Where’s the money, Anthopoulos?
On Prime Time Sports last night, during the segment with Shi Davidi that I noted in last night’s GM Meetings After Dark post, Bob McCown says that he’s heard from a source that he thinks is credible *COUGH* Paul Beeston *COUGH* that the Jays’ payroll for the 2014 season will be $150-million, echoing a number that I’ve heard from David himself and a number of others as well– including Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun, whose report I commented on yesterday.
It’s an impressive number when you remember that the club’s payroll was just $83-million in 2012, and $70-million the year before. It’s not so much an impressive number, however, when you consider all the heavy lifting that Alex Anthopoulos is faced with this winter, and the fact that the club already has $120-million committed, plus more still to be accounted for: something on the order of $4- or $5-million for pre-arb players, and another $11.2-million in projected salary for arbitration eligible players Colby Rasmus, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil, and Esmil Rogers.
The “true” figure, then, is more like $135-million, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for Anthopoulos to operate on a free agent market that has already seen the agent for Ervin Santana announce that his client is looking for a $100-million contract, while it’s believed that Ricky Nolasco is looking for $80-million. Crazy numbers, but probably not very far off from reality.
So what the hell can Anthopoulos do, then? Is he essentially stuck already? Not necessarily.
Consider, for one, the fact that– as John Lott noted back in April in the National Post– around this time last winter the club’s payroll was set to jump to just $105-million, and they blew past it. That’s the figure Alex Anthopoulos had reportedly been given by Rogers, but when their move for Jake Peavy fell apart and the deal with the Florida Marlins materialized, the GM and his boss, Paul Beeston, were able to convince the higher-ups that the business case for doing the deal, and going $15-million higher than planned, made sense.
More realistically, though, the club will need to get creative in moving some money around. I mean, we’re hard on Rogers around here– and skeptical, I think for good reason, about how far they’re going to be willing to go before once again reining in spending– but we can’t expect a repeat of last winter’s massive payroll increase. Nor, frankly, can we fail to give them credit for what they then, getting ahead of the curve and bringing in a number of big contracts that they probably would have had a lot more competition for this winter, given all kinds of TV money now freely flowing throughout the game. (Then again, as I’ve written about before, with that money, plus the savings they’ve pocketed thanks to the new CBA in the draft– which will continue into next year, not just because of the new CBA, but possibly because of the draft picks the club will lose– as well as on the international free agent market, it can’t be forgotten that the increase isn’t quite as big as it maybe seems on the surface either.)
The Jays, then, aren’t in the best situation here, but it’s hardly impossible to navigate, especially considering some of the salary that can still be shed.
For starters, a part of last night’s Shi Davidi piece that I totally overlooked was the fact that, evidently, J.P. Arencibia “has drawn interest from other teams in trade talks despite a dismal 2013.” In addition to prompting an excellent tweet from Dan Szymborski, it suggests that there may be a way for the club to divest themselves of Arencibia, as well as the nearly $3-million he’ll earn next year. Apart from non-tendering him, of course, which I think is the other option. I wouldn’t try to suggest, if they actually found a taker, that they could get anything useful for their big league roster in exchange for him– a relief arm with actual options still left, perhaps?– but it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to get the money off the books.
There are other ways they could do that, as well:
- Ricky Romero is another “change of scenery” guy, and while it’s pretty damn fanciful to think that you’ll get much of it, any salary relief that the club could find by moving his contract would surely be more useful to them now than keeping him as an expensive lottery ticket stewing in Buffalo and several names down their starting pitching depth chart.
- J.A. Happ is on the books for $5.2-million, with a $6.7-million option for next season, and with the rate starting pitching is expected to go for this winter he actually could look like an intriguing back-end possibility for a number of clubs. The Jays can’t give away too much of their depth in that regard, and maybe I’m being a little too quick to write him off–especially given the way he pitched throughout last Spring Training, and the reason his 2013 was so badly derailed– but I very much want to believe that the club can do just as well with younger and cheaper arms in the same depth role, like Drabek, Hutchison, and Stroman. Even just moving Happ as part of a package in a revenue-neutral deal to pick up a low-end catcher or second baseman would be a terrific outcome for what may not be quite as terrible a contract as some once thought.
