Blue Jays: Understanding the willingness to take a gamble

Nov 12, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins speaks during media
Nov 12, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins speaks during media / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Like many Blue Jays fans, I have to admit that I've been a little bit puzzled by some of the rumours floating around these days. To be fair, a rumour is just a rumour until it's not, but it will be interesting to see what direction Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays' front office goes over the next few months.

The reason I say that I've been puzzled is because it seems like the Blue Jays are willing to take a gamble on a player with significant upside. A poster child for that idea would be Cody Bellinger, a former NL MVP that hit so poorly over the last two seasons that the mega-rich Dodgers decided he was no longer worth the price tag. As a result, several teams are likely lining up to see what kind of deal they could get, rolling the dice that they could help him find the form that made him one of the most valuable players in the world just a few years ago.

That kind of description would probably catch the eye of most teams, but I'm at least a little bit surprised for Atkins and the Jays. This is a team that's firmly in a win-now stage for the franchise, and a couple of significant roster tweaks could make the difference between winning the Wild Card and truly competing for the division crown, or better yet, an appearance in the Fall Classic. To that end, many fans would prefer a player like Brandon Nimmo, who in theory should be more of a sure thing, but naturally comes with a much higher price tag.

I do want to see the Blue Jays take a big swing or two in order to add to the roster, but I also understand their reluctance to pursue players with a reputation for being "reliable". It's a strategy they've used in the past, such as signing a pitcher like Tanner Roark, and it's backfired spectacularly. They've pursued other arms with big-game experience to boost the roster, such as Brad Hand last year, and that didn't go any better. We're only a year into the extension that Jose Berrios signed last winter, but one could argue that his situation fits the bill as well, as he was regarded as a "safe" choice before things went all wrong for him in 2022.

At this point, I understand why the Blue Jays probably trust their internal evaluations as much as anything. They've had some big misses, like signing Yusei Kikuchi last year, but they've also had some fringe trades and free agent signings really work out in their favour. In 2021 we saw the benefit of that strategy with what Robbie Ray and Steven Matz brought to the table, and I have to admit that both far outperformed my expectations for the pair of southpaws.

What's appealing about not pursuing the "sure thing" is that you can save the money, and often get more than one roll of the dice if you're willing to take a bit of a gamble. For example, a team might be able to sign both Bellinger and Michael Brantley for roughly the same money that Nimmo will receive on his own. Of course, both Bellinger and Brantley also come with some injury concerns and performance risks of their own, but there's upside to like in both cases as well.

The key is to balance the roster with production that you believe you can count on, and taking calculated risks around them. Those risks ultimately need to be safeguarded with depth in my opinion, but they can also make a massive difference over a long 162 game season. Ideally, the Blue Jays can count on that kind of production from the stars that are already in house, such as Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah, and more. From there, the front office needs to make sure the depth is strong, and that's especially the case if they're taking a bit of a risk on a player like Bellinger.

For what it's worth, I understand why a "sure thing" might not have the same appeal to Atkins and his team as it once did. We'll see how that recent history impacts their decision making, but at this point it would take a fair bit to surprise me.