Blue Jays: Extensions, and being realistic about future budgets
The Blue Jays have some pending free agents that they’d love to have around beyond 2021, but it’s going to be a difficult thing to pull off keeping the band together and still adding the missing pieces they need.
It’s a good problem to have to employ multiple stars, and there’s no doubt the Blue Jays’ lineup is in that position in 2021. They’re fortunate to have some young talent that isn’t at the stage where they’re being paid for their production, which is part of how they can have such a deep lineup. For example, according to spotrac.com, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the highest paid of the trio including him, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, making $605,400. That’s obviously not going to last forever as those three get closer to their arbitration years.
Planning ahead for guys Vlad and Bo is something the front office very much needs to consider, but that’s not the only reason that they’ll think twice about offering extensions to one or both of Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. On paper it’s a no-brainer to try and bring the pair back beyond the 2021 season, but neither is going to come cheap. In fact, I’d go as far as to argue it would require a multi-year investment of around 150-200 million to retain them both.
Yes, Rogers Media is a very rich ownership group, but they’ve shown in the past that there will be a limit to the budget, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. Consider that the Jays still have two years and 40 million owed to Hyun Jin Ryu, and five years and 118 million for George Springer, so they’ve already made some significant investments in the present and in the future. Teoscar Hernandez is making just 4.35 million this season, and will be due for a significant raise during his second go-around through arbitration this winter. There’s a strong argument the Blue Jays should try to extend him too, on top of the calls to try and keep Guerrero Jr. and Bichette around for the long haul.
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As we’re all more than aware, this roster needs some more help if the Blue Jays are going to be legitimate contenders in 2021, and there’s a good chance that’s going to add to the payroll. Ross Atkins and his front office team could pursue rental players like they did in 2020 to keep the acquisition cost down, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to acquire a controllable starting pitcher like Jose Berrios or Kyle Hendricks, or maybe a late-inning reliever like Craig Kimbrel. All three would make the team better, but could also limit future spending a bit.
For what it’s worth, I believe that Atkins and company will pursue another contract with Robbie Ray, and I have a feeling that the partnership has worked so well that he’ll stick around. I’m not so sure I believe the same for Semien, even if he’s been a perfect fit. I’m confident they’d love to retain him with a multi-year pact, but with other payroll considerations and the presence of premium minor leaguers like Austin Martin and Jordan Groshans, I have a feeling they’ll let him go whether they want to or not.
The good news is the Blue Jays will shed some significant dead money from the payroll ahead of next season. They’re still paying Tanner Roark’s 12 million dollar salary until the end of the year, doing the same for Shun Yamaguchi’s 3.175 million, and they’re even covering the last 4.0 million of Troy Tulowitzki’s contract. Add on the 5.5 million for Kirby Yates who was injured before throwing a regular season pitch, and 1.75 million for David Phelps who is also lost for the year, and that’s more than 26 million that can hopefully be put to better use in 2022 and beyond.
Even at that, you have to think beyond just 2022 in this case, as neither Ray or Semien are going to agree to a re-do on a one-year contract. The Blue Jays may be able to fit them both into the budget for ’22 and maybe even ’23, but next season also the first year of arbitration eligibility for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Maybe they don’t get paid huge money as early as next season, but at some point soon they’re going to be 20+ million dollar a year players.
It’s great to have a bunch of stars, but there are only so many you can pay 20-25 million per season and build a roster around them. In my mind that’s what we saw from the Yankees this past offseason as they tried to find cheaper rotation solutions. The reality is, they’re paying 65 million for just Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton alone, and another 40 million for D.J. LeMathieu, Aroldis Chapman, and Aaron Judge. They also have nearly 45 million on the Injured List between Zack Britton, Aaron Hicks, Corey Kluber, and Luis Severino. Judge will be arbitration eligible one last time this winter as well, so the Yankees couldn’t sign whomever they wanted unless they were prepared to pay the luxury tax penalties.
I reference the Yankees because I could see the Blue Jays painting themselves into a similar corner in the future if they’re not careful, and I’m sure Atkins and his staff are more than aware. When you pull out a calculator and start figuring out what it’s going to cost the Blue Jays to add what they still need, and keep the central core pieces around beyond 2021, it’s hard to imagine they’ll have room for everybody on long-term contracts.
It’s a good problem to employ multiple stars, but I would guess it also keeps Atkins up at night thinking about the future. I’m not trying to make advance excuses for the Blue Jays for why they may not be able to keep a guy like Semien, but I’ve been around long enough to know that good things don’t last forever, and you should enjoy them while you can.