Do the Blue Jays Have to Spend to Contend?
Money makes the world go round. And in a cap-free professional sport like Major League Baseball, at times it can seem like cash is thrown around like paper napkins.
That analogy rings true for teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, but that hasn’t always been the case with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last winter after years of penny-pinching, the Toronto Blue Jays blew the doors wide open and increased their payroll by approximately 53% in 2013. And after bumping things up by over half of what they spent year prior, it’s safe to say the front office expected much different results this year.
In total, the Blue Jays had 33 players under contract this past year at a total payroll just shy of $128 million dollars. And their 2014 payroll is already at $110 million; that doesn’t include any option years, and that doesn’t account for any arbitration raises.
And now that the Blue Jays have picked up Adam Lind, Casey Janssen and Mark DeRosa’s options, that puts the 2014 payroll at nearly $122 million dollars.
Factor in significant arbitration raises to Colby Rasmus, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers, and Brett Lawrie, as well as arbitration-eligible players like Steve Delabar, Luis Perez, Kyle Drabek and Aaron Loup, and the payroll could reach as high as $135 million dollars.
The Blue Jays will surely be dipping into the free agent pool this offseason; add in any free agent money whatsoever or any kind of high-priced acquisitions via trade, and that number creeps yet even higher.
So without even thinking about it, the Blue Jays total payroll for 2014 has already eclipsed $140 million. That’s certainly a lot of cash devoted to a roster without any significant improvements.
Here’s the million dollar question; how much money will it take to make the Blue Jays competitive again? Just how high will their payroll go?
Will it go up another $10 million? 20 million? Dare I say another $50 million? Tack on another $50 million dollars to the Blue Jays payroll, and that puts them in territory as one of the top payrolls in baseball next season.
Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston have already knocked down that proverbial $100 million dollar wall, so what’s another $50 million? It’s not like the money isn’t there, as both Alex and Paul have given the impression that they could go and ask Rogers for more money if necessary.
At this point, the Blue Jays really have no choice but to increase payroll if they want to stay competitive.
The instant the 11-player trade was finalized with the Miami Marlins last year, that effectively ended the penny-pinching ways of the Blue Jays. That was the watershed moment that opened their payroll wide open.
Does that mean throwing bad money after good money or vice versa? Probably. There really isn’t much in the way of prospects the Blue Jays can deal for upgrades, and the big league roster doesn’t provide much in the way of tradeable assets either.
The Blue Jays are also in a precarious position because when it comes to free agents because they’ll likely have to overpay in the way of dollars and/or length of contract.
This was on full display last offseason when they inked Maicer Izturis to a three-year deal, even though nobody was really banging down the door to sign him to a one year deal. The Blue Jays also gave Melky Cabrera that guaranteed second year when most teams were weary of offering anything beyond a one year contract.
Over at Baseball Digest, they crunched the numbers and discovered the Blue Jays approximate cost per win in 2013 was $1.588 million dollars. That ranks as the fourth highest in the American League and eighth highest in MLB.
So really the only way for the Blue Jays to be more cost effective when it comes to cost per win is to either win more games or significantly reduce payroll. And considering how far the Blue Jays have ventured down the rabbit hole, I don’t think the latter is a viable option.
With the position the Blue Jays franchise is currently in, I’m reminded of the spending spree of the 2005 offseason. J.P. Ricciardi went out and signed A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan to lucrative contracts, and acquired Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay.
Although some of those contracts were panned years after the fact, the first few years proved to be quite successful. They may not have made the playoffs under J.P. Ricciardi, but people often forget how great in particular the 2006 and 2008 Toronto Blue Jays really were.
The key this offseason isn’t how much the Blue Jays will need to spend, it’s who they’re going to spend the money on. The Blue Jays could easily pull a 2005 offseason and pluck a couple of the most sought-after free agents on the market.
It pains me to say this, but perhaps Alex Anthopoulos should look to the Boston Red Sox as the model for how to pull off a successful mini-rebuild. Boston inked seven free agents in the offseason, and most of them were fruitful signings by Ben Cherington.
The Red Sox may the exception to the rule here, but they proved that you don’t necessarily have to mortgage the future become a winner. They demonstrated that diving head-first into the free agent market isn’t always detrimental.
You could argue the Red Sox were actually in worse shape at season’s end last year than the Blue Jays were this year. And yet Boston brought in a few position players, a starting pitcher, a reliever and a couple of bench players … and now they’re in the World Series.
The Blue Jays shopping list is a little shorter; they need a pair of starting pitchers, a catcher and a second baseman … all which can be easily bought on the free agent market. All it takes is money, something which the Blue Jays have a great deal of at their disposal (despite how they may lead on otherwise).
The Toronto Blue Jays will need to spend to contend in 2014, even if that means overspending. So long as it results in a postseason berth, no one will question what the final price tag will be.
In retrospect, very rarely are teams criticized for trying to doing too much or being too active. On the other hand, teams are criticized for not doing enough.
Image courtesy of Toronto Sun