How Is It Toronto Boast About Being World Class… Except When It Comes To Baseball Markets?

A couple of random Blue Jays items for today. First, let me just say I’m glad they’re back in Toronto and wearing normal uniforms, apparently having given Flo from Progressive her clothes back from this past weekend. Did anyone at all think those “players weekend” jerseys and hats were a winner? Anyone at all?

Next…

Badfinger20 made a very valid but sometimes forgotten point in a recent comment here. He suggested Toronto needn’t be penny-pinchers since they’re Toronto after all, not Tampa. It’s very true. I majored in geography, so I have a sense of these things, but I realize not everyone did. So let’s explain it. Toronto is a big city, and a big baseball market.

Bud Selig pointed it out in his book I reviewed week. He mentioned how in the late-’80s he was jealous of the (then) Skydome and Toronto, and wanted something like it for his Milwaukee but knew they couldn’t afford that. He details how then Jays boss Paul Beeston linked up with the owners of other “large market” teams (who he described as the two New York teams, San Francisco, the Dodgers, Philly, Boston and curiously, the rather small city of St. Louis; with Atlanta, Texas and the two Chicago teams joining them later in what Bud saw as a selfish attempt to keep small teams like his own down.)

Toronto is a huge city. I know, I’ve grown up and spent most of my life in its environs. I’ve driven in from Buffalo (like so many prospects do now from the Bisons farm club) and seen it across the lake, and before you know it, you’re in its exurbs while still seeing the skyline glimmer across the lake. But don’t let me persuade you… let the numbers.

As of 2017, the population of the city of Toronto was 2, 930, 000. Granted that’s smaller than L.A. (3, 970 ,000) and downright wee next to New York City at 8, 625, 000. But on the other hand, it’s more than Chicago (2, 715 ,000 and dropping) let alone cities like Pittsburgh (302 000) and St. Petersburg, home of the Rays at just 263, 000. Now of course, city populations can be misleading since some cities cover lots of terrain and others are small and subdivided, and fans will travel across townlines to attend a game. So metro populations are a better measure of a city size. But again, Toronto looks big.

Canada’s census bureau puts “greater Toronto” at 6.42 million now. But that doesn’t include the Hamilton or Oshawa areas, at the western and eastern ends of the ‘burbs. The Go Trains run straight to the stadium from those cites and we know many, many fans trek in from them every game. That puts the population of the Toronto area at about 7.2 million. Small next to the Big Apple, which is now a “huge apple” at 20.3 million and extends into western Connecticut and northeastern-most Pennsylvania; or LA/Orange County with 13.1 million. But of course, both those areas have to split the market between two teams, Not so Blue Jays land.

Metro Toronto compares similarly to Atlanta and Boston, is a wee bit smaller than Chicago (which again divides its loyalties between two teams) but is a bit bigger than the San Francisco Bay area (about 4.7 million.) Pity poor St. Louis at 2.8 million or Pittsburgh at 2.3 mil. Not so many fans to show up or watch local broadcasts there.

And then, looking at the big picture, one can try to judge a team’s market. For example, the Red Sox are the team of choice for pretty much all of New England, save for perhaps the western half of Connecticut. That gives them about 11 million people prone to being their fans and buy their hats and jerseys, even if they all don’t go out to Fenway. Atlanta has a fanbase ranging across the South from NC to Mississippi . A lot of acres and about 30 million potential fans.

Toronto though- well, Toronto is Canada’s Team. They have fans from sea to shining sea, 36 million strong. Granted people in say, Saskatchewan aren’t likely to show up at the Rogers Centre to watch many games 2000 miles from home, but they are likely to watch the games on TV. And look at Seattle when Toronto plays. Numerous Jays players have pointed out it feels like a home crowd, so heavily draped in blue are the stands with all the Toronto fans out of nearby Vancouver.

So what do all those numbers mean? Simply this – Toronto is big enough, and has a big enough market to be able to play with the “big boys.” Yet according to Sportrac, at latest tally, the Jays are just 22nd in payroll (between Arizona and San Diego) at about $110 million this year. The league average – $136.2 million, while the Boston Red Sox are doing the best drunken sailor impersonation, leading the way with a $227M bill. The Yanks, Cubs and Dodgers also top $200 million.

