Archive for the ‘Payroll Parameters’ Category

jayspuzzle

Earlier in the week we took an awfully conservative look at which Jays seem likely to be back in 2015, and who is likely to be gone. In the piece I had the starting catching position set with Navarro and Josh Thole still likely the backup. The rotation, I figured, will surely boast Stroman, Hutchison, and likey Buehrle, Dickey, and one of Norris, Sanchez, or Happ. Jose Bautista is in the outfield, probably along with Kevin Pillar (in some capacity), maybe one of Gose or Pompey, and a big question mark. Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, and John Mayberry look set at infield spots and/or DH, and Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar, and Todd Redmond seem likely enough to break camp in the bullpen.

Breaking it down, that’s one of the two catching spots covered, a full rotation plus some minor league depth, at least two of four outfield spots, every infield spot except for second base, four of seven relievers, and John Mayberry and Maicer Izturis off the bench.

The club, then, will a starting second- or third- baseman, a backup shortstop (which may well be Ryan Goins), another infielder (preferably one who can cover long stretches for Lawrie, if need be), ideally another starting outfielder (though the Jays could hold their noses and give centre and left to Pillar, Gose, and Pompey — though, at that point, why bother?), and three relievers (some of whom may surely already be in the organization, one of which may be McGowan, and another potentially in Sanchez, though I read somewhere that I disagree with that course of action).

I know, I know. That team won’t look all that different from the one they’ve been trying and failing to make work for the past two years. However, with the right two starting position players, and with the bullpen righting itself, and with some better-suited backups, it could all come together very nicely. But very obviously doing it that way won’t be easy. They’re not far off, but as the saying goes, getting the ten extra wins to go from 85 to 95 is a lot harder than getting the ten needed to go from 75 to 85. And as much as we want to believe Anthopoulos can still pull a rabbit out of his hat with Melky Cabrera, according to a recap of a Friday morning radio hit from Ben Nicholson-Smith at Sportsnet, the GM says the two camps have exchanged numbers, but “right now can’t seem to get together for various reasons.”

Presumably, those reasons have to do with different hopes on what the qualifying offer will do to the market for the player, which means that there’s still a chance Melky will fall back into their laps, but as the Orioles and J.J. Hardy showed this week, it’s not like it’s impossible to have figured out what the market for a player in that situation ought to be by now. So… I don’t think anyone ought to be terribly optimistic on this front.

Getting back to our scenario, the way I’ve set it up, the Jays will have Happ, Gose, Nolin, Tolleson, and Valencia to deal, along with some minor league pieces not mentioned here. That’s not much to operate with! It also really doesn’t help their infield or outfield depth. However, if you switch Dickey for Happ, or Norris for Nolin, now maybe you’re getting somewhere.

I have them picking up options on Adam Lind and Happ, while declining them on Morrow, McGowan, and Thole. That puts their payroll at $110.2-million before factoring in arbitration raises and adding guys on the league minimum.

Looking through the contract information at Cot’s, and entirely just guessing, I’ll say Cecil and Mayberry each go up to about $2.5-million. Thole likely stays on for about $1.5-million. And Lawrie, Delabar, and Hutchison (assuming he’s a Super Two — though he’s right on the line, ending the season with two years, 128 days of service) will each be looking at about $1-million. That roughly puts the team at $120-million, give or take, for fifteen guys.

Fill out the active roster with guys at the league minimum and you’re still over $125-million, which isn’t great when the budget doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the payroll for the current season was $137.2-million. Of course, Paul Beeston’s latest payroll claim is that “you know it’s going higher,” which… no. We totally don’t that know at all.

Things can be done, though. Moving Happ would clear his $6.7-million salary (though it would also add back some salary to the books, surely). Moving Mark Buehrle, getting a small but useful piece back, along with some salary relief, may be the completely obvious move here, even if the club really values his mere presence around their young pitchers.

Then again, it’s possible Anthopoulos always had a little wiggle room with the budget last year. I mean, surely the money to pay Ervin Santana wasn’t going to be accounted for entirely through deferrals, right? Meaning there may be more ceiling beyond the $137.2-million, assuming the budget for next year is even going to remain in the same place — a stupendously big assumption, I know.

Even if the assumption of a higher ceiling is false, deferrals may still be an option, too, and a reasonably palatable one, given that the club so far has only $27-million committed for 2016, $22-million on the books for the following year, and nothing beyond that. Thing is, ask the Madoffs about deferrals, re: Bobby Bonilla: it’s not smart business to punt those commitments down the road — and, naturally, kick in some extra for the players in order to get them to sign off. But for the short-term, and given how desperate those who run the Blue Jays will need to be this winter to make 2015 work, it seems like it might be a reasonable trade-off. The fact that they were willing to do it last year makes that all the more clear.

