Making sense of Toronto’s offseason so far
Last week the Jays made a couple of moves that gave off a flicker on heat in an otherwise dormant hot stove. First they signed 36 year old outfielder Curtis Granderson to a one year $5 mil deal and followed up that huge pickup by trading for Randal Grichuk by sending reliever Dominic Leon and prospect Connor Greene to the St. Louis Cardinals. Old Man Granderson still has some life in his bat and his 2017 splits versus right handers (21 home runs and a 114 OPS+) should at the very least make him a good platoon guy in a corner outfield spot. The 26 year-old Grichuk is under team control through 2020, plays all three outfield spots well and makes up for a low .285 OBP with some 20+ home run pop.
In a vacuum both moves are smart seeing as they didn’t cost the Blue Jays a lot and improve the Jays incrementally by bolstering their big league depth. In spite of that both moves have been surprisingly divisive among the fan base. While I’d like to think there’s a large group of fans that understand that these moves are low risk, medium reward moves, a lot of fans are waiting for the Blue Jays answer to the Giancarlo signing (or to blow the team up with a Josh Donaldson trade). As is stands right now, assuming the Jays carry a typical seven man bullpen, here’s how their lineup looks:
C: Russel Martin
1B: Justin Smoak
2B: Devon Travis
SS: Troy Tulowitski
3B: Josh Donaldson
LF: Curtis Granderson
CF: Kevin Pillar
RF: Randal Grichuk
DH: Kendrys Morales
C2: Luke Maile
IF: Yangervis Solarte
OF: Ezequiel Carrera
OF: Steve Pearce
(Bold indicates new acquisition)
After the moves last week the Jays have an estimated $10-15 mil left in their budget to acquire a fifth starter and upgrade the backup catcher and bullpen. This team is not a finished product right now and there are good moves to be had. But all of Jays Nation seems to have the same question that I have: what’s the end game here?
From what I can tell the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays are going to field the best team possible within their budget, without mortgaging their future in their last season of the Donaldson contract. While these moves aren’t sexy the Jays manage to win 76 games last year with a team despite some major setbacks. Donaldson was either on the DL or playing hurt for the majority of the year, 2016 Cy Young candidate Aaron Sanchez only pitched 36 innings, and the team had to hand 1,507 at bats to the dreadful trio of Darwin Barney, Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista (sporting OPS+ of 57, 68 and 76 and a combined WAR of -2.6). Even if Granderson, Grichuk and Solarte provide replacement-level production, which to be clear would be wildly disappointing, the Jays would be nearly 3 wins better than last year almost through addition by subtraction. Barring catastrophic injuries the Jays will be in the Wild Card hunt in 2018. But even given this, the Toronto offseason has been one of the most bleak in recent memory.
It’s easy to mock the ranting mouth breathers that light up the lines of Wilner’s Jays Talk. They generally don’t look at any numbers, they think everyone on the team is trash, but they feel that they can package the previously mentioned trash for a package including Mike Trout, a re-animated Babe Ruth, and left-handed pitcher Jésus Christ. But lost among the easily brushed off silly-talk is the backbone of sports: passion.
At the end of the day sports is an entertainment industry and is supposed to be an escape from from the daily grind of real life. Sports are nothing without the fans. But I feel as though the cold-calculating analytical thinking that runs front offices has started to bleed too much into fandom. I personally love to dive into the numbers and read up on nuanced numbers that go deeper than what we’re seeing on the field. But I feel like baseball has turned into a big game of math where the geniuses scoff at baseball fans who are simply looking to be entertained.
I actually like the Atkins and Shapiro front office. But I wouldn’t trade that last season of Alex Anthopolous for anything. Alex thought he had a winning hand, pushed the chips into the middle of the table and took his best shot at the World Series. Huge trades or signings can energize a fanbase like no other. Whether sincere or not it gives the basic appearance that ownership and management care about the product on the field. That 2015 Blue Jays season was the most exciting time I’ve had as a sports fan period.
Now after the fact there is a narrative among “smarter” Jays fans that, “Well Anthopolous jeopardized the team’s future. While the Blue Jays were at .500 when they made those trades, they had one of the best run differentials in the league and would’ve likely went on that stretch whether they had Price or not. Now they’re locked into a terrible Tulowitzki contract and a depleted farm system for one playoff run.” This is a real take that I’ve read multiple time over the past year and to that I say: baseball games aren’t played on a spreadsheet poindexter.
Fan perception does matter. Fans watch the games. Fans buy the tickets. Fans buy the merch. I do think the current Blue Jays front office has actually done a ton of good things to build a better organization from the big club down to Blue Field Blue Jays in rookie ball. But even they would have to admit that, what might be unfair because of the heat of the Anthopolous departure on day one of the job, Shapiro has not been received well by the majority of the fanbase,
The purpose of this piece is not to rip Blue Jays ownership for not spending more. The team had the fifth highest payroll in the league last year. Without the crazy lucrative television deals and sponsorships that the big American markets have, you can’t truly expect Rogers to shovel even more money at the roster. My biggest gripe is the million dollar nickel-and-diming economics lesson that baseball has turned into while the MLB has a handful of teams have unlimited budgets. It’s tough when you see the fun that Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers fans have every offseason while I cling to my Al Alburquerque minor-league deals. You’re always reminded that baseball is a business and that has never been more evident than this offseason.