The Jays’ payroll is projected to drop by about $50 million in 2019. What could (or should) the Jays do with all that cash?
Several writers have noted that, with the departure of players such as Josh Donaldson, J. A. Happ, Marco Estrada et al, the Jays’ 2019 payroll is expected to be in the $110 million range, or about $50 million less than 2018. What should the Jays do with all of that cash?
Option #1 – keep the cash
One option of course is for the Jays to pull a Derek Jeter and just keep the cash, hoping than fans will continue to show up to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki and the other young guns. This is certainly a possibility, but it may not be in the long-term interest of the organization. And whatever people may think of Rogers as an owner, they are smart enough business folk to recognize the long-term impact of short-term decisions.
Option #2 – Buy talent
The Pirates were looking to move Francisco Liriano at the 2016 trade deadline. They were not keen to eat cash. So instead, they traded Liriano to Toronto for Drew Hutchison, and added two prospects (Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez) to sweeten the deal. In essence, Toronto bought two prospects by assuming Liriano’s salary. A similar argument could be made about the 2012 trade in which the Jays acquired Josh Johnson by assuming the Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes contracts, even if they were both still useful at the time.
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Could the jays do something similar this year? As an example – Jordan Zimmerman has two years left on his Tigers contract, at a total of $50 million. His play has declined from his Nationals heyday, to the point where he is now a below-average #3 starter. Would the Tigers be willing to package a younger pitcher – like Michael Fulmer – in a deal where the Jays picked up Zimmerman’s full salary?
Option #3 – REALLY buy talent
A conventional free agent would not be a good fit for the Jays at this stage, as they will likely not be serious contenders until 2021. For a free agent to make sense, they would have to be young, star-level, and willing to sign for an extended period.
Can you say Manny Machado?
Manny is projected to command a contract in the 8/$300m range. Big money. But (a) he will only be 26 at the start of the 2019 season, (b) he wants to play shortstop (which would allow the Jays to move Bo Bichette to 2B), and (c) he is a BEAST. The Jays could afford him in 2019, and could do so even more easily in 2020 when the Martin and Morales contracts expire. Sure, it’s a long shot, but the organization has the resources.
Option #4 – invest in scouting
Remember when Alex Anthopoulos said that the reason the Jays dropped out of the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes was because “we didn’t have enough information“? The Jays have dramatically increased their scouting and development spending since then, but what if the Jays took some of this $50 million and used it to take their scouting to the next level? Spend more time at the B-level schools, looking for the next Julian Merryweather? Sending scouts to new areas – not just China, but also India and Africa? Perhaps establishing training academies in these areas?
Remember how, in the 80s and 90s, Epy Guerrero was the “king” of scouts in the Dominican Republic (which was only starting to establish itself as a hotbed of major league talent)? His reputation contributed to many signings. What if the Jays could find the Epy Guerrero of China – or of Australia – or of the Philippines, or of Iraq? It might be expensive, but $20 million buys a lot of scouting time … or a half-season of Manny Machado.
Option #5 – buy tech
There have been many technological advances in baseball over the last decade. Tools like Statcast are helping teams to better evaluate player performance, while Motus Sleeves and Zephry Bioharnesses allow better insights into the players themselves. In most of these cases, the technology in question has been licensed by MLB for use by all teams. But would it be possible for the Jays to identify and acquire tech for their exclusive use? And could such tech give them an edge, whether in identifying players with hidden potential or in developing players to maximize that potential?
The bottom line
The lower projected payroll in 2019 and 2020 presents the Jays with opportunities that might not be financially prudent in a higher-payroll year. Could (and should) the Jays take advantage?