Remember flexibility? Remember how vital to his project Alex Anthopoulos thought roster and payroll flexibility were?
Well, now he’s kinda fucked.
Over at Cot’s, they have the Jays listed as committed to $110-million already for next year. That doesn’t include an arbitration raise for Colby Rasmus that will take him into the $7-million range, the $4-million option for Casey Janssen, or the $5-million difference between Adam Lind’s buyout and the cost of picking up his option, nor does it include smaller arbitration raises for guys like Esmil Rogers, Brett Cecil, and J.P. Arencibia (assuming you even bother tendering him a contract– which, if we’re being honest about this mess, they pretty much have to).
So, if you’re simply maintaining this fugly status quo, that’s another $16-million plus, taking the payroll well above the $119-million Cot’s lists as the club’s 2013 number. And that’s before you factor in a potential $14-million qualifying offer to Josh Johnson (which would certainly still have to be in the cards, if he’s capable of fixing his issues from the stretch in the season’s final two months).
Shi Davidi wrote about this for Sportsnet today. “Unless a significant payroll hike from the current $120 million or so is coming for next year, or they manage to move some money through trades now or in the fall,” he writes, “the Blue Jays could have very limited financial flexibility.”
Now, it’s reasonable to think that when Anthopoulos won ownership approval for the Miami Marlins blockbuster last November he also gained a tacit nod that the club’s payroll would be expanded in subsequent seasons to accommodate a pricey roster’s growth.
But given 2013′s underachievement and the potential implications upon 2014 sales, might that be scaled back? The link between revenues and payroll has certainly been underlined repeatedly by team president Paul Beeston in the past, and expecting a boost to $130 million may be too much to ask.
Obviously that last bit is just speculation, but coming from Rogers’ own main insider it certainly carries some weight.
So… where do they go from here? Maybe nowhere in the next couple of days, despite the opportunities presented by the trade deadline. And wherever it ends up being, it’s hard to envision it being easy to recapture the optimism of last winter as the club lurches forward into 2014.
That’s because the club appears to have spent themselves into a corner, and as Davidi suggests, may not be able to convince ownership to bail them out by throwing good money after bad– which is exactly the position that for years Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston weathered criticism to avoid being in, by not being stronger players for big ticket free agents like Prince Fielder (who, incidentally, currently is behind Colby Rasmus by .27 points of OPS in 2013).
The biggest payroll bloat, unless you count the unmovable $16-million owed Ricky Romero and Melky Cabrera, belongs to next year’s highest-paid Blue Jay, Mark Buehrle, who makes $19-million– aka the cost of doing business when you give up a boatload of prospects to nab Josh fucking Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio (plus, of course, the fantastic Jose Reyes, who, with $82-million owed him from 2014 through 2017, proooooobably shouldn’t have needed such a hefty opportunity cost, hindsight being what it is and all).
Arbitrary endpoint alert: over 14 starts since May 11th, Buehrle has posted a 3.36 ERA. He would certainly have value to a contender here as the trade deadline quickly approaches, but the contract is just so hefty that if the Jays were desperate enough for the salary relief to move it– and they might well be– they’re going to have a hell of a time getting anything of use for 2014. They might have to eat some money just to get another club to take it, and even more if they want to get a decent piece back, which, if the object is salary relief, will reach a point where the whole enterprise kinda stops making sense. Especially since, y’know, he’s been the club’s best starter.
An AL East rotation led by a 35-year-old Buehrle, decent as he’s been, is pretty thoroughly uninspiring, though– especially with rumours swirling that the Red Sox may add Cliff Lee. So much so that one wonders if Anthopoulos might have to swallow hard, trust his original instinct, and bank the 2014 season, and his job, on returns to form from Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson.
I know, I know, those of you fans whose frustrations have slipped across the line into pissing shitting negative insanity probably just choked on your own scorn, but there don’t appear a lot of other ways out of this mess– at least to those of us not privy to the high level trade talks going on this week– and the notion maybe really isn’t as bad as it seems. Provided, of course, Johnson can figure out whether he’s tipping his pitches, or whatever mechanical issue is preventing him from being remotely effective from the stretch.
