Why the Toronto Blue Jays should re-tool instead of rebuild

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 8: President and CEO Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays with his daughter Sierra and general manager Ross Atkins on the field before the start of MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 8: President and CEO Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays with his daughter Sierra and general manager Ross Atkins on the field before the start of MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

With the Toronto Blue Jays in the midst of one of the worst months in franchise history, fans are debating whether the team should re-tool or rebuild. Given their circumstances, I believe re-tooling makes the most sense.

Over the years, I generally think of myself as a realistic sports fan. I was fully on board with the Toronto Maple Leafs “tanking” and my New York Jets completely blowing it up. That’s because both teams were basically irrelevant with regards to the rest of the league.

The Leafs were either just bad enough to miss the playoffs, but too good to win the lottery, and the Jets were the same way. When it came to the point where management finally decided to tank their way to a top overall pick for that elusive superstar player, I found myself completely on board because I was getting sick and tired of being a hamster on a wheel, hoping for success that was never coming.

Now for some fans, the Toronto Blue Jays should do the exact same thing. They should blow it up and do what the Braves, Phillies, Reds, and White Sox are doing. Trade anything with value and load up on prospects and high draft picks in the hopes of finding that next league wide superstar.

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But for me, the Blue Jays are in a much different situation than those teams, and here’s why.

Following an outrageous 21 years without playoff baseball, it all came together for the Blue Jays after an incredible trade by former general manager Alex Anthopoulos, where the team acquired All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson.

The trade was a masterstroke for Anthopoulos, who managed to secure the league’s MVP for what amounts to cents on the dollar. During his MVP season, the Blue Jays had managed to develop and bring up three stud pitching prospects in Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna, all of which are All-Star caliber pitchers on incredibly inexpensive contracts that keep them under team control until 2020. As well as acquiring an extremely talented second baseman, Devon Travis, for what is now a failed CF prospect turned pitcher in Anthony Gose.

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In that two-year span, a young core was built that was going to be the future of the Blue Jays for years to come. In the three years since, they have gone to back-to-back American League Championship Series’ and a disappointing season where injuries, age, and a lack of athleticism has cost the Jays plenty of games.

That said, what the Blue Jays currently have is still a fantastic core of players who would be desired by all 29 teams around the league. Despite the young pieces the Jays have in place, many around the league, including myself, believe that core isn’t enough to win a championship, especially with the powerhouses being built in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Washington, and, to a lesser extent, in Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta.

So how will the Blue Jays close the gap on those teams moving into next season and beyond? I’m going to try to figure that out.

Toronto Blue Jays
TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 20: A fan waits outside the stadium before the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays during game four of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 20, 2015 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

It has been discussed at nauseam how teams can and can’t be built, and whether “re-tooling” or “rebuilding on the fly” is an acceptable practice nowadays. I’m believe it is, but it’s extremely complicated and requires multiple things.

Number one is money. Listen, I know how “cheap” Rogers is with money based on how they haggled with Aaron Sanchez’s arbitration case over what amounted to be a couple thousand dollars, but this is a team who still boasts a top 10 payroll in the league, and has been willing to spend in free agency, as well as the international market.

With the inevitable renovation of the Rogers Centre also coming up, this is a team who will have invested around $1.5 Billion in salary, international free agents, and renovations to not only their spring training facility, but eventually to their own home ballpark as well.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

I know this is a massive company, but they’re doing a pretty good job of overhauling a team that, before their re-brand back to blue, was basically irrelevant. Despite that, if the Jays are to properly retool, they will have to continue their spending on international free agents as well as in trades and free agency.

Look at teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals, and Cubs. Over this past decade, they have spent considerable amounts of money on international free agents, drafted extremely well, and added players through free agency, and stocked their farm systems. Players like Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and more, are all guys who have been developed in the minor leagues and made an impact for these teams.

These players were either drafted and given aggressive overslot signing bonuses, or acquired via trade. Now looking back at the Blue Jays, how many difference makers on their roster have they developed? For me, its just the three pitchers in Osuna, Stroman, and Sanchez, and who is the last great position player the Blue Jays have developed? I can’t think of one.

Although the good news about that is it looks like they’ve found not only one, but two of those players in third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and shortstop/second baseman Bo Bichette. Two players under 20 who are currently mashing in high-A Dunedin and look like possible September call-ups by the end of the 2018-19 season. Both have the potential to be All-Star caliber players.

The second part of a proper rebuild on the fly is a willingness to use your money/payroll to your advantage. Look at how the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox — by eating Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett’s contracts. Gonzalez was/is an All-Star caliber player who was acquired for nothing but salary relief.

The Yankees did the same by signing Andrew Miller to a massive contract and trading him for a huge haul, as well as trading for Aroldis Chapman, and later trading him to the Cubs for their best prospect.

A situation that could make sense for the Blue Jays is taking advantage of a team desperate to shed salary in the Miami Marlins by taking on a Dee Gordon and his contract while not giving up anything of substance.

In Gordon, the Jays could fill a massive hole at the top of their order while getting significantly more athletic and speedier in the process (Gordon by himself has the same amount of steals as the Jays entire roster).

It would be a low-cost move that only costs money, which is something the Jays should have with more than $50 million coming off the books this winter. Not only that, but with good free agents available this winter (Alex Cobb, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eduardo Nunez, JD Martinez, Eric Hosmer, and Jay Bruce), there’s no reason to think the Blue Jays couldn’t sign at least one of those guys and get significantly more versatile and younger in the process.

The key here being that you no longer have to give up a draft pick in the process, something that was quite important for the Jays last offseason.

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The final aspect is being willing to spend in the draft and international market in order to add high-end talent. One thing that all the major teams above have in common is that they’re willing to pay lots of money and take risks in order to land the top talent. All of these teams have been willing to spend way over slot in the draft and in the international market to obtain that potential superstar for nothing more than dollars.

Although the league has strict budgets, all those teams have paid significant penalties to sign top young talent like Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Gary Sanchez, Eloy Jiminez, Yadier Alvarez, Yusniel Diaz, Jorge Mateo, and Victor Robles.

These teams do that because it is their opportunity to reload their farm systems by only spending something they have an abundance of: money. It has been a nice changing of the narrative for the Jays the past couple years, because under new management they have started to do that by signing Vlad Guerrero Jr, Lourdes Gurriel, Eric Paradinho, Richard Urena, and Franklin Barreto to big signing bonuses.

This strategy has allowed for these teams to fill out their rosters while also using them as trade chips in big trade packages involving players like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Donaldson and Chapman. This is the strategy I think the Jays will begin to more actively use, especially with Ben Cherington, who is a former World Series champion and creator of the young talent assembled by the Red Sox, in Toronto’s front office.

To recap, the Toronto Blue Jays are in between a rock and a hard place when it comes with what to do moving forward, although blowing it up like the Astros, Braves, and Phillies seems like a prudent idea, it is a LONG road back to relevance, and that’s something that doesn’t make sense for a team that is contemplating investing nearly a half a billion dollars into renovations of their ball park and their spring training facility.

While fans might not want to hear that coming from management of the league’s oldest and slowest roster, the idea of abandoning what has been an incredibly successful run of success doesn’t make sense for management or for the fans.

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So while it won’t be easy, the Blue Jays have the infrastructure, payroll flexibility, and prospects to improve over the next two years from the old and slow roster they are right now. Their core of Osuna, Donaldson, Sanchez, and Stroman can easily be added to with some shrewd signings, trades, and the advancement of some high-end prospects, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a much different roster over the next two seasons.