One deferral scheme, in particular, could be a very easy way to free a not-insignificant amount of payroll space: they could rework Ricky Romero’s contract to pay him a larger amount in total than the $7.5-million he’s owed for 2015, but to parcel it out over a longer time period. If he’d go for it, that is — and if the union, the league, and Rogers signed off as well. Pay him $2-million this year, free $5.5-million in payroll space, and then pay him, say, $1-million each of the next eight years? Sure, why not? And in that sort of world there are all kinds of creative things that the club should be able to do — reworking Mark Buehrle’s contract, come on down! — but I think we’re getting a bit fanciful here.

In Conclusion…

As if we didn’t already know, this entire exercise seems to be telling us that the Jays are in tough. Unless he can get the go-ahead to raise payroll and pay market prices for the sorts of pieces he so clearly needs, Alex Anthopoulos will have to walk a very fine line in order to improve his club over the winter. To meet the goals he needs to by way of the sort of conservative plan of attack I’ve mostly laid out here, he will need to pull a truly remarkable trick — turning nothing into something. It’s heartening to think how that trick has consistently been one of his best — moving Vernon Wells’ contract and getting Mike Napoli, trading peripheral pieces for Colby Rasmus and for J.A. Happ, even the Marlins deal could be cast in that light — and maybe that’s why he has been saying in his year-end comments that for the first time he’s truly excited about what’s is about to unfold. Maybe he gets off on the small sorts of “my doubles for your doubles” deals needed to complete his set.

But maybe it’s the other thing. Maybe he knows that this winter may be his one last kick at the can, and that he needs to be bold.

I’m sure he’s learned a lot of lessons from the successes and failures of his most recent forays into the bold, but I can’t help but feel uneasy about the possibility.

It’s exciting, and it will mean change — which sounds like a pretty good idea in the abstract — and there’s a part of me thinking, “Fuck it! Be dramatic! Do something!” and afraid of all these words of mine being much, much too cautious to possibly work, and that all the improvements one can wring out of the dreck at the bottom of this roster and enough payroll dollars to sign only the most lowly and desperate free agents simply and obviously won’t be enough. But there’s another part of me that remembers all too clearly the last time we all went down that road with this franchise, and… well… you know the story…

So… uh… what do you think? In, like, super, super general terms.

Image via.

beestonfence

When following the Blue Jays these days, it’s important to remember that Paul Beeston has a job to do. It’s also usually impossible to forget that he does, because boy, does he ever shamelessly hump that notion hard sometimes.

That isn’t to say that he isn’t good at the P.R. aspect of what he does, or not capable of pulling hope rabbits out of every hat, sleeve, and orifice. It’s just, one sometimes needs to pay some pretty careful attention in order to avoid actually paying attention to whatever the latest blather he’s bringing us is.

Does any of that make any sense?

Actually, it doesn’t matter, because neither did much of the aural application of lipstick to a pig we were treated to on this morning’s Jeff Blair Show on the Fan 590, on which Beeston appeared.

Ben Nicholson-Smith has an excellent roundup — with the full audio included — over at Sportsnet, but I suppose I ought to go through what was said in my own special way, eh?

Here are the highlights:

- Beeston hasn’t signed a new contract with Rogers. He admits he’s in the last year of his contract, but “I’m here for as long as Rogers wants me here,” he says. And at the point when they don’t, or he doesn’t want to be here, he expects they’ll work together on “some kind of organized phase out.”

- “I think that you can read into that,” he says of the idea that Anthopoulos and Gibbons will both be back. “I can say for a fact that Alex is back, unless, you know, he’s leaving,” he added, meaning leaving of his own volition.

- “We were trying to build something that was sustainable. We may have fast-started it by the 2013 moves, but nevertheless, when you start looking at what we did then, it was to give back to the fans.” Awwwww, bae.

- He doesn’t want to blame injuries, because everybody has injuries, but… um… about all those injuries we had! [Note: the Orioles say hi.]

- Blair pointed out that the TV ratings were quite strong this season, even though attendance at the Rogers Centre fell. But Beeston says the fact that it didn’t fall a whole lot is actually impressive, given all the advanced sales they had in 2013, the terrible season that turned out to be, and (with a little nudge from Blair on this one) the traffic mess Jays fans were faced with much of the year. Can’t actually disagree with them here.

- “It’s been escalating,” he says of payroll. “It went to 90, it went to 125, it went to 137. And you know it’s going higher next year,” he added emphatically, likely so as to drown out the laughs. Sounds great, though. I’ll believe it when I see it.

- Blah blah five year plan blah.

- “You’ll have to ask Alex that one,” he says when asked why Melky Cabrera wasn’t signed mid-season.

- The Jays are getting new turf for next season, and “we want grass for 2018,” he says. After some talk about the technological difficulties, Blair asked about the possibility of getting the All-Star game once the stadium playing surface isn’t dogshit, and Beeston said their plan, while not formalized yet, is to try to get it.

