Adeiny Hechavarria fields a ball during a game at the Rogers Centre.

Jays’ off-season should be about farm, not free agents: Martinez

There are no easy answers that can fix what went wrong for the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays.

But according to Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, the voices of Canada’s baseball team on Rogers Sportsnet, free agency should not be the way to go.

Before the final game of the season, general manager Alex Anthopoulos indicated that he hoped to aggressively attack free agent waters, particularly for starting rotation pitchers.

However, in Martinez’s opinion, that should not be an option until the Jays are in a position to contend, something that he feels is still a few years away.

“The free agent market is a very challenging one because free agents have the choice,” said Martinez. “You have to be a contending team or have free agents believe that you’re going to be a destination where they’ll be able to win when they sign with you.

“I don’t think the Blue Jays are there yet.”

Tabler used stronger words.

“I think it’s a mistake to say you want to turn it around or take the next step by signing free agents,” said the colour commentator. “You’re paying for free agents, especially pitchers, for past performances. And that doesn’t always work.”

Both would rather see the Jays continue to aggressively push and develop those players found in their farm system.

Fans had a taste of what may be going forward. A rash of injuries this year allowed for young upcoming talent such as the speedy Anthony Gose, gifted Adeiny Hechevarria and the powerful Moise Sierra ply their trade in the major leagues for an extended period of time.

But the two broadcasters feel that Jays’ management could do more.

“They need to commit to some of these guys more consistently,” said Martinez. “Let them play and develop and find out what they have. Because before you know it, the [Jose] Bautistas and [Edwin] Encarnacions are going to be gone.

“Then you’re going to have a void of leadership and experience while you wait for another core of guys to come and develop as stars.”

The young guys in the Jays system this year have provided much reason to be optimistic going forward, if cautiously so, they believe.

That depth and the talent being produced through the minor league systems has slowly been cultivated into one of Toronto’s greatest organizational strengths.

The promise that these future bluebirds have gives Tabler a reason to hope.

“I think they [the Jays] are getting there,” said the former major league second baseman. “They’re producing the players they need to win with on the field. All the talented players, athletic players.”

But right now, he feels management have a lot of holes to fill.

“I don’t think they’re one or two players away [from being a contending team],” said Tabler. “I think they’re more like two, maybe three starters, another bullpen guy and three everyday players away.

“I’m not into contending, I’m into winning. And I think if this team was one player away or two players away [from winning it all] then you go out and get a free agent.

“The Blue Jays did that in the past, the Cleveland Indians did that, but they built their team with their farm players.”

As the two veteran broadcasters reclined in their chairs up in the broadcast booth at the Rogers Centre, opposite the two World Series banners that hang in the rafters, Martinez recalled the 1992 season for Jays as a way to illustrate his point.

“When Jack Morris and Dave Winfield came here in ’92, the offseason of ’91, the team was knocking on the door [of the World Series],” said Martinez.

“They lost playoff games, but they were consistently in contention, they had been to playoff games and they had lost.

“Those two guys saw this as a destination, where they felt like, ‘we could be the final pieces of the puzzle.’

“Until you get to that point, you’re going to spend way too much money to bring him here and you’re going to spend money and just blow it into the wind. Because it’s not going to have an impact.”