Blue Jays: The front office’s balance between aggression and restraint

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) /
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While the Blue Jays have made some significant upgrades over the winter, they’ve passed on a few other opportunities. In most cases that’s been a good thing.

When the Blue Jays made their major off-season splash and signed Hyun-Jin Ryu, it made all of baseball look at them a little differently. A year earlier they were shedding veteran contracts and were more or less at the real onset of their rebuild, but a lot can change in a year.

With that in mind, many fans out there now see this team as a possible fringe contender for a playoff spot, and a team that should be very much improved. And when you’re getting closer, the temptation is to push a little harder to reach that next level, and the fan base has certainly felt that as off-season rumours have continued to swirl.

As far as the Blue Jays are concerned, I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with the work of Ross Atkins and the rest of the front office over the winter, and even if I would have liked to see one or two more additions to this team as well, I understand why they’re not quite ready to push their chips to the centre of the table. In many ways, that’s what they would have had to do in order to add another impact player, and I’m not sure they’re quite ready for that stage just yet.

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For example, Starling Marte was finally traded away from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday in a move that has been anticipated for most of the off-season. With their need to upgrade in centre field, the Blue Jays were one team that made sense for the veteran, at least to some degree. However, I’m personally glad that the Blue Jays didn’t get too serious about paying the asking price, for a couple of reasons. First, the Diamondbacks gave up their #7 and #9 prospects to get him, and that’s a fairly substantial return that the Blue Jays would have had to beat. Secondly, Marte is 31, and it’s hard to say whether he’ll still be a capable centre fielder when the Blue Jays are ready to challenge for the World Series again.

Because let’s face it, that’s very unlikely that happen in 2020, and Marte only has two years of contract control left. Maybe the Blue Jays could have put it all together by 2021, but that’s a pretty big risk to take to fork over two top-10 prospects from your system. Arizona is in a different place with their contending status, so the trade makes more sense.

The same concept could be applied to a few others who have been available, such as Marcell Ozuna, who signed a one-year deal for 18 million to play for the Atlanta Braves. Some fans questioned why the Blue Jays couldn’t have beaten that deal, but would signing him for one year have made any sense in Toronto? It’s possible they were one of the teams that was reportedly discussing a multi-year pact with him, which would have made more sense, but otherwise he just wasn’t a fit in Toronto, especially as a corner outfielder. He would have been great to have, but they need pieces for a year or two from now, not so much in the immediate term.

We know the Blue Jays are open to acquiring an impact player this winter in the right situation, but so far I don’t think that’s really come up, at least not on the trade front. They checked in on Francisco Lindor and it didn’t go very far, which makes a lot of sense. There are others, such as Mookie Betts, but trying to work out a trade for a superstar from the Boston Red Sox would be nearly impossible. There are always other possibilities, especially if you seek to create them, but so far the timing just hasn’t been right, at least beyond the improvements they’ve already made.

For now, the Blue Jays are in a place where another year of growth for their talented young core will be extremely important. Signing guys like Ryu, Tanner Roark, and the other pitching help they picked up was badly needed, but even a lot of that work was done with a focus on 2021 and beyond. They’ve resisted the urge to pick up some of those “finishing pieces” that have been available, even with the prospect capital to make a move, and I really believe that’s the right play for the time being.

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The front office wisely invested in this team to make improvements but have shown the restraint to resist the temptation to speed up the rebuild too much. That’s probably going to happen with budding young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and more anyway, and when it does I’m sure Atkins and Mark Shapiro will be ready. In my mind, taking strides like signing Ryu were important, but those other big moves will come when the time is right. It’s not far off at all, but after being critical of the front office’s work many times over the last few years, and given the present market in front of them, I think they’re playing this one correctly.

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