Enough with the Five-Year Policy

Alex Anthopoulos

First it was the phrase “payroll parameters”; now the term “five-year policy” is the latest phrase in Alex Anthopoulos’ lexicon to have the Blue Jays fan base’s eyes rolling.

Yesterday, it was announced that the New York Yankees were the winners in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Frankly, the news wasn’t all that shocking; it would have been more surprising if Tanaka didn’t go to the Bronx.

While there was some faint hope the Blue Jays may be a dark horse candidate to sign Tanaka, most had come to grips that he would likely land with the Yankees or Dodgers.


But here’s where the plot thickens; a curious tweet from the National Post’s John Lott that changed everything:

Yepp, there’s that five-year policy rearing its ugly head once again. And that’s the worst part of it; not that the Blue Jays were necessarily outbid, but because one of their own club policies prevented them from negotiating any further. 

If the Toronto Blue Jays did in fact bid on Masahiro Tanaka, did they not think the five-year policy would be a sticking point? Did they really think they could cap their offer at five years and no other team would top it?

Making a play for Masahiro Tanaka with a five-year policy in place is like bidding one dollar in a silent auction. Sure, there’s a chance that item might go for a buck, but there’s a much likelier chance there are dozens of people who will bid much higher.

My main issue here isn’t the five-year policy itself; I respect that Alex Anthopoulos has managed to adhere to this policy after all these years. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete when the Yankees have the ability to surpass every other team in dollars and years offered.

No, the issue I have is the Blue Jays reportedly targeted Masahiro Tanaka, but didn’t do absolutely everything in their power to sign him. That’s the equivalent of lowballing Tanaka or just tabling an offer for the sake of tabling one.

If the Blue Jays weren’t serious about signing Masahiro Tanaka, then they really shouldn’t have bid on him at all.

If they weren’t willing to go beyond five years and violate their self-imposed club policy, and if they weren’t willing to shell out $150 million or more for the services of Masahiro Tanaka, then I don’t even know why they showed up to negotiate in the first place.

Dan Toman of GameReax had an interesting theory on the five-year policy, which the more I think about it, I’m definitely beginning to subscribe to; that the policy is just a facade to save face.


Think about it; when ever have you heard news about the five-year policy come up? In most instances, it’s whenever the Blue Jays missed out on signing a big name free agent (see Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, and now add Masahiro Tanaka to that list).

Maybe it’s not about the five year maximum for contracts after all, maybe it’s about the money. Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos does have a hard cap on what he can spend and Tanaka simply was out of the budget … but why doesn’t he just say that?

Using a five-year policy as a scapegoat is a much easier explanation to digest, rather than trying to explain why it seems like ownership with near limitless cash at their disposal won’t spend on elite free agents.

The five-year policy is suddenly becoming a crutch for Alex Anthopoulos. It’s an excuse that’s designed to deflect any criticism because it’s a number that’s seemingly set in stone. The policy is meant to limit spending, but it’s now become a roadblock in negotiations.

It’s not as though it’s a hard five-year policy, either. AA has noted there could be some wiggle room if the right comes along. And by bidding on Masahiro Tanaka, that effectively made him a candidate as one of those players who were the exception to the rule. 

I mean, there are loop holes around everything these days. And adhering to the five-year policy doesn’t win the Blue Jays some sort of award; all it does with potential big name free agents is make the Blue Jays look like they aren’t serious, regardless of the dollar figure they offer.


In the long run, the policy may be protecting the Blue Jays from repeating the Vernon Wells contract all over again, but at the same time it’s also preventing them from signing and big name free agents; especially free agent pitchers, which they need desperately.

Not to mention, how bad are the optics on this situation from an outsider’s perspective? How bad does it look to other teams, players and agents when they see that a self-imposed policy prevented the Blue Jays from improving their team?

By all indications, the Blue Jays could have matched the Yankees dollar-for-dollar on Masahiro Tanaka. But where they missed out was the duration of the contract; two more guaranteed years and a no-trade clause is what stood in the way of Tanaka coming to Toronto.

Another sticking point with the Blue Jays in the negotiations with Tanaka was apparently a no-trade clause as well. His deal with the Yankees also includes an opt-out clause after the fourth year.

Not surprisingly, Alex Anthopoulos has never allowed a no-trade clause in a contract, and hasn’t allowed for an opt-out clause either. Those two things may have also been huge stumbling blocks in negotiations with Masahiro Tanaka, because it gave the player a great deal of control, not the club.

So I implore Alex Anthopoulos to officially abolish the five-year policy … or at the very least, to stop using it as an excuse to not better this ball club.

Image courtesy of TSN

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

5 thoughts on “Enough with the Five-Year Policy

  • January 25, 2014 at 5:30 am

    to win, we need generous owners who will do it for the team the city not some cheap ass ones that they'll fuckin have statue of themselves showing off like they own the team for life!

  • January 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    I too have a five-year policy. If team doesn't win for five-years I don't buy their stuff.

  • January 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    The problem with the Jays is they don't have the money of the Dodgers, Angels, or Yankees (or the willingness to use it); they don't have the scouting departments of the Cards or Red Sox; don't have the smart of the Rays or the A's; and don't have the level of commitment that the Cubs or Astros have put their rebuilds. I think most of us felt that AA was decent enough in most of these categories but his moves since the Happ trade have really called his whole approach into question.

    For AA's first few years we were led to believe the Jays were accumulating prospect and young player capital that would one day lead to controllable, affordable talent on the big league roster – the Halladay, Lawrie, Morrow trades were all smart moves in this direction. But beginning with the Happ trade and then the Marlins and Mets trades abandoned that approach and acquired high payroll guys – going the way of the Angels, Dodgers and Yankees… well, going halfway there.

    Even last offseason, amidst all the positive buzz, some smart observers were saying the Jays seriously lacked rotation depth beyond Happ. And instead of signing a Scott Feldman type, AA signed a bunch of AAAA arms – Ortiz, Laffey, Wang et. al and hoped no one would get seriously hurt. We know how that went.

    The Jays are still torn between two approaches – they have a superstars on their roster but they're surrounded by scrubs and management is unable or unwilling to add the players (and wins) necessary to make the team a contender and justify the Happ/Marlins/Mets trades. Still, amazingly, they have a decent farm system which puts them in good shape for the future, IF, they don't squander it by trading more away.

    With just two free agent moves the Jays could (or could've) radically address(ed) their deficiencies, like signing a 2B (Infante or Ellis or even Stephen Drew who is still on the market) and signing a mid-rotation starter or better (Tanaka, Ubaldo, Santana) but every indication AA and the team gives is that they won't (or can't) address these needs. Perhaps it's just posturing and AA really is slow-playing the market but missing out on Infante and Ellis (to a lesser extent Tanaka), the chatter about Goins at 2B, and the 5 year babble makes fans rightfully nervous that the last 18 months or so have been a colossal waste of time, money and fan enthusiasm.

    • January 27, 2014 at 1:45 am

      Lots of good points here … I think the team (and organization to an extent) has somewhat of an identity crisis. Like you said, they stockpiled draft picks and prospects for years, only to last year abandon that strategy altogether and flip them for Major League players.

      That may have been the plan all along, but perhaps that Marlins trade was the window AA was looking for, and ever since then there's been no looking back.

  • January 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I'd like to know who created this "five-year policy". If it's just Anthopoulos, then you can keep using quotes around the phrase because he can change his mind at the drop of a hat if it suits him. If the policy came from further up the food chain then all he can do is try to get them to change it.


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