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Shapiro on Toronto's offseason needs, plans

@KeeganMatheson
October 21, 2020

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' offseason comes down to two simple questions of what they need and how they’ll do it. One answer is simple, but the other is a little more complicated. Whether you caught a few Blue Jays games on TV this past season or were the club’s

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' offseason comes down to two simple questions of what they need and how they’ll do it. One answer is simple, but the other is a little more complicated.

Whether you caught a few Blue Jays games on TV this past season or were the club’s president and CEO, like Mark Shapiro, you clearly saw what needs to be fixed. This young roster is bubbling over with talent that is starting to find its collective stride with a brief trip to the expanded postseason, but two major areas need to be cleaned up.

“One of the positives is that, with the needs for improvement, they’re so obvious. Defense and strike throwing, to me,” Shapiro said. “I look at what we accomplished in light of significant challenges defensively and with our strike throwing. I think that if [general manager] Ross [Atkins] and our baseball operations group go out and just get better in those two areas, and just take natural progress forward in all of the other areas we were pretty strong in this year, that would be a significant positive for us.”

Watching the Rays and Dodgers in the World Series, it becomes even more clear just how much work Toronto has to do defensively. This isn’t about becoming baseball’s best defense overnight, but simply getting to a place where they can reliably support their pitchers. In 2020, many of the errors made by the Blue Jays were something you’d see in the lower Minors, with basic fundamentals too often the issue.

When it comes to strike throwing, Toronto ranked second in baseball with 250 walks from its pitching staff over the regular season. The Dodgers and Rays ranked 30th and 26th, respectively, so it’s no coincidence that those two organizations are the last ones we’re watching this October.

The Blue Jays' defense and strike throwing need to advance to a place where they are no longer holding this roster back. If they develop beyond league average, that’s a bonus, but even a simple clean up on those fronts would allow the talented young arms and bats in this organization to do so much more, unimpeded by the unnecessary bumps along the way.

So where does this all come from? Part of the solution, of course, can be found internally. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will get more comfortable at first base and the outfield should be a better defensive unit in 2021, for example. Some of this will need to come via free agency and trade, though, which is where we reach the elephant in the room.

Shapiro and the Blue Jays front office are currently meeting to chart their offseason plan, and in about one month, they will present their case for a 2021 payroll to ownership. Payroll numbers are a major variable across baseball this offseason with a great deal of uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, but Shapiro has been encouraged to this point that ownership shares his desire to push forward.

“I think the resources are going to be there if we think the right deals are there, and if we make those recommendations, those resources are going to be there for us to add in a meaningful way,” Shapiro said. “We’ll conduct this offseason much like last offseason.”

If the financial flexibility is really there -- because this should very much be classified as “to be determined” -- the Blue Jays are a team in a perfect position to spend. Frankly, they should be one of the more aggressive teams in baseball if they’re able to.

Hyun Jin Ryu’s $20 million annually over the next three years is money well spent, but beyond him, the Blue Jays only have Tanner Roark’s $12 million and Randal Grichuk’s $10.3 million salaries. The club doesn’t have many “big” salaries to carry right now. Add in the fact that the young core of Bo Bichette, Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Nate Pearson are all on pre-arbitration salaries, and the door is wide open for Toronto to add to this club. In a normal year, that is.

On top of the COVID-19 uncertainties facing baseball and all involved, the Blue Jays deal with an additional layer given the Canada-US border, which led them to play out 2020 at Buffalo, N.Y.’s Sahlen Field. Other factors matter when it comes to geography, like east coast versus west, north versus south or even Spring Training facility locations, but the Blue Jays’ ability to play the '21 season in Toronto is still an unknown.

Shapiro doesn’t expect it to be a major factor in pursuing free agents, especially on long-term deals, but he has a plan for the question he’ll surely be asked.

“I would answer with things that I know, which is that where we want to be with complete certainty, 110%, is Toronto,” Shapiro said. “I can talk at length, as could Ross or Charlie [Montoyo], about why it’s so great to be here, as could our players on the team right now.”

Free agency is set to open five days after the end of the World Series, though early action on the market is rare. The Blue Jays know what they need, but now they’re tasked with going out and finding it.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.