Yes, it’s a giant if, and maybe the reason we haven’t heard about Buehrle getting scratched from his start tonight in Oakland, but there’s a reason Anthoupoulos believed enough in the player to make a deal. There’s a reason the price was so high– and so prohibitive a year ago this time. There’s a reason Johnson, without his old, dominant stuff, was still a 3-4 win player in 2012.
I’m not saying I’m banking on it, myself, but he’s hardly a write-off just yet. Nor is Morrow, whose ugly injury history isn’t quite as bad as fans want to think: In 2010 he missed getting to 200 innings because he was shut down early in an effort to protect his arm, as he transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation; in 2011 he didn’t debut until April 23rd, but pitched healthily for the rest of that season; and in 2012, of course, it wasn’t arm trouble but a strained oblique that sidelined him.
Those are big question marks to bank on, but if you believe Johnson can figure it out, the one-year $14-million qualifying offer they’d be on the line for with him is a whole lot more palatable than Buehrle’s two-year deal– especially with guys like Happ, Rogers, Drabek, Hutchison, Romero, Nolin, Stroman, and eventually even Sanchez, ready to step in and fill the other gaps in the rotation much better than the scrubs we saw this season.
Of course, if you don’t believe in Johnson, you could always try to use that money on one of this winter’s free agent pitchers, but in a weak-ish crop, not a lot of the plausible signees have the potential in their arm that Johnson does– they all come with question marks, not the least of which will be escalating prices on the market, not to mention that the better ones will have very valuable compensation draft picks hanging around their necks.
According to MLBTR, some intriguing names include: Roy Halladay, Jason Vargas, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Tim Lincecum, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Lewis, Tim Lincecum, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Bartolo Colon, Scott Baker, Bruce Chen, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo.
The big ones, even if you assume they’re coming here (which they almost certainly aren’t) might make your salary situation worse– especially if your payroll is expanding enough to keep Buehrle– and the loss of the draft pick and the pool money is probably a non-starter anyway. Garza and Nolasco, then, become attractive, but 1) good luck with that, and 2) it’s not like you can build such a crucial off-season around landing guys who can sign their own ticket. Not if you’re the Blue Jays, at least.
And the thing about the lesser names is, do they provide you more than Johnson? Than Buehrle? You might get better value for your dollar, and you might be able to use some extra money to strengthen some of the other holes on the club (hello, anybody but J.P. Arencibia behind the plate!), but are you a better team going back to the drawing board, trying to complement a shaky Brandon Morrow at the top of your rotation, with Dickey now looking more like a four (with, still, a lot of upside), and the young question marks in behind? Given how this season has gone, actually maybe! But given what the Jays gave up last winter, just to find themselves back at square one? That would be tough for even the most ego-less GM imaginable to swallow, and I’m not saying AA is that.
The Astros timeline lines up better than most with where the bulk of the Jays’ prospect pipeline lies– in the low minors– so maybe you think about overpaying in Lansing Lugnuts to go get Bud Norris– who also fits the Jays’ big league timeline. But fuck that hurts. The Cubs might be willing to listen if you want to break the bank for Jeff Samardzija, too– and that sounds like a pretty terrific idea to me, though the latest scuttlebutt, changing-by-the-minute as it is, has the Cubs not interested in dealing him– but the cost would be Dickey-like.
Managing to find a guy like that, though, sure would free up the club to divest themselves of whichever one of Johnson or Buehrle they were looking to keep. (They could divest themselves of those two anyway, but as frustrated as they are, that’d be a hard sell to fans who are expecting to contend for reals this time in 2014). And those are the sorts of resources that could certainly be put to use helping the club elsewhere, but making a deal like that happen– or waiting for free agency and finding precisely the right bargain– isn’t as easy as it sounds. And it would still mean hoping for the same basic things they’d be hoping on if the status quo was maintained: health from this year’s injury cases, improvements from this year’s disappointments, and one of the young starters really taking a step forward.
That would seem to be the boat they’re in, no matter how they arrange the deck chairs.
I’d say that it could be worse, but with the spectre of “payroll parameters” now likely baked back into every decision that’s going to be made between now and next spring, it’s not exactly an enviable position either. Hey, but at least a day from now we may know a little more about how the club intends to move forward out of this mess! So… y’know… there’s that.