Blue Jays: Don’t be surprised or angry about a low payroll next year
With the Blue Jays embarking on a pending rebuild, their payroll is about to go down for a couple years. Fans shouldn’t be surprised or angry about this.
The Blue Jays have always been an interesting case when it comes to how they have handled their payroll over the years. While the last six seasons represent the highest numbers of the franchise’s short history, bigger spending hasn’t always been the way things operated in Toronto.
In 2018 the Blue Jays have ranked 11th in baseball in spending according to www.spotrac.com, sitting at a number of $150,890,477, which is good for 6th in the American League as well. While there will always be an argument for ownership to open their ridiculously deep pockets some more, 150 million is nothing to sneeze at. They also started the season with a payroll of over 164 million, which was 9th in baseball and 4th in the American League, so a lack of spending isn’t a reason for this season’s frustrations.
Those rankings are about to drastically change for the Blue Jays, which is a direct result of the young faces we’re seeing on the diamond these days. Gone are veterans like J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, Seunghwan Oh, Roberto Osuna, Curtis Granderson, Steve Pearce and more, and with them went their seven figure salaries, which is also why the number has lowered since Opening Day. The Jays figure to trim a little more of the fat from the payroll this offseason as well, as they’re set to lose guys like Marco Estrada (who made 13 million in 2018) in free agency, and might trade more veterans this winter as well to open up playing time for the next generation.
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The reality is, the payroll is going to drastically drop in 2019 and there is going to be a section of the Blue Jays’ fan base that will be furious to see it happen. There was a fear that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins would do just this when they were brought in to run things, and it’s almost assuredly going to happen. While I understand the frustrations to a certain degree, a rebuild isn’t a situation where the team can spend their way into building another winner, even if the team plays in a gigantic market with extremely wealthy ownership.
Richard Griffin over at the Toronto Star wrote a great piece about this yesterday and pointed out that the Blue Jays are projected for a payroll somewhere in the neighbourhood of 104 million next season. He cited recent quotes from Mark Shapiro who openly admitted that we’ll see the numbers go down, and for some fans it will be difficult to swallow the idea of ownership saving 50-60 million on their investment next year.
I’m sure the lack of fans in the stands recently will have an impact on ownership’s willingness to spend, but that shouldn’t really matter regardless, and it really doesn’t factor a lot into the current situation. What this team needs going forward is to give proper opportunity to their budding young stars, and if ownership was throwing money around to fill out the roster it would likely block that opportunity for some youngsters.
At some point early next season I believe we’ll see an infield that features Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (SS), Devon Travis (2B), and Justin Smoak (1B). I’m not suggesting this is going to happen, but let’s say that Ross Atkins finds a good trade return for both Travis and Smoak either this offseason, or before the trade deadline in 2019. Would you rather they bring in a veteran to fill their positions, or would you prefer to see Bo Bichette and Rowdy Tellez get an opportunity? Assuming you chose the latter, the Blue Jays would save another 10-12 million on their payroll. If they found a taker for Troy Tulowitzki at some point next year (yes, I’m aware they would have to eat a lot of money for that to happen), the payroll number could drop further.
In the outfield I’m guessing we’ll see some combination of Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, and Billy McKinney making most of the starts. There have been many fans and writers asking if Pillar will return in 2019, and if the front office did move there as well I don’t think that would end up with a spending increase either.
Pillar made 3.25 million in 2018 and will be due another raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility, likely landing him somewhere in the five million dollar range (i’m just speculating). If the Blue Jays decide that they want to go another direction in centre, they could shift Grichuk up the middle on a regular basis, or even give the opportunity to another prospect like Anthony Alford, or maybe more likely to Jonathan Davis or Roemon Fields. It’ll only save the team more money, and giving those young players the important opportunity will be beneficial to the rebuild. Spending money on a veteran outfielder doesn’t really make sense, unless it’s super-mentor like Curtis Granderson.
While I fully expect both Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin to play out the last year of their contracts with the Blue Jays in 2019, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one or both of them could find a new home. The duo is due a combined 32 million next year, and once again replacing them with anything but in-house options wouldn’t make any sense. The Blue Jays have Danny Jansen set to take the reigns, and Reese McGuire who is also likely MLB ready, with more young catching depth on the way. As far as DH at bats go in Morales case, they could spread that round to a lot of people, likely starting with Teoscar Hernandez.
The one area I could see Ross Atkins spending on would be the starting rotation, as the depth could be needed to get through a potentially difficult season. Aaron Sanchez struggled to stay healthy for the second year in a row, and Marcus Stroman has dealt with shoulder and blister issues of his own this year. They’ve got some nice young arms like Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, and more, but Blue Jays fans know all too well that they’ll need more than 5-6 starters to get through the season.
Add it all up, and it’s actually possible the payroll dips below the 100 million mark. The optics don’t look very good when a wealthy ownership group like Rogers holds back spending like that, but in this case it absolutely makes sense. Chances are the Blue Jays will be facing a pretty empty stadium on many nights as they rebuild as well, so fans can take solace in knowing that ownership isn’t getting rich by not spending.
It is, however, the right way to rebuild a winner, and hopefully that’s exactly what we’re on the cusp of in Toronto. The talented young pieces have either arrived, or are on the cusp of reaching the highest level, and there will be plenty of reasons to watch this team. Just don’t be surprised if the payroll is drastically lower than it’s been in many years. For a season or two, it actually makes a lot of sense this time.