Blue Jays offseason: An educated marathon, not a blind sprint

The Toronto Blue Jays offseason will be a slow burn, stretching out over the entirety of the next five months

When MLB free agency opens on Tuesday, November 8th, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays will quickly get a undesired lesson in patience.

The baseball offseason unfolds at a pace that mirrors the sport itself: slow and methodical. Unlike the NHL or NBA, which both produce an avalanche of free agent signings in the early hours, the MLB free agent period will come in slow, steady waves.

This will quickly become a talking point as the Blue Jays explore big-name free agents, including their own in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays have a five-day window in which they can exclusively negotiate with their own free agents, and as Steve Simmons wrote on Saturday for the Toronto Sun, nothing is close with Encarnacion.

“We’re talking. There’s nothing imminent,” Encarnacion’s agent Paul Kinzer told Simmons. “That’s all I can tell you right now. We’re continuing to talk.”

Well, of course.

Blue Jays There is almost zero advantage to Encarnacion — or any internal free agent — holding significant contract talks over this five-day period. Like Bautista, Michael Saunders, Brett Cecil, and many other players, Encarnacion has spent years building a very strong open market value. Aside from preliminary talks, there is little value in negotiating before a player gets a sense of their value league-wide. A market of 30 teams will produce a stronger deal than a market of one nine times out of 10 (it does remain possible that a team overpays early to avoid the risk of losing a player).

This NHL-minded thinking — 14-hour Free Agent Frenzy show fresh in the mind — creates an unrealistic timeline for action. Don’t forget: David Price didn’t officially sign with the Boston Red Sox until December 4th last offseason.

In fact, many of Toronto’s offseason additions that opened 2016 on the 25-man roster didn’t join the club until the winter snow was growing deep:

November 13th:  Marco Estrada signs
November 20th:  Blue Jays trade Liam Hendriks to Oakland Athletics for Jesse Chavez
November 27th:  J.A. Happ signs
December 10th:  Joe Biagini selected in Rule 5 Draft
January 1st:  Blue Jays trade cash to Oakland for Arnold Leon
January 8th:  Blue Jays trade Ben Revere to Washington for Drew Storen
February 6th:  Gavin Floyd signs
April 2nd:  Franklin Morales signs

Strategy exists on both sides of the table in MLB free agency. For a player, there is value in gauging league-wide interest and finding one’s highest potential value. Besides, on the open market, all it takes is one team with an eager chequebook. A team’s desperation is a player’s best friend.

On the other hand, patience benefits teams as well. Take Bautista, for example, whose value on the open market is extremely difficult to predict after a season that saw him hit the disabled list twice. It’s still possible that one team blows others out of the water, but for a team uncomfortable with Bautista’s maximum possible value, the market can also work in their favour. If Bautista is met with a quieter market than he expects, that’s a bargaining chip back in the team’s hand thanks to their patience.

Of course, this also comes with risk. If the Blue Jays wait too long to make their decision on Encarnacion, secondary options will begin to leave the market. There is an optimal time to enter the market, as Toronto showed last offseason with J.A. Happ, and they’ll need to find that point again this winter.

By the time that two or three big-name free agents leave the market without Toronto dipping their toe, gripes will inevitably come. Why, after a second consecutive ALCS appearance with AL-best attendance, are the Blue Jays sitting on their hands on November 8th, or 10th, or — gasp — 15th.

The MLB offseason is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Blue Jays only need to look back four years to learn that making the most offseason noise does not always translate to the best results. This is about having the best team by opening day, not by December.

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