Mark Shapiro appeared on Sportsnet 590’s Lead Off with Ashley, Ziggy and Scotty Mac on Thursday morning to talk about a handful of off-season related topics. I’m going to focus on a couple of things that are interesting in regards to getting an idea of how the front office plans to tackle free agency this winter.
SN: Looking at the 2020 iterations of our Toronto Blue Jays, there’s under $40 million committed to payroll as of now. So I need to know… What’s your best offer for Gerrit Cole going to be?
Shapiro: He’s certainly a very rare talent to be available in free agency. Almost every team out there is looking for starting pitching, which is not surprising, and certainly, every team could use a No. 1 starter. We’re going to have to be aggressive on every level of the free-agent starting pitcher landscape. We recognize that as players go into the situation, they have all the things that are important to them, they look at geography, how that aligns with their personal situation, their family, they look at spring training, and where that location is, they look at the competitiveness of team, they look at the division and the landscape that they would play in.
So, it takes an alignment of interests as well as dollars. I think dollars are not going to be our challenge, actually, which hasn’t always been the case. It’s going to be where we fit with Gerrit’s alignment of interest and how does that align. Same thing with every free agent we pursue. What I’m confident in is that throughout the free agency process, we’ll be able to get better this winter and we’ll have the resources to do it. Who we align with from this winter and the next two or three winters as it gets more crucial is just going to continue to grow.
SN: You guys made a move, you acquired Chase Anderson, a right-handed pitcher. Obviously, one of the biggest holes in the lineup last year was a starting rotation. But when you talk about long-term viability and long-term success, I’m curious as to your thoughts on whether you find the odds of drafting and developing a position player at a higher success rate than drafting and developing a pitcher.
Shapiro: The pitching landscape is so fraught with the risk of injury that no matter how much information, no matter how we advance the motion and the stress of pitching, it just runs counter to the human body. We never know exactly how long guys are going to be able to withstand those loads. That’s why a guy who’s a horse, like you mentioned, Gerrit Cole, is such a rare guy to be available through free agency. But you still bite your tongue, you’re still so nervous because pitching is such a risky game. I think we always like to develop our own pitching because if you look at the history of free-agent pitching contracts, it’s a really, really high-risk area to play in.
There’s quite a bit going on here, but I think the important thing to gather is that it’s very clear that Shapiro’s Blue Jays going to maintain their risk-averse approach, though there is going to be more financial support from ownership to make improvements to the roster.
Shapiro mentioned in his first answer that finding alignments between players and teams is one of the biggest challenges facing the Blue Jays right now. That seems like a little bit of a cop-out, given that, ultimately, money speaks, but he isn’t wrong in suggesting that joining a rebuilding team in the AL East isn’t exactly a sexy proposition.
Shapiro then circled back to Gerrit Cole in his second answer, suggesting that mega contracts to free-agent starters are risky business. Again, he isn’t wrong here. Plenty of big contracts have blown up in the past few years, like Jordan Zimmermann in Detroit and Johnny Cueto in San Fransisco, but, as the Nationals proved when they won the World Series this year, you have to pay for elite pitching. They handed out big deals to acquire Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, who combined to win Game 7, and they even dished out cash to keep World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg, an internally developed guy.
So I think you can gain both a positive and a negative out of Shapiro’s words here. The point about the front office being able to spend more is a good thing, and we’ve already seen that reality in Toronto’s buy-low trade for Chase Anderson. That said, it’s somewhat limp-dick that the Jays appear poised to use that financial freedom to make small, incremental Raise The Floor style moves rather than kicking the door down to sign an ace.
Speaking of free-agent starters, Shi Davidi did a primer on the Blue Jays ahead of MLB’s annual Winter Meetings over at Sportsnet in which we should expect to see the Jays aggressively pursuing pitching upgrades, but, again, not of the elite calibre.
To that end, while the Blue Jays don’t feel the roster is at a point where they should be aiming at the likes of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg just yet, they do seem willing to drive the market on certain arms, already engaging some in preliminary talks.
That’s much different from the sit-back-and-wait-for-opportunities approach they’ve used the past couple of winters, and if it leads to real action rather than idle talk, represents the potential for a significant step forward.
“The new inefficiency is actually spending,” quipped another agent.
Another interesting thing that Davidi pointed out that I hadn’t really considered is the possibility of selling high on a young position player in order to solidify the rotation. Lourdes Gurriel’s name is mentioned as the For Example here, but Davidi also suggests that Toronto’s young catchers have been garnering interest around the league.
If a team with pitching depth bites on Gurriel’s hot streak or Jansen’s work defensively that earned him a Gold Glove nomination, do you pull the trigger? Maybe you can net yourself a good, young starter with years of control and then replace the player you traded away with a signing of, say, Yasiel Puig or Travis d’Arnaud. It might be the less risky route to go than throwing four years at Zack Wheeler. It’s something to think about!
In other news, the Pittsburgh Pirates are reportedly interested in Blue Jays VP of Baseball Operations Ben Cherington for their vacant general manager gig.
Former #RedSox GM Ben Cherington has emerged as a candidate to be the #Pirates’ new head of baseball operations, sources tell The Athletic. Cherington, 45, was the Sox GM from Oct. 2011 to Aug. 2015, and has been the #BlueJays’ VP of baseball operations since Sept. 2016.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 8, 2019
Cherington is known mostly for his ability to draft and develop players internally. He’s played a big role in Toronto’s farm becoming as good as it is and he’s also credited with developing the Red Sox’s current core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. That said, while he was great at the developmental side of management, he made some bad moves as GM of the Red Sox, like signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to massive contracts.
So if you’re a dinky market, no cash team like the Pirates, Cherington makes all kinds of sense to lead the ship. His best attribute is drafting and developing, which goes hand in hand with operating on a smaller budget. Cherington also wouldn’t have to worry about having pressure from ownership to make any Sandoval-esque signings, because the Pirates are allergic to spending money.
And finally, we have Alex Anthopolous!
Alex Anthopolous pic.twitter.com/vRezK4QMpO
— ok manoomer (@ManuclearBomb) November 6, 2019
During a conference call with Atlanta beat writer David O’Brien, Anthopolous said this…
Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs — obviously the Astros and (Nationals) being in the World Series, they were tied up — but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades.
Shortly after, Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, announced that the MLBPA was launching an investigation into Anthopolous’ comments, as they believe it calls into question the integrity of the free-agent system.
The statements made by Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos call into question the integrity of the entire free-agent system. The clear description of Club coordination is egregious, and we have launched an immediate investigation looking into the matter.
Anthopolous’ comments seem fairly innocent, at a glance. I mean, he’s reaching out to the other general managers to get an idea of what’s up. Like, to pull a relevant example from what we’ve talked about earlier, he could fire a text to Shapiro asking if he likes the free-agent pitcher market, which gives him an idea if Gurriel or Jansen could be available in a trade for a young starter.
I really don’t think AA’s comments represent him being a part of a big conspiracy in which everyone is getting in touch to decide that they’re going to forcibly push down the value of free agents by not signing anybody. I don’t think it’s that explicit. But there’s still certainly reason for skepticism from the PA’s side, especially given how much less active free agency has been in the past couple of years. Also, with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in 2021, it’s no surprise that tensions between the side of the players and the owners are going to be high. This is just more a representation of battle that’s on its way than it is a story in itself, I figure.