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A January to remember, or the usual Blue Jays snoozefest?

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Rogers Centre Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images

This has been the weirdest offseason I can remember. Here we are now in the New Year, just six weeks until pitchers and catchers report, and the first of MLBTR’s top 10 free agents just signed within the past couple days. Never before has so much business been left to be done in what is usually the deadest spot of the calendar with the hot stove season largely wound down.

While the last three months of the year were slow across the league, they were particularly slow in Toronto. Since the start of the offseason three months ago, the Blue Jays have really only transacted on five days:

  • Nov. 1: outright Darrell Ceciliani, Bo Schultz, and Cesar Valdez
  • Nov. 2 free agent declarations: Brett Anderson, Jose Bautista, Darwin Barney, Miguel Montero, and Michael Saunders (technically Bautista was a couple days later until the Jays declined the option they had already said they would decline).
  • Nov. 6: claim Taylor Guerrieri; outright Leonel Campos, Taylor Cole, Raffy Lopez, and Luis Santos
  • Nov. 20 deadline for Rule 5: add Conner Greene, Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Tom Pannone, and Rowdy Tellez to 40-man; outright Harold Ramirez and Chris Rowley; lose Rob Refsnyder; acquire Gift Ngoepe
  • Dec. 1 deadline for 2018 contracts: acquire Aledmys Diaz; non-tender Ryan Goins and Tom Koehler.

Setting aside pro forma and foreseeable/anticipated moves, and in terms of the 2018 depth charts all that volume basically amounts replacing Goins with Diaz, adding Guerrieri and perhaps switching Refsnyder for Ngoepe (I’m not convinced either was or is a real consideration to make the 25-man out of Spring Training). In fact, one can go back to Nick Tepesch’s outright in early September, and in the almost four months since the Jays’ real activity is limited to five days over a one month window.

The lack of fourth quarter activity is particularly jarring given the recent past. The new regime made a habit of striking very early in the offseason, wrapping up the vast majority of their offseason business by the end of the winter meetings. And prior to that, Alex Anthopoulos was (in?)famously active, and if nothing else could be relied upon to be churning the waiver wire.

This period through the beginning of Spring Training has typically been a very slow period. Below is a summary of the substantial Major League moves made by the Blue Jays in the New Year leading up to spring training since 2010 (ignoring waiver claims, minor league deals, and the like):

  • 2017: signed Jose Bautista, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia
  • 2016: traded Ben Revere for Drew Storen; signed Gavin Floyd
  • 2015: None
  • 2014: Jose Thole changed his number to 11
  • 2013: signed Mark DeRosa, lost Sam Dyson on waivers (sigh...)
  • 2012: acquired Jason Frasor; signed Darren Oliver and Omar Vizquel (wink/wink minor league deal, which apparently was good enough for a player now getting real Hall of Fame support but not for Mark freaking DeRosa).
  • 2011: signed Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch; traded Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, Napoli for Frank Francisco
  • 2010: signed Kevin Gregg and Jose Molina; acquired Dana Eveland

The headliner is obviously the Wells salary dump, a unique circumstance due to Arte Moreno’s desperation after being frozen out of major free agents. That aside, the moves basically amount to either adding veteran bullpen depth, or filling out the bench.

Using Baseball-Reference’s transactions, we can go back further:

  • 2008: traded Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen; signed Rod Barajas
  • 2006: Corey Koskie; signed Bengie Molina
  • 2002: traded Brad Fullmer
  • 2001: traded David Wells for Mike Sirotka
  • 2000: traded David Segui for Brad Fullmer (in March, but due to Segui accepting the arbitration offer and being awarded a large salary)
  • 1999: traded Roger Clemens for David Wells, Homer Bush, and Graeme Lloyd
  • 1998: signed Jose Canseco
  • 1987: signed Jim Clancy and Ernie Whitt (collusion years)
  • 1982: acquired Rance Mulliniks
  • 1979: signed Rico Carty (acquired for the 4th time in two years)

There was consistent New Year activity in the Gord Ash years; a skeptic might suggest that was more a result of incoherent management than enlightened opportunism or strategy. Prior to that, there were almost no significant transactions conducted in January or early February, with extenuating circumstances explaining Clancy and Whitt signing in early January 1987. But significant moves have very much been the exception.

That sets up what could possibly be the most consequential January in franchise history if the Blue Jays are truly serious about contending in 2018 as has been professed by the front office. Particularly so in terms of a free agent signing or signings, given the talent available where the Jays have holes to fill. There have been some significant trades in the past, but almost no major free agent deals in the normal course.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising either if the minimalist pattern repeated itself. Mark Shapiro’s recent comments about rebuilding after last year in a vacuum, but feeling an obligation to the fanbase suggests an ambivalence to making further large future commitments on top of the current roster but a declination to actively kick off a rebuild. That would point towards adding around the edges (a backup catcher, relievers on one year deals, maybe a veteran outfielder) and seeing if things break right in 2018.

Poll

Over the next six weeks, the Blue Jays will:

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Stand Pat
    (178 votes)
  • 25%
    Make significant upgrades (finally)
    (173 votes)
  • 49%
    Pursue the "soft reset"
    (338 votes)
689 votes total Vote Now