SAN DIEGO – Let’s not do this until the conclusion that feels inevitable arrives in mid-January, and the Toronto Blue Jays make some underwhelming mid-to-lower tier starter signings and pat themselves on the back for staying disciplined and true to their valuations.
Because at the moment they’re talking to everyone, considering everything, throwing out offers, and that’s where things seem headed. Every new pitcher signing brings a fresh round of leaks on how they were in on the guy, but the fact remains nothing they’ve done has been compelling enough to land the player.
One frustrated agent lamented how the Blue Jays “are 90 per cent due diligence that doesn’t go anywhere.”
That’s excessively harsh – they legitimately tried on Kyle Gibson, at minimum – but it demonstrates how their approach is leaving people that talk to them legitimately unclear about their true intentions.
In one regard, that’s a credit to general manager Ross Atkins and the crew, as a little mystery can make for a good strategy. But on the other hand, forthrightness certainly works as an approach, too.
Either way, the more pressing issue is that this off-season continues to reveal the enormous discrepancy between what the Blue Jays’ perception of being aggressive is, and what being aggressive in the market is in actuality.
Now, there’s a bigger-picture strategy to all this for the Blue Jays, and understandably they want to be cognizant of what money on the books now means for off-seasons down the road.
Totally fair. Totally smart. This isn’t the winter to go for broke.
But why, then, try to keep every door open when they don’t really intend to walk through most of them? Why not work through their preference list in a more targeted manner rather than in such a catch-all fashion?
“Talking about how we work through a pref list would be also something that is nuanced and difficult to explain, but it’s not just as simple as choosing who we like and going to get them,” Atkins said during his daily briefing with media. “It’s also the acquisition cost, it’s also the inherent risk and what I think we’ve made relatively clear is that we’ve had discussions at all levels of the market and have focused on the top, as most teams probably do.
“But we don’t just go down a list and say he’s gone, let’s go on to the next one,” Atkins continued. “You’re constantly having discussions with all of them and weighing what the potential acquisition costs are, what the alternatives are, but you’re also weighing different constructs, weighing the potential of multiples instead of just one and what does that mean. And always with the backdrop of a budget and opportunities on the trade front.”
If the Blue Jays manage to make meaningful adds, that’s how it’s going to get done.
As best as I can discern, one path the Blue Jays are particularly keen on is Gerrit Cole choosing the Los Angeles Dodgers, leaving left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of their prime targets who’d be blocked out from his former club, deciding to head north, with Tanner Roark joining him.
Right now, the Blue Jays seem determined to not block themselves out of a possible run at Ryu by doing something else. Clarity on that front could come soon as Stephen Strasburg re-signing with the Washington Nationals for a record $245-million, seven-year deal sets up Cole for the next eye-popping contract, and, gang, put “K-Men Get Paid” on a T-shirt because they most certainly do.
Waiting on Ryu makes sense, with one important caveat – the Blue Jays better be willing to be the high bid in doing so, even if the final number is outside their comfort zone.
Otherwise, after declining to ante up for other options like Jake Odorizzi to maintain their flexibility, what’s the point of wasting so much time and energy, their own first and foremost, if they’re not willing to force the issue?
The risk is that they lose out on Ryu and Dallas Keuchel at the upper end of the market, along with Roark, Josh Lindblom, Wade Miley and Alex Wood at the other end — the way they’re losing out on Kevin Gausman, whom they pursued but is expected to sign with another club this week.
At that point, they’ll have done nothing meaningful to bolster their unorthodox one-man rotation not only for 2020, but also for beyond as well, stalling the overall program.
That’s an issue not only for what the team looks like next year, but also for how the young and talented core develops, as it will suck for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggo, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and the rest of the group if they have to score seven runs every day to cover for an opener and a guy like they did last summer.
As manager Charlie Montoyo put it, “We had to improvise a lot, we used openers, and it wasn’t really an opener, it was the bullpen, and you called it an opener because somebody had to open the game.”
Montoyo, as is his way, put a positive spin on the corrosive effects of the pitching instability by saying, “Our kids are awesome, and they’re going to play hard, it doesn’t matter.”
But as a rival manager put it, “That wears on everyone.”
So does the chatter about trying and getting close and just missing out on players once they come off the market.
There’s merit in being careful, there’s merit in being judicious and there’s merit in being smart about the long-term. But there’s merit in being better as soon as possible, too, even incrementally, even if it’s not enough to immediately contend, even if it’s risky, and even if it costs more than you think it should.