There wasn’t much to come out of the Toronto Blue Jays State of the Franchise gathering from Monday night that hasn’t been said elsewhere. That is a two-fold statement – people like Stoeten, the National Post’s John Lott, and Sportsnet’s Mike Wilner accurately and dutifully relayed the quotes and soundbites from the Jays brain trust with clarity and punctuality.
The suits representing the Jays — manager John Farrell, general manager Alex Anthopoulos, and President Paul Beeston — largely stayed on message. Beeston, forever in sales mode, bent over backwards apologizing and agreeing with nearly every complaint lobbed against him and his team. It seemed an impassioned season ticket holder could coerce The Beest to agree to just about anything by the end of the Q & A.
The veneer did not crack but, in between grass field pipe dreams and Beeston apologizing profusely for the lack of quality women’s merchandise, there was a recurring theme: the Jays need control.
The Jays ownership has very deep pockets, as we all know. Listening to the Jays front office you get a very unusual impression: sometimes you can’t even give it away. Both Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos noted separate instances of offering more than players eventually signed for elsewhere – both in term and years — but still failing to land the (unnamed) players.
An oft-repeated mantra regarding team policy on long-term contracts (none longer than five years) seems short-sighted when the decision makers bend over backwards explaining how difficult attracting free agent talent can be. Hard and fast rules can be limiting, can they not?
When I asked Alex Anthopoulos if such a rule existed for the team’s bounty of prospects and recent draft picks, he said no. There is no hard and fast rule deeming some prospects untouchable, each and every one is “in play” for potential moves. Anthopoulos stressed a reluctance to fill one hole while creating two others but the methodology is clear. Trades are the only way the club can achieve that which they truly desire: control.
Acquiring young players still in the arbitration or earlier stage of their career gives the Blue Jays freedom from the free market. Freedom from the whims of players wary of playing in the American League East on a sickly green carpet in Canada. When the Jays sit down with an arbitration eligible player and slide a contract that guarantees millions of dollars in exchange for their remaining arbitration years, their agent is not fielding calls from half a dozen other interested parties.
If the Jays front office is to be believed (and you are well within your rights to not believe) this is the only time they are free to pursue the players they truly think can build up their team to contention levels.
When Alex Anthopoulos mentions the Jays having the equivalent of “five or six drafts in the last two years” it isn’t because he expects each and every draft pick to surge through the minor league system and player for the Toronto Blue Jays all the way to free agency and beyond. This team clearly seeks value by acquiring talent in both quality and quantity and moving from there. Building up a considerable pool of talent gives Anthopoulos the freedom to acquire talent closer to the big leagues with a clearer understanding of what that player can be in the future.
Which, I believe, comes back to control. The more information the team is able to acquire on a particular player, the more confidently the Jays can project into the future. The more confidently they can spend money in option-heavy contracts and count on particular players as pieces of the future.
Free agency doesn’t allow that kind of free flow of information – too much grey area and too many unknown quantities. Additionally, once a player signs a free agent contract they are instantly at the lowest point of potential trade value. Yu Darvish represents the both sides of this coin. The exclusive negotiating window might suit the team ‘s agendas perfectly but the combination of Darvish’s interest in a long term deal and all the pitfalls and unknowns represented by Darvish suggest the Blue Jays interest in the Japanese phenom was tepid at best.
Take the comments of Beeston and Anthopoulos with all the grains of salt you need. If you choose not to believe them, so be it. They certainly dismissing the company line very easy for those already so inclined. The shortcomings of the franchise are clear to the both the fans and potential players. The Blue Jays as an organization think they created a framework to limit these shortcomings and make the structure of Major League Baseball work for them.
Longtime fans and season ticket holders may demand quick fixes and, quite fairly, a better return on their entertainment investment. They award the team on the field no points for style or degree of difficulty, nor is it a real concern of theirs if the team balances their books. They want to see a winner. Better players bring winning closer to reality. The Toronto Blue Jays and many of their fans don’t see the methods for acquiring better players quite the same.
There will always be belly aching just as there will always be hardcore fans, with their team through thick and thin. The Blue Jays believe the hurdles they face do not prevent them from delivering on their (myriad) promises and putting a winning team on the field. The Toronto Blue Jays simply seek the same thing from their on-field talent that they patiently display in front of frustrated season ticket holders: control.