Free agent spending suggests Blue Jays have so far disappointed their fans

With an estimated $2B still to be spent, there’s still hope Jays fans!

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays / Cole Burston/GettyImages

A recent post by ESPN baseball analyst Jeff Passan tallied up free agent spending by MLB teams this offseason. Toronto is conspicuously absent from the ranks of big spenders so far, as are other interesting larger payroll clubs like the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

But have faith Blue Jays fans. As ESPN baseball insider Kiley McDaniel projects, “there are still around $2 billion worth of deals to come. Just because a team hasn’t spent yet doesn’t mean its winter is busted. (The Yankees, for example, traded for Juan Soto.)”

Meanwhile, the full value of Shohei Ohtani's deal with the Dodgers (the $700M figure, not its present-day value ~$460M) has accounted for 43.6% of all free agent spending so far this offseason - in just one contract!

Jon Heyman of the NY Post believes that Cody Bellinger and his agent Scott Boras are seeking “$200M plus”, and given the Jays need a power left-handed hitting outfielder who can improve upon their flawed offence of 2023, it shouldn’t surprise Toronto fans that the Jays appear to be the front-runners for his talents.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote over the weekend that “The Toronto Blue Jays have emerged as the favorite for Cody Bellinger with the Cubs still in the hunt.” We know his fiancée Chase Carter had posted a picture of the CN Tower in her Instagram stories recently, as did former Blue Jay ace and current free agent Marcus Stroman, who certainly could help fill seats in the newly renovated lower bowl at Rogers Centre.

The Jays have also reportedly met with Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who MLB writer Mark Feinsand notes, “would form an impressive 1-2 punch with Kevin Gausman atop Toronto’s rotation.” Yamamoto is only 25-years old, and has averaged more than 185 innings per season since 2021 in Nippon Professional Baseball, where he has won three straight Sawamura Awards (Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young) and earned Pacific League MVP honors in each of the past three seasons.

Yamamoto’s ERAs over the last three seasons and 557.2 innings were 1.39, 1.68 and 1.16, respectively. However, he won’t come cheap, with the alleged bidding starting at $300M.

Big bats like those of Jorge Soler and Teoscar Hernandez are still available on the free agent market. Lots of talent also still remains available via trade, including potentially Christian Yelich, Willy Adames and Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers, Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox and Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Guardians.

Toronto seems willing to spend, as evidenced by their pursuits of the free agent Ohtani and a trade for Juan Soto, who is expected to make $33M in his final year of arbitration eligibility. Team president Mark Shapiro said after the season, "I don’t expect a dramatic philosophical shift in payroll. I expect us to stay in the same area” as they try to extend their current competitive window.

Cot’s Baseball Contracts had the Blue Jays competitive balance (“luxury”) tax payroll at $258M for 2023, and sees the 2024 luxury tax payroll currently at $218M after adding back all of the arbitration eligible payers. That leaves about $19M in payroll space below the $237M CBT threshold for 2024.

RosterResource puts the luxury tax payroll at $213M, which would leave $24M in space. Of course, as ownership proved in 2023, they’re willing to spend above that threshold. If they “stay in the same area” as 2023, they could spend between $40~45M more on team payroll for 2024.

And let’s not forget that the Blue Jays ownership could reallocate the apparent $700M they were prepared to pay Ohtani and extend some of their own homegrown core, like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Jordan Romano to long term deals. Or bring back free agents like Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier, Jordan Hicks and Hyun Jin Ryu?

So despite the disappointment of missing out on both Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto, the offseason isn’t a bust yet Blue Jays fans. Have faith that something is brewing, and that Rogers will open their wallet for the richest contract ever in Blue Jays franchise history, surpassing the six-year, $150M deal George Springer signed in January of 2021. There are still 67 days until the first Spring Training game at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida on February 24th.