Now, we are seeing that freewheeling spending doesn’t guarantee championships. More and more, young players at low salaries (think Bo Bichette, Vladimir Jr., Juan Soto…) provide a whole lot of bang for the buck. And the “moneyball” theory still has merit – look at Oakland charging for the playoffs yet again with a “no name” roster and what Gio Urshela has done in obscurity for the Yanks. So I’m not arguing that Toronto should go out and double their spending just to show off. That would accomplish nothing.

What I am saying though is this. Toronto needs to add pitching next year to compete, and perhaps could benefit from a steady reliable, 100 RBI veteran less prone to streakiness than 20 or 21 year olds. Don’t believe Ross Atkins if this winter comes and he tells you Toronto can’t afford a Gerritt Cole or a Marcell Ozuna. Let alone ink Justin Smoak to a contract extension or go after pitchers like Alex Wood. They can, and if they value their huge market, they will.

5 comments

  1. badfinger20

    It is true…there is no reason Toronto shouldn’t be able to get any free agent they want. That doesn’t mean to sign a Bryce Harper type money player…no one should do that…
    They are building a great core of players and they need to build around them soon and not wait forever.

    If they get some good pitching with a few more added to that offense…they are going to be very competitive. Now is the time to add. That city has proved it will support a winner…if they build it…they will come…to repeat a worn-out phrase.

    Alex Wood, by the way, is a good pitcher. I thought the Dodgers should have held on to him. He is a little injury prone but that funky delivery throws hitters off.

    Has the GM layout a plan? Did he say they are rebuilding and will spend in a few years? Their talent is rising and they will need some help to push it across.

    Russell Martin has really helped that young catcher…he has also pitched in 3 games and allowed no runs in 3 innings…it’s really funny but he has been effective.

    • Dave

      I saw a piece on Martin’s pitching not long back. Quite cool! I thought Toronto should’ve kept him around to play out his contract, even though it was high, and even if he was now just a PT player, for those reasons…. he could really help mentor rookie catchers (of which Toronto has 2 quite good ones) defensively and his versatility would have given a decent if not terribly good back-up first and third baseman…and apparently occaisonal relief pitcher!
      I think Alex wood should be a priority among free agents for them- fairly reliable, pretty good ground ball rate, not going to break the bank like a Cole or Verlander would. Looked at a couple of vids on his pitching, delivery is a wee bit unusual, not too far out of ordinary but I theorize that any pitcher with an “unusual” delivery will probably be slightly better than a normal pitcher with the same type pitches. Must throw the hitters micro-timing off or something I suspect.
      As for long-range, Atkins hasn’t said much other than how great it is to let kids play and develop. The club prez, Shapiro, said not long ago that they wouldneed to prioritorize starting pitching in the off-season and essentially contradicted Atkins saying among all the young arms they’ve used this year or are still in Buffalo, they maybe have 3 spots filled for next year . He also says team could compete sooner than people expect, which seems hopeful but unspecific.

  2. badfinger20

    It’s cool they have Russell back in his twilight years. He was a great young catcher…smart baseball-wise. He has played 2nd I think this year also along with 3rd base…he had a walk off hit the other day. He gives good at-bats at the very least. Funny thing is he might not be on the postseason roster since Will Smith has come.

    Wood’s delivery does help him …anything that throws hitters off little helps. The Braves tried changing his delivery but it didn’t work. They could probably get him for a decent price. He was a really good guy off the field also.

    Do the Jays have many top pitching prospects?

    • Dave

      yes… at times I forget that LA of course is where MArtin started his career and made a name for himself. Seems a long time ago now.
      Only really noteworthy pitching prospect for toronto who’s anywhere near the Majors is Nate Pearson, and he’s good. 23, a 6’6″ rightie with a 102 mph fastball. MLB rank him #13 overall among prospects and say “few pitching prospects in the minors match Pearson’s high ceiling.” He finished year at AAA, could be called up today but I doubt it since he’s over 100 innings on year andmissed almost all of 2018 with a broken arm. He has a good slider too apparently but control issues. Still, a 2.30 ERA and .176 opponents average this season thru the minors bodes well.
      Beyond that, the prospects are only medium at best (like Anthony Kay, the older of the pitchers received from Mets in Stroman trade) or young and only in A-ball so far.
      Looking forward to seeing your baseball blog soon BAdfinger!

      • badfinger20

        Martin got hurt back then and McCourt didn’t want to chance it and pay him so they released him like idiots.
        The guy sounds great to be able to pitch with that velocity and be a starter. He does have great numbers whenever he pitches by looking him up.
        I’m going to write a few posts I think and line them up for a head start.

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