In Mark Shapiro’s most recent interview, he admitted that the Blue Jays are struggling to convince free agents of their current readiness to win.
It can be a very difficult thing to transition from a rebuilding team into a potential contender. The work for a MLB front office usually comes in the long game, but there is an important hump to get over, and that’s basically where the Blue Jays find themselves now.
The majority of us have accepted that it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will contend for a playoff spot in 2020. That said, next season needs to be an important step toward that goal in 2021 and beyond, and with that in mind, the expectation was that the front office would add to their roster to strengthen next year’s team, but also to put other important pieces in place for the long-term. They’ve added Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark to the rotation, and will more than likely bring back Matt Shoemaker as well through arbitration, but we’re still waiting for a true, impact addition.
That could still happen with a free agent like Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dallas Keuchel, or perhaps with a trade target as well, but it’s fair to wonder if that’ll happen this off-season. We saw the front office sign Shun Yamaguchi on Tuesday, which could be viewed in a number of different ways. It’s certainly a plus to add a pitcher with his potential upside, but it could also mean that the Blue Jays are making back-up plans for their rotation, as Yamaguchi has experience in Japan as both a starter and a reliever. It also doesn’t help that a lot of teams are looking for starting pitching right now, and the market has gotten more expensive than we expected.
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All that said, the biggest problem the Blue Jays may be facing right now probably isn’t the lack of free agent options, or even how expensive the market has become. We heard recently that they outbid the Texas Rangers for Kyle Gibson before he signed his three year, 30 million dollar pact, and the front office has talked about the adjustments they’ve made with market value as things have played out.
Mark Shapiro made the latter comments on his recent appearance on Tim and Sid, where he was fairly candid about a few aspects of the way the off-season has gone so far. One comment in particular struck me though, and it doesn’t come as a big surprise to me at all. A summary of his comments, that appears on MLBtraderumors.com:
"One particular challenge, he suggested, lies in convincing players of the team’s readiness to win games"
Again, this doesn’t surprise me, and it’s also why I’ve argued that the Blue Jays need to make an impact addition to their roster this off-season. In advance of a potential window of contention in 2021 and beyond, it’s very important that the Blue Jays show the league, their young players, and potential free agents that they’re for real. It’s good to hear they’ve made legitimate offers on guys like Gibson, but even he wouldn’t qualify as the type of needle-mover this team could really use.
How do Atkins and Shapiro go about fixing that perception? Well, I can see two ways. The first one would be to throw big money at a free agent, and that opportunity is closing quickly. They could do the same be eating a big contract in a trade such as David Price’s from the Red Sox, or perhaps a position player like Wil Myers, who the Padres would likely have to attach a prospect to in order to move. Any of those decisions would help change the perception.
More likely, the Blue Jays are going to need to win more games in 2020 before free agents truly consider Toronto as a possibility. It’s always going to challenge to convince free agents to come pitch in the AL East against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, but the Blue Jays’ talented young core could certainly make that more enticing with another year of growth. If they can reach close to the .500 mark in 2020, that could be enough to make the difference.
It likely didn’t help that Shapiro and Atkins are well known for valuing roster “flexibility” so much, but it sounds like the Blue Jays have at least been taken more seriously with their offers this winter, which hasn’t always been the case. The next step will be selling free agents that this franchise is invested in bringing a winner back to Toronto. Shapiro admitted that it’s been a challenge thus far, and hopefully the front office does something to change that perception, one way or another.