Blue Jays Strike Out on Free Agent Signings as Spring Training Approaches
Coming into this past offseason, the up-and-coming Toronto Blue Jays looked to be one of the teams that would pursue free agents aggressively. They were clearly willing to spend money to improve from last year's postseason appearance.
That was readily apparent when Toronto re-signed left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray for $8 million in baseball's very first transaction of the offseason. However, the Blue Jays haven't done anything major since then.
To be fair, the Blue Jays were in the running for some great acquisitions, but things didn't go through. For instance:
-- Liam Hendriks toured the spring training complex before he signed with the White Sox
-- Ha-Seong Kim was offered a five-year deal before he accepted a four-year conract with San Diego
-- DJ LeMahieu was four years and a whopping $78 million deal before he re-signed with the rival NY Yankees
-- Francisco Lindor was offered a deal in Cleveland before he was traded to the NY Mets
-- Tomoyuki Sugano was offered a nice deal but he refused the Ble Jays offer and instead decided to return to Japan
That's five front office strikeouts, for those keep score.
The positive sign here is that it's encouraging to see the Blue Jays pursuing so many talented players and free agents with fat contracts. On the other hand, being rejected repeatedly by free agents or during trade negotiations could be a sign that players don't want to sign and play in Toronto, at least when other options are on the table.
As of mid-January, every top free agent except for LeMahieu still remains unsigned. Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer are all available. Reportedly, Toronto has been in negotiations with all three players in recent weeks. Note: According to CBSSports.com, it's been nearly two months since their talks with Springer were said to have "progressed beyond talking," for what it's worth.) They're currently pursuing Brad Hand, as well.
Getting George Springer from Houston would be a perfect fit for Toronto, which currently has a lineup that lacks a relaible center fielder with solid hitting numbers. Trevor Bauer would also fit in nicely alongside Ryu atop the starting rotation. Meanwhile, signing J.T. Realmuto would allow Toronto to make other deals since they'd be deep at the catcher spot.
One clear disadvantage during these free agent negotiations remains the uncertainty as to where Toronto will play its home games in 2021. Will we end up in Buffalo again? Or Florida? Or, might Canada's quarantine requirements change in mid-season, thus shifting everyone back north across the border? The cloud of confusion hanging over this franchise, no fault of the Blue Jays, hurts them when it comes down to players wanting to play in a market with stability.
Last season, the Blue Jays were forced to play home games at Buffalo's Sahlen Field, which is the home minor league ballpark of their Triple-A affiliate. That could very well happen again. Reportedly, the other option at the moment calls for the Blue Jays to play home games at their spring training ballpark this coming season -- until the border restrictions are lifted.
There's still time to make something big happen. Mark Shapiro, who just signed a 5-year deal himself as team CEO, knows this is a tremendous opportunity for the Blue Jays to join the American League's elite with an outstanding lineup in a division that will be very competitive with or without Toronto's improvement. The talent is now in place and the financial means are there to make this team better than last year's club. However, the bottom line remains that the Blue Jays have not improved themselves yet, and the clock is ticking fast before spring training begins next month.
Pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training in just four weeks. In the meantime, the Blue Jays still have time to upgrade their roster. But they need to get questions swirling around the home field location settled quickly, and continue to pursue at least 1 or 2 of the remaining prospects very aggressively.
If that happens, and just a few more pieces fall into place, Toronto will likely be even better in 2021 and will be a team on the rise since the core of a solid competitor will be in place for the next few seasons.