With recent additions J.P. Howell and Joe Smith each getting a guaranteed 3 million, do the Blue Jays have any money left in the budget for free agency?
We’re a mere 2 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, with the Blue Jays set to report in Dunedin to get things underway. In addition to the returning players, the Blue Jays will welcome J.P. Howell, Joe Smith, and more to their camp for the first time, as well as free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Several others have been signed this offseason, and brought in to battle for a big league job on John Gibbons’ 25 man roster. Those names include the likes of Gavin Floyd, T.J. House, Brett Oberholtzer, and Rule 5 pick Glenn Sparkman. These arms join the crop lead by Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, Mike Bolsinger, Matt Dermody, and many more, who were already with the Blue Jays organization.
The rotation appears to be set in stone as long as everyone stays healthy, with the 4 stalwarts returning, and Francisco Liriano stepping into R.A. Dickey‘s turn. The bullpen likely has as many as 5 jobs locked down, including Howell, Smith, Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, and likely Joe Biagini, as long as he isn’t moved to the rotation depth in Triple A. That potentially leaves 2-3 jobs up for grabs, and the Blue Jays appear to have a capable enough group to choose from.
However, the Blue Jays have spent pretty wisely over the course of the offseason, and might have a couple bucks left in their wallet, if they choose to spend ’em. They dished out 18 million to Jose Bautista, 33 million over 3 years for Kendrys Morales, and 12.5 million for 2 years of Steve Pearce, so Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins haven’t exactly sat on that wallet completely either.
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That said, the club freed up a tremendous amount of payroll at the end of 2016 when the contracts of Bautista, Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, and Brett Cecil all came off the books. Of course, they’ve used a lot it to fill those roster holes, but the combination of Bautista/Morales/Pearce/Howell/Smith equates to 41.25 million (not factoring in buyout figures), which is a pretty low number in today’s, cash-infused MLB.
The salary freed up by the 2016 free agent departures? Just shy of 43 million.
I know what you’re thinking, “What about the additional revenue from increased attendance?!? Some of that’ll get spent on the payroll too, right?!?”
So far, the answer we’ve consistently received for the Blue Jays front office is, “when it makes sense”. The Blue Jays also have to consider the raises coming to the likes of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson, as well as arbitration cases like Marcus Stroman‘s.
To Shapiro and Atkins, spending a collective 6 million on Howell and Smith made a lot more sense than paying Brett Cecil 30.5 million over 4 years. As much as the Blue Jays will miss him, it’s difficult to argue with that logic. And whether you like how the whole Encarnacion/Bautista free agency played out (let’s not go there), getting Bautista for only one guaranteed year has to be considered a coup. These deals made sense to the front office.
As far as whether they’ll continue to spend, it’ll likely come down to the same question. While some Blue Jays fans are screaming for an upgrade in left field or more bullpen upgrades, right now the front office clearly doesn’t see the need as dire. When prices come down like they did for their recent bullpen upgrades, they’ve shown they’re willing to make moves, just not the flashy, headline-grabbers that fans crave.
For now, what likely makes sense for the front office is to see what they’ve got with their organizational depth, and continue to monitor the free agent pool. In 2015, we saw how a spring training injury could change things when Michael Saunders got hurt, so it never hurts to save a “fiver” for a rainy day, either.
Whether the Blue Jays added some starting pitching depth or bolster other areas, look for this front office to wait until the deal is favourable before acting. That might come in the form of a late addition in spring training, or maybe the Blue Jays make a move at the trade deadline.
With a club boasting 8 former All-Stars already, the heavy lifting should be done already. If “it makes sense”, don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays scoop up another bargain or two, whenever the opportunity presents itself.