- Beeston calls new commissioner, Rob Manfred, an excellent choice, and points out that he was the one who hired him back when he was working for the commissioner’s office. The fact that he initially didn’t vote for Manfred at the recent papal conclave, he says, won’t carry any repercussions, as it was a “no win” situation, and he had to vote for someone, but felt both were great candidates. Beeston’s son works for Tom Werner, the losing candidate who Beeston initially voted for, so maybe this passes the smell test.

This was probably my favourite part of the whole affair, though:

Hmmmm. Yep.

So… there’s that.

jetercheque

Don’t worry, don’t worry. I have no intention of writing too much here about last night’s big story — Derek Jeter’s storybook walk-off single to win his final game at Yankee Stadium, and the subsequent Twittergasm from a baseball universe replete with a particularly virulent strain of Stockholm Syndrome. It was a cool way for a great career to end, and hard as it is to resist my better instincts (almost), nobody who got a warm fuzzy from it needs me wagging my finger about the absurdities of how we got to that point.

Instead, I’d like to write about a pair of articles that take the long view on Jays’ troubles, one of which, at least in one way, completely misses the mark, and another that speaks a little to those absurdities, but is mostly just bizarre for its existence.

We’ll start with the second one first, and take a look at Michael Grange’s latest from Sportsnet, where he attempts to answer the question, “Why can’t the Blue Jays have a Derek Jeter of their own?”

My answer — and, essentially, Grange’s? In short, they just can’t. Jeter is Jeter because of New York.

On one hand there is the media spotlight, which undeniably shines bigger and brighter there, especially where the city’s marquee franchises are concerned. His outsized myth has surely been perpetuated by of it — and because of his tremendously savvy negotiating of those tricky waters. But on the other there’s the fact that he landed with a franchise that’s not only deep into the myth-making business, but one that’s capable of keeping any player it wants for as long as it wants. A franchise that’s capable of surrounding him with great teammates, year in, year out.

Capable and willing.

People talk about Jeter’s championships and his having played every season on a team with a winning record a little too much as though those things were a function of him and not of the massive advantages of resources possessed by the organization that he happened to play for. He was undoubtedly a greatly contributing factor, but to become what he has become required the good fortune of landing where he did.

In New York, Carlos Delgado doesn’t stand head and shoulders for years above sub-par teammates on bad teams, only to find himself lowballed out the door by a front office tasked with cutting costs for a billionaire telecom giant owner cynically operating the club to squeeze out dollars and cheap content and equity to its shareholders’ greatest benefit.

In New York, Roy Halladay doesn’t grow tired of losing year after year as the fairly-paid face of a perpetually bereft franchise, forcing the hand — by making clear his intention not to extend his contract — of a front office living constantly on the margins and dying for an influx of minor league talent to a system bankrupted by years of trying in vain to succeed on the cheap long after their secrets had left the barn.

We’re still paying for the short-sighted choices that led to those mistakes, and we’re still seeing a franchise operated — albeit with different methods — in a grotesquely cynical way. We need only look to this season’s payroll quandary to see how unresponsive, tone deaf, and counterproductive ownership’s slavish pursuit of the quickest route to the best-looking short-term bottom line is, and to know how little has changed from the days of Rogers’ deepest “we make as much with a $70-million payroll as we would $120-million, so why risk investing?” cost-cutting.

The amazing thing is, Grange sees this and he says it. Though maybe not in so many words.

Twitterer Emily Dawn sums it up best“Why the Blue Jays can’t have anything good,” by The Company That Owns The Blue Jays and Won’t Give Them Any Money to Pay Good Players.

Pretty much. And while some will surely be quick to point to the fact that the Jays’ payroll is among the top ten in baseball (albeit not among the top two in their own division), that alone really isn’t enough to give them a pass on sitting on their hands this season with a team that was so close.

That isn’t, however, to give Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston a free pass, either. By the end, J.P. Ricciardi would have eaten his own babies (while at his home in Boston, of course) to have a top ten payroll, and here Anthopoulos has it and we get this??!?

It’s understandable that in the abstract some fans can look past ownership and point the finger at management, but the thing is, having a payroll that high for a brief one- or two-year bump isn’t really the same as being a high payroll team. The margins for error are much thinner.

Ricciardi was undone in many ways by the failures of his big ticket players, as Anthopoulos may inevitably be as well. That’s because the way Rogers does it leaves its GMs no room to paper over their inevitable missteps. Ask Derek Jeter how many horrifically bad contracts have been on his team’s books during the years he’s been there — how many mistakes that would be far more egregious than anything Ricciardi and Anthopoulos have done put together, were it not for the fact that in New York poorly allocated money isn’t reason for ownership to fold their arms and pout while secretly hoping for a new excuse to drastically scale back payroll. It’s reason to fix it by whatever means necessary.

