Blue Jays: The latest roster moves are very significant
The Blue Jays showed their commitment to winning by signing significant free agents this offseason, and their latest decisions reinforce it even more.
I was impressed that they were willing to spend what it took to sign free agents like George Springer and Marcus Semien, who will make a combined 40 million this season. However, I’m almost as impressed that the front office is also willing to eat some money to improve the roster, and admit that it’s time to move on from a player or two. They did just that when they designated Shun Yamaguchi for assignment on Wednesday, and then did the same with Derek Fisher on Thursday.
At the end of the day, both decisions make a lot of sense, it’s just that the Blue Jays haven’t always been willing to make these kind of roster moves. In order to designate Yamaguchi for assignment, the Jays will likely have to eat the 3.175 million he’s owed for 2021, unless they somehow find a taker on the trade market. That’s not a tremendous sum in the grand scheme, but it’s enough that I’m surprised that Ross Atkins admitted they could use the roster spot more effectively, and could even spend a little more to fill it. It’s also possible that Yamaguchi’s spot on the 26-man roster goes to an arm on a MiLB deal like Francisco Liriano, or perhaps A.J. Cole, giving the bullpen some needed flexibility that Yamaguchi’s contract didn’t offer.
As for Fisher, it’s no secret that the front office has believed in his potential and wanted to give him the opportunity to realize it in Toronto. Unfortunately the former Astro struggled in pretty much every way as a big leaguer with the Blue Jays. If this does in fact end up being the last we see of him in Toronto, he’ll finish his tenure with the team having slashed .194/.286/.376 with seven home runs, 19 RBI, and a staggering 54 strikeouts in just 124 at-bats. Perhaps the raw talent is still enticing on some level, but at some point you have to admit what you’re watching and cut your losses.
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The thing is though, it really hasn’t been something that we’ve seen from the Blue Jays in recent years, and the fact that they’re making these decisions now represents another transition. Instead of employing Yamaguchi as a 7th or 8th reliever, the front office is taking that role even more seriously, which is also a reflection of the depth they’ve put together. That spot could now belong to Liriano, Cole, or perhaps newly signed David Phelps. However it plays out, the Blue Jays will give the role to someone with greater upside, but more importantly, an arm that can get the job done in the immediate term. In order to be on the 26-man, potential without any results isn’t going to be enough anymore.
Having said that, the Blue Jays could still stand to apply this line of thinking to their starting rotation. The group has plenty of options, but more question marks than reassuring answers. And even though the Jays may be near the top of their payroll for 2021, I suspect that Atkins and company have at least one more move up their sleeve before Opening Day. It remains to be seen if that means they’ll sign someone Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, bring back Taijuan Walker, or maybe even make a late-winter trade, but it’s gotten to the point that a lot of us actually expect something to happen, even after all of the rest of the off-season work. Isn’t that a welcome change?
It’s not just about the additions they’ve been able to make, even if they’re significant. The fact that the front office has moved past the point of waiting for production, and even willing to cut bait and eat money on role players to make incremental improvements to the roster, is significant. These are the kind of roster decisions that Atkins has danced around in the past, and they likely could gotten away with it again this year with guys like Yamaguchi and even Fisher in limited roles. The fact that they’ve chosen not to is a noticeable and encouraging shift.