Are the Blue Jays the best major sports team in Toronto?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 8: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees is silhouetted on front of the CN Tower during batting practice before playing the Toronto Blue Jays in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on August 8, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 8: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees is silhouetted on front of the CN Tower during batting practice before playing the Toronto Blue Jays in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on August 8, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

As of Wednesday, the Blue Jays are the only major Toronto sports team in its respective offseason.

The Maple Leafs played their opening game, winning in walk-off fashion while the Raptors have looked dreadful in their first 10 games, mustering just 2 wins. The picture is very clear for the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs and it seems to be that the Blue Jays will be the Toronto team to watch this year. Full disclosure: I am an equal fan of all the major Toronto teams so my opinions will be fair and unbiased.

Moreover, my criteria in proving that the Blue Jays are the best Toronto sports team will be based on two different elements:

a.) Performance Trajectory

Performance trajectory is obviously a key indicator in accessing whether a team is on the rise, stagnating or getting worse. I’d diagnose the Leafs as a stagnating franchise while the Raptors are evidently getting worse. On the other hand, the Blue Jays appear to only be getting better.

I: Maple Leafs

The Leafs have lost in the first round, year after year since drafting Auston Matthews at #1 and the core really hasn’t changed significantly besides adding John Tavares. They’ve had the same goalie since 2016 and all of their key players like Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have been retained so what gives. I’m sure most viewers are aware of the regular season success that the Leafs have endured, but I think that all these first round exits is an indicator that this unit is not built for deep playoff runs.

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In a sport like hockey (or basketball) where 16 teams make the playoffs, success can’t be defined merely by making the playoffs. I have seen nothing on paper that indicates anything will change this season. Despite high Vegas odds for the Leafs to win it all, I don’t buy it and I think that’s just the public money talking as the Leafs are hockey’s most popular regional market.

II: Raptors

As for the Raptors, they have objectively gotten worse on paper. After having one of the best defensive big men duos in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol last year, the Raptors would find low-cost replacements in Alex Len and Aron Baynes. Many in the industry speculate that the Raptors took this route in pursuance of saving salary space to sign Giannis in the upcoming offseason, which looks like a wild goose chase in hindsight as Giannis ended up signing a 5 year extension shortly after.

The decline in defence has been extremely evident. Last season, they finished 2nd in defensive efficiency while they are currently at 20th in the imminent campaign. This team does not look like a playoff team. It’s even scarier that the brightest spot on the Raptors right now is 35 year old, Kyle Lowry who is set to hit free agency in the upcoming offseason.

III. Blue Jays

You sorta know what you’ll get with the Leafs and Raptors, especially because statistics are pretty constant in basketball/hockey. On the other hand, the Blue Jays are in a position where their entire team is getting better and better. Besides actually having one of the youngest teams in baseball, the results actually showed this year by virtue of an above .500 winning record. Players like Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. haven’t even hit their prime yet and all produced at OPS+ clips above the average rate. When coupling this young core to the prospective additions to be made in this offseason, this could be a deadly roster for years to come.

b.) Financial Position of the Organization

In the first section, I made a point out of the fact that the Leafs are stagnating and the Raptors are getting worse. When you add the massive slate of financial commitments by both these teams, it doesn’t exactly make their options flexible. On the other hand, the Jays are expected to have payroll of just $85MM-$90MM and that number is expected to rise until approximately $170MM where it was just a couple of years ago.

I. Leafs

The Maple Leafs have committed basically all of their available cap room to home-grown talent and as mentioned above, they have had the same result year after year. The only difference between now and 5 years ago is that the Leafs have virtually no money to spend on superstar studs that could be built around the home-grown stars like Marner, Nylander and Matthews. Albeit, they did give Tavares $77MM but through three seasons with the Leafs, virtually nothing has changed. There isn’t any objective indicator that suggests the Leafs will be any different this year and its especially true when considering their minimal wiggle room in cap space.

II. Raptors

The Raptors have burdened themselves with questionable contracts over the past few years. Firstly, the 4 year, $72MM contract handed to OG Anunoby before the current season was just ridiculous. He has never been anything more than an elite defender off the bench. To give a guy who has basically no offensive capability that much money is totally unwarranted, especially because he wasn’t set to hit free agency for another year. This isn’t the only overpaid player on the Raptors.

Despite a great run in the finals, Pascal Siakam is not performing at fair market value on his $135MM contract. After declining in all kinds of important stats last year such as FG% and win shares, I think its safe to say that Siakam is a great option #2 on a championship team but when you ask him to be the option #1, it just doesn’t work out. Siakam has never been a great dribbler and the double coverage we have seen over the past few seasons has put him in all sorts of precarious situations that has forced turnovers, bad shots or what have you. It’s not a bold statement to suggest that you expect more output out of your highest paid player. Although Lowry’s $35MM is going to come off the books after this season, it will be tough to reallocate that money in a way that makes up for the other overpaid Raptors contracts.

III. Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are set to enter a record breaking offseason. Not only are they about $85MM below their previous payroll peak but the front office plans to make a free agent acquisition that would shatter the previous record signed by Russell Martin in the 2015 offseason for $82.5MM. In addition to the prospective adding, the current stars on the Jays are being paid at the entry level amount through the end of the 2022 season (Bichette, Guererro Jr, Biggio). After that, they will be controllable through three years of arbitration-eligibility in which they will still be cheap relative to their fair market values.

Not only do the Jays have an improving roster that’s evidenced by 2 years of growth from key players, but they also have the prospect of significant improvement if they spend their dollars right. To the contrary, the Leafs and Raptors spent poorly over the past few years and it has put them in a position where they have no other hands to play.

Official Verdict

The Blue Jays have the best outlook out of any of the major Toronto sports teams. They have an improving team with more financial flexibility than just about any team in baseball. In fact, this is probably the first offseason in their entire existence that they’ve (reportedly) had more money to spend than all of the behemoth spenders like the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs.

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Rumour has it that the Yankees will not be able to retain all of the pitching rotation talent that they lost in free agency. Moreover, for the first time in many years, the Blue Jays have the chance to objectively improve more than the Yankees and Red Sox (and the AL-winning Rays for that matter).