That’s not the reality of our situation here — and that leads us precisely into the second article I wanted to look at, which comes from Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun.

Predictably, he’s much more overt than Grange in hammering away at the corporate facade. But in my view he goes too far.

“It’s been pretty convenient during all these years of missed playoff action for the Jays’ fan base to lay the blame on the organization’s failures on the feet of the manager and GM,” he writes. “And you have to figure that Rogers loves the fact that when things go south with their ball team, everyone automatically blames John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos. Nobody at Rogers is ever held accountable. And frankly, who do you even blame at Rogers? When it comes to the Jays, it’s a faceless entity. Who speaks for Rogers when it comes to the Jays? I guess it’s Paul Beeston, who keeps telling us that Rogers will kick in whatever money’s needed when the time is right.”

Interesting points, undoubtedly. Important ones. But ones that too badly miss some of the complexities of being a Blue Jays fan in a way that’s easier to make plain by looking at another, earlier paragraph, where he’s really got things hopelessly wrong.

Rogers continues to play the game that Toronto is some sort of small or medium market and therefore can’t spend the money that the Yanks and Red Sox — two teams that are constantly in the post-season — always do. And the amazing thing about that big con job is, Rogers has actually succeeded in brainwashing a large portion of the Jays fan base, who believe it’s important for this multi-billion dollar corporation to watch their nickels and dimes. If this was New York or Boston, fans would be howling if those teams didn’t go for at least one of Lester, Scherzer or Shields … and in a serious way, not just paying lip-service.

Fans aren’t “brainwashed” into believing “it’s important for this multi-billion dollar corporation to watch their nickels and dimes.” Fans understand that Rogers is going to act small market whether we like it or not, and as such, the team needs to be mindful of dollars. That’s the prism through which the moves are assessed by the armchair GMs out here — we all know that it’s ridiculous they operate this way, but a great many sports fans are smarter and more curious in 2014 than to limit the thought they put into how the teams they love operate to HURR DURR THEY SHOULDA SPEND MORE. That just scratches the surface of the problem, and repeatedly bleating that futile whine gets old real quick — except maybe for Toronto Sun readers.

And in what way would us fans be serious about our howling, and not just paying lip service? Would it be by not showing up? Not buying tickets at all? Not watching? Because plenty of fans and would-be interested parties do exactly that, and Rogers doesn’t really care — not as long as the equation balances when it comes to what they put in and what they get out of the club. Every once in a while they give payroll a bump, whip up some excitement, sign some advertising contracts, and then wait for equilibrium, letting yearly payrolls rise and fall as a function of how much they feel needs to be given in order to maintain it.

Yes, fans signed off on A.A.’s asset-accumulation phase, and many of us understood and defended the club’s refusals to get involved in the markets for big ticket free agents. But it was never about the idea that Rogers would be sunk by too many rich baseball players — which is, of course, preposterous — but that the Blue Jays would be sunk when ownership decided to turn off the financial taps (as essentially was the case in 2014). And that was understood because we’d seen them do it before, and because so many of us know from our dealings with Rogers as a cable company, a phone company, and an internet service provider that, when it comes right down to it, they do not give a fuck what we think.

That’s why we can’t have nice things.

tradeguys

Cathal Kelly has an interesting, uncomfortable piece in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail that looks back on what was supposed to be the Jays’ transformative trade with the Miami Marlins two years ago. It’s certainly worth a read, provided you’re ready for the uninspired shine he puts on comments from Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle about the future and being here in Baseball Siberia to begin with, and if you can get through without raising too high an eyebrow over the assuredness of comments like “Nobody’s talking in the clubhouse any more. There is no particular mood at all, good or bad. Everyone’s just trying to get to the end.”

There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff in there — valuable stuff — though at times it feels as if the whole of the piece isn’t maybe as great as the sum of its parts. Particularly, that’s because of one of the central tenets Kelly lays out as the wistfulness really kicks in and he approaches the end. “Who knows what they’ll be next year,” he writes, “but there are two options: very similar, and therefore doomed; or very different, and therefore having moved on.”

The absolutes sure do inject some delicious pathos into the club’s situation, and maybe I’m getting too hung up on the meaning of “similar” — a semantic question — but it really busts my balls that so many people make the assumption that 2015 will fail because 2014 failed and 2013 failed, as though they’re the same thing.

They’re not.

Why not? Well, most glaringly, all those starts made in early 2014 by Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and Liam Hendriks, and all the ones in 2013 from Morrow, Josh Johnson, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Chien-Ming Wang, and Ramon Ortiz ought to go to far more capable pitchers in 2015, inexperienced as they may be.

