Blue Jays: What it takes to get a free agent to sign a year early

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws out a runner at first base against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 1, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws out a runner at first base against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 1, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays likely aren’t quite ready to be a contender in 2020, and with that in mind, what would it take to get a free agent to sign a “year early”?

The month of November has come to a close, and the Blue Jays’ front office has roughly 3.5 weeks left to check off the boxes of their Christmas shopping list.

They don’t have to get their off-season work done before the 25th, or even before the end of January really, but it would sure be nice to see the Blue Jays add a significant player to their big league roster, especially as some of their reported targets start agreeing to new contracts elsewhere.

It’s been the theme of the off-season so far for Ross Atkins and the rest of the Blue Jays’ front office. As we’ve often heard over the years, they seem to be checking in on available free agents, but unfortunately have come up short so far. That happened with Jake Odorizzi, who accepted his qualifying offer to stay in Minnesota, and a few days ago with Kyle Gibson, who signed a three year deal to head to Texas.

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We don’t know for sure what the Blue Jays offered either pitcher, but what we do know is that it wasn’t enough to convince them to come to Toronto for the 2020 season and beyond. Being the only Canadian team in the big leagues, coming to play for the Blue Jays isn’t the easiest sell for every free agent, but I doubt it was just that.

More likely, this all comes down to money.

For the Blue Jays, they’re going to have to spend out of their comfort zone if they want to land a desirable upgrade, especially in their starting rotation. That could come in the form of dollars or years on a free agent contract, or perhaps in prospect capital if they end up going through the trade route. Either way, there will be a reasonably significant cost involved.

At this stage, my assumption is that the Blue Jays would prefer to avoid trading from their minor league stables, outside of the more fringy guys. If that’s the case, they may need to ramp up their aggression on the free agents that could still work as a good fit, and they’re going to have plenty of competition. However, the Blue Jays should be able to make a strong case as a free agent destination, as they have a combination of available free agent dollars (both now and in the future), and an exciting young core in place.

However, that’s not going to be enough, and if the Blue Jays are serious about signing someone like Zack Wheeler, Dallas Keuchel, or even the next rung out starters like Michael Pineda, Tanner Roark, or Alex Wood, they’re going to have to put the best offer on the table. That might mean a 5th or even 6th year for Wheeler, or a 4th for Keuchel, or perhaps giving the next tier a two-year pact. For someone like Wood, it might simply be the most money.

It’s not the way the Blue Jays generally operate, but it’s usually the recipe for success in winning a free agent bid. They signed Russell Martin before the 2015 season, mostly because of Alex Anthopoulos’ willingness to include a fifth year on the contract, and the rest is history. We also saw the same with the huge contracts given to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as free agents last off-season.

Next. Time to refocus after striking out thus far. dark

Given the payroll freedom that Atkins should have at his disposal right now, money really shouldn’t be the problem. Right now it feels like it’s time for the Blue Jays to go big or go home, and for Atkins, that could be far more expensive than overpaying to sign a free agent starter.

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