Blue Jays: A big question about the window of contention

Aug 8, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette (11) shakes hands with team president Mark Shapiro during batting practice against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette (11) shakes hands with team president Mark Shapiro during batting practice against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Whenever the lockout finally ends, the Blue Jays likely have some moves left to make, and a big question that needs to be answered. Well, maybe two big questions.

I know there are plenty of folks that won’t agree with me on this, but hear me out here. With the rumours and recent chatter about the Blue Jays potentially having interest in Freddie Freeman once the lockout finally comes to an end, I feel like that kind of decision would change the approach for the front office in some ways. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I think it could change the Blue Jays’ potential window of contention, which should be wide open now.

I say that because signing Freeman would require a significant commitment, especially if there are other bidders lining up like many outlets are reporting. Most of us believed that Freeman would eventually return to the Atlanta, the only team he’s ever known, and that could certainly still happen. There are also rumours that the Yankees, and Dodgers could be interested, and we all know what kind of pocketbooks they bring to the table. It’s likely that in order to land one of the best left-handed hitters in baseball, his next team will have to commit to at least 5-6 years, and probably somewhere between 25-30 million per season.

While I 100% believe that the Blue Jays could fit that into the budget for the short-term, I have concerns about what that could mean down the line. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Freeman’s, and he’s a near perfect fit as a lefty compliment to the right-handed dominant lineup in Toronto these days. That said, making that kind of financial commitment to a 32 year old veteran could have some consequences down the line. Teams know they’re paying for the front-end on these kind of deals for veterans on the wrong side of 30, like we saw with Russell Martin coming to town prior to the 2015 season, but it can be worth it in the right situations. The Blue Jays had a team that was a legitimate contender at that point, and it almost worked before things fell apart for an aging roster.

The “aging roster” part isn’t quite as big of an issue this time around, but it’ll still be a factor over the next four or five years. While I think there are several prime years left for guys like George Springer and Kevin Gausman, they are two examples of players that will likely regress by 2026-27 compared to what they are now, and they’ll still carry expensive salaries. Again, that’s okay in the right circumstances, but I wonder if the Blue Jays want to add a third player that fits in the same category. Yes, Rogers has the ability to spend as much as any team in baseball, but I do think there will be some sort of limit, even if Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have spoken confidently about their ability to invest in the roster these days during a “win-now” point in franchise history.

As I look at the Blue Jays’ roster commitments going forward, it’s not hard to see a team that could get expensive in a real hurry. They still have five years at an average of more than 25 million on Springer’s contract, Gausman just signed a five-year, 110 million dollar deal, and Jose Berrios committed to seven years and 131 million, with the potential for more with incentives. On top of that they’ll have escalating salaries for their young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah, and more. Again, I’m not so concerned about 2022, I’m thinking more about 2025 and beyond for the purposes of this train of thought.

I worry that adding a contract like Freeman’s would potentially impact the Blue Jays ability to sign Vlad Jr., Bichette, and possibly others, and that takes me back to the window of contention point I wanted to make. As things stand right now, the Blue Jays will have Guerrero Jr. and Bichette under contract for at least four more years. However, if they want to extend one or both, it’s going to cost a fortune, and depending on how long they wait it could end up being for an annual average value of 25-30 million or even more.

For example, there were reports that Juan Soto turned down a 350 million dollar offer over 13 years, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get something like 400 million before he commits to a lifetime contract. If he sets that kind of bar then it’s going to impact the market for long-term extensions for the top young talents in the game, and the Blue Jays happen to have two of them at the moment.

For the sake of quick math, adding up Springer, Gausman, Berrios’ contracts by 2025 takes us to more than 67 million. If we conservatively add 55 million for Bo and Vlad, we’re already looking at 122 million. If Manoah’s career arc continues he could be making 15-20 million or more by then as well, so now we’re in the 140 million range. If you add 25-30 million for Freeman, now we’re in the 160-170 million range for just seven players, and that doesn’t leave a ton of room to build the rest of the roster. On top of that, signing Freeman doesn’t answer any of the potential questions the Jays have at second and/or third base either. Add it all up, and signing the Braves legend might mean that they simply can’t keep both Guerrero and Bichette unless they really intend to blow the roof off of the payroll.

The second big question that I referred to at the top is around just how far ownership is willing to go when it comes to investing in a potential championship contender. That comes in the form of how much they’re willing to spend, and how long of a commitment they’re willing to make as one of the top spenders in baseball. In the event that a new CBA brings a luxury tax threshold in the 230-240 million dollar range, maybe it is possible to sign Freeman and not have to pay any penalties. Maybe I’ve been a fan of this team for too long, but I also have a really hard time seeing them spending that kind of money unless they’re defending championships (which could happen).

Next. How high could the payroll go in the future?. dark

To sum it all up, I love the idea of adding the kind talent that Freddie Freeman can bring to the table to what the Blue Jays already have, but the more I think about it, the less sense it makes to me. The exception would be if the Blue Jays decided that they were going to go all in on the next four years while they’re guaranteed to have Guerrero Jr. and Bichette under contract. To me, it feels like a six-year contract for Freeman, which is what I believe it’ll take, would impact the window of contention in Toronto. For pretty much that reason alone, I hope they look elsewhere.