The Blue Jays will have to balance the immediate and long-term future as they make their offseason decisions over the next few months. It’s a difficult but enviable position for Ross Atkins and his front office team to be in.
As the Jays look to retain their star free agents and/or replace them over the winter, there are a lot of variables to consider. One of them will be the length of the contracts they’re willing to hand to potential free agents, whether that’s Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien, or someone else from outside the organization. While I expect each to receive at least 4-5 year contracts, there will be a limit to how far the Jays are willing to go, and likely the same for many other teams around baseball.
That’s because the longer a contract is, the more risk that goes along with it, especially for players on the wrong side of 30. There’s no debate about whether Semien and Ray are still in their prime at 31 and 30 years old respectively, but at the end of hypothetical 5-year deals for each they’ll be 36 and 35. They could still be productive players at that point, but will they be worth their salary?
We saw this type of scenario play out recently in Toronto with Russell Martin, who was instrumental in helping the 2015 and 2016 teams get to the postseason. Martin signed a 5-year, 82 million dollar pact that carried him through his age 36 season, and unfortunately he wasn’t even close to the same player by the end of it. He actually finished his contract as a member of the L.A. Dodgers because the Jays were ready to start a rebuild and hand the reigns to Danny Jansen at the time.
Does that mean the Martin contract was a bust? Not at all, and in fact, I would argue that it was still one of the better free agent signings that Alex Anthopoulos made while in the Blue Jays front office. The Jays made that deal knowing that it would hurt a little bit at the back end, but the value in the immediate term was more important, and it got them one step closer to World Series glory.
In some ways we’re seeing the same thing playing out with Hyun Jin Ryu with the current roster. Ryu just finished the second of a 4-year, 80 million dollar contract, and he showed some signs of slowing down in 2021. I personally believe he’ll be much better next season than what we witnessed from him in the 2nd half, but I’m also willing to accept that he’s likely not going to perform at an “ace” level anymore. Still, I’m okay with having to overpay a bit on the back half of the contract because of what Ryu has meant to the Jays.
We’ll never know for certain, but I would argue that without Ryu on the roster that the Jays may never have been able to sign players like George Springer or Marcus Semien. Signing Ryu showed the baseball world that the Blue Jays were ready to compete, and announced that they were transitioning from a rebuilding club into one with intentions of contending. It was enough to change Scott Boras’ mind about the way the Blue Jays handle their business, and I’m confident it made a difference last winter.
As the Jays look to the future they’re going to ask similar questions, especially when it comes to Semien, Ray, and possibly others. The front office has talked a lot about building a sustainable winner, and with young franchise cornerstones like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah, and more, they have the pieces to do just that. It’s that balance that makes me wonder how far they’ll be willing to go to retain their free agent stars, especially if they can replace them with comparable talent on a more team-friendly term.
The Jays were willing to do what no other club would last winter, and that was giving George Springer a sixth year to his deal. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re willing to do the same for either of their pending free agents, or for anyone else available on the open market. As I said earlier, Atkins and his team are in a difficult, but enviable position.