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Boras blames Blue Jays brass for attendance drop

CARLSBAD, CALIF.—Famed agent Scott Boras criticized the Blue Jays at the MLB general managers’ meetings Wednesday, blaming the team’s roster construction for a significant dip in attendance this past season.

Boras told reporters in his annual media session that Toronto is suffering from “the Blue Flu,” resulting in empty seats.

There were a lot more empty seats this past season at the Rogers Centre, where total Blue Jays attendance was down by 878,605.
There were a lot more empty seats this past season at the Rogers Centre, where total Blue Jays attendance was down by 878,605.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star file photo)

“Toronto is a wonderful city. It’s been a great franchise. They’ve drawn three million fans,” Boras said. “They’ve lost near a third of their fan base due to the Blue Flu of not bringing attractive players that their fans find interesting to their market.”

The Blue Jays, who finished fourth in the American League East with a 73-89 record, had a total attendance of 2,325,281 in 2018, down 878,605 from the year before.

Boras, who represents three Blue Jays — right-hander Aaron Sanchez, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Billy McKinney — also took aim at the Miami Marlins. Miami drew an average crowd of 10,014 and saw total attendance drop by 771,910.

“The fans of Florida have certainly brought the MIA to Miami,” he said.

Boras has self interest in encouraging spending, wanting fewer clubs to jettison veterans in favour of youth and more handing out lucrative contracts — especially to his clients.

MLB’s average attendance dropped to 28,830 this year, its lowest since 2003 after 14 consecutive seasons topping 30,000, and six ballparks set record lows. Boras connected the drop to non-competitive clubs: There were three 100-loss teams for the second time since 1985 and the first since a record four in 2002. And there were eight 95-loss teams for the first time in big league history.

“The reality of it is, they’re losing their fan base and it costs millions and millions of dollars to rebuild the fan base,” he said.

In other baseball news Wednesday:

  • The season-end offer made by the Washington Nationals to free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, who turned it down, was worth $300 million U.S. over 10 seasons, according to the Washington Post. Harper is represented by Boras, who is seeking a record contract topping outfielder Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million deal through 2027 — reached with the Miami Marlins, who traded him to the New York Yankees last December. Boras sounded as if he had rehearsed his zingers like a stand-up comedian.

“Certainly Harper’s bazaar has begun,” Boras said. “It’s fashionable. It’s historical. It’s elite. It’s global, certainly. And certainly it has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair.”

  • The San Francisco Giants formally introduced Canadian Farhan Zaidi as president of baseball operations. Following four years as Dodgers general manager, Zaidi received a five-year contract and planned to focus on hiring a GM and farm director.
  • Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez will have surgery on his left shoulder, with the recovery time estimated at three months. Sanchez hit just .186 this past season.
  • The Mariners were finalizing a deal to send catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to the Rays for outfielder Mallex Smith — the 10th trade between the teams since Jerry DiPoto became M’s GM, the Seattle Times reported.

While GMs meet with each other and agents, the formal sessions deal with the mechanics of the sport, and commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff are concerned about the drop in offence and rise in strikeouts. The big-league batting average fell seven points to .248, its lowest since 1972 — the last season before the American League adopted the designated hitter.

Strikeouts set a record for the 11th straight year and topped hits for the first time in big league history.

“I think fans like the ball in play a little bit more,” Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “I embrace MLB’s efforts to think about how to steer the game towards the most compelling product for the fans. If that involves the ball in play more, then you find some subtle ways to influence that.”

Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler doesn’t think alterations are needed.

“I think we should embrace it. I don’t think we should fight it,” he said. “Why are people striking out more? Probably because pitchers are throwing about 31/2 miles an hour harder than they were seven years ago. People are getting better with their breaking ball. There’s more technology in the game. And you can really accurately decide where you want to throw a baseball and practice that for particular hitters.”

As many teams rotate the back end of their bullpens with their Triple-A teams to have more depth for each game, innings per starting pitcher dropped to 5.36 from 5.51 last year and 5.89 in 2012, and relievers per team per game rose to 3.4 from 3.2 last year and 3.0 in 2012. Tampa Bay started experimenting with a relief pitcher as an “opener” instead of a traditional starter, a move adopted by Oakland and Milwaukee even in the playoffs.

More discussion is likely when owners meet next week in Atlanta, and the players’ association appears open to at least consider changes — a stark change from their near-constant refusal in recent years. But first MLB must formulate what it wants to propose, a process likely to stretch through next month’s winter meetings in Las Vegas and possibly into January.

“We live in a time where we expect answers very quickly, and I think we have to remember that in baseball history there have been many different eras, many styles of baseball that have been played,” Philadelphia GM Matt Klentak said. “A dead-ball era occurs, and then teams begin to adjust their behaviour, and all of a sudden you hit more home runs. And then teams adjust, and speed and defence takes over the game more. And then teams try to exploit all the PITCHf/x data and the TrackMan data. The game will naturally ebb and flow. To some degree we need to have patience with the game and let it evolve naturally. It will.”

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