We need to talk about the Toronto Blue Jays and this offseason of turmoil and change after one of the most magnificent rides in team history and the end of a long playoff drought. What we need to talk about is that we, as the fan base, need to collectively chill out and relax. Things won’t be the same, but they’re sure going to be alright.
It would be easy to run for the nearest panic button after the departure of beloved General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and the team’s failure to re-sign David Price, but hitting the panic button at this point would be about as effective as trying to find a cure for cancer by drinking a beer. Let’s have some patience here and use our beer-drinking for other things.
Now, 2015 sure was something special. As fans, die-hard or casual, none of us will ever forget the ride that the boys in blue took us on. The whole country got caught up in it, and it was a lot of fun. That said, 2015 may have been the pinnacle of this particular era in team history, and we may need to adjust our expectations going forward. Don’t worry though, that’s alright. It’s not going to be bad. It’s going to be about sustainability, and we’re going to like how it works out in the end.
Mark Shapiro and newly-minted GM Ross Atkins may have come to town from the fiery waters of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, a team known more for its failures than its successes (see: League, Major), but they’re going to be in a position now where they can finally work within the financial constraints of a real Major League Baseball team. See, according to The Baseball Cube, over the past three years, the Blue Jays have had a top ten payroll in the Majors, averaging roughly $40 million a season more than the Indians, who are always close to the bottom of the league, money-wise. And during that time, the team from Cleveland averaged 86 wins a season, and the team from Toronto averaged 83. Each made the playoffs once (granted, the Blue Jays made it to the ALCS and the Indians lost the AL Wild Card game, but you get the point). Pretty comparable.
Small sample size, you say? Fine. Going back ten years to 2006, the Blue Jays ran with an average payroll of $90 million a year, and the Indians averaged $72 million. In this sample, Cleveland averaged 79.5 wins a season while Toronto averaged 82. Again, pretty comparable, although the payroll numbers were closer. Let’s also remember that it’s not like the Anthopoulos regime was setting the world on fire since he took over as GM in 2009. There was legitimate concern until the middle of 2015 that the peak production years of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were going to be wasted, and that Anthopoulos’ best efforts to get to the postseason would be for naught. Of course, that changed around August 1 of this year, but until then, there wasn’t a lot of hope.
Now, if you’ve ever been to a baseball game in Cleveland, you know that it’s a real baseball experience. It’s a beautiful ballpark that is playing a key role in the revitalization of a Rust Belt city that has been hit hard by a poor economy the past decade or so, but it’s a city with a ton of potential. Everywhere you go at Progressive Field, you know you’re there to watch a baseball game, and you know you’re in Cleveland. There’s a lot of civic pride on display, from the food offerings to the beer to the general ambience. A lot of that is credited to Shapiro and his team, and we all know that change in terms of the fan experience and the baseball experience is badly needed at the Rogers Centre (step one: rename it the Rogers SkyDome because it’s stupid not to).
Shapiro et al know that 2016 is a big deal for the Blue Jays, and that this group has a legitimate opportunity to do some really special things. They’re not going to fire sale this roster. They’re going to try to win with it, but they’re going to have one eye clearly focused on the future. They also know that spending $31 million a season on one pitcher (no matter how awesome and likeable he is) isn’t a wise decision, when you can fill in gaps with quality arms for a lot less, and lean on the young arms you’ve bred in your own system (Stroman, Sanchez, etc.) to step up in their development and play meaningful roles. Personally, I’ll take strength in numbers every single time over putting all of my eggs in one basket. There are a lot more than 220 innings in a baseball season.
Let’s also remember that in Cleveland, Shapiro and Atkins didn’t have a core in place like the Blue Jays have. Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki are signed long-term, and those are some pretty incredible tools to start your management term with. Shapiro isn’t moving his family to Toronto to lose. He and Atkins, and whoever else they bring in, want to win baseball games, make playoff appearances, and win championships. They’re just going to do it within the realities that are imposed upon them.
I get that fans are upset with Rogers for not spending more right this very second. We all poured money into that organization through buying tickets, merchandise, and drinking wildly overpriced beer in fairly large quantities. We know that Rogers paid over $5 billion for the NHL rights, so we know they’ve got money, but in a catch-22, they needed that deal to be able to make money. In addition, our investment as fans was really only a few months long, you’ll remember. I would bet that Rogers wants to make sure the money they’ll have rolling in from their baseball team is sustainable before they start spending it. If they start averaging 3-3.5 million fans a year, maybe they’ll spend more. It’s possible, but I don’t blame them for waiting it out a bit. Not everyone who bought tickets in 2015 was a die-hard fan, and they won’t all be back.
At the end of the day, I’m going to say we should give this new regime a chance, and a really good chance at that – let’s keep those panic buttons on the back burner for a while. 2015 was great, for sure, but it was no endpoint.
Everything is going to be alright, and we won’t need these for a while: