“In all honesty, it would appear that the Blue Jays are the best fit for Cano if the Blue Jays are willing to make the commitment.”
That’s Ken Woolums of Beyond The Boxscore in a post from last night. The piece was tweeted at me by a reader (@jchristidis), and my initial reaction was to dismiss the possibility, because… well… obviously. Yeah, it’s a total pipe dream, but it’s one hell of a pipe dream, isn’t it?
Fills a positional need? Check. Hall-of-Fame-calibre bat? Check. Massive hit to the fucking Yankees? Check. Costs little in the way of prospects? Check. Somehow actually re-energizes the fan base after the violent head trauma that was 2013? Check, check, and check.
And what’s two- or three-hundred million dollars between friends like us fans, Rogers, and Robinson Cano?
I suppose I could also add, “Shows a slight bit more seriousness about winning than taking on Miami’s dumpings and trading outstanding prospects for an iffy ace?”
OK, maybe that’s too far. But still!
“The only thing standing in the way,” Woolums adds, “is the Blue Jays’ team philosophy of avoiding major long-term commitments. This can be avoided however if the Jays are willing to make an interesting offer. If the Jays were to bite the bullet on the AAV in Cano’s contract, they could offer a massive 5-year deal with an AAV trumping the AAV of any longer commitment offered to Cano. When it is considered that the Jays have a need at second base, this possibility actually opens up significantly.”
Of course it’s crazy, but crazy might be the new normal in the cash-flush Major Leagues of Baseball. Look, for example, at what the San Francisco Giants have done so far since their season ended, agreeing to pay Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum a combined $35.5-million for the next two years, with Pence’s deal running for three additional ones at $18-million per– based on average annual value, at least.
Does, say, $40-million per year for Cano sound so crazy in the context of a market like that? When Mark Buehrle is making $22-million? Well… again, of course it sounds crazy– it’s $40-million a year to play baseball– but, understanding where the market is, and where it’s going with each team now receiving an additional $26-million per year due to the league’s new national TV deals, what this book presupposes is, maybe it isn’t?
I don’t want to be too hopelessly naive about it, especially when it comes to thoughts that Rogers would ever even consider getting involved in a thing like that– let alone whatever remote possibility there is that Cano would actually come here if they did– but as I’ve mentioned with more frequency over the last few weeks, I also don’t want to be lulled by last winter’s expenditures into accepting that ownership has already done their part, and that Anthopoulos must now make due with the assets he has, as we all get set to watch MLB’s payroll structure explode everywhere else around us.
Already, in the wake of the Lincecum deal, observers like Ben Badler of Baseball America are slack-jawed in wonder over what an actual good pitcher– Masahiro Tanaka, for example– will command. Well… Rogers can go to any dollar figure for any player they want, and maybe they’re even willing to do so. All they need is the right business case.
We’ve been fooled by these sorts of daydreams before, but I can help but wonder if the timing now is better than when, back in January of 2012, I tried to come to grips with reality after the ships marked Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish had sailed. On Fielder’s nine-year, $214-million deal I wrote:
I’m certain that it won’t, but hopefully this puts an end to some of the hysteria about the Jays and Rogers and payroll, which by the end of the saga was largely being driven by the ultra-naive assumption that Fielder was there for the taking on the cheap. The notion was pretty remarkable; premised on the idea that a supposedly-cratering market for a player wasn’t a sign that maybe clubs had huge reservations about him, but that Rogers was simply dropping the ball and punting it into the nearest piss puddle– most likely to be found beneath the pant legs of the nearest wailing Jays fan.
This, of course, wasn’t the case. Scott Boras got a princely sum for his client (see what I just did there?), and my hope is that the enormous back-end cost (see what I just did there?) will calm the firestorm. And perhaps it already has.
Yet, something still sticks in my craw about all this, which is basically the central theme of the entire off-season: the fact that so many people seem keen to live by this delusion where they insist Rogers and the Jays and Alex Anthopoulos operate against their own interests in some kind of a fantasy world that gives fans instant, short-sighted gratification.
Rogers’ ownership of the Jays has always been, in large part, a means by which to provide cheap content to their media platforms. I’ve heard the argument made that they should, but they’re simply not going to look at the market prices being paid by regional cable networks in the United States for MLB broadcast rights and decide that they owe it to the Jays to provide them something equivalent. Avoiding these kinds of escalating, already astronomical costs was the exact basis for the acquisition of MLSE by Rogers and BCE– well, that and the seeming inability of sports franchises to go down in value, regardless of how poorly they’re managed. Yes, they could spend more on the club, and it’s frustrating at times that they won’t, but it’s foolish and futile to expect them to.
