clubhouse can certainly be a challenging factor to present to free agents. Factor in the Toronto media and the entire country of Canada watching every rumour and tidbit about you and your personal life, the Blue Jays can be a difficult team to sell players on.

It’s also a tough sell to players who want to cash in on the free agent market but also sign up to play for a losing team. Let’s face it, losing sucks. Not many players sign with a team to try and grow through tough times, but rather try and be the last key piece to push a team to the playoffs, which the Blue Jays will not be in next year, nor most likely the next.

Even if the Blue Jays offer the highest average salary to some of the more prominent free agents this off-season, they could look elsewhere because of the rebuild.

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That’s not to say it is impossible that the Blue Jays management won’t be able to sign free agents this off-season. They have done it in the past five years with core players like Russell Martin and J.A. Happ. These players aren’t the flashiest names in the league, but they both contributed to the team during the playoff years and were useful during their time in Toronto. Ross Atkins and co. haven’t been too free agent happy given the status of the club they inherited (Kendrys Morales aside), but that could change with a low payroll and room to play.

Free agents could also be money-hungry and go to the highest bidder, which the Toronto Blue Jays may have on their side this off-season with the young roster and controllable contract years.

If I were the Toronto Blue Jays’ management, my biggest selling feature would have to be the future of the club. Depending on how the management will present their case to the player in question, this can either work for or against the Toronto Blue Jays (as I mentioned earlier, the rebuild can be a negative aspect in negotiations). If management presents this feature to the player in the right manner, this can make the rebuild less of a challenge to overcome, but rather a positive to the player and how they can contribute to the club.

With many players on team-friendly and controllable contracts for the next 5-7 years, the selling tactic of how good this team will be with a few key additions may be able to hammer the nail home. By adding you, this specific free agent, will help carry this team to the promised land of October baseball; the hero aspect, if you will.

It would obviously depend on the player, but every free agent and their agency will know where the Toronto Blue Jays currently stand, and management needs to be frank about it when discussing contracts with prospective players. You are not going to pull the toque over their eyes this winter, they’ve done their research on the organization just like management did on the player.

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Ross Atkins will need to be smart this off-season if he wants to bring in premium talent to the roster via free agency. There are hurdles to overcome, but every team in the league has similar, if not more difficult hurdles to overcome. How management chooses to overcome these obstacles is what separates a playoff baseball team from a tanking in June baseball team.