Yes, the team has major challenges ahead and in 2015 will need to replace the production that Melky Cabrera provided in 2014, and Colby Rasmus provided in 2013, just to get back to the level on the offensive side of the ball that has yet to be good enough, but to say that if the Jays are similar they’re doomed? Especially when considering the question through the prism of their core and The Trade? As tough pill as it is to ask a lot of fans to swallow, it’s genuinely not necessarily the case (though the usual that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be doomed either caveats apply).

Kelly continues:

It was a great idea, and well worth the risk.

It failed abysmally, as risks often do.

The only mistake would be using this transactional face-plant as an excuse not to try the same thing again.

A slight addendum: Perhaps the next time, we might first ask everyone involved if they’re keen on the idea.

He’s certainly not wrong that the Jays shouldn’t be afraid to make big, bold moves again, but did the trade fail abysmally? Did it matter whether anyone was keen on the idea?

Obviously the Jays have missed the playoffs in each of the two years since the deal happened, so ultimately it’s going to be judged as a failure by most. But the reality is more complicated than that. While Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio obviously did not, Buehrle and Reyes, whether they seem keen on being here or not, have more or less held up their end of the deal. In his two years here, Reyes has been worth five total wins by both FanGraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, while Buehrle has been worth closer to six. That’s not great, but it’s not far removed from any reasonable, conservative estimation of what those two would have provided. And it’s certainly not a reflection of some negative disposition, either.

No, it’s not what you expect of guys who next year will, together, take up $42-million of payroll. But what the sourpuss fans bitterly mumbling “not a $20-million player” sometimes forget is that in 2012 and ’13, Reyes wasn’t a $10-million player either. Nor was Buehrle a $7-million and $12-million player in those years (note: I’m including the $1-million per year of his deferred signing bonus in the total salary).

The deals were backloaded, and taking them on after letting Miami reap the benefits of their ultra-cheap first years was a necessary part of the transaction for the Jays. Neither player was going to come here as a free agent after 2012 — not Reyes, because of the turf, and not Buehrle, because of the pitching environment — so the Jays did what they had to in order to add their talent. Tying our evaluation of those players so directly to their current salary isn’t terribly fair. The Marlins, in fact, paid $8.5-million as part of the Buehrle portion of the deal (per Cot’s), meaning that, in terms of average annual value, the Jays are really paying him $14.1-million. (Reyes, in terms of AAV, doesn’t look nearly as rosy — factoring in a $4-million buyout of his $22-million option for 2018, which there’s no way in hell the Jays will pick up, and his average annual value as a member of the Jays is $19.2-million).

None of that changes the massive percentage of payroll that these two players have taken up, and are slated to take up in 2015 (and in Reyes’s case, beyond), and clearly it is a problem. But that’s kinda the rub. There’s a very well understood reason why that’s a problem, and to me it speaks to a far bigger failing of the 2014 Blue Jays and the moves the preceded this year, and a far more likely reason than keeping much of the same cast that the 2015 version of club may be doomed.

It is, of course, the failure of corporate support.

And now here’s where we can go through the same exercise we always do, listing the reasons why Rogers might have been justified in closing the purse strings, or trying to point fingers about how the situation was allowed to become what it was in 2014, etc. etc. But whatever explanations we come up with, it is an incontrovertible fact that giving Alex Anthopoulos the funds to add more talent, either last winter or at the trade deadline, could have a long, long way towards un-dooming the club. Just as additional funds this winter could well do the same.

In order to obtain the sort of financial flexibility Rogers seems unlikely to grant them, it’s more likely that the club will look to move one or both (though, realistically, probably just Buehrle) this winter. But they may not — they may not have to, or they may not find any takers, even if offering to eat a big chunk what’s owed Buehrle in his final year — and if they end up not having to, finding cheap solutions to their roster issues on the trade market, or actually being given access to the resources that can extract them from their back-of-the-roster mess, that’s the way in which we could absolutely see in 2015 a roster in many ways similar to the one fielded this season, yet not see a team that’s doomed to fail.

In a post Tuesday at Ghostrunner On First (which is obviously excellent), Drew hits on simple mantra for the not-so-simple task Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays will face in the coming winter months: be better. But the crux of what he’s saying surely isn’t that the Jays need to be better in the areas where their roster is already strong, it’s that they need to be better in the areas where glaring holes of a year ago weren’t addressed, and where foreseeable problems then (Brett Lawrie getting hurt, Colby Rasmus laying an egg and his backups being unsuitable for regular big league duty) and now (Melky Cabrera potentially leaving via free agency) still don’t have proper contingencies.

In other words, the root of the demise of the 2014 Jays isn’t so much a bold trade that fell in on itself, but:

Too many at bats given to players who simply cannot — or could not — hit. Look at this list. It is one of infamy. The names on this list represent more than 1000 plate appearances from guys unable to muster offensive production even [85]%* of league average. That’s a bad list to be on. There are seven names on it.

That’s not all that Drew says, of course, but to me this is key. Those seven players — Gose, Kawasaki, Valencia, Pillar, Kratz, Thole, and Goins — represent 20% of the total plate appearances the Jays have taken this season. That is indeed bad.

