SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A year after suggesting a "Blue Flu" had struck the Toronto Blue Jays and caused a sharp decline in their attendance, influential superagent Scott Boras struck a much more conciliatory tone about the club Wednesday as he exited the General Managers Meetings.
"I think the spirit with which they want to return the franchise to where I think it should be, (it) is more likely we have a common thought about that today," Boras replied when asked for his impression of how the club is operating this off-season. "When you have the fans kind of speaking out – how do they speak out? They don’t come – they have every reason to return to getting back that fanbase."
Boras and the Blue Jays brass met Tuesday at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa and while the Blue Jays aren’t going to be shopping in his Gerrit Cole/Stephen Strasburg aisle, they have some degree of interest in several other of his clients, including starters Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel, plus slugger Mike Moustakas.
Their discussions aren’t unusual – he and the Blue Jays discuss players every off-season – and the real test for them lies in the execution, a sentiment several agents to have talks with GM Ross Atkins and Co., have echoed.
Discussing contractual frameworks and concepts is great for understanding the market’s landscape, but is this the year they actually jump to close deals?
Boras, for his part, repeated his usual praise for Toronto as a city and Canada as a market, and suggested his clients would have no qualms about reporting for duty there.
"It’s a great city, it’s one of the better economic bases in baseball and it really depends on the intent of the owners to take advantage of all that and move forward," he said. "So there are never any restrictions on Toronto, it’s just choices, really."
Blue Jays attendance has dropped sharply since 3,392,099 fans turned up during the 2016 season, dipping slightly to 3,203,886 in ’17, then collapsing to 2,325,281 in ’18 and falling further to 1,750,144 this year.
Given that the team has undergone a rebuild during that span, that’s not wholly unexpected. But it wasn’t until the seventh season after the World Series years of 1992-93 that the club fell below the two-million plateau, while this time it took only three years.
Factored into the wider attendance declines across baseball, that’s troubling, and the Blue Jays’ drop may also be symptomatic of some of Boras’ regular preaching about the lack of competitiveness around the game. He opened his lengthy session with media with examples of the inaccuracies in the projection systems teams use and attaching their use to suppression of player salaries, particularly for elite talents, and proceeded to rail against the "hibernation by half the industry."
"We’ve got a decline in attendance, we’ve got owners charging more for generations that want to see the game while we’re losing a generation of young people that only are interested in competition, they want to see teams play well and do well," he said. "We have this hibernation period where I will be good for two or three years out of 10 and not be good for the other seven years. With revenue sharing and the system as it is, we need to have competitive rewards and we also need to have a playoff system that that provides more reason to compete and gives more incentive to those who have the ability to win 85 games instead of 92 games."
This time, Boras also added a new twist by criticizing the "rails" of the Competitive Balance Tax and free-agent compensation embedded in the collective bargaining agreement to restrain owners who "could not control themselves."
"This current commissioner has said the owners have an evaluative system that’s wonderful, is great, they’re abiding by it, they’re more disciplined," said Boras. "If that’s the case then I think we remove the rails and we create a living system in the CBA that allows and rewards teams for competing and doing things and allows owners to pursue the best talent and the availability of talent, which in turn creates greater competition, which in turn creates interest for a new generation of fans we have today."
The Blue Jays, at least this time, escaped Boras’ crosshairs, for now seeming like a team intent or emerging from its hibernation, eager to shed its "Blue Flu" and return to full health.