TORONTO – Once a regular target for Scott Boras’ biting barbs, the Toronto Blue Jays are now drawing praise from arguably the sport’s most powerful agent for their aggressive posture in the marketplace.
Speaking during his annual media availability Tuesday, held this year via Zoom instead of a hotel lobby at the end of the winter meetings, Boras delivered his usual entertaining array of zingers, metaphors and analogies over the course of a 90-minute Q&A.
He praised Steve Cohen’s purchase of the New York Mets for giving the team “an ownership with big apples”; he said in signing catcher James McCann to a $40.6-million, four-year deal, they "didn’t let anyone else eat their lunch, they went out and got a Big Mac”; and that by hiring Jared Porter as their new general manager, they "didn’t go out and get the Hamburglar, they got themselves a Porterhouse.”
Client Jackie Bradley Jr. was described as the “PBJ of the major leagues – he’s sweet, smooth and spreads it all over and covers it well." And Boras reacted to the Los Angeles Angels’ hiring of Perry Minasian by saying, “They have to solve the case of the lost playoffs, they’ve gone out and gotten their Perry Mason.”
Jabs at Major League Baseball included: a criticism over the length of the 2020 season; a critique on the foot-dragging around extending the universal designated hitter to next year; valid points about expanded rosters being necessary to get pitchers through a healthy 2021; and an intriguing suggestion that a chief executive officer be hired beneath Rob Manfred to focus on managing the game itself, a notion that included some thinly veiled shade at the commissioner.
When it came to the Blue Jays, who resumed doing business with Boras last off-season by signing Hyun-Jin Ryu for $80 million over four years and this summer by giving first-rounder Austin Martin a franchise record signing bonus of $7,000,825, it was all love.
Two years after suggesting the franchise had contracted a “Blue Flu” causing it to behave sickly in the market, Boras said, “They were ready and able last off-season, and this year they are able and assertive about what they want to get done.”
“I think they really feel this is a now time for them, and I said before that they built the lamp and now they're looking for the right light bulbs,” he continued. “I think they're in ready pursuit of a group of players that they think can be additions to the core that they built, and I think they're very confident that those additions will lead them to levels that they haven't been at for some time.”
While other agents have said similar things in private this winter, Boras’ comments offer the first public confirmation from the player side of the club’s aggressive pursuit of players this off-season.
The Blue Jays have been engaged with all the top free agents in play, including George Springer, D.J. LeMahieu, J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer, but have also explored options at a variety of tiers. Boras doesn’t control the market the way he did last off-season when he negotiated in excess of $1 billion in contracts, but has a handful of players on the Blue Jays radar including Bradley Jr., reliever Trevor Rosenthal and Canadian starter James Paxton.
The lefty from Ladner, B.C., finished the season on the injured list with a flexor strain in his forearm after returning from back surgery, and now “he's far into bullpens and is throwing bullpens for selected teams,” Boras said. “Obviously he was not completely rehabilitated when he made an attempt to help his club and come back (in September). We've got his back strength back to 100 per cent and he's back throwing off the mound and doing well.”
As for when the market will start moving, Boras suggested that the majority of winter business might not begin until January, with some teams operating business as usual and others expressing interest in players while awaiting direction from ownership.
The Blue Jays, eager to get some things done, are somewhat stuck in the muck waiting for the dominoes to begin falling, with GM Ross Atkins saying last week, “We’re not putting our timelines on players to make sure they get back to us. We want to be very respectful of having earned the right of free agency, and we're not in a position where we have to do that.”
A mention of the perception that free agents are reluctant to head north was shot down by Boras, who said, “Once players are exposed to Toronto and they're familiar with it, obviously it is a very cosmopolitan city, it’s very well-received.”
Uncertainty over where the club will play next year after a COVID-19 border closure forced the team to take refuge in Buffalo “raises players' concerns,” Boras conceded, “but the club's been very forthright about their position on that, and the timing of it and what they think of how that will play out in 2021.”
“Canada has done a great job in the management of COVID and, as to the decisions that their governance makes about what they do with their country, I think we all respect that and players do as well,” he continued. “The good thing about the vaccine and where we're headed is that players now have an end line. They have the ability to know that this process will be over in a period of time. … Mark (Shapiro, Blue Jays president and CEO) has certainly told me he's been in contact with the government of Canada and … they're very encouraged that there is a shorter timeline for baseball to return in the city.
“Certainly, I think the players understand that timeframe is now more in sight and in the immediate than something that would be a long-term problem.”