Look, I know this time of year can be frustrating. The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit twelve games back in the AL East, it’s not even August yet, and in many ways they’re already playing out the stretch, because for the 18th year in a row, the team isn’t going to be making the playoffs.
As a fan of the Blue Jays and of baseball in Toronto and descriptive slang words that have long outlived their usefulness, it sucks.
But don’t confuse this year’s standings or the current Blue Jays roster with the organization. I know that several of our readers know this already and are just as tired of explaining the team’s strategy as they are of tolerating the team’s lack of meaningful games. However, critical baseball nerds have a tendency to insulate themselves. A quick look at our Twitter feeds proves our sheltered existence.
There seems to be a sentiment among Blue Jays fans, the type that might not be aware of weighted on base average and total average, that the team is in the position that they’re in because they’re not spending enough money. The reality of the situation is that the team is where they are in the standings because they didn’t spend their money properly in the past. And now, they’re correcting that mistake.
That’s not a slight against J.P. Ricciardi. The former top dog in Toronto earned his bad reputation as a general manager more for public relations blunders than an inability to spot talent. It seemed as though that the worst of his baseball sins came from going outside his area of strength and spending large amounts of money on multi-year deals. Unfortunately, he was trying to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at their own game instead of thinking outside the box, as the Tampa Bay Rays were and are able to do.
That was the past. And while the new edition of the Toronto Blue Jays under Alex Anthopoulos may not be making the flashy signings that cause a whole lot of fanfare, the organizaiton is spending money and setting themselves up to spend more.
Think back to Anthopoulos’ first major move as a general manager, when he traded Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies. The team threw in an extra $5 million to sweeten the pot for the Phillies and attain the quality prospects (Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Taylor) that they did. After that, they spent $4 million on Adeiny Hechevarria’s signing bonus and another $6 million as part of the terms of his contract.
Then in the 2010 first year player draft, the Blue Jays went above slot for twelve of their picks, paying more money than what Major League Baseball advises. Including bonuses of $2 million to Deck McGuire and $1.5 million to Dickie Thon Jr., Toronto spent more than $11.5 million in signing bonuses. After the draft, the Blue Jays continued their shopping spree with international free agents, spending a combined $3.5 million on Venezuelans Adonis Cardona and Gabriel Cenas.
This year, the Blue Jays made their presence known at the draft to such a degree that it caused Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein to remark that if Toronto was any more aggressive they’d punch someone in the face on their way to the podium to announce their next pick. Drafting seventeen high school players in the first fifteen rounds of the draft isn’t what penny pinching organizations do. And while we still await to hear the actual figures of the bonuses being given out, there are enough rumblings and rumours around baseball to know that the team wasn’t drafting high ceiling players not to pay them their asking prices.
And the spending on young players didn’t stop there. Almost immediately following the draft, the Blue Jays were again dipping into the international free agent market, signing Dominican shortstop Dawel Lugo to a $1.3 million contract. The Jays also landed the highly sought after Venezuelan right-hander Manuel Cordova for an undisclosed amount.
So far, we’ve looked only at player acquisitions, and haven’t even considered the contract extensions given to Ricky Romero, Yunel Escobar and of course Jose Bautista. In all three cases, the Blue Jays have made smart investments in core players, using money that they’re apparently not spending enough of.
When fans talk about the lack of money being spent, they’re not only not considering all of the investment that the organization is making in their future team, they’re not considering what options are available. Do we really want the Blue Jays to sign the same players as the Baltimore Orioles. Do fans want the team to be on the hook for another three years of Adam Dunn? How about Jayson Werth? Where are these miracle players that don’t end up costing the team more than the revenue that they bring in?
Let’s look ahead to the 2012 free agent list as it stands right now. Here are what I would consider to be the best players available via free agency following this season:
- Albert Pujols
- Prince Fielder
- Jose Reyes
- Carlos Beltran
- Mark Buehrle
- C.J. Wilson
While some of these players are more risky than others, there’s little doubt in my mind that there would be some value added to a team signing any of these six. However, is that benefit worth the cost of committing to pay a player an amount of money that they will eventually not be worth? Because that’s what it will take to sign a multi-year deal with any of those six players.
It’s easy to say that it’s not your money or that Rogers Communications, who owns the Blue Jays is one of the richest owners in the league anyway, but to do so is to ignore reality. It’s not our money, true, but there isn’t an infinite amount of money for spending on baseball players, not even for the Yankees.
Investing heavily in one player means that the organization can’t invest in others. Even the Toronto Blue Jays have an operating budget. And while we can certainly expect to see payroll rise in the near future, it’s not going to be to levels at which Rogers begins hemorrhagic money. They’re not a profitable corporation by accident.
There was a reason that Jose Bautista signed his $65 million extension after Vernon Wells was traded, and it’s not a coincidence that once you factor in the amount of money that the Blue Jays gave to the Angels plus Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli’s salaries, that the amount of savings in that deal were very close to the money it took to keep Bautista locked up.
That’s not penny pinching. That’s smart business that allows the team to take the same amount of money being spent on a bad player and reinvest it in a better player, all while opening the budget up to future acquisitions.
Not only would signing any one of those six potential free agents require a major financial commitment that would hinder future investment in players for any team in baseball, but even if you want to embrace that financial burden and go after them, you’re also competing against all the other teams in baseball that have made the same decision. It’s not like that baseball video game where the computer tells you the competing bid and you just raise yours until the signing is assured. There’s more to it than that.
People talk about potentially wasting the Bautista contract by not signing more players to play around him. Even if these magical players without financial risk existed, wouldn’t bringing them aboard this team only result in wasting all of the money being spent on the development of other, younger players, who end up being a better value add anyway.
This isn’t theory anymore. The Tampa Bay Rays have done this in the American League East and won the division and even gone to the World Series. Now, imagine a team that is as financially stable and as layered in prospects as Tampa Bay, but actually has the financial wherewithal to keep the elite players that would normally have to be sold or give up elsewhere. This is the course that the Toronto Blue Jays are on, and just because they’re not making the flashy signings that grab headlines and make non-baseball talking heads happy, doesn’t mean that this path is necessarily a cheaper one.
It costs money and will cost money. It’s merely money that’s being better spent.