The last week of activity has painted a very clear picture of what this off-season landscape is going to look like across Major League Baseball.
To put it bluntly — teams are going to be cheap.
This, of course, is a reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams lost a whole bunch of money last year because games weren’t played in front of live audiences so nobody bought tickets or hot dogs or merchandise at games. There’s also a good chance that fans won’t be at games next season either.
So, after taking a hit in 2020 and planning to take yet another hit in 2021, most owners aren’t going to be interested in committing major dollars to payroll this winter. Simple math.
In the first week of off-season madness, we’ve seen moves that indicate a very frugal winter.
The Oakland A’s didn’t qualify either Liam Hendriks or Marcus Semien. The risk of having to commit to paying either player the $19 million qualification salary in 2021 was enough of a deterrent for the A’s to let two very good players walk to free agency without any draft pick compensation attached to them at all.
The A’s are a cheap-ass franchise at the best of times but this is a new level of cheap for them.
Perhaps an even bigger example is Brand Hand. Cleveland placed Hand, one of baseball’s better closers, on waivers so that they could get out from under paying him a $1 million buyout attached to his team option. The hope for Cleveland was that one team would claim him and his one-year, $10 million deal. Nobody did.
Teams around baseball are in one of two camps right now. Either they’re too broke to pay for a guy like Hand or they know that the market is going to be so team-friendly they can get a better pitcher for even less later in the off-season.
If you’re a team that’s willing to spend some money this winter, you can do really, really well. And you know who should absolutely be able to spend this winter? That’s right. The Blue Jays!
Over at the New York Post, Joel Sherman pointed out that the Blue Jays have come out very aggressively in free agency…
A few agents, for example, noted that the Blue Jays — owned by a telecommunications giant that was not devastated in the pandemic — have begun free agency aggressively, reaching out to at least express interest in players. Since they are in the AL East with the Rays and Yankees, might Toronto push in more chips if the playoffs housed 14 teams?
“I do think a few teams are going to see this as an opportunity to act boldly while other clubs are sitting out,” another veteran agent said. “But is that boldly because they are offering 80 cents on the dollar when everyone else is offering 50? Or boldly to offer a fair price?”
As Sherman notes, the fact that the Blue Jays are owned by Rogers — a telecommunications goliath who obviously didn’t take a hit during a global pandemic that forced everyone to stay at home and watch TV and browse the web — they’re in a fairly unique position among the rest of the teams to spend money.
It seems pretty much pundit and commentator around baseball agrees with that sentiment.
Also at the New York Post, Ken Davidoff did a prediction of where the top free agents would land. He has the Jays signing James Paxton to a one-year deal and Japanese pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano to a three-year deal. That’s one of the more conservative predictions I’ve seen.
MLB Trade Rumours has predicted that the Blue Jays will sign DJ LeMahieu to a four-year deal worth $68 million and Jake Odorizzi to a three-year deal worth $39 million. MLB.com’s big, bold prediction for the off-season is that the Blue Jays are going to “blow everyone’s mind” and sign Trevor Bauer and Trade for Francisco Lindor.
Of course, these are just fun, clickbaity predictions that ultimately serve no purpose other than filling the space in the early off-season before the dominos begin to fall. But what it does illustrate is that the Blue Jays are in a very good position to have a huge off-season and that’s what fans should expect.
Last winter, the team went out and signed Hyun Jin Ryu to an $80 million deal that signalled that the team was ready to start moving towards being competitive. The young Blue Jays validated the front office’s decision in the COVID-shortened 2020 season by earning a playoff spot.
Now the front office has a prime opportunity to kick the door down. There’s a perfect storm here of having a young, cheap team on the cusp of being good and a free-agent market that’s very clearly going to be team-friendly.
The only thing going against the Blue Jays right now is the fact that players don’t know if they’re going to be playing in Toronto or Buffalo or Dunedin or whatever in 2021 but, I mean, if Rogers Communications is the only one out there willing to cut you the fat cheque you’re worth, who the fuck cares?
A big-name addition like Ryu was last year would be nice but the Blue Jays should be thinking bigger this winter. Adding a marquee talent like George Springer or DJ LeMahieu along with some mid-tier names that fall through the cracks like Jake Odorizzi or Liam Hendriks or James Paxton or Tommy LaStella is what would push this team into contention.
Anything short of a big spending spree this off-season would be a disappointment.