Sunday, December 4, 2011
Before the Org Wife and I got married and had kids, I had a different view of what I was willing to spend for things I wanted, based on the reasons I wanted them. For instance, in those days we could pack up for a cheap-ish Caribbean holiday and not worry too much about how many stars the resort had. As long as there was a beach, an all-inclusive food and adult beverage plan, golf, warm weather and transportation to and from the airport, we didn’t require much else.
When you have kids, though, the calculation changes. Your quick, last-minute jaunt down south isn’t so easy, and to find a vacation that meets your needs, you can’t skimp on the extras you didn’t need six years ago. We’re way more willing now to spend some extra cash on a freakin’ Disney cruise, because it seems like a better way to manage the rugrats than leaving them in a Dominican “kids club” that may or may not be a cover for a child-trafficking ring.
As the Winter Meetings kick off, it remains an open question as to whether the Toronto Blue Jays are in the mindset of the carefree young couple, willing to pay the minimum just to be a part of things, or if they’re maturing and becoming more discriminating in their tastes, matching their specific needs.
If you judged by their most recent acquisitions, you’d guess that they haven’t quite moved up to shopping at Holt Renfrew after years at the flea market. They needed a second baseman; they paid next to nothing to get Luis Valbuena out of the Indians organization. They needed a backup catcher; they gave up a Quad-A lefty soft-tosser to get the much-maligned Jeff Mathis (much-maligned because he is, by most reasonable assessments, a horrible baseball player).
They had gaps to fill, so they filled them with a couple of the cheapest passable options available. To further torture the domestic metaphor, their old IKEA end table had a leg break off and the lamp that sat on it fell and shattered, so they went back to IKEA and bought a cheap new table and lamp. The new table is too short and the new lamp is kind of ugly, but they’ll work fine until they break and they need new ones again.
In a lot of other ways, though, this team has been buying like grown-ups. They’ve spent their biggest money in smart ways – on players like Ricky Romero and Jose Bautista. When they’ve taken on riskier players, the money and terms have been aimed at mitigating that risk (see club options on extensions signed with Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar), making the players more easily tradable or otherwise expendable.
Alex Anthopoulos has said on more than one occasion that he’s not inclined to force things when it comes to making a deal for any one player that the organization somehow becomes convinced it must have, because that’s a recipe for bad deals. Anthopoulos has a well-known reputation for being interested in every single player, checking in on them and knowing that there’s a top-end price he’d be willing to pay based on what their talent level is, and what they might bring to the Jays. Smart shopping, in other words.
That doesn’t mean that signing a guy like Prince Fielder would somehow be dumb shopping. The Jays wouldn’t necessarily be shelling out too much money for too long, taking on too much risk. It’s just that you don’t shop for guys like Prince Fielder at garage sales or funky little consignment boutiques. You’re shopping in the swankiest stores on the High Street, and dealing with commissioned salespeople. And they’re not offering you a ten-year warranty if you make the purchase – you’re on the hook for better or worse. So you better be sure of what you’re getting, and comfortable with what you’re paying.
Teams shouldn’t let those kind of higher stakes push them into a mode of perpetual bargain hunting, though, and I don’t think that’s all Anthopoulos will be doing at the Winter Meetings and beyond. As cynical as I am about the rumour-mongering done by agents through the media, it’s impossible to say that the team isn't in on the biggest names out there.
But the criteria for acquiring elite talent have to be, in the end, fairly simple, and the same as the ones used for picking up cheap replacements: the right player, and the right price. That’s a pretty good motto. Hope the Jays stick to it.