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The Pittsburgh Fire Sale and the Blue Jays Offseason

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Three months ago as the offseason approached, it was quite apparent the Blue Jays faced a crossroads between the present and the future: make significant additions to make a real push in 2018, or move short term contracts to reload for a few years from now. There was plenty of spirited debate about which way was best, but it’s fair to say that I was far from alone in expecting that one of the two directions would be actively pursued.

Instead, amidst a stunningly quiet and slow league wide “hot stove”, neither has come to pass. The almost complete lack of significant moves until the last week and seeming lack of strategic direction juxtaposed against major upgrades by other AL contenders made for a particularly frustrating couple of months.

In fact, a month ago after the Winter Meetings passed with more nothing, I was so disgruntled with the lack of direction to the point of mentally composing an angry screed to post sometime in the New Year if it was still the case (prospective title: “Shame on you, Mark Shapiro”). I’m glad I was going to always let things more fully develop before spewing any invective, with subsequent news meaning it may have been very unfair.

Any rebuilding/reloading/soft reset plan this winter would necessarily have been centred around moving Josh Donaldson, and then J.A. Happ as well. It would have made sense to market a few others with a couple of years/control, namely Russell Martin and Justin Smoak, but it wasn’t critical to do it now absent an attractive return.

But the returns for sellers just haven’t been good. Evan Longoria may not be a star level player going forward, but he’s still a productive player with a very reasonable contract. Tampa’s return seemed very underwhelming, especially considering he was the face of the franchise (and it’s not like they’re doing a huge or full rebuild).

There was an even more stark example this past week of the returns for a motivated seller as Pittsburgh definitively pulled the trigger on rebuilding after an extending shopping period. Time may prove otherwise, but the return for two years of Gerrit Cole felt very light, as the Pirates failed to acquire premium players. Having done that, it was only logical to move Andrew McCutchen’s last year under contract. I thought the return was there was decent considering the circumstances, but again they didn’t get their counterpart’s best prospects for a franchise icon.

Likewise, there didn’t seem to much of a market for Josh Donaldson. The Cardinals were interested in buying low, but there was really no other bidder to push up the price. The Jays’ 2018 position isn’t great, but it’s also not so bleak to where anything is better than nothing. If you’re not getting back impact prospects, better to hope things break right, and otherwise hope the standings get shaken up and motivated buyers emerge at the trade deadline.

On the flip side, given there was only about 25-million in budget room, bridging the gap in the AL post-Stanton/Ohtani would have required signing a couple of impact free agents to long term details, and perhaps dealing from the farm. The former in particular is at best a dicey proposition for a team that may be fully rebuilding later this year, and with an uncertain outlook even if 2018 goes well.

So that’s left a middle road of smaller, complementary additions to fill holes while not taking on commitments beyond 2018. No impact signing that truly closes the gap to the first tier contenders, but nothing that mortgages the future while mitigating some of the roster holes that torpedoed 2017.

It’s certainly not exciting, and is even frustrating in the sense of lacking decisive action one way of another: trying to contend in 2018, but not really going for it. But the truth of the matter is it’s hard to dislike anything that’s been done this winter. Taylor Guerrieri might end up a sneaky good waiver claim like Dominic Leone last winter (and if not, nothing lost). I’m not convinced Aledmys Diaz will even be a second division, but for J.B. Woodman and a couple million bucks it’s certainly worth finding out. Yangervis Solarte cost a decent lottery ticket prospect, but is a desperately needed depth option who can actually hit.

With the infield shored up, most recently was Curtis Granderson. I’ll admit to some ambivalence myself, but the level of productivity and durability is plenty to justify a one year deal at $5-million. There’s been a fair bit of negativity about the signing, which I think has less to do with Granderson specifically and more to do with it signals. Given the pretty glaring hole(s) in the outfield and the players available (viz. Lorenzo Cain), many had ticketed an impact upgrade here and that’s now unlikely.

For the signing moves the payroll to around $150-million, eating up roughly 25% of the expected remaining room under the budget. That’s not totally prohibitive to adding someone like Cain, but some of that probably gets held back for midseason and there are still areas to address: a starting pitcher and ideally backup catcher. Perhaps even moreso, it ties down another spot on the 25-man roster, basically filling up the position player side (at least barring other movement).

The offseason has not gone at all as expected, and the instinct might be to castigate the front office for a lack of strategic direction and resultant half-measures. At the end of the day, they have to work within the constraints of what they can control, and the broader market has not been conducive for a strategy of turning present assets into future assets. On the other end, the emergence of a fifth first tier contender in Los Angeles made it even riskier to push aggressively in 2018.

To borrow a metaphor, often times the worst thing you can do is fling a ball into double coverage in desperation. This offseason has lacked excitement and a clear longer term direction, but under the circumstances, it may for the best.