MLB Free Agency 2011: Why the Toronto Blue Jays Have It All Wrong
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The Toronto Blue Jays are becoming competitive again. They are a young, exciting team, with key players at a variety of positions: Right field, center, shortstop, third base, catcher, first base, ace and closer are either young, under team control for a long time or both. They have a young, active GM who has restocked the farm, brought in key players, beefed up scouting, etc. The Blue Jays are moving forward with no bad contracts, one of the few teams in the league without any such problems.
They are weak in several areas. Second base should be solid this season, but Kelly Johnson accepting arbitration means a one-year deal, and there isn’t a future second baseman in Triple-A ready to step in at this point. There is a question mark in left field, as no candidate has stepped forward and claimed the role.
The rotation has Ricky Romero and several players with potential, but nothing solid behind Romero. Brandon Morrow has some of the best stuff in the American League—sometimes. Sometimes, he throws junk, struggles with control and has an inflamed ERA. Brett Cecil had inflated numbers two seasons ago courtesy of massive run support in his starts.
This means the Jays are right where a .500 team on the rise should be, with a high-potential roster dotted with holes that a few key free agents at the right time could fill. Everything is coming up Blue Jays.
Toronto and Anthopoulos are about young players under control for as long as possible. Witness the trade for Sergio Santos, a reliever with six years of team control the team picked up last week. They are against a big-name free agent on a long-term, high-money deal. This is understandable.
But Paul Beeston stated the Blue Jays could have a $100 million-plus payroll soon. The team has need of another star to hit behind Jose Bautista, another star to draw fans, something to make the Jays even more excited.
Beeston and Anthopoulos feel differently. They believe it doesn’t make sense to bring on a big contract until the team draws enough fans to pay for him. This makes sense; don’t spend money you don’t have.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that the Jay’s President Beeston feels the onus is on the fans to show up and pay for the team. And that is wrong.
The onus is on the fans to show up, buy tickets and jerseys and watch on tv, in several situations:
1) The team is winning, and competing for a playoff spot
2) The team is exciting, with dramatic comebacks, big moments and great plays
3) The stars are there, putting on a show
These moments are combined in the best teams. A winning team creates stars. A star is defined by having big moments, making great plays and putting on a show.
Should the Blue Jays fans expect the team to increase payroll before attendance goes up?
However, if the winning isn’t there and the game isn’t exciting, the stars better be there.
As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s true. Bautista has made the Blue Jays exciting; his at-bats are impossible to turn away from. The fact the Jays lose half their games is less exciting. Brett Lawrie is going to be an exciting player, bringing the fans to their feet, but he is young and inconsistency can strike.
But there is another player on the market right now, who is young, has power, can protect Bautista and will be exciting. Prince Fielder is 27 years old (28 in May). He had a .299 average, a .415 OBP, a .981 OPS. A 10-year contract, while ridiculous, ends when he is 37. Compare that to Albert Pujols, who is signed for five years after he turns 37.
Fielder will cost a lot of money, there is no doubt, but a 27-year-old with power under team control for the prime of his career is not a bad decision. If he had been drafted by Toronto, he would be signed without concern, long term, lock him up.
Signing Fielder would add a star, make the team more exciting and contribute to the team winning, bringing fans to the game, increasing jersey sales, increasing the viewing audience, all paying for Fielder’s salary. Fielder pays for himself and more, the team wins and the fans are happy.
But Fielder will most likely not be coming north to Canada, not because they don’t need them or can’t trade Adam Lind (easily, and it could fetch some starting pitching they need) the Blue Jays feel the fans must start showing up in droves to pay for a .500 team to get beat by the Red Sox and Yankees before any money can be spent.
The onus is on the Blue Jays to convince the fans to come. It is not the onus of the fans to spend their money on the team before the team will improve.
The idea of which comes first, the winning or the fans, is generally not as defined as it is here, as the Blue Jays have become exciting again after 18 years of mediocrity, despite being mediocre. The franchise is stuck in a stalemate; payroll won’t increase unless fans pay for it first. Fans won’t pay until payroll goes up.
Fielder is just the example. A trade for Toronto native Joey Votto would be massive for the team and the fans. Or any big bat. But the fans have been very optimistic and on board for this slow, steady build, and now want to see the Blue Jays won’t be the Pirates or the Royals or Athletics, grooming stars and letting them go, never being truly competitive.
Instead, an investment in the team, in payroll, to demonstrate to fans they are serious about winning, combining the draft, trades and signings to create the best possible team for now and the long term, is required by fans to keep them believing in this team.
Without making a move, the fans are left feeling like Beeston and Anthopoulos are blaming them for not paying for a signing or trade for the star to play alongside Bautista.
And that is fastest way to turn this excitement and optimism into frustration at a team that yet again promises big and fails to deliver.
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