With the Toronto Blue Jays still in the midst of a rebuild, and will be for the foreseeable future, the 2020 season may be one where the organization takes on some bad contracts in order to get ahead.
The Toronto Blue Jays will enter the 2020 regular season with a young squad and lots of financial flexibility. This can mostly attributed to the rebuild, which Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro are currently in the midst of navigating out of.
The purpose of the rebuild is to establish a solid, younger core that the Blue Jays can work with in order to push towards the postseason in next few years. The current squad consists mostly of homegrown, internally developed prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette sprinkled amongst a few veteran players like Randal Grichuk and Ken Giles.
It is obviously still early to determine the final outcome, but considering the 2019 season some of these prospects had in terms of development and statistics, the initial assessment is looking rather promising.
With that being said, there is always the potential to get better via trade or free agency, and the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in a financial situation a few teams wish they could be in. They currently don’t have a significant payroll cap hit this season, and do have the financial strength to add to the organization over the next few years.
With this increased flexibility comes a unique situation where the Blue Jays could accept some bad contracts in order to better themselves in the future. A rather weird and unusual situation, but let me explain.
When a player signs a long-term, expensive contract, there is no guarantee that the player will sustain their level of play over the course of that contract. A few good examples of bad contracts include players like Chris Davis with the Baltimore Orioles, and Jacoby Ellsbury on the New York Yankees. With the luxury tax a significant concern for high spending teams like the Yankees, as well as low market teams looking to shed salary to meet ownership concerns, this is where the Blue Jays could find themselves in a situation to benefit.
Since they possess the possibility to accept a few tens of millions worth of bad contracts over the next few rebuilding years, a player with one or two years left on a bad contract could find themselves making their way to Toronto, with some added incentives. You see, in order for teams to get rid of these bad contracts, opposing teams would need to sweeten the deal with a combination of young, talented prospects and/or international bonus money with the bad contract in order to get the desired player off of their roster.
Let’s look at a possible example.
Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t played major league baseball in over two years due to injury issues. Ellsbury is currently signed through the next two years with an approximate $21 million dollar per year contract over the next two years (with a $5 million dollar buyout for the 2021 season, as well as a full no trade clause). It should be worth nothing that money owed through baseball contracts are all guaranteed, so he will be owed what he is owed.
The New York Yankees are a high spending team, and in the 2020 season, they are already on the hook for approximately $201 million dollars in payroll alone. This puts them very close to the luxury tax threshold of $208 million, which is something the organization really wants to avoid, but is not afraid to do in order to win (awkward).
Now, this is where the Toronto Blue Jays come in.
They have the financial ability to acquire a player like Ellsbury (assuming the full no trade clause gets waived, which I won’t argue if he will or not, let’s just assume he will), who hasn’t played in two years, and is most likely near the end of his career. The Yankees and Blue Jays could foster a trade where Toronto would send the Yankees some low-tier prospect who won’t impact the MLB payroll or might be a full-time minor leaguer, while the Blue Jays would acquire Ellsbury plus a high ranking prospect(s).
The point of this transaction would be that while the Blue Jays would be receiving the terrible Ellsbury contract, New York would have to give up a potential top tier prospect(s) in order for the deal to happen. The Toronto Blue Jays management would hopefully not be ignorant enough to take the contract on without taking a top level prospect with significant years of MLB control, something Ross Atkins really finds attractive.
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While this would sting for the Yankees organization to lose young players, if they plan to go after free agents like Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg this off-season, they will need to shed some salary or risk going over the luxury tax threshold, something ownership hates doing because it ends up costing the organization quite a bit of coin.
In the end, the Blue Jays would have this bad contract(s) on the books for 1-2 years while the rebuild is still going on and Ellsbury can sit in the bench or the injured list during that time. This would allow the young players to still keep playing and allow the Blue Jays to develop the core they are looking for moving forward.
By the time his contract is over or the player is able to be bought out, the rebuild will be drawing nearer to an end (hopefully) and the money saved on not having bad contracts on the payroll anymore can be used on premium free agents or extending the prospects to longer term deals.
If executed properly, the Blue Jays front office can spend some money on some really terrible contracts and players, and still find themselves ahead with prospect capital. While I mentioned Jacoby Ellsbury in this article, he is not the only example nor player with a bad contract, and this tactic can be used on quite a few teams across the league.
If Atkins and co. are willing to take on these short-term bad contracts, they can potentially walk away with young prospect riches which will only benefit the overall goal of developing a playoff skilled team with controllable, young players.