The Toronto Blue Jays head into free agency with some holes in their lineup, with suitable free agents on the market who could help the organization through the rebuild.
Every offseason, it seems like the Toronto Blue Jays fit into the same narrative. They will “check-in” or be rumoured to have connections with premium free agents, only to have the players sign elsewhere and management picking up sub-par talent that is more of a work in progress than an MLB contributing player.
That’s not to say that the Blue Jays are going to sign every free agent they have interest in considering there are 29 other teams in the league, but history is not on the organization’s side when it comes to free agency.
The 2019 offseason needs to be different. This offseason needs to be the one where the Toronto Blue Jays show their financial strength and flexibility and make this organization stronger, whether through free agency or trading.
The one big hole the Blue Jays need to fill is in their starting rotation, with smaller, less important holes being in their outfield and 1st base. With the Blue Jays in a rebuild, there is currently a stockpile of young talent vying for roster spots, but the team is missing 1-2 starters who have MLB pedigree in the league. The current rotation just doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters with the players they currently have starting games.
There are multiple options this offseason, with Jake Odorizzi and Zack Wheeler being potential players who could easily slot into the Blue Jays rotation and make this team better. Each of the aforementioned players will be looking at around $15-$20 million per year, and the Blue Jays may have to overpay a bit to acquire their services, as well as commit to a longer-term contract (think 4-6 years range). This is nothing new to Blue Jays management, as drawing players to play for Toronto has been a struggle for the organization in the past.
This is only a shortlist of the available players, and there are other options who could slot into the rotation as well. Even if the Blue Jays choose to look further down the list of options and pick up a less impactful but still experienced stater, that would be positive to a rotation that just doesn’t possess a lot of MLB reps. Players like Tanner Roark and Kyle Gibson could be an upside to the current rotation and would cost the team less at around $10-13 million a year.
Money is king in baseball free agency, and the Toronto Blue Jays have always had to overpay to get talent to come North of the border. Russell Martin was born in Canada and still had to be overpaid at a $20 million average over 5 years to don the Blue Jays uniform.
The point of the matter is this: with the team in the rebuild and the 2021 free-agent class looking bleak in an area of the teams greatest need (starters), management needs to strike while the iron is hot. Ross Atkins and co. cannot sit on their hands and be outbid for players who could make the rotation better just because they were afraid of committing another million or two.
I’m not saying go give Odorizzi a $25 million dollar per year contract because another team made a stupid offer, management will still need to keep their wits about them and not go spending happily. This offseason just needs to be different, where the front office gets out of their comfort zone and commits to starting pitchers and possibly other position player free agents who are going to make this team better. The team should have the financial flexibility to come into the winter meetings with some serious swagger, letting other teams know they mean business.
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Waiver wire pickups and ‘player to be named later’ trades are not going to cut it this time. The younger players in the Blue Jays organization are going to get better year after year. The starting rotation needs to have competent players who can give you quality innings 25-30 times a year, and bargain bin bounceback candidates are not the solution to this issue. The Blue Jays need to supplement the plus side hitting prospects with a rotation who will give them a chance to win games, not putting 5+ runs a game.
While some spots could be filled internally by the likes of Nate Pearson, Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, etc., the Blue Jays have 1-2 spots open where a free agent like Odorizzi or Wheeler can add 10-20 wins in the season, which could be a make or break difference on whether the Blue Jays make the playoffs or not further down the rebuild road.
Obviously there is a gamble with free agency and trading for players in that, not every new acquisition guarantees future success, but being scared of taking the risk is not going to win the team any more games. Championship teams can be built on management personal who took risk and signed big-name players in hopes of making the team better, reaping the rewards in the process.
It is time for the Toronto Blue Jays to stop shopping at the MLB bargain bins and look for quality, name-brand talent who don’t need further polishing or refurbishment, just put them on the field and let their experience give you quality innings.
Management doesn’t need to sign 5 pitchers at $1-3 million dollars apiece hoping they find a diamond in the rough. Sign one player who is worth the $15 million and give yourself a better opportunity to win games; there’s a reason they are commanding that much interest and money. There needs to be a big sign in the Toronto Blue Jays front office that reads “Quality over Quantity”, just to drive the message home.
While the formula seems pretty transparent, it will be up to Blue Jays management to improve the squad however they seem fit. There are options this offseason to improve the roster, and failure to do so will just cost the team more in the long run in dwindling attendance and disgruntled fanbase who is trying to find positives in a team that doesn’t seem committed to improving.
Toronto fans pay to see winners and stay away from losers. Attendance at the Rogers Centre has been on a consistent drop for the past three years, and the correlation as to the ‘why’ is pretty easy to see.
It’s time to stop being losers in Toronto, or at least start fighting to become winners.