At this point it’s old news that “super agent” Scott Boras doesn’t much care for the Toronto Blue Jays’ annual eschewing of the free agent market under horseshit pretenses, and we all know exactly why that’s the case. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still fun when he takes shots at the club, or that we shouldn’t take a moment to pause and reflect on why he’s absolutely right, even if it’s so obviously in his own financial interest to goad teams who normally wouldn’t into bidding up the prices of players, futile a pursuit as that may be. And that’s especially so when his interest in the matter was sparked by something we haven’t often talked about around here — the Rogers co-owned Maple Leafs signing seven-year deals in the last calendar year with both Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson.
From Bob Elliott’s piece in Monday morning’s edition of the Toronto Sun (which hopefully is several pages away from the stink of the racist shit that’s also in there, courtesy the same guy who curiously drew a Jays logo that looked an awful lot like it had a Nazi SS symbol in it back in August *COUGH*):
“First thing I thought was … great news for Toronto Blue Jays fans,” said Boras at AT&T to watch Game 5 of the 110th World Series.
“If they can give one of their hockey players a seven-year deal, why can’t they give a seven-deal deal to a baseball player?” asked Boras. “If they have the same ownership in both the hockey team and the ball club, shouldn’t it follow that the Jays should be using the free-agent market as a weapon in order to compete?
“Being in the free-agent market would allow them to fulfill their needs.”
Now, obviously the Phaneuf and Clarkson deals don’t make great cases on their own for signing long-term deals… because they’re hilarious. And obviously hockey is different — the salary cap makes it so. And obviously the Leafs are different. And obviously Rogers co-owned is different than Rogers owned. But unquestionably Boras is right.
It’s quite amazing, in fact, how lately we’ve felt that we have no choice but to have conversations about how best to trade assets to improve the team without damaging the organization’s thin veneer of depth, as though that’s the only possible way to make the on-field product better. It obviously isn’t, and spending money on the free agent market can often be doubly positive because creates depth from thin air. Had the Jays signed Ervin Santana last winter, for example, perhaps they’d have felt more comfortable trading a J.A. Happ, or one of their young arms, for a mid-season addition that could have propelled them more fully into the playoff race.
It’s not quite so simple as that, of course. Such a trade may have blown up in their faces, and with respect to getting free agents to come here in the first place, there is always the internal money issue, and the issue of getting free agents to play in Canada, on turf, in an extreme hitters’ park, and while looking up at the massive advantages held by the Yankees and Red Sox. The question we never seem to get to answer, of course, is just how real are those concerns? Santana had all but formally agreed to come here. Melky Cabrera came here, though with a bad case of ‘roids taint. And as Elliott’s piece notes, years ago A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan came here seeking the highest dollar amounts possible, and Vernon Wells stuck around, too — just like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and many others have in the years since (though the equation with them is quite a bit different, seeing as they were signed before they reached free agency).
And there’s something funny that we don’t think of often enough when it comes to those deals that went so badly wrong for this organization.
Burnett was here from 2006 to 2008. B.J. Ryan’s deal was on the books from 2006 to 2010. Vernon Wells signed his massive extension prior to 2007 (though it didn’t really kick in in a big way until 2010, and he was traded the off-season after).
And the Blue Jays’ payroll in those years? According to Cot’s it was $71.9-million (2006), $81.9-million (2007), $98-million (2008), $80.5-million (2009), $78.7-million (2010), and with Wells off the books, it went down to $70.6-million in 2011.
Obviously some of the differences between those payrolls and the $137.2-million the Jays spent this year have to do with where the team was at, and obviously there have been changes to the economic environment over that span — there’s the new national TV deal in the U.S., which pumps an additional $26-million per year into the coffers of each club, and the Canadian dollar isn’t currently as strong as it once was, for example — but even factoring for that, would spending even more than they were in all those years have been reckless? Would paying all of the $23-million owed to Wells in 2011, and not just the $5-million they sent to the Angels, have been a crippling blow? Would paying the $10.1-million that the Alex Rios contract averaged from 2008 to 2014 have been?
Were the consequences of any of those deals, or deals of that type, so great that they needed to be feared? That contracts needed to be dumped? Could the Jays not have been much better throughout that span if they had been even more willing to spend and less cynical about pocketing revenue sharing dollars?
We’re just taking a very quick and very dirty look only a part of a complicated financial picture here, without much accounting for on-field success, and that doesn’t actually prove anything, I know. But still, clearly the answer to all those questions is “certainly fucking not.” And while there are very real and understandable fears that ownership itself may at any point have imposed limits on payroll that made carrying bigger contracts a problem, the notion that they couldn’t very easily swallow the back end of a Robinson Cano-sized deal and be just fine for it is as much a fallacy as the idea that their refusal to go beyond five years on a deal has anything to do with why they don’t end up signing big ticket free agents.
They choose not to spend more. Boras is right.
I know we know this, but it doesn’t hurt to give ourselves a reminder every once in a while, or at the very least to let Mr. Super Agent do it for us. Especially when it’s within a week of learning that the club is asking us fans to spend more, and on a day when the similarly corporate-owned Atlanta Braves — who two years ago signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75-million deal, and less than a year ago extended Freddie Freeman for eight years and $135-million — may have outbid the Jays for their hitting coach.
Yes, the current payroll is healthy and mostly just poorly allocated, but it’s the refusal to budge on it — a necessary instrument given that missteps are always going to happen — that makes the task of improving the team so much more difficult. And the fact that they do it to themselves, and that we get asked to pay more — and often gladly do! — for the privilege of watching the results of this self-imposed impotence, is as sad as it is infuriating sometimes.
I dunno. I mostly just wanted to write the old-timey headline.
So… there’s that.