A lot was made of yesterday afternoon’s comments from Alex Anthopoulos in which the Toronto Blue Jays general manager mentioned the phrase “payroll parameters.” The calculated response from the always cautious and measured Toronto fan base went something like this:

Payroll parameters is code for budget. How dare a baseball team employ such measures. I’ve never heard of such things before.

I understand that both Anthopoulos and Team President Paul Beeston have hinted at a certain level of fluidity to the team’s spending, claiming that the money would be there when they wanted it to be there, but anyone thinking that there weren’t guidelines in place as far as spending goes, before or after the new collective bargaining agreement, were only fooling themselves.

Blue Jays fans became even more enraged at remarks Beeston made that suggest a slight alteration to their previous policy on spending.

We’re still capable of going to the $120 million payroll once we start drawing the people. The formula hasn’t changed.

Perhaps not, but that entire formula hadn’t really been fully revealed. What’s with that new qualifier? As much as we might question whether such statements had been left conveniently incomplete before, we really shouldn’t be surprised.

The Toronto Blue Jays are still Rogers Baseball Operations, and it’s simply not realistic to expect that the organization be run in a benevolent manner for its fans. Yes, the ownership has a lot of money, probably more than any other owner in Major League Baseball. And yes, the market that they play in is large, but until that market acts its size, it’s unreasonable for fans to expect a chicken before the egg has hatched.

A phrase like that is likely to inspire questions of which should come first under such a scenario. However, we’re no longer at the question period.

The team, as Stoeten over at DJF has pointed out, has already invested in eggs. They’ve bought a ton of eggs over the last two years, investing heavily in prospects by putting more money into trades, draft pick signings and international free agents.

The organization did this for a reason. They did it so that they wouldn’t have to buy a chicken that could end up being a turkey. I’ve written about this a few times, but the organization has been spending money and just because you may not be able to see it in their payroll, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there at all.

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 $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. Nor is once again spending $11 million in bonuses.

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, as well as Mexican pitcher Roberto Osuna, Venezuelan Jesus Tinoco and other international prospects that have all been highly touted by Baseball America.

This is why I can’t understand the complaining from fans that the Blue Jays haven’t done enough to improve. All they’ve done over the last two years is improve. And they’ve done it dramatically. However, instead of acknowledging a system that exercises financial prudence, fans are more likely to be heard bemoaning a lack of investment in free agents.

Do you really know what you’re getting in free agents?

There were ten free agent contracts handed out this past offseason that exceeded $30 million in total money. At the time, I believed that three of them were actually good or fair deals for the respective teams. Admittedly, I was pretty wrong about the $51 million given to Adam Dunn by the Chicago White Sox.

All of the contracts were for multiple years, but here’s how they’re looked at the end of the season via FanGraphs WAR, Baseball Reference WAR and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP.

  • Carl Crawford, BOS: 7 years for $142 million, 0.2 fWAR, 0.0 rWAR, 1.4 WARP.
  • Jayson Werth, WAS: 7 years for $126 million, 2.5 fWAR, 2.1 rWAR, 2.4 WARP.
  • Cliff Lee, PHI: 5 years for $120 million, 6.7 fWAR, 6.9 rWAR, 5.4 WARP.
  • Adrian Beltre, TEX: 4 years for $80 million, 5.7 fWAR, 5.2 rWAR, 5.5 WARP.
  • Adam Dunn, CHW: 4 years for $56 million, -2.9 fWAR, -2.7 rWAR, -2.6 WARP.
  • Derek Jeter, NYY: 3 years for $51 million, 2.3 fWAR, 0.7 rWAR, 1.8 WARP.
  • Victor Martinez, DET: 4 years for $50 million, 2.9 fWAR, 2.9 rWAR, 3.3 WARP.
  • Paul Konerko, CHW: 3 years for $37.5 million, 3.1 fWAR, 3.6 rWAR, 3.0 WARP.
  • Rafael Soriano, NYY: 3 years for $35 million, 0.3 fWAR, 0.7 rWAR, 0.2 WARP.
  • Jorge de la Rosa, COL: 3 years for $32 million, 1.4 fWAR, 1.6 rWAR, 0.9 WARP.

How many of those players would you like to be attached to for the next (at a minimum) two seasons? Lee and Beltre? For sure. Are you really expecting Konerko to improve at his age? Okay, maybe Crawford, hoping that he’ll bounce back. But for six more years?

Certainly some of these players will improve their numbers next year by progressing back to their true talent level, but all of them are past their expected peak performance, which brings up a scary possibility for at least seven of the nine teams that spent a collective $629.5 million on the top free agent signings last off season.

It’s easy to say that it’s not your money or, specifically, if you’re a Blue Jays fan, that its Rogers’ money and they make enough of it in their other ventures. And you’d be right. It isn’t your money. But nor is there an infinite amount of money available for any team to spend solely on baseball players, not even for the New York Yankees. Investing heavily in one player means that the organization can’t invest in others.

Everything that the Blue Jays have done since Alex Anthopoulos took over has suggested that they do indeed have a budget for payroll. And while we can certainly hope to see payroll rise in the future, it’s not going to be to levels at which Rogers begins hemorrhaging 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’s salaries, plus the amount of money spent on acquiring and paying Frank Francisco, that the amount of savings in those deals was 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.

The Tampa Bay Rays have done this in the American League East, won the division and even gone to a World Series. Now, the game has changed a little bit since then with the new collective bargaining agreement, but the Blue Jays have a very good head start.

So, what’s the benefit of going forward with free agent acquisitions right now when the operation of the team isn’t creating enough revenue to afford it? Like the Rays, the Blue Jays are attempting to build a winner on the field through their system, which, unlike the Rays, will in turn will increase revenue, thanks to a large market that supports winning baseball, to the point where the team can retain the talent that they built and invest in the right free agents and trades as they become available.

The Toronto Blue Jays are building a franchise that can be sustainable on its own regardless of how much its ownership makes through its other ventures. It’s building itself into a money making operation, which in turn will be good for the fans even if it might take a little bit more time than we want it to.

Is this strategy fool proof? Absolutely not. But it is a viable way of competing in a difficult division of baseball. And when you look at that list of free agents that were signed last year and consider the ones changing teams this year, it’s not as though there is a fool proof plan that exists.

Think of the Miami Marlins. Is that what you want your franchise to do? Before you answer though, consider the Jose Reyes contract. There’s a reason that deal is so back end loaded. They’re not thinking of the sustained success that comes from being a well built and viable business, like the Blue Jays are. They’re going for a one off cash grab and then cycle through misery. Frankly, I’ll take my chances with Toronto’s method over what the Marlins are doing in Miami these days.