Everything is falling into place for the Toronto Blue Jays, except for one thing – where they'll play in their 2021 season.
With spring training set to begin in about a month – the first exhibition game vs. Philadelphia Phillies begins on Feb. 27th – the Blue Jays have made notable improvements to their lineup in the offseason.
Their first move was to shore up the pitching staff, which led to the re-signing of left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray. Then, earlier this week, the Blue Jays went out on the free agent market and signed one of the most hotly-coveted prospects, George Springer – formally with the Houston Astros. On Tuesday night, Springer agreed to a massive six-year deal with Toronto.
Other signings and additions might be coming in the next few weeks, but the biggest question Toronto's players are fans are now asking is – where will the Blue Jays play their "home" games in the 2021 season?
Travel restrictions will require the Blue Jays to play home games someplace inside the United States. That much is certain.
The obvious first choice of a temporary venue is returning to Buffalo again, where Toronto played in the abbreviated 2020 season. The Blue Jays played 26 games last year at Shalen Field, a 16,000-seat stadium that's normally used as a Triple-A ballpark.
Trouble is, what if the Triple-A team, the Buffalo Bisons, gets the green light to play its season? Where will they play games? Schedules would be incompatible for the tiny venue to host both a major leage and minor league team, without conflicts.
Buffalo remains a viable choice. Geographically, it's convenient. And, even with the annoyances of playing pro baseball in a second-rate facility, at least the system worked last season. The Blue Jays even made the post-season, so something went right.
Another option is to share venues with either Pittsburgh or Baltimore, which already have the infrastructure in place for more baseball games. However, once again – scheduling conflicts would be inevitable. The host stadium would probably be required to host two games in the same day, one in the early part of the afternoon, and the other, a night game. It's uncertain is such a system would be sustainable. The Pirates and Orioles certainly wouldn't like such an arrangement, and their contract agreements likely would preclude the Blue Jays being invited to invade their home stadiums.
This same obstacle applies to Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, as well. The Blue Jays flirted with the idea of playing in the Rays home stadium last year, but there were way too many problems with the arrangement. Imagine the awkwardness of two division rivals playing on the same field. At least when the Blue Jays played the Rays, neither team would have to travel. Consider this option dead on arrival.
Howver, Toronto is seriously considering other options in Florida.
The best option, of many bad options, is staying put after spring training and playing home games at their minor league home ballpark, in Dunedin.
The site in Florida has many advantages. First, the minor league farm team, the Florida Blue Jays have a massive player development facility and complex in Dunedin. It's also only a few miles away from TD Ballpark, where the Blue Jays play their spring games, wnhich has recently been renovated. The advantages of Dunedin are comfort and familiarity and the fact the Blue Jays will already be there in place ready for the regular season. The disadvantage – it's still a minor league ballpark.
Naturally, the Blue Jays preference is to play in Toronto, because that’s where the big-league stadium is, and where the fans are. Keep dreaming. It's not going to happen.
So much would have to happen between now and then in terms of vaccine distribution, curve flattening, and hospital-bed availability – both in the United States and Canada. So, given all the health concerns, it's almost certain Toronto will have to play someplace else, at least in the beginning of the new season.
Opening Day is April 1st, versus the New York Yankees. And no, that's not an April Fool's joke. The clock is ticking fast on finding the Blue Jays a good home.