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TORONTO — Expect the Toronto Blue Jays to be active again this offseason.
Amid revenue hits and CBA uncertainty, Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro has made it clear that the goal is to keep building upon Toronto’s 91-win season and make significant moves in the free-agent and trade markets.
“Every indication that we’ve been shown … leads me to believe that we will stay on plan and that the payroll will continue to rise despite the fact we’re still lagging behind that a little bit in revenues due to uncontrollable circumstances,” Shapiro said on Monday in his end-of-season media availability. “I think where that leaves us going forward is incredibly appreciative of the support that we’ve had from ownership over the last two seasons as we’ve endured extremely high losses, but stayed on plan.
“And the continued commitment (is) that we do that despite recognizing that there will probably be some continued impact next year.”
Most teams in MLB suffered the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in its attendance and revenue numbers over the past two seasons, but none felt it more than the Blue Jays. Even after returning to Toronto in late July (later than the front office had hoped for), the team was held to capacities of 15,000 fans for most games and 30,000 in the final homestand of 2021.
Fans did their part, showing up in droves as the Blue Jays vied until the last day for a chance to play in the wild-card game. Still, the financial impact was, and still is, considerable.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll open, as has been the case over the last couple of weeks with sporting events here, to full capacity next year, but who knows what’s going to happen,” said Shapiro. “The hope is that we’ll see Rogers Centre filled with fans next season.”
It’s not just payroll that will benefit from the consistency that a full year at Rogers Centre will bring.
“It’s hard for me not to think we would have been in the playoffs had we been home all year long,” said Shapiro. “Because we got to see the impact of our fans, we got to see the impact of our players being in a place that they feel truly is a home.”
It’s a marvel in and of itself that the Blue Jays fought for a playoff spot until the end of the season after moving to three different cities, living out of hotels and having nothing that resembled a home ballpark for most of the 2021 campaign.
“Our players and staff and front office had every reason to say ‘let’s just wait until next year. We still have a young core, a lot of good things are happening, there’s no reason to panic,’” Shapiro said. “Our guys didn’t accept that. They didn’t take the excuses.”
There are many lessons to be learned from those two years of hardship and frustration. The goal is now to build upon that experience and use it to the team’s advantage.
It all starts with an offseason plan.
The Blue Jays’ front office won’t have a definitive picture of its payroll projections until mid-November, when a final meeting between brass and ownership will determine where exactly the team stands financially. But the goal remains clear: to supplement the core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah and others by adding veteran leadership and other key pieces as needed.
MLB's current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in December, bringing in some additional questions to this offseason. Commissioner Rob Manfred has stated he is confident a new deal will come quickly between the league and the players’ association. Until then, for the Blue Jays, things will remain business as usual in the offseason — and in past years, "business as usual" has meant big moves.
After a season like the Blue Jays just had, missing the playoffs despite winning 91 games, there’s a new level of urgency to make the right deals in the coming months. A winter of stellar signings last year also brings with it some higher expectations.
“We’re at a really good point where we’re talking about making a one- or two-game or a three-game improvement, not a 10- or 15- or a 20-game leap,” said Shapiro. “Some of that I think can come organically, from the players that are here, and some of it will continue to come from the work done by Ross and our group to add players that continue to improve the probability of that happening.”
That doesn’t mean the Blue Jays are dead set on any specific player. Though free agents like Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray, who had MVP- and Cy Young-calibre seasons with Toronto last year, are certainly in play, Shapiro remained adamant that the club isn’t focused on any particular name.
“I’m not a believer that you have to sign anyone back. I’m a believer that you have to get better.”
That rang familiar with what Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins had to say a few weeks ago about bringing those players back.
“I hope they go on to continue to, obviously, have those (good) years, year in and year out, and hopefully we can be a part of that,” Atkins said in his end-of-season media availability. “But having been a part of it for one year was very fulfilling and gratifying.”
With players like Ray, Semien, Steven Matz and Corey Dickerson all set to enter free agency, Toronto should have plenty of flexibility to keep spending big, as it did with George Springer and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the past couple of years. A more stable season combined with significant additions may finally give the team, and its young core, the final push to play deep into October.
“I’m left with one feeling, and that’s bitterness,” Shapiro said of the Blue Jays' failure to make the Wild Card Game this season. “Every team that is not the team that wins the last game played is bitter. The fact that we’re not playing right now leaves me more determined."
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