To the frustration of many, it has been one of the quieter winters for the Blue Jays in recent memory. Despite losing nine free agents off the 25-man roster, they have only signed four (including Lourdes Gurriel, who is more of a prospect than true major league addition). There have been no trades. They have only made two waivers claims, plus a Rule 5 selection. But there's another area where the offseason activity has been noticeably quiet, albeit a little more under the radar.
So far this winter, the Blue Jays have signed 12 minor league free agents (including eligible players re-signed before becoming free agents). Five of these are players staying in the organization (Carlos Ramirez, Shane Opitz, Casey Lawrence, Murphy Smith, Gavin Floyd), with seven new to the organization (Kender Villegas, Mike Ohlman, Jarrett Grube, Alex Monsalve, Brett Oberholtzer, T.J. House and Jeff "Jean" Beliveau).
This represents a significant decline from the past. At this point last winter, the Jays had already signed 21 free agents. They signed 13 more from this date last year onward through the end of Spring Training, so there's good reason to think there may be some more signings to come as Spring Training approaches and players run out of options.
But it's not just lower compared to last year. Below is a chart with the previous 10 years of minor league free agent signings:
The most notable difference other than this winter is the significant bump from J.P. Riccardi to Alex Anthopoulos. But it makes sense, as Riccardi drafted mostly college players who filled out the upper minors whereas when Anthopoulos took over the organization was depleted so there was plenty of opportunities for free agents to impress and earn the big league promotions.
Perhaps this winter's decline should not be surprising. Beyond signing players to contend for big league spots, the other reason for minor league signings are to fill outs the rosters of the upper level affiliates. With the focus on high school players in the draft over college players for most of 2010-15, there was a lot a strong need for that. But by now a lot of those players are hitting the upper minors, and so the same degree of minor league free agents are not only not needed, but would be counterproductive in terms of potentially blocking prospects who need playing time.
Still, the starkness of the difference from last year is a little jarring. Looking over my depth charts, the starting depth in Buffalo is a little thin, and without a completely obvious candidate to step into the rotation, it would not be surprising to see a veteran starter or two signed, like a Randy Wolf from 2015 or Wade LeBlanc last year. Also, though there's probably enough bodies, the infield situation in Buffalo and New Hampshire is unsettled, so bringing in reinforcements could make sense.