But he isn’t merely pointing the finger at those players. The simple fact of the matter is, he says, “the other teams were better. Better balanced or better in one dominant facet of the game.”

That is entirely true. And it’s also entirely true that Kelly’s statement that the 2015 Jays could be “very similar, and therefore doomed” if we’re talking about keeping the detritus of the kind singled out in Drew’s piece. But if we’re talking about the core of the roster? If we’re talking about guys involved in a trade being casually labelled an abysmal failure and a transactional face-plant? It’s not nearly so simple, and not nearly so definite.

Maybe Cathal is right in that Anthopoulos and Beeston bet too much of a too-easily-restricted payroll on the wrong guys, but there is still a lot of good here, and a lot that can be worked with — and a lot of questions that wouldn’t exist with better support from ownership. Let’s not overthink what the problem is.

 

* In the original GROF piece he used 80% of league average, but Kawasaki and Pillar crept up over the threshold over the last two days. Also, if you don’t limit the list to just guys over 50 PA there are even more, FYI.

Kansas City Royals v Toronto Blue Jays

You might not agree with the way that he got himself tossed in a crucial game Sunday against the Rays, or his continued insistence that it was an unjust ejection (though Shi Davidi of Sportsnet has a piece that sure makes it seem like he’s right). You may not have liked the way he essentially threw teammates at the bottom of the roster under the bus when he griped about the fact that the Blue Jays were unable to make any moves at the July 31st trade deadline, while teams around them in the race did what they could to make additions. Perhaps you think that all of this stuff — rather than an athlete daring to actually answer questions honestly and not through his P.R. training — should be kept behind closed doors — that Jose Bautista should just shut up and play.

But you can’t deny that the Jays slugger speaks for a lot of people when he vents his frustrations the way he has lately, and I suspect that we got a little closer to the nut of what this is all about in a quote from him today, as passed along by the Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin:

OK, so maybe the comment isn’t entirely devoid of the P.R. filter, but his non-denial denial about thinking this way really tells us all we need. And as conflicted as we might be about the fact that he’s saying it, the fact that Bautista is the club’s best player, most marketable player, and a player with a immensely team-friendly contract, means that he can engage in this kind of talk and not have to worry about the consequences. He’s too valuable to the club and the company, and he knows it.

Or maybe he’s simply at the point where he doesn’t care if saying such things brings down petty consequences from an ownership dumbly willing to cut off its nose to spite its face, but I suspect there’s a deeper frustration at work as he says the things that Alex Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston, and essentially no other member of the organization (save the much quieter Edwin Encarnacion) can say for themselves without fear of burning bridges. Some fans and media will get bent out of shape about Jose being a prima donna and regurgitate a bunch of hockey jargon about leadership and whatever else the can find to spin a narrative that paints him in the light they want to paint him in, but I love it. At least somebody is saying it.

Rogers, of course, isn’t the only problem with this organization or the only reason they were left paralysed at the trade deadline. We all know that in the past two years Alex Anthopoulos has traded away many of the better chips not found on his club’s big league roster — crucial pieces when it comes making deadline moves, unless a club is able to take on lots of money without concern about it hampering them in the future *COUGH* — but that really only just exacerbated a problem that goes back as far as J.P Ricciardi’s terrible drafting. Ricciardi’s failures left the Jays upper minors bereft of talent, and AA’s immediate switch to focus on far-away high school players with big upsides has yet to close the gap.

If the aim was to build a pipeline and take the extreme long view, that all made sense, but somewhere along the line Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion got great, Rogers agreed to put up a tonne of money, and the equation for Anthopoulos changed. But then, almost as quickly as it had begun, the money stopped flowing and the Jays found themselves in a position where they could neither fill in gaps with cash, nor could they trade a Nicolino because they still had a Syndergaard and Sanchez, and then trade a Syndergaard because they still had a Stroman and Hutchison.

The young talent that was wanted by other clubs was needed by this one, not only for this year, but — and this is where Rogers really comes into it — because they are under team control for so long, and so cheaply, and the front office seems rightly terrified of giving away such valuable pieces when it has been so clearly demonstrated to them that “Can we please have just a little bit more investment here, just to make entirely certain that the whole thing doesn’t go down the tubes?” is an unreasonable question to ask.

Anthopoulos appears to have been left to his own devices this season — he’s been given a budget, and the Ervin Santana mess suggests that the onus was on him to get creative if he wanted to add salary (i.e. increases to payroll were non-negotiable) and that’s certainly how he’s operated throughout the year. I’d suggest that the shift seems odd from a GM who spoke so often in his first few years about preserving his flexibility, but it doesn’t seem odd at all when you look who resides upstairs.

