Shi Davidi posted a piece at Sportsnet on Wednesday night, in the afterglow of what was certainly the most unlikely of the nine straight wins of the Jays’ recent streak, that in many ways focused the cold, hard light of reality on the club’s current situation. Though ostensibly about Brandon Morrow’s recovery from a torn tendon sheath in his index finger, and the huge boost a healthy Morrow (who dealt with soreness in the area of the finger, we’re told, for three weeks before the injury occurred) could give this team, the piece also touched on the viability of Liam Hendriks — who, you may have noticed, needed every damn inch of the Rogers Centre to get away with his impressive two-run, three-hit, zero-walk, five-strikeout line yesterday — as well as the viability of any Jays plans to take on salary via the trade market, and even their draft budget.
That last bit was the really eye-popping one, buried as it was, as Davidi told us that, right now, “money is so tight the Blue Jays won’t even have their usual war chest for next week’s draft.” That is, of course, unless “the Blue Jays continue to play well, remain atop the American League East, attendance rises and the TV ratings spike further.”
The doubting ultra-cynic could maybe see a not-so-subtle message in there from the masters of the club, but it’s certainly just as easy to take it at face value, too. “Cheap-jack shit-fuck Rogers” is an easy narrative for a good reason. There’s something to it. As Shi puts it earlier in the piece, “if the money wasn’t there” when the club need players to make deferrals in order to sign Ervin Santana, “there’s no reason to think it will be there in July with the Blue Jays already at their 2014 budget of roughly $135 million.”
Except… isn’t there? Shouldn’t there be?
Would Rogers be so unresponsive to even the business case that surely could be made for turning a small payroll add into a better-assured ratings and attendance bonanza that ultimately means the initial investment easily pays for itself?
Looking at the way the club operated this winter one might be inclined to quickly say yes. But before we throw our hands up and resign ourselves to being governed by the pathological corporate hive mind of Rogers, let’s remember that a lot may have changed by the time of the trade deadline. The Jays will have a much better sense of their playoff chances — i.e. whether or not an investment would be a waste or not. They will have the advantage of needing a much smaller payroll commitment to add a piece then than they would have over the winter, with two-thirds of the season being in the books by the time of the July 31st trade deadline, and therefore two-thirds of the players’ salary off the books. And, as Davidi reminds us cynics, a strong showing in terms of ratings and attendance could absolutely still change things.
Yet here we’re being told that “general manager Alex Anthopoulos may be forced to seek trades that are revenue neutral – foisting Ricky Romero on someone for a prospect as part of a bigger deal might be one way to do it – in order to make a substantial addition.”
Weird, huh? Somewhat absurd, too (someone’s really taking Romero and enough of his salary to make such a move not entirely pointless?). But mostly weird. And even weirder still is this suggestion that the club may not even have their “usual war chest” for the draft.
Honestly, though, I’m not even sure what that means. They don’t exactly need a “war chest” for next week, because the deadline to get draft picks signed isn’t until mid-July– though, ideally, they’d want to have some idea of their upper spending limit, if it was going to be imposed artificially by ownership. More importantly, the war chest idea seems like a relic of the old collective bargaining agreement. There have been two drafts so far under the November 2011 CBA, and only once has any team in baseball been more than $600K either above or below their bonus pool allotment. In 2013, according to Baseball America, the Astros ended up spending $877K less than their league-high bonus pool of $11.7-million. That year the Jays, mostly because of their inability to use above-slot money earmarked for Phil Bickford, spent $424K less than their final pool allotment total that year. The year before the Jays spent $441K over.
In other words, teams of late don’t really seem to actually have a war chest, like in the old days. They have a ballpark figure that’s already budgeted for based on the pool allotment that has long been known. And the Jays’ failure to sign Bickford last summer makes it even harder to figure what their “usual” war chest even is. In 2012 they spent $9.2-million; in 2013 they spent $3.05-million.
Obviously that doesn’t mean that the club couldn’t try to pull off some weird outlier bullshit and ignore the bonus pools altogether, under-drafting like those teams who dumbly tied themselves to slot recommendations under the previous CBA, I guess. But… really? It’s a sad testament on Rogers’ stewardship of the Jays that we think it’s even possible the club might actually sink a whole draft (or at least a significant part of it… or any part of it, really). After all, it’s the once-a-year player-acquisition apparatus Alex Anthopoulos sold as being absolutely integral to the club, and much of the reason they invested so much in scouting infrastructure early in his tenure (and continue to do so). It’s simply bizarre to think that they could genuinely be less than serious on this because either no one at the head office gives enough of a shit about the club to be sympathetic (even to the best of business cases) about adding budget, or because the front office was unwilling to take a hit in terms of on-field talent in order to find more wiggle room under that “2014 budget of roughly $135 million” to avoid laughable, brand-damaging decimation of their future. But… do we really? Do we seriously think that’s an actual, possible outcome?
The fact that I wrote this same kind of “come on, guys, there’s no fucking way” shit at the start of this winter about the payroll in general, only to see it frozen solid in defiance of my highest hopes — at least until those deferral agreements from the players — plants a big ol’ seed of doubt underneath the scoffing at the impossibility of the club doing something completely fucked up and backwards that I’m doing here. I mean, Rogers could grandstand on this. They could say that they simply set the team’s budget and that it was the front office who didn’t do enough to clear room for the entirety of the bonus pool “war chest” to fit within it. Shit, the front office might even have a defensible position on that, given their job status, having chosen to spend on the win-now big league roster and deal with a less-than-ideally-robust draft budget later on.
In our worst fears taken from those little words our heads are sent spinning with thoughts of unprecedented, powerfully detrimental, utterly shameful cheapness. And again, it’s not like it isn’t easy to assume the worst about Rogers — though, to be fair, this year’s Jays’ payroll is higher than that of Arizona, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Colorado, Seattle, Kansas City, Chicago (AL), San Diego, the Mets, the Cubs, Minnesota, Oakland, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Miami, and Houston — and if the club really did such a thing they’d get all the vitriol from this corner that such an action would deserve. But… really??? We’re just going to go ahead and assume that this is a foregone conclusion and an unequivocal affront and start shaking with terror at the possibility, and the possibility that the team’s insistence on revenue-neutral trades will undermine their ability to actually add anything of value at the deadline (hence, perhaps, the building of the narrative that Morrow — and his sudden professed affinity for not trying to “do too much” — can be a real impact mid-summer add) and killing off what right now looks like it could turn into a really, really special season? Because we assume they’re totally just not posturing now, figuring there are better negotiating tactics than openly admitting they’re looking to spend like drunken sailors?
I sure as hell hope not. I mean, I get the underlying worry, for sure, but let’s maybe wait until we actually have some tangible evidence of what’s any of these things Davidi says may become issues before we go nuts, eh? Yes, I’ve been burned on this phrase before, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Until I do, there are far better things to dwell on. For example: DID YOU SEE THAT FUCKING GAME LAST NIGHT!??!!?!!
Screengrab via @DesaiDevang.