The drought needs to end.

The Toronto Blue Jays have not made the postseason since winning the World Series in 1993, the longest dry spell in Major League Baseball. Though the Jays have made blockbuster trades aimed at ending the streak in recent years, including this offseason, they have not finished any better than third in the American League East in the last eight seasons.

This offseason has been one of the most impactful in franchise history. Toronto acquired MVP candidate Josh Donaldson in a trade and signed native son Russell Martin as a free agent. But the Jays are still one major piece away from ending the drought at 21 years.

James Shields is that piece.

The Blue Jays’ rotation was not good last season, ranking 11th out of 15 AL teams with a 3.96 ERA and 10th with a 3.93 FIP. And aside from their fifth spot, the rotation will be the same for 2015, with R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman, Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison all returning. Clearly, there is room to upgrade and a significant need for a No. 1 starter.

The problem is money. The Blue Jays have a reported $5-7 million remaining in their budget, and as of now, it seems to be earmarked for bullpen improvements.

Shields is going to cost considerably more than what the Jays currently have in their budget. That is even with rumblings from CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman that the five-year, $110 million offer he was reported to have on the table was a “mirage,” and that his price tag is likely going to end up being considerably less.

If his asking price does drop, it could put the Blue Jays in play, but it would also open the door for several other teams as well. Major league sources confirmed to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal earlier this month that the Jays do indeed have interest in Shields and have had internal discussions to determine a price the club would be comfortable spending.

All offseason, the payroll threshold for the Blue Jays has been set at around $137 million, and they are currently at around $130 million in commitments, according to information from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

In order to sign Shields, the contract would probably have to be backloaded, as is Martin’s deal. It will also require Toronto’s ownership group, Rogers Communications, to be willing to push their payroll into the $150 million territory.

There are definite obstacles in making this happen, but if it does, Shields will be the key piece in making the Blue Jays a 2015 postseason participant as he was for Kansas City’s World Series run last October.

As things stand now, the AL East seems to be the most wide-open division in baseball. Last season’s champions, the Baltimore Orioles, lost a ton of power in Nelson Cruz and a reliable bat in Nick Markakis and also do not have a true ace in their rotation. The New York Yankees are aging and prone to injuries, especially in their rotation. The Tampa Bay Rays lost their best player, Ben Zobrist, and the Boston Red Sox, despite big-time upgrades to their lineup, have real questions concerning their rotation.

Signing Shields would mean the Blue Jays have a durable No. 1 starter to head their rotation backed by one of the deepest lineups in the AL. That does not mean the Jays would be a lock to win the division, but Shields would give their chances a massive boost.

The market for Shields has taken a weird turn in the last month. Teams seem to have fleeting interest in him, and others have all but completely shut the door on signing him, including ones that have pitching needs like the San Diego Padres, Red Sox and Royals. One executive even thinks part of the problem is that Shields’ agent, Page Odle, has not marketed Shields like an ace, as The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported Sunday. 

Whatever the reason for Shields’ suddenly odd market, he is there to be had for the Blue Jays and at a price that has dropped significantly from the rumored $110 million. While it is easy to understand ownership’s apprehension at handing a 33-year-old pitcher upward of $80 million, the risk is still relatively small since Rosenthal reported the length of a Shields contract would likely be four years. That makes the pitcher a manageable investment.

The Blue Jays have already committed themselves to winning in 2015. The moves to acquire Donaldson and Martin prove that much. But they are still an incomplete team. They are missing a top-of-the-rotation arm, one that Shields possesses.

In order for the Toronto to legitimize its push to end the longest playoff drought in the majors, it needs to open the wallet and get its ace.

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent he previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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