Maybe Anthopoulos went wide-eyed into the dramatic payroll increase of November and Decemeber 2012 and thought the deals in front of him were too good to pass up, even if it meant destroying what was left of his flexibility both monetarily and with respect to his ability to make trades (though the latter might be a stretch, given that with Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, and the then-hope for a bounceback from Ricky Romero, he may simply have been overconfident in his starting depth). But it isn’t outlandish at all to think the other thing: that Rogers tied the hands of its own organization in a cynical attempt to save as many pennies as could be saved once it became clear that the much ballyhooed roster Anthopoulos had bought for himself wasn’t working out.

That doesn’t sound like an organization dedicated to winning to me, but is that really the way that it is?

I don’t have enough information to answer that question. Neither does Jose. And so why the fuck shouldn’t he say it?

I’ve always been quick to roll my eyes at Jays fans who get so unabashedly steamed at the possibility that someone running a huge brand and television property operated by a major arm of a multi-billion-dollar company, with a payroll over $100-million, might not always be entirely truthful, or that figures who have so often demonstrated themselves to be, above all else, company men, might be massaging the message to spin things in a positive light for their employers, and for the viability of their product at the turnstile and as compelling content on the TV network owned by the parent company.

People want to hold Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and their ilk to a higher standard, I think, because what they represent is, to a lot of us, more than just a brand or a product or content. It’s not a soft drink or a car or something that can be distilled into some shallow pitch-line, it’s the passion that unites us — *Ehrm* — except… well… it really is a whole lot like those things when you get right down to it, and guys like Beeston and Anthopoulos really are just middle-managers, doing what’s right for the company and the bottom line when it comes to the P.R. aspects of their jobs.

We understand that. It’s OK.

Or, it is to me, at least.

The club is going to do what it’s going to do, regardless of what they say or what we think. The injured players are going to be healthy when they’re healthy. What we’re told about it, to me, matters not one iota, and those who get themselves all worked up about it are kinda hilarious. If it gives the club some any kind of competitive advantage, even better.

I’d even go as far as to say that’s all true except when that competitive advantage is gained in the form of budget increases procured by selling false hope to fans, but at this point that’s a losing proposition anyway, isn’t it?

Like, at this point does anybody even bother trying to believe Paul Beeston when he goes on the Fan 590, as he did this morning with Brady and Walker (audio here), and shovels us the same platitudes about the club’s finances?

I’ll set the record straight,” he tells us, “because we’ve never gone to Rogers for money and asked them for anything that we haven’t got. They’ve been very, very generous with us. They took our salaries up from $90-million to $125-million, then they’re up this year. They will be up next year, there’s no question about that. They’ve been very supportive. And so, when we lose, all of the sudden it’s because of finances — it’s because of money — and that’s really not fair to Rogers. That’s because of decisions we’ve made, or because of injuries, or because of the way we’ve played. It’s nothing to do with the financial part of it. And when we get into this, when I hear last week that we didn’t make decisions because we didn’t have the money and there was a hockey contract, it’s just flat out wrong. It’s patently false. We’ve got what we need to do, and if there wasn’t a trade that was made it was made because Alex and the baseball people didn’t think that they wanted to part with the players that they could get back for who they could get. It had nothing to do with finances.

Aren’t the words so transparent that they don’t even register? Don’t we all see through the well-worn line about Rogers never saying no when they’ve asked? Don’t we all fully understand that the reality is that they know enough not to ask?

Do we bother getting our hopes up when he says the big league payroll “will be up next year, there’s no question about that”? When earlier he said that Melky Cabrera is “a player you just want to have,” and that he and Colby Rasmus “are two players that are critical for the future”?

Would it matter?

We know how a team that has money would operate — we see it even with us in the standings in the form of the New York Yankees. A team with money to spare, as full of warts as a Martin Prado or a Chase Headley or a Brandon McCarthy might be, doesn’t let the team chasing them load up with potential upgrades that cost nothing in terms of the game’s most valuable commodity: talent. A team with money to spare doesn’t balk at a Prado out of fear of blowing their opportunity to re-sign Cabrera. There are plenty of legitimate baseball reasons to have not made stronger plays for those guys, but that’s not what a team making decisions that have “nothing to do with finances” does.

Does it matter whether Alex Anthopoulos is lying or not when he says, as he did this afternoon (as per a piece from John Lott of the National Post), that even though Adam Lind wasn’t scheduled to play a rehab game today for the GCL Jays because of tightness in his back — a wonky back that, according to Baseball Prospectus, kept him out 24 games in 2011, 29 in 2012, five in 2013, and 20 more earlier this season — the club’s decision-makers “don’t think it’s much of anything”?

Does it matter that it’s reasonable enough that he says they felt, “why even push it?” 

Does anything that we do or think change the timetable? Do these guys even bother to blush anymore when some of the things they’ve said in the past are thrown back at them? Or does the media understand so well how their hands are being tied from above that they don’t even bother to push it to hard — to grind them down and get to the truth?

