Blue Jays: A backwards, yet wise way to spend a budget
It might seem like backwards thinking, but it’s possible that the best way for Ross Atkins to spend money this winter was for the sake of subtraction.
When a franchise begins a rebuild as the Blue Jays have recently started, the general expectation is that the budget won’t be as high as it would be in seasons that the team is planning on contending. Part of that is tied to revenue generated around attendance, which is usually a direct reflection of the standings, so you can understand why teams might scale back when they know it’s going to be hard to draw fans to the ballpark.
One would assume that this same line of thinking will apply to the Blue Jays for the next season or two, however, so far this winter they have been spending money. It’s just that it’s been mostly used to remove ageing veterans from the roster.
On Friday the Blue Jays traded Russell Martin to the L.A. Dodgers for a couple of minor league prospects, and also sent 16.4 million along to make the deal work. Martin is owed 20 million in 2019 for the final year of his current deal, and the Blue Jays always knew they would have to send a significant chunk of money with him to get a deal done, which is exactly what they did. Earlier this offseason they also spent a pile of dough to remove Troy Tulowitzki from their 40 man roster and make him a free agent. Tulowitzki is also owed 20 million in 2019, with a 14 million dollar salary for 2020, and a four million dollar buyout for 2021, for a total of 38 million.
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That means the Blue Jays have allocated 54.4 million dollars so far this winter to subtract veterans from their roster. (If we’re being technical, in 2018 they’ll pay around 36 million, with the rest coming in 2019)
And you know what? I’m more than okay with it.
I’ve talked about why I wanted to see the Blue Jays move on from both players quite a bit, despite the fact that I respect them both. However, given the current state of the rebuild and the presence of young players like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, and Reese McGuire, it makes sense that the Blue Jays wanted to part ways with Tulo and Martin.
Beyond that though, I have to wonder how much money Rogers Communications is going to allow Ross Atkins to spend on free agents for the rest of this offseason, especially considering how much they’ve already spent on players who won’t be suiting up for them next year. It’s never been an endless money pit in Toronto, and one wouldn’t expect ownership’s wallets to be wide open when they know attendance is going to suffer quite a bit. You can bet that there isn’t an owner in professional sports that likes spending money on “dead contracts” either, which factors into a willingness to spend elsewhere.
If Atkins was told he had ‘X’ number of dollars to work with and he primarily chose to spend it on opening up playing time for the young stars on his roster, I think that’s the right way to spend his available cash. Again, I mean no disrespect to either veteran, especially Martin, but they are not going to be a part of the next generation of a successful Blue Jays team. Investing in guys like Gurriel Jr. and Jansen in 2019 is the fastest and best way to help this team get competitive again, and having Martin and Tulowitzki around would have only served as a distraction for the new manager, Charlie Montoyo. I’m not sure I buy into fielding an all-youth lineup, but for the Blue Jays in 2019, shortstop and catcher should be covered by the young talent they have in-house.
The reality is, the Blue Jays are probably going to have to wait until 2021 before they’re truly competitive again, and even if it happens sooner they can always add spare parts later. There’s a solid argument to be made that there really isn’t a player outside of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado that the Blue Jays could truly bank on to be worth the immediate investment now, with the priority on the future being the focus. To me it’s seemed very clear that Atkins and Mark Shapiro are pretty much only worried about the 2020 or 2021 roster, and finding long term pieces in free agency isn’t that easy. If they see the market the same way, it makes sense that they would use their money in the way they have so far.
I have no doubt that Atkins will continue shopping before Opening Day, but there’s a good chance he’ll mostly be looking in the bargain bin, and that could be a direct result of his choices with Tulowitzki and Martin. That money was going to be owed to the veterans either way though, so at least this way the proper playing time is opened up for the talent on the way, and the veterans get the respect they deserve and an opportunity to play somewhere else.
If you want to make the argument that this wealthy ownership group should spend more money regardless, I can completely understand that. In reality though, Atkins was likely given a figure he could work with, and chances are the bulk of it has been used to subtract Tulowitzki and Martin from the roster.
If that ends up being the way things work out, it’s a backwards way of thinking, but probably the right one at this stage of the rebuild.