by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Happy Holidays to all our readers. We appreciate all of you, but especially those who take the time to keep the conversation going in the comments or via DM/email. As the only outlet currently dedicated to covering Toronto/Canadian sports media news we try hard to keep up with big stories in a timely fashion but regular life sometimes gets in the way. Thanks for sticking with us, and we look forward to serving you in 2020. Please keep reaching out with story ideas, pitches, and screengrabs.
Changing the Narrative
Earlier this year Shi Davidi wrote a long piece encouraging Jays fans to turn the page on the Anthopoulos era, along with its exhilarating back to back American League Championship Series appearances, and risky prospect trades. In it he implores fans to set aside the first four years of the current regime’s performance and to start evaluating them based on what they do from this point forward. I wrote about this at the time, arguing that every management team would like to restart the clock so as to be able to exclude the years they spent spinning their tires. Davidi’s key message was the following:
“[I]f the Blue Jays front office has full conviction in the path it’s on and the decisions it makes, criticism from media observers and bandwagon fans inanely spitting social-media venom should have zero impact.” – Shi Davidi, Sportsnet
Bandwagon fans – the ones who turned out in droves between 2015-17 – have tuned this team out for the past two seasons, yielding league-leading decreases in attendance (and revenue) for the Blue Jays. Criticism from media observers outside the Rogers bubble began as the off-season arrived and management tried to counter that criticism by informing anyone who would leak it that they were “in” on just about every high profile free agent.
Just as it seemed 2019 would end as it began, with befuddling messaging around the team’s intention to compete, Shaprio and Atkins were able to lock up premiere NL West pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four year deal for $80 million dollars. This makes him the most important free agent pitcher acquisition since AJ Burnett signed for five years and $55 million in 2005.
Round Up from The Acid Tongues
Here are some of the key articles commenting on this big signing and what it means for the Jays’ chances:
The Star’s Gregor Chisholmexplains the importance of this signing for Shapiro & Atkins:
“For the first time since at least the start of 2017, fans have something to believe in. There had been a breakdown in trust between ownership, the front office and customers over the last couple of years. Optimism existed because of a promising young core, but it was often overshadowed by skepticism that the Jays and Rogers Communications would make the additions that needed to come next. By signing Ryu, Atkins is doubling down on his young roster. This organization doesn’t need to turn things around overnight, especially after a year in which it won just 67 games, but adding Ryu with a 2.98 ERA across six big-league seasons is an indication that Toronto’s committed to regaining its contender status. It moves the ball club one step closer to respectability and it’s one less piece that needs to be added next year when the rookies are more mature. The fact that they bought an asset with money, instead of hampering the rebuild by trading prospects, makes it that much more appealing.”
Steve Simmons of The Sun also had some laudatory remarks for the current administration:
“Being in the race is meaningless off-season talk, especially around here. We’ve heard too much of it over the years. Who cares who is chasing whom? Winning the race — getting your man — that’s all that matters, an indication to Blue Jays fans that they are at least serious about becoming competitive. Before this signing, with all the garage-sale junk the Jays have accumulated in recent years, it was hard to take Shapiro and Atkins all that seriously. It was hard to believe they weren’t doing anything but paddling in circles.The Ryu signing may not be a ticket to the post-season, but it is an indication of the credibility of management. This signing paints the Blue Jays as players.”
For the more technically minded, Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic delves into the competitive implications of this signing for the Jays’ current roster. Spoiler: they’re still going to be a sub-500 team next year.
“But accounting for offseason additions, plus expected internal improvements and with full seasons from some of the team’s young players, the Blue Jays’ team WAR for 2020 is a projected 31.3. That represents a net improvement of 10.7 wins over last season. (Currently, that would still rank 21st leaguewide.) Using last year as a baseline, that would bring them from 67 wins in 2019 to 77 wins in 2020. The Blue Jays have undoubtedly gotten better this offseason. At 77 wins, they would be close to a .500 team. And after a year when they flirted with 100 losses, that would be a meaningful improvement. With a few more additions this offseason to fill necessary roster holes, the team could make that outlook even better.”
Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling adds some excellent analysis of Ryu’s repertoire:
“Ryu’s change-up is actually his best pitch, and truly one of the best off-speed weapons in the game. It’s also his only plus offering, which is why he threw it more than any other pitch last season.Meanwhile, the average velocity (90.7 mph) and spin rate (2,084 RPM) on Ryu’s fastball were among the lowest in MLB. Same goes for his cutter. And while his curveball features above-average movement and can generate some swing-and-miss, it isn’t considered a dominant pitch. Ryu isn’t overpowering or out-stuffing anyone. Rather, he uses sequencing, control and deception to keep hitters off balance and generate soft contact. Think first-pitch curveballs for strikes, change-ups in fastball counts and fastballs with two strikes. He repeats his delivery and maintains his release point exceptionally well, providing few hints as to what’s about to come out of his hand. Elite command and control of the baseball allow him to manipulate his pitches to move the way he wants on their way to the plate and end up where he wants when they get there.”
Rosie DiManno slipped her trademark gibberish by the editors and into the mix:
“First time this sluggish regime has gone money-sack large on a free agent. Doesn’t quite atone for the wallflower meekness of winters past. Doesn’t come anywhere near the all-in groove to lickety-split turn around Toronto’s fortunes, despite earlier adding middle-of-the rotation arms in Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark, plus the return from major knee surgery of Matt Shoemaker.”
Signing a 32 year old pitcher with a history of injury issues is risky. That is a positive in this case rather than a negative. Taking risks is hard, especially when you can play things safe in perpetuity under the cover of “doing things the right way”. That has been the irritating canard that Shapiro has waddled out every time he is pressed for a timeline. Fans suffered through the same runaround under Beeston for a number of years until Anthopoulos successfully lobbied for looser payroll parameters and the ability to take on backloaded contracts in trades.
Just last week Davidi was tilting at his favourite windmill on this very topic:
“In recent weeks “financial flexibility” became the latest entry into the Toronto Blue Jays’ lexicon of loaded terms, joining classics you may remember from off-seasons past such as “parameters,” “boundaries,” and, of course, the timeless, “fit.” The words are interpreted one way by the front office and mean something entirely differently to the fanbase, and the gulf between the two outlooks is why the current disaffection with the club’s work thus far this winter is so emotionally wrought […] Sarcasm aside, it’s worth digging deeper than the usual Twitter cocktail of yelling-loudest hot takes, snark and raw outrage to have a real conversation about what flexibility really means, because used effectively, it’s among the greatest assets in the game.”
Davidi continues, adding caution about the prospect of signing a player like Ryu:
“Landing Ryu will feel good in the moment, but do you really want him at $16-$20 million a season for three or four years, cutting you off from other opportunities down the road, when the team should be better and the options more appealing?”
And this is where the disconnect is between fans and ownership. Teams team with a commitment to winning don’t let bad deals keep them down for long. They cut bait and move on, as we are seeing with the Red Sox this year. As Davidi notes, the back end years of Martin and Tulo were a burden in 2017 and 2018. Yet the Jays curiously spent money in those years on mediocre short term free agents, and held on to players they would eventually trade for low returns, all while putting up 76 and 73 wins. This is the kind of sucking and blowing at the same time that looks like bad management rather than smart management.
Scott Boras refers to Rogers as the “wealthiest ownership group in baseball”, and he’s right about that. As we also know, the Jays’ payroll is folded into the media division at Rogers, and that division has been under fire since the NHL rights deal blew up in Rogers’ face. The challenge for any Jays president and GM is to wrangle budget autonomy from this ownership group, so that they can shed bad contracts and sign new ones as they see fit. The lack of sustained success we have witnessed is arguably a direct result of payroll inconsistency. The on-field results in 2017 and 2018 were unwatchable and the ticket sales speak for themselves. And this extended the current rebuild unnecessarily. Imagine if the Jays had already addressed some of their rotation issues, and the hole in centrefield? What would the expected win total in 2020 be then?
In sum, 2019 was a much needed development year and 2020 will be another step towards contention in 2021. However in order for the Ryu signing to make sense Shapiro needs to continue to invest payroll in signings that come with risk. This fanbase has shown it will support a team that wins, and there can be no winning without taking risks, including financial ones.
Over to you: are you ready to move on from the “Shatkins” era and willing to embrace Shapiro and Atkins?
Thanks for reading and commenting,
mike (not really in boston)
photo credit: Postmedia