Blue Jays' strategy balances present, future

Front-office moves keep contention window open without sacrificing Minors depth

Blue Jays' strategy balances present, future

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Blue Jays squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the vision?

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have every intention of contending in 2017, but it's also pretty clear the organization's philosophy is to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future at all times.

Toronto began the offseason with the goal of becoming younger, more athletic and more left-handed. None of those things really happened, but when it comes to this current group, that might not be so bad. The big league team is built to win now, that's where the focus has to be, and the big-picture changes can instead be eased in over time.

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The days of gutting the farm system for a quick fix are over, at least for now. That's one of the reasons the Blue Jays did almost all off their work this winter through free agency. That approach can certainly be risky too, but it allows the ballclub to accomplish two things at once.

Every club preparing for Spring Training with own vision

"You don't make your team younger by going into free agency, the one way you do it is you don't trade the bulk of your Double-A and Triple-A players to acquire 32-year-olds -- or whatever their age is," Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins recently told TSN. "So our strategy to stay younger, more athletic, and more agile. To keep and balance is to use cash instead of players."

Martinez on losing Encarnacion

Toronto entered this offseason faced with the rather unenviable task of trying to keep its contender status with eight players from last year's roster eligible for free agency. The loss of Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Cecil, Joaquin Benoit and Michael Saunders won't be easy to overcome, but instead of rebuilding or trading away young talent, the club's available funds were used instead.

The Blue Jays picked Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, J.P. Howell and Joe Smith off the open market, and Jose Bautista was brought back on a one-year deal in late January. With its five starters -- Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano -- returning, Toronto feels that they have what it takes to make a run at the postseason for a third consecutive year.

Outlook: Sanchez, SP, TOR

Rebuilding the Minor Leagues won't be as easy. Toronto does benefit from an extra pick in this year's Draft following the departure of Encarnacion, but the other changes will require a little bit more creativity. Since the Blue Jays weren't going to trade a key player off their 25-man roster for a prospect, they instead went out and added one via international free agency by signing Cuban infielder/outfielder Lourdes Gurriel to a seven-year deal.

The club took a similar approach to some of it's big league deals. The Blue Jays wanted Liriano at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, but they never would have taken on the $17-million plus he was owed through 2017 unless the deal also included prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez. The move did see Drew Hutchison switch teams as well, but more than anything, it was a cash transaction that helped the Pirates save money while Toronto accomplished something for both the present and the future.

This isn't a rebuild. This isn't going all in. This is trying to do two things at once. Only time will tell whether that's wise, but the premise makes sense for a city and country that has proven itself to be a legitimate big market.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.