Where’s the money, Anthopoulos?
So the trade deadline has passed — the non-waiver one, at least — and as expected the Jays were quiet. The Danny Valencia addition earlier in the week was a nice little one, to be sure, but nothing lined up for them.
Surveying the deals that other clubs were able to make it’s easy to see why.
For how much it was talked about, money doesn’t seem to have been the issue — or not the biggest one, at least. We’ll still have time to raise pitchforks about it when salary dumps start, and the Yankees getting Martin Prado (and the $3.67-million he’s owed this year, plus $22-million for the next two, plus a $1-million trade bonus) certainly is a move where the mythical financial resources Alex Anthopoulos always insists that he has — as he did again Thursday, speaking with reporters in a post-deadline conference call — may have come into play. But let’s maybe sit back and think about all this for a moment.
Let’s think about Prado and the money he’d add to what’s strongly presumed to be an already tight 2015 budget, which to this point hasn’t yet found room to accommodate a Melky Cabrera extension. Let’s think about potentially blowing the ability to resign Melky in order to take on the age-31 and 32 seasons of a right-handed 3B/LF whose last four seasons by wRC+ have looked like this: 89, 117, 104, 81. Let’s think about a guy whose best defensive position is already manned by Brett Lawrie, and a guy whose value is strongest against left-handed pitching, where the Jays are already quite strong with the much cheaper Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia.
Let’s think about the teams that really made big improvements — the Tigers and the A’s. Let’s think about how well-positioned they are to avoid the Wild Card play-in game, and burning their best available starter in it on the cusp of a divisional series, and what an advantage that might give them. The playoffs are bit of a crapshoot, yes, but only one of the eight teams to have played in the play-in game since the format was adopted two years ago has actually ended up moving on to a League Championship Series.
Let’s think about the kinds of players who did get moved today. Let’s think about Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in the John Lackey deal, or Yoenis Cespedes going the other way for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. Let’s think about the Mariners trading Nick Franklin from their surplus and the Tigers trading Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson from theirs (along with Willie Adames) in the David Price deal.
Let’s think of who the Jays could have offered that would have fit what those clubs were looking for: Boston getting big-hitting corner outfielders having down years (in MLB and with team control left), plus a back-end starter type; Tampa getting an infielder and a solid starter to help their big club right now, along with an 18-year-old shortstop who may now be the best player in their system. Could the Jays have weathered those kinds of hits to their big league roster the way that the Tigers and A’s and Cardinals can? Could they have even made the pieces fit given what other clubs were looking for?
I have a hard time believing it, so let’s think about some of the day’s other trades. Let’s think about the Orioles adding a very nice bullpen piece in Andrew Miller. Let’s think about Eduardo Rodriguez, who they gave up for him: a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher who has struggled a bit in Double-A, and didn’t make the mid-season Top 50 Prospects lists from Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, or Baseball America, but who was 43rd for Law in the pre-season, and in the top 65 then for both BA and BP. Let’s think about how the Jays have a 21-year-old lefty pitcher in Double-A who certainly would have beaten the Orioles’ offer. Would any of us have moved Dan Norris for 20-odd innings of a rental reliever? What about Sean Nolin? Would a high-80s-throwing lefty who’ll be 25 next opening day and who, albeit while struggling with injuries a bit, has walked nearly a batter every other inning this year in Triple-A (54.1 IP, 25 BB, 45 K) have even topped what the Red Sox got?
It’s not easy when the upper levels of your minor league system are thin and teams holding anything of value are looking less for lottery tickets and more for established young big leaguers with years of control left. The Jays have Brett Lawrie. They have Stroman and Sanchez and Hutchison. But what else? The assets they have that other teams value they really like themselves — they’re really relying on themselves — and as much as there are all kinds of external factors to impel the Jays into going for it hard, there are many reasons why it’s wholly understandable that they didn’t, as well. It’s the trade deadline, not the get something for nothing deadline.
Unless, of course, you’re the Yankees. And naturally this is where the picture of where the Jays are at becomes somewhat more upsetting. Buster Olney tweets to remind us that the “Yankees added Headley, McCarthy, Prado, Rogers and Drew and gave up one decent prospect in Pete O’Brien.” Those guys might all mostly be kinda shit, but that’s the rub. That’s where we run headlong into the shadowy evil whose hand lurks behind every single thing the club does — the behemoth corporation that fans get aghast at for acting like a behemoth corporation.
Granted, the Braves have corporate ownership and managed to pry open their wallets — without resorting to passing the hat around — to land Ervin Santana in the off-season, but for the most part that’s simply not how such owners operate. Shit, it’s not even how non-corporate owners tend to operate, either. Or even owners sitting on mountains of TV money. It’s not like the Dodgers did anything today, right? But that doesn’t make it not frustrating to see a company like Rogers backing a club in a massive market with massive TV dollars coming in via the massive reach of the parent company’s TV network — along with many millions from MLB itself — behaving like a small market team.
It’s the same old story, but this time with a twist: the Jays have a very healthy payroll — the tenth highest in baseball (and not only that, a recent Baseball America piece showed that the only team with a payroll as high or higher than the Jays’ over the last three seasons to have spent more on the draft is the St. Louis Cardinals).