- With the emergence of Ryan Goins, the retaining of Mark DeRosa, the continued possibility of Munenori Kawasaki returning to the organization, and the fact that the club will probably have to add an even better second baseman than any of those three, it’s hard to see the need for a guy like Maicer Izturis. I know he was abysmal last year, but judging by the way his signing was greeted last winter, I think most clubs realize there’s at least a little more there there. And at two-years and $7-million, while far from great, the Jays may be able to save some money by finding a taker for him, too. Whaddaya say, Angels??? Romero, Happ and Izturis and all we ask for in return is… nothing, actually. Just as much salary relief as you can offer.
- Casey Janssen’s name has been thrown around a bunch, since he’s got “Closer” appeal and a damn stellar track record, but while the $4-million price tag for him is tidy, I’m just not sure how much the Jays would actually be able to get back in return for just a single year of his services. Consider the flooded relief market and, as I’ve said a number of times already this month, Steve Delabar– who won’t hit his first year of arbitration until 2015– really starts to look like the valuable piece at the back of the Jays bullpen. Dealing him doesn’t save much money, though, and if that’s AA’s first priority, maybe it’s Sergio Santos who gets dealty. Santos makes a shade under $4-million, is awesome, and has three option years (albeit increasingly expensive ones) after this one, so there’s appeal there, and savings. I could stomach it if I have to, I suppose.
- Less likely than those names, I’d wager, are Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and Mark Buehrle. Lind was ridiculously good against right-handed pitching last year and a replacement for him isn’t apparent in the organization, so despite the rumours about his still potentially being shopped (Really, Nick Cafardo? Because of his attitude?), they’d have to bring in a replacement who probably wouldn’t come as cheaply as he does, unless maybe they were genuinely inclined to move Melky Cabrera to DH and put Anthony Gose into the outfield, which I don’t see why they would be.
Or, if Rasmus and his $7-million-ish arbitration award were to be moved, the club could simply start Gose in centre. I’m wary of that, but I do think that, with his glove and baserunning alone, Gose can be a positive value player… just not as much of one as Rasmus in 2014. Plus, with the way the market is going, you have to think the Jays must feel pretty OK about going the qualifying offer route with Colby next winter, if they don’t at some point decide an extension is warranted (which… if they didn’t on Encarnacion until midway through his walk year, I don’t think they will on Rasmus, either). I’d think he stays.
And then Buehrle… maybe it’s that he was simply saying the right things, but the rumblings I’ve heard seem to indicate that he likes it here more than a lot of people want to assume, and that he’s not itching nearly as badly to get out of Toronto at this point as would have been expected a year ago if we had known then how the season was going to go. In other words, I don’t think the Jays will need to take a bath on his contract just to make him happy and move him along– which at one point seemed genuinely possible– though, if some team really valued him, or felt he was a better deal than one of the free agents out there (which, stunningly, is not nuts), the Jays could find themselves a lot of savings by moving him elsewhere. Problem is, if you do that, then what do you do with the giant, ridiculously consistent hole you just blew in your rotation? I don’t see it– not to facilitate signing a different pitcher.
- Lastly, I suppose Bautista or Reyes could also be moved to save some money– the former being more likely than the latter– but it remains hard for me to take any of that talk terribly seriously. That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen, but with the health concerns on Bautista, I just don’t think the return would be as staggering as a lot of people want to believe, which would make it pretty hard to justify. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t see the move-one-piece-to-fill-two-holes potential there, if you’re talking about really, true, quality upgrades in the rotation and at second or behind the plate.
Besides, like I say, I think they can give themselves quite a bit of payroll flexibility by moving some of the other names on the list here without have to go anywhere near considering that– nearly $3-million from Arencibia, maybe that much more on Happ, maybe a little on Romero and Izturis and a reliever. They could even swallow hard and non-tender Esmil Rogers and save almost a million bucks. I don’t know if they could necessarily get an extra $10-million to play with by doing any or all of that, but that might be in the right ballpark, depending how desperate teams might get for some of our cheap garbage, and how willing Alex would be to take on little more than salary relief in return.
So, trading Bautista for anything to do with flexibility or anything other than pure baseball reasons? I wouldn’t… but I probably wouldn’t move Santos either, so what do I know???