Precisely because of that futility, the vision Alex Anthopoulos has set forth– the one he was assuredly hired on the basis of– requires him to be a prudent manager of assets, and to build the club through an emphasis on the draft, scouting, and player development. He was present through the Ricciardi years, and certainly saw not the untenable bargain with cheap motherfucker Rogers so many fans want to cast the last GM’s relationship ownership as, but his predecessor hoisted on his own petard, reaching a point where he was unable to convince his bosses to continue spending good money after bad.
Now, Rogers’ cynical decision to close the purse strings, fire Ricciardi– eventually– and commence rethinking organizational strategy was clearly the best one for their bottom line and not necessarily the baseball club. But with a system lacking in high-end talent, a star player ready to jump ship, and a middling player being paid like a megastar, the decision made was palatable to both the fan base and the accounting department, gave Anthopoulos a clean slate, and as such is difficult to argue against. But don’t doubt that Rogers’ willingness to make it has been extremely instructive to Anthopoulos and Beeston.
Well… apparently the lessons of J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure were lost on Anthopoulos and Beeston, or maybe they simply had no choice. With a fan base clamoring for the club to do something to not waste the best years of Jose Bautista in the same way this organization had done with Roy Halladay, last winter they chose to follow Ricciardi’s path and hope that– especially with the scouting apparatus they had built– they’d find better results.
Unfortunately, the stage is set for this regime, a year from now, to follow a more dubious path of their predecessors’: starting to complain about not having enough money to compete.
Right now the club already has just $20-million less committed to 2015 than it does to 2014, but that doesn’t include $15.5-million it would take to exercise options on Brandon Morrow and Adam Lind, plus they’d have to replace or re-sign Colby Rasmus, Casey Janssen, and Melky Cabrera just to keep the roster as it is. Some internal replacements could be used to keep the cost down, and maybe Alex Anthopoulos can find a trade to pull this winter that will make everything by then OK, but realistically, without additional spending, the club looks pretty locked into the aging roster it currently has– or something close to it– for the next couple of years, and while there is a lot to like about a number of the pieces on it, I think we can all agree that this year showed us it’s not good enough.
Yes, it’s a large leap from that statement to demanding Rogers look at this winter’s most luxurious free agents, like Cano or Tanaka, but if the club waits a year, spreads its assets thin through trade, and doesn’t find legitimate, long-term solutions at their positions of need, how is next winter going to look? Are they going to be able to make the case that they should throw more money at it, and shouldn’t just blow the damn thing up? Maybe. But with Bautista, Encarnacion and Dickey then heading into their final years before team option limbo, Buehrle and Morrow heading into the last year of their deals, and Rasmus potentially being gone, there will be very reasonable temptation to look to the future and consider trying to get young talent back for the remaining guys before they lose all their value or start down the road towards walking for nothing. Especially if 2014 doesn’t bring the kind of success we hoped 2013 would bring.
In a warped way, as fans of the club who are in it for the long haul, that may even be ideal– the Jays give it another try with a similar roster, do as little damage to the prospect pipeline as possible, then start looking to 2016 and ’17 if things don’t work out. But it’s not very sellable, and it’s in that way that our interests and the interests of Anthopoulos and Beeston– who can’t let things get to that point if they want to keep their jobs– might be starting to diverge, and why we hear rumblings of desperate nonsense like trading Jose Bautista.
All Rogers has to do to make it better for both groups– not to mention for their own excitement- and victory-driven bottom line, in both the near and the far term– is to show a willingness to go even further this winter. Or, at the very least, to keep up as salaries most likely go absolutely crazy. I was wrong in my reflections on Fielder’s deal two years ago about Anthopoulos and Beeston being too smart to wind up down the same path as J.P. Ricciardi, but hopefully I can also have underestimated how the new CBA and the marketing success of this sort of a season would have changed the way Rogers views its ownership of the club.
I still don’t think Cano is actually remotely realistic, but, damn it, aim high. Spend. No time like the present– and nobody’s going to remember last year’s spending enough to still be giving you credit for it by the time next winter comes around.