As I’ve written before, one can understand where Rogers is coming from. It’s entirely possible they’ve given the front office a fair budget, and they don’t feel like they should have to make an exception and find more money for them. It surely takes a certain amount of tunnel vision to hold firm on a stance like that when it seems so clear to all of us there’s tangible benefit to be had — in TV ratings, in gate receipts, in potential playoff recepits and TV revenue — with just a small amount of additional investment relative to the current payroll. But that’s the way their world works. If we’re being honest, that’s the way most of our worlds work. Companies like Rogers don’t become what they are by being cavalier with assets any time some small branch of their many divisions wants a handout-after-a-handout because they’re so sure that this time they’re really going to be able to catch that dragon they’ve been chasing.
Now, “handout” may not be the correct term here. It’s not like the Blue Jays — or any MLB club — aren’t a tremendously valuable property deserving of a richer operating budget than we’ve seen them run for the majority of the years that Rogers has been in charge. Maybe even this year, too. Maybe they’ve been shortchanged every single year. Maybe all big league clubs are. It’s a sport that is awash with cash and it’s absurd that any of them ever cry poor. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about that, and nothing Alex Anthopoulos can do about that except to operate within the framework he’s allowed to operate within. He can try to make the case to extend that framework, and I suspect he could make a damn good case if anyone who mattered was willing to listen — and perhaps that’s exactly what happened in the year before Nadir Mohamed retired and Guy Laurence took over — but that’s really about it. And the case he needs to make is to people who don’t necessarily know or care about baseball — that’s what Beeston and Anthopoulos are employed to do — and who in all likelihood only see the bottom line, the economic arguments, and have zero impetus to confer special status on one little branch of the massive company.
It sucks for baseball fans, but it makes sense in their world. It sucks for fans who see massive outlays of cash on NHL rights or on the Rogers co-owned Toronto FC, but it makes sense in their world.
Now, if Anthopoulos was afraid to manipulate payroll over the winter out of fear that he wouldn’t have the authorization to add back in whatever he was able to shed, maybe having played it the way he’s done is actually quite shrewd. If he could have dumped salary to increase flexibility and chose not to, then what’s happening with the club probably falls on him, though there was probably a baseball case to be made for doing it that way too. However, if ownership changed the deal they had with the club in mid-stream, that’s… well… that’s their prerogative. It’s just a shitty one, and not — I wouldn’t think — a particularly honest one.
But we have no idea how it really is. Payroll is certainly going to be capped somewhere and I suspect we’d be having this same conversation whether the number was $73-million and seemingly going nowhere, or $200-million and seemingly going nowhere. You’d hope the company would be a little more responsive, yes, but all the vitriol about it seems to me akin to fans yelling and screaming and demanding a shitty player not be a shitty player.
He’s a shitty player!
You don’t ever have to be satisfied with it — you certainly can and quite possibly should want more — but a little understanding goes a long way, and the thing about being resigned to your fate is… well… it’s your fate. Rogers gonna Rogers. They’re going to Rogers harder, and longer, and better than any of us could possibly even fucking comprehend Rogers-ing. It’s important (at least in the context of this trivial millionaires-playing-baseball thing) to point this out — important to not be too docile about it — and important, I think, to strive to raise the conversation above the level of all the ignorant and petty bickering and venting if our goal is to actually have a dialogue that creates anything — any thought or idea or solution — that has a prayer of leading someone with a voice with either Rogers or the club to see a path towards a more positive outcome for everybody from this thing than what we’ve been getting… assuming, that is, we want to be naive enough to think that’s even possible.
It’s probably not possible, though, and we probably ought to have better things to expend our mental energy on anyway — which, actually… maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to raise the discourse in the first place: because a word like “discourse” has little place among folks who just want to sink into the couch after a long day of work, lose themselves in a couple of beers, and not be frustrated as fuck by the mini-drama playing out in front of them on their TV screen.
And so here we are, all of us trying in our own futile ways to will the world into being something that it isn’t.
I’d suggest that maybe we’d have been better off being born Yankees fans, but that can’t possibly be right, either. Meaning: if it weren’t this, it’d be something else. And that’s kind of what makes it fun, though, too. I mean, do you actually want to be a Yankees fan? Is that really what you’re so upset that you’re not when Rogers doesn’t spend money? Because, shit, just go and be a fucking Yankees fan, then. If you refuse, though, maybe think about accepting yourself for who you are: you’re a Blue Jays fan, and your owner sucks, and it’s never gonna make a lick of goddamn sense, but the ride is still gonna be a fuckin’ gas and every once in a while, often entirely in spite of ourselves, we’re going to have some moments of pure joy that make it all worthwhile. Not necessarily World Series moments like other teams get, but… well… fuck the bastards, they ain’t us either.
I mean, is it sad that we’re getting hyped for August baseball like it’s Haley’s goddamned Comet and watching a team made probably-too-largely of cast-offs who are comfortable enough to call out ownership and management for doing shit-all at a crucial trade deadline and using the excuse that they can’t deplete their minor league system further because they already did that when they added a bunch of players two years ago (which was totally super necessary because they were too cheap to actually go out and spend money on players in the first place and save the prospects)? Fuckin’ eh it’s sad! It’s the awesomely saddest!