Patience and rebuilding position Blue Jays to once again add to their payroll
Six years ago, when Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins took over the helm of the Blue Jays back in the 2015/2016 offseason, they set out a rebuilding plan. A plan in which no matter how much backlash they received from fans and media, was one they set out to stick with. I mean, coming off back-to-back ALCS appearances – and first playoffs in over 20 years, mixed with the sudden departure (however you look at it) of Alex Anthopoulos – how could fans buy into their process?
Fast forward to the 2020-21 off-season and those plans paid dividends as the Blue Jays organization finds themselves in a position unlike any other. They had a solid foundation starting with their highly ranked farm system that had a number of Top 100 prospects, young controllable players contributing at the big league level and little guaranteed future contracts (Ryu and Grichuk taking the bulk). With the core set in place, mixed with a low-by-their-standards payroll, they were set to add to their roster, with the ability to do so via free agency and trades.
After being linked to almost every free agent and trade candidate all winter, the Blue Jays entered the 2021 season having spent more than any other major league organization ($186 mil). A league that consists of the likes of the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, and other behemoths. This was new territory for fans, and one all needed to soak in.
Now into the 2021-22 off-season, it would be greedy for fans to have the same year-in and out expectations. However, remember that plan Shapiro and Atkins decided to stick to? Well, that plan has in fact enabled them to be big players once again this winter. With roughly $75-million in guaranteed contracts and a reported roughly $30-million in raises and arbitration, the Blue Jays payroll is sitting at ~ $105-$110-million.
The Blue Jays have positioned themselves up to continuously add to their payroll with the flexibility they have created through their rebuild.
Shapiro has stated they will not go over the luxury-tax threshold ($210-mil based on current CBA) and it seems multiple outlets are reporting they will sustain a payroll in the $160-$180-million-dollar range. While this is a year to strike while the iron is hot, I am strongly against the philosophy that teams have “windows.” To me, windows place limitations and this front office does not seem to work that way.
The goal for any organization should be contending and adding to your team on a yearly basis (ala Dodgers). The philosophy is simple – have a good balance of contributing players at the big-league level on free-agent contracts, arbitration-eligible and 0-3 players, mixed with a solid farm system (player development, drafting) enabling the club to have players consistently graduating to the big leagues and used for trades. The execution of this, however, is not so simple, but the Blue Jays are on the right track.
While we all like playing arm-chair General Managers spending money that is not ours, I think in the right scenario this club can take payroll to the $180-$200-million range (granted all home games in Toronto). Maybe not consistently every year, but in the right scenarios, in the near future, it is a possibility. Within two years, they will have the likes of Ryu, Hernandez, Grichuk, and Gurriel off the books (if not extended), but the younger core will be more costly. Therefore, if they are able to add some players on short-term deals between this and next winter that pushes the envelope to unfamiliar payroll territory – and knowing a good portion comes right off the books within the two years – I think Shapiro has the go-ahead.
Expectations have substantially increased with winning the A.L. East as the benchmark; and these expectations will only get greater each season until they win a World Series (even then, it’ll jump up to winning another!). We will find out in due time (unless CBA talks stall negotiations) how far management is able and willing to push the needle for the right pieces, but they are positioned, unlike recent memory.