Blue Jays: Current payroll analysis- Room to add more?

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 23: David Price #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts in the third inning while taking on the Kansas City Royals in game six of the 2015 MLB American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 23, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 23: David Price #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts in the third inning while taking on the Kansas City Royals in game six of the 2015 MLB American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 23, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

With the recent additions of free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi, and Travis Shaw, the Blue Jays have added almost $40 million in annual payroll for 2020. Do they still have additional payroll flexibility to take on part of a bad contract or trade for defensive upgrades at 1B/CF?

First off, let me wish our readers and contributors and your families all a very happy holiday season and best wishes for what promises to be a better year ahead for Jays fans!

Christmas came early for Blue Jays fans with the signing of lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu to be the ace we’ve all wanted. In just a few short weeks since the Winter Meetings, the level of optimism around this young team has risen dramatically.

Some pundits are calling this our Jon Lester moment, comparing the Ryu signing to when the Chicago Cubs announced they’d signed premium free agent lefty ace Jon Lester in December 2014 and suggesting they had enough faith in their up-and-coming young team to supplement them with veteran stars.

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Now all of the other front office moves look better as well, because absent a top of the rotation ace, they would have just been filler. Potential trades for former Gold Glove CF Ender Inciarte and maybe former gold glove candidate Wil Myers for 1B/OF optionality would upgrade the defense behind Ryu and the other new acquisitions. But team president Mark Shapiro and General Manager Ross Atkins stepped up like they said they would. That’s progress!

By the end of the four-year Ryu contract, hopefully, two or three of our top pitching prospects from Nate Pearson, Alek Manoah, Adam Kloffenstein, Simeon Woods Richardson, Eric Pardinho and Kendall Williams are established Blue Jays starters!

An analysis of the current payroll and 40-man roster suggests there is still room for the Blue Jays to add more pieces to complete this “aggressive” offseason, with players who can upgrade the roster and make an impact in 2020 and beyond as the competitive window opens.

According to Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star:

"The Jays’ payroll for next year currently is projected to come in slightly under $100 million. They have remained vague on specifics about how much they have to spend this winter, but the belief is the club still has some resources to work with, and if a potential deal moves the needle, there’s a chance another surprise move or two could be in store."

Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun says sources around baseball suggest GM Ross Atkins and the Toronto front office are still in aggressive shopping mode:

"Among the most often mentioned potential targets are a pair of popular former Jays: Free agent designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and current Red Sox starter David Price… For Price to return via trade, the Red Sox would likely have to eat up a large portion of the US$96 million over three years remaining on [his] contract with the Sox."

After accounting for the additions of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi, Travis Shaw, Chase Anderson, and Anthony Bass, Roster Resource puts the Blue Jays 2020 estimated luxury tax payroll at $122 million. The active player payroll, excluding the $14 million owed to retired SS Troy Tulowitzki, is more like $106 million, which is still below the estimated $113 million payroll at the end of the 2019 season and the $115 million 2019 Opening Day payroll according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Note that these payroll estimates include projected arbitration awards of $8.4 million for closer Ken Giles, $3.8 million for oft-injured starter Matt Shoemaker, and $2.5 million for utility IF Brandon Drury.

While at a different stage in the competitive cycle, the active player payroll has gone as high as the $164~167 million range in 2016-18. There is also still considerable room under the competitive balance tax threshold – an effective salary cap – of $208 million for 2020 and $210 million for 2021 (when Tulo’s contract can be bought out for $4 million). In fact, only $82 million has been committed so far for 2021 in terms of luxury tax payroll. This implies $80 million in future payroll flexibility after 2020, assuming Rogers is willing to go back above $160 million for a competitive team and also assuming there is no lockout.

If Rogers and the front office are willing to accept that the Tulowitzki contract is a sunk cost, and focus instead just on the active player payroll for 2020, arguably there is still another $10-15 million in payroll flexibility to make additional moves just to get back to the 2019 Opening Day payroll. The Travis Shaw signing could make Brandon Drury redundant, which would free up another $2.5 million.

So who could still be added if there is still an additional $10-15 million in the 2020 payroll budget?

LHP David Price (Red Sox) – if healthy, Price could slot in behind Ryu as our clear #2 starter. Price will earn $32 million in each of the next three seasons, so the Red Sox would have to agree to pick up $17-20 million of that and add prospects to make it worthwhile for the Blue Jays to use their remaining payroll flexibility in a trade with a key AL East rival. As per a recent MLBTR chat with Mark Polishuk, the Jays would only take Price’s full contract if Boston also included some ridiculous package of prospects (Triston Casas, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, and more) or if they also included someone like Rafael Devers.

