|Why is this man smiling?|
Simply put: The Blue Jays are not messing around. They're leaving nothing to chance. And they're in a hurry.
Since October 21st, the manager, half of the coaching staff, and a significant chunk of the roster has been turned over. The Jays have added at least seven full-time players to their roster, and maybe more. In most instances, they've arguably upgraded over the 2012 roster, adding bulging sackloads of money to the payroll.
After years of following along with the logic of the Eternal Building Process and attempting to understand the extended series of moves around the margins made by Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, the bounty of signings and transactions within the past few weeks is almost befuddling. It flies in the face of much of what I assumed about his approach, and certainly runs counter to the philosophy that I had adopted with regards to the slow build paying off with a longer success cycle.
But maybe all of that is out the window at this point. Maybe it's time to recalibrate.
The Jays' previously prudent approach made perfectly good sense: Stock up the system with young, controllable players, and hope to hit the jackpot on two or three of those potential stars. Build from within, and eschew the over-priced free agent market. Buy low, sell high. It's just good business, and the Jays - an entertainment arm of a publicly-traded multimedia conglomerate - can't lose money to win games.
This made sense right up until October 2nd of this year. That's when Major League Baseball announced a $6.8 Billion extension of its national rights agreements with Fox and Turner Broadcasting. And while you might not have felt your china rattling in its cabinet on that day, there was a geological shift in the game that occurred with this deal.
Stack that deal on top of the $5.6 Billion deal with ESPN from late August, and a lot of new money is flowing to the bottom lines of all teams before the first turnstile budges.
This money has several effects on a team like Toronto. For one, it adds immediately to the team's spending capacity. But because it also does so for the other 29 teams, it creates a competitive imperative to move quickly and spend that money immediately before premium talent is snapped up.
Ultimately, all of that giant pool of money is going to get spent, and you had better hope that your team is spending it wisely.
The pace of the transition is dizzying for someone like me, who is deliberate to a fault. Sending six or seven of the team's best under-25 players out the door within the span of a few weeks is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you still maintain that the team needs to create their own superstars if they are to be more than a one-year wonder.
Moreover, the team has added nary a young player in return in any of these deals. The system that was the envy of many in baseball will be much thinner for the next few years, with most of the more intriguing pieces being several years away from the major leagues. The backlash towards prospect watching notwithstanding, the state of the Jays' minor league system will once again become a watching brief for some fans, regardless of what plays out on the field and turf over the next three seasons.
But if this is a turning point in the sport, and if this new money will indeed fundamentally change the economics of the game - even if only for a few years - then maybe there's something to this offseason's spree that runs more profound than "spend to contend".
Certainly, the perceived weakness of the AL East for 2013 might have played into the thought process, as may have the concerns that the team might be teetering towards irrelevancy as elements of the fanbase became cynical after a poor season and the awkwardly orchestrated departure of their manager. But when you're attempting to shake loose tens of millions of dollars to add to the top line of your financial ledger, one would imagine that it would take more than a series of PR fires to create the argument for more resources.
In the next couple of years, there will be inflation on player salaries as teams look to spend the newfound riches from the national media deals, not to mention the significant local broadcasting money that is flowing into the system as well. While the cost of acquiring veteran ballplayers was high in terms of the exchange rate on prospects, the Blue Jays were smart to be aggressive in this area before truly premium talents become so scarce that middling players command huge salaries on the open market.
Trying to spend money next offseason -or even next month- might not be such a rewarding proposition.