Would it matter if, more often, they just said the truth we already know? Would it change anything?

I’m honestly asking!

johnsonhits

The Jays did what was expected of them and what they needed to do over the weekend, losing to Yu Darvish on Friday, but gaining ground on the first place Orioles with a pair of wins against Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch, winning their first series of the “second half,” and coming through a series for the first time in who-knows-how-long without the spectre of yet some other player landing on the DL.

There was another spectre that hung over the club this weekend, though, and it wasn’t an unfamiliar one.

Bob Elliott tweeted on Friday night that he’d heard from a source that the Jays had been telling other teams that they can’t take any money back in trade.

That itself would be bad enough — though we could at least try to convince ourselves it’s possible the report is wrong, or that the club is only just saying that as some sort of bargaining tactic — but then Alex Anthopoulos had to go and be coy with media about it, issuing a textbook non-denial denial when asked about the money.

Prior to yesterday’s win, Anthopoulos told reporters, like Scott MacArthur of TSN.ca, “We can add players. We have the ability to have that dialogue at any time. I don’t see any reason why we won’t be able to add players and obviously players make money. No one plays for free.”

Not exactly a comforting statement, given that they’ve obviously added a bunch of league-minimum guys so far this year, and that the real question is whether they can add a big ticket item.

Jeff Blair writes about this subject as well, in his latest for Sportsnet, suggesting the Jays will have flexibility next winter, but only because of expensive players like Brandon Morrow, Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Sergio Santos, J.A. Happ, Adam Lind, and Casey Janssen potentially coming off the books.

I don’t think they’re clever enough to have done so by design, but Rogers and the front office have certainly made it difficult to single one or the other out for blame in this mess. The payroll the Jays are running is very healthy — the 10th best in baseball — and the fact that it appears to be maxed out isn’t really Rogers’ problem, when you think about it. It’s the front office’s job to allocate the payroll dollars, and if ownership has given them a healthy budget, the problem — at least in their eyes and the eyes of those bizarrely sympathetic to them — lies with the front office. The reality is, if course, more complicated than that. One hopes that the front office didn’t max out it’s theoretical budget in the winter prior to 2013 with misguided assuredness that they would be so good on the field that future payroll concerns would be rendered moot. The coronation-like atmosphere that surrounded the club last season certainly doesn’t make one think that they mightn’t have been, though. And as I argued around here at the time of the Ervin Santana embarrassment, it’s not like executives who were part of J.P. Ricciardi’a front office should have been surprised when Rogers refused to keep pushing the spending maximum after their massive outlay of cash yielded so little return on investment.

So, it’s not all cheap Rogers, and it’s not all dumb Anthopoulos, it’s just more embarrassment for an organization that often seems to have a little too comfortable a relationship with embarrassment.

I mean, for fuck sakes, the team is so well positioned for the first time in so long, and this is what we seriously fucking get? Fans left to bicker over which tier of this organization is more short-sighted and inept?

It’s maddening as fuck that Rogers doesn’t see the value in pushing payroll just a few percentage points higher — figuring, then, that the abject failure of their handpicked baseball men is a better option than budging an inch on the budget for a branch of the company that provides such tremendous cheap content to their many TV networks and other other platforms, and that could be a strong, positive pillar of their brand — and also that the front office can’t or won’t convince them otherwise. It makes one understand, just a little bit, the chorus of fucks screaming, “DO SOMETHING, ASSHOLES!!”

I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple, though, either. The club was able to get players to sign off on deferrals this spring in order to free enough 2014 payroll to bring in Ervin Santana, and while it’s as least as much of a cruel fucking sad joke as that scheme (not to mention possibly more difficult to pull off in-season), one would think that option might still be out there. Or… like I said, maybe the original report is simply untrue.

The whole, sorry history of this ownership makes it seem entirely plausible, though, but for the moment we just don’t really know what to believe — and we probably won’t know for six more weeks, until after August’s deadline for trades involving players who have passed through waivers.

What almost especially sucks — “almost” because it all does indeed fucking suck — is that this is the conversation we’re having on a weekend where the Jays gave us signs that they may actually be able to snap out the funk they’ve been in. They scored runs, they looked like the break served its purpose, the schedule ahead is favourable, and they got word that some of their injured players are making better progress than expected. The ultra-cynical can be forgiven for thinking it’s just another serving of false hope, but Edwin Encarnacion is swinging off a tee, Adam Lind is out of his walking boot and swinging off a tee, and Brett Lawrie is out of his splint and taking ground balls, with swinging and gripping a bat his next step.

And frankly, as eye-rollingly frustrating as it would be to once again have the club try to use the fucking “hey, getting those guys back is as good as making a trade” line, at this point I can live with that. Just hold on for another couple weeks, for fuck sakes, and I can live with that.