LHP J.A. Happ (Yankees) – another former Jay. Rumours suggest the now 37-year old might be available in a salary dump given the Yankees picked up Gerrit Cole, plus young star Luis Severino is healthy after missing most of 2019. But the Yankees would likely need to pick up $10 million of Happ’s 2020 salary of $17 million and add a prospect like CF Estevan Florial and a pitcher like Jonathan Loaisiga to entice the Jays to swing a deal with an AL East rival. Happ may be a motivated man in 2020, driven by a $17 million vesting option that would become guaranteed for 2021 with 165 innings or 27 starts, but that doesn’t necessarily match with the 2021 competitive time frame unless the Jays get significant salary relief for 2021 as well.

1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (FA) – yet another former Jay, but multiple reports say he’s nearing a deal with the White Sox for one-year/$12 million with a $12 million club option for 2021. That looks like an overpay versus the MLBTR projection of a  one-year deal worth $8 million. While this may now be redundant with the signing of Travis Shaw, a platoon of LHH Shaw and RHH Encarnacion at 1B and DH would at least allow the Jays to end the Brandon Drury experiment (career OBP .299 over 1457 at-bats) and let Rowdy Tellez hone his craft in Buffalo for another year. EE will be 37 in 2020 but did have a 2.7 bWAR in an injury-shortened 2019 campaign where he slashed .244/.344/.531/.875 with 34 HRs and 86 RBIs. He’d also obviously bring all of the intangibles of a steady, veteran presence for the kids.

CF Ender Inciarte (Braves) – the 29-year old three-time Gold Glover one of a group of younger players in their prime with multi-year control that might be available in a trade along with other outfielders like Kyle Schwarber (Cubs), J.D. Davis (Mets), Manuel Margot (Padres), Albert Almora Jr. (Cubs), Mallex Smith (Mariners), and Michael A. Taylor (Nationals).

Inciarte had an injury-shortened 2019 campaign and could be available as Ronald Acuna Jr., plus prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters push for playing time in CF for Atlanta. He is under control through 2022 ($7.7 million in 2020, $8.7 million in 2021, with a club option for $9 million in 2022 or a $1.02 million buyout). He would immediately fix the CF defense, and his career .338 OBP would be an upgrade compared with the Jays’ team OBP of .305 in 2019.

CF/LF Starling Marte (Pirates) – the Pirates are said to be looking for young pitching and catching prospects. The Jays have two young catchers in Gabriel Moreno and Riley Adams who will need to be protected on the 40-man roster after 2020, and are seemingly blocked on the 26-man roster by the 24-year old platoon of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire?  31-year old Marte appears to play better defense in LF, but with the cavernous CF in PNC Park that almost needs two CFs, he might be a better option in CF for Toronto? He’s under control for a guaranteed $11.5 million in 2020, with a $12.5 million club option in 2021.

1B/OF Wil Myers (Padres) – a former Gold Glove candidate at 1B in 2016, he played 303 games at 1B in 2016-17 before Eric Hosmer was signed. He played 98 games in LF and 66 games in CF in 2019. Myers is owed $20 million annually through 2022 (plus a $1 million buyout on an option year), so he’d have to come with significant salary relief and pitching prospects like Cal Quantrill and Ryan Weathers.

CL Ken Giles (Blue Jays) – 2020 is the final year of his contract, and perhaps there’s more than a decent chance the Jays keep Giles now since the Ryu signing indicates that they want to take a major step towards being competitive in 2020. Using the recent Braves deal for closer Will Smith (3 years/$39 million with a club option for a fourth year or a $1 million buyout) as a framework, perhaps it would make sense to lock-up our 29-year old elite, lock-down closer for the opening of the competitive window from 2021 on a 3  year/$13 million AAV with a fourth-year option?

Of course, with the Jays 40-man roster now full again assuming Ryu and Yamaguchi pass their physicals, any additions would require someone to be dropped. A number of players on the bubble-like Brandon Drury, Breyvic Valera, Anthony Alford, Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney, Julian Merryweather, and Thomas Pannone could be DFA’d .

Let’s hope the Ryu signing is only the start of more moves to come as the Jays enter their competitive window from 2021. A number of these names above could help mentor the kids and provide a stable, winning culture in the clubhouse.

One caveat to all of this though is that this can’t be the last move Ross Atkins makes to improve this roster. He should have $10-15 million more to spend this offseason and then $80 million more next season as the Tulowitzki contract falls off and the team becomes more competitive.

As Cathal Kelly of the Globe & Mail concludes:

"What gets lost in splashy signings is that they aren’t proof you’re doing your job. Winning is the only proof. The current Jays executive group has been on the job for four years… Now it’s time to start making the team demonstrably better. It’s time to stop talking about what might happen, could happen or should happen, and make things start happening. So we have yet to see what the Ryu signing means. It’s certainly a good first step. But it won’t mean much if it’s the last one."

Next. Blue Jays reportedly made massive offer to Gerrit Cole. dark

Here’s wishing you all a healthy, happy & prosperous 2020. Let’s go Blue Jays!