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.
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.