The eternal conundrum of “To The Core”

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Veronica Chung
1 month ago
Ever since coming up short of reaching the playoffs a couple of years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays have vowed to take the next step. That’s how the team kicked off the 2022 season with a new slogan “Next Level” to restore hope in the Jays’ fan base and give people something to root for.
It worked relatively well for most of that season until the Seattle Mariners swept the Blu Jays at home during the Wild Card series. Then the team ran the same slogan back for another year to keep the momentum until that hope swiftly evaporated in Minnesota for yet another embarrassing Wild Card series loss. That was the nail in the coffin for the Jays to update their two-year-old slogan to something more fitting for a team with playoff contention aspirations. 
While there’s been no official confirmation of a new slogan, social media has already quickly captured the potential updated slogan. The small royal blue banner around Rogers Centre read “To The Core” as if it were affirming the new beginning for a team that was beaten down in so many ways in the past few years. Bear with me while I look up Merriam-Webster to see how the dictionary defines what “To The Core” means. Merriam-Webster defines “To The Core” as “in a very complete or extreme way.” If the Jays indeed chose this idiom as their new catchphrase, there’s certainly a lot riding on a team that chronically underperformed.
Interestingly enough, the Blue Jays have to depend on their core players to perform to their potential and that includes cornerstone players like shortstop Bo Bichette and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. There have been enough discussions around how the core players have taken a step back offensively last season and how their rebounds could change the outlook for the Jays. But the stranger thing is that Toronto has yet to sign any meaningful long-term extensions with their core players. Yes, Bichette signed a three-year extension but that only takes him through his pre-free agency years and Guerrero Jr. went through the arbitration process this winter and is only two years from hitting the open market. That’s a scary thought for a team that has to put the bulk of its hope onto franchise players. 
The path the Jays took is a confounding one compared to other teams around MLB. The Atlanta Braves quickly signed their young players like Ronald Acuña Jr, Michael Harris II, Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Sean Murphy to team-friendly extensions. The Kansas City Royals signed young shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. to an 11-year, $288.7 million contract extension, and even the Pittsburgh Pirates signed starting pitcher Mitch Keller to a five-year, $77 million deal this winter. 
There will always be an inherent risk factor associated with any long-term extensions but the main purpose behind them is to demonstrate the team’s commitment to growing and developing talents from within. This puts the Jays in an incredibly uncomfortable position because the current core players have yet to take things to the next level, but without these players, the Jays would undoubtedly be in a worse position. It’s an eternal conundrum that the Jays have had to deal with for some time, and their hesitation to commit to the current young core leaves the team’s fate unclear. 
The fundamental problem that is hindering the Jays from getting to the next level has been selective fiscal conservatism. To be clear, the team did invest and spend on contracts they needed to because Toronto’s luxury tax payroll for the 2023 season recorded just over $251 million, which is the fifth-highest total in baseball. There was also some understanding that the Jays’ owner Rogers Communications Inc. was willing to spend even more for Shohei Ohtani this offseason. However, the spending austerity seemingly kicked in once Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 10-year, $700 million deal. After that failed bid, the Jays didn’t make any bigger free-agent signings and invested in smaller contracts with utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa and designated hitter Justin Turner. 
That’s not to say that spending big always pays off. Just look at how the New York Mets fared. Mets’ owner Steve Cohen invested $216 million to bring starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander while signing other positions players such as Mark Canha and Starling Marte to create a competitive team for the last two years. Despite their best efforts and intentions, the Mets flopped and couldn’t even get close to contention last year. Not every spending pays off but the Texas Rangers are the prime example of how bigger pockets could bring in a championship ring. By spending an exorbitant amount of budget on shortstop Corey Seager, second baseman Marcus Semien, starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and starting pitcher Andrew Heaney while trading for starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer, the team could finally overcome their hurdles to win it all. 
Of course, spending alone can’t guarantee championships but that idea shouldn’t stop teams from spending on players, scouting and development because these are the crucial investments that will ultimately pay off and create more sustainable contenders. After all, what message are we sending if we stop spending on people who are responsible for creating the magic on the field? Perhaps, that’s another reason why the Jays’ overall reluctance to spend this offseason spoke volumes to the fanbase longing for another sign of hope.
Time is running out fast for the Jays and soon enough, it won’t be on their side if they fail to maximize their contention window once again. One way or another, the Jays will have to choose a direction whether they like it or not because their unwillingness to extend key players along with a conservative spending approach in the free-agent market have limited their potential significantly. By choosing this route, Toronto has put far more pressure on their existing core players to win it all, but this time, there’s not much help coming from the outside. It’s entirely possible that the team could bounce back as a whole because there may be some positive regression when it comes to Toronto’s offensive output. Nevertheless, counting only on a probable rebound isn’t ideal for a team that desperately needs to move forward in leaps and bounds. 
The tagline “To The Core” showcases some sense of urgency as Toronto attempts to redeem itself again. The unfortunate part of “To The Core” is that it could quickly set the team up to face the harsh reality. Think about all the negative phrases that can turn into. Lines like “Rotten To The Core” and “Shocked To The Core” could quickly dominate the discourse if something goes awry. Needless to say, Toronto is in a hard spot and will have to navigate how they will use the phrase “To The Core” wisely if that’s the slogan they will stand by at least for a year. 
Every tagline will have its risks. The previous slogan “Next Level” wasn’t exactly immune to criticism or satire when the Jays proved to be underwhelming for the past couple of years. Like “Next Level,” “To The Core” carries on the risk from its predecessor. It’s the transfer of great expectations and time will show whether this potential slogan will be a lucky charm for the Jays or not.
But this much is clear: Toronto has no choice but to succeed right now, period.


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