Jays brass assesses club with fans
Front office justifies inactive winter, expecting long-term benefits
TORONTO -- Winning makes things a whole lot easier. That's why Paul Beeston let out a laugh when imagining what it would've been like to hold an open forum with Blue Jays fans during the team's glory years.
A lot has changed for Toronto since Beeston, currently serving as the club's interim president and chief executive officer, helped guide the Jays to consecutive World Series titles more than a decade ago. On Tuesday night, Beeston faced a more concerned group of season-ticket holders during the team's annual State of the Franchise event.
"This would've been a very good forum for us to do in the good old days," Beeston said shortly before taking the stage, along with general manager J.P. Ricciardi and manager Cito Gaston. "We could've actually talked about what we were doing and the things we were winning."
The fans in attendance who took to the microphones were overwhelmingly cordial, but they weren't afraid to ask some tough questions, mostly focusing on the path the Blue Jays have taken this offseason.
Due to injuries and influenced by the suffering economy, the Blue Jays made what Beeston described as "an organizational decision" to lower their payroll to around $85 million for the upcoming season. That represents a decrease of nearly $15 million for Toronto, which has made no high-profile acquisitions this offseason after also losing pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Yankees in free agency.
Instead of pursuing the big names on the open market, the Blue Jays appear content with filling their roster holes internally, offering playing time for some of their younger players in the process. Beeston said the goal -- beyond providing a few of the club's prospects big league experience -- is to find a way to break even financially this season, making it more realistic to go after top-tier players in future offseasons.
"We thought maybe we'd take a little step back this year," Beeston told the fans. "We have a problem with the economy. You don't want to hear that -- that's not your concern. Your concern is that we put a winning team, to the best of our ability, on the field. So, it would be nice to get Rafael Furcal. It would be nice to get [Manny] Ramirez. It'd be nice to bring back Burnett.
"But we're hopefully setting ourselves up in a position where we can go after those players. That's the goal."
With that in mind, the Blue Jays reiterated that this coming season is being viewed as a kind of bridge to 2010 and beyond. Given the uncertainties surrounding the starting rotation -- short Burnett and without Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) until at least May and Shaun Marcum until next year -- Toronto didn't believe using long-term contracts to reel in free agents was the best route this winter.
"I can understand some of the fans and their concerns about this club," Gaston said. "But as we said, I think that we're not really moving backward -- we're moving forward. It might not seem that way, but we're looking forward to the next five or 10 years, as opposed to just one year."
Ricciardi echoed that sentiment.
"There's a method to the madness," Ricciardi said. "I think there's light at the end of the tunnel. We are coming off three winning years in a row, and we want to build off that and I think we are going to build off that. I think we're going to be competitive this year and we're going to be even better in 2010."
The main concern of fans on Tuesday seemed to be the lack of activity this season by the Blue Jays, whose main acquisitions -- pitchers Mike Maroth and Matt Clement, along with catchers Michael Barrett and Raul Chavez -- were signed to Minor League contracts. More than one fan asked why Toronto didn't sign slugger Jason Giambi to boost its offense.
In line with the club's goal of undergoing a kind of youth movement this season, Ricciardi said Giambi would've robbed valuable playing time from Travis Snider and Adam Lind, who are set to split time between left field and designated hitter.
"We're going to go with our kids," Ricciardi said. "We think our kids are going to be productive, and we want to make sure Snider and Lind get those at-bats"
During the interaction with fans, Ricciardi also indicated that the Blue Jays plan to increase their scouting overseas to find talent, adding that the club is currently talking to a Japanese pitcher. Ricciardi also noted that right-hander Casey Janssen -- if fully recovered from the right shoulder surgery he underwent last spring -- is a leading candidate for one of the two vacancies in the rotation.
Another topic of discussion was the status of ace Roy Halladay, who is eligible to become a free agent after the 2010 season. Said Ricciardi: "With the direction Paul has given us, and where we think we're going to go, we think we're going to be in a position to keep Roy Halladay. ... We'll do everything we can to keep Roy Halladay a Blue Jay."
As for the possibility of still looking to the free-agent market for help, Ricciardi wasn't ready to completely rule out that avenue. That said, the Blue Jays seem more inclined to stick with what they already have in place for the 2009 season.
"We're always looking for anybody who would be willing to come here and help us out," Ricciardi said. "We've looked at several different guys, but the price is not right at this point. But we're confident in our young kids, too. At some point, we have to bring some of these kids in."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.