Spending Spree: Options for the Remaining Blue Jays Budget

With a $165 million dollar budget for the upcoming season, the Toronto Blue Jays have some decisions to make in light of what many experts believe has been a terrible offseason. There is about $30 million dollars remaining in the Blue Jay budget if reports are correct and so the question heading into Spring Training is… how are the Jays going to splash the cash?

With Edwin Encarnacion signing in Cleveland with their AL Championship conquerers and Jose Bautista still in major league limbo or possibly Oakland, losing two of their longest-serving veterans provides the Toronto Blue Jays with some payroll room to make a major acquisition (or two). Toronto ownership is rewarding the Blue Jays faithful (that rewarded Blue Jays ownership Rogers Communication with a huge increase in viewership and almost 3.4 million paying customers to finish third in MLB attendance) with an increase of 20% from the 2016 starting payroll.

That means the brain trust of President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins have $165 million dollars to work with, which would be a top 10 payroll in all of baseball. This amount is more in line with the Blue Jays playing in a big market – Toronto is the biggest baseball market that doesn’t share a city and in fact has an entire country to themselves as most games are available on basic cable throughout Canada with a population around 36 million – and should give the team plenty of options going forward. What can we expect to see from the Blue Jays this season?

Many baseball pundits have claimed the Blue Jays have lost the offseason but with the fan favorite phrase of ‘payroll flexibility’ firmly in mind, what roster construction options can we expect to see from the Blue Jays heading into the remaining weeks of the offseason?

(1)   Do the Canadian thing and save money (for late July anyway). Currently the Blue Jays roster will cost in the $130-$140 million range and are about $30 million dollars under budget.  Holding off on using that money is an option (and a very prudent Canadian move to save money for a rainy day).  Panicking Jays fans might be reassured by the decision in 2015 to forego David Price and instead sign J.A. Happ and re-sign Marco Estrada last offseason. Of course, Ross Atkins is from Greensboro, North Carolina so he would have a hard time using the prudent Canadian excuse if the Jays are not on pace to make the playoffs during the 2017 season.

(2)   Sign Jose Bautista to a 1 year, $17,200,001 million dollar contract.  It is rumored that Jose Bautista wants to sign for more than the qualifying offer he received and corner outfield is a current hole the Blue Jays need to fill. Of course, seeing how the market is playing out for Bautista, $17 million might be a best-case scenario for him rather than a likelihood at this stage of the offseason. More importantly, the Blue Jays signing Bautista will also rule out the first round draft pick they are hoping to receive in return under the last year of the terms of the old CBA.

(3)   Trade for an outfield bat (or two).  Current gaps that the Jays need to fill ahead of Spring Training are two starters in the corner outfield positions (if you see Steve Pearce as a utility player), a back-up catcher that would ideally let Russell Martin spend a few more recovery days at DH, and bullpen help, particularly of the left-handed variety. That really doesn’t leave much room from the remaining $30 million dollars still available.

Jay Bruce is a name that is often tied to the Jays in the MLB rumor mill but this season, and he is due to make $13 million. Better fits for the Blue Jays among outfielders that might be on the market include J.D. Martinez (due $11.75 million in 2017) Yasiel Puig (due $8.2 million in 2017 and $9.2 million in 2018), Lorenzo Cain (due $11 million in 2017), Andrew McCutcheon (due $14 million in 2017 with a $14.75 million team option for 2018) and Charlie Blackmon (Arbitration eligible but made $3.5 million last season).

Apparently the Blue Jays had discussions with Colorado on Blackmon to help clear up their logjam in the outfield and the player the Rockies wanted in return was Marcus Stroman. If the price is going to be that high for this class of outfielder, bargain shopping may be the route to take. The Jays’ farm system is in decent shape (see Benjamin Chase’s excellent series on Minor League systems) but one could question if they have the prospect depth to land any of these established major leaguers in a reasonable trade.

(4)   Get creative.  Protecting Josh Donaldson sounds like a plot for Toronto cop show Rookie Blue, but in the current incarnation of the Blue Jay lineup, it might play to low ratings in the former SkyDome over the course of next summer. The Jays need a middle of the order threat (or two) and perhaps need to spring a blockbuster (or two) on an unsuspecting fan base. Second-best Canadian hitter of all-time Joey Votto is the name that gets his hometown of Toronto excited but it is unlikely that he will waive his no-trade clause from the Cincinatti Reds.

What superstars (corner outfielders preferred) might be available?  Would Miami try and get out of Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million dollar contract in order to make the team more attractive to potential buyers?  Would Colorado want to get some more prospects from the Jays system (see Troy Tulowitzki 2015 trade) for a declining Carlos Gonzalez? Is there a deal tempting enough for Pittsburgh to move either Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco?

All of these ideas might seem like contrarian suggestions to cautious baseball executives like Shapiro and Atkins but the budget is there to make a splash and add value to a team that should be competing in the AL East. With $30 million available, spending it one place and filling the rest with $507,500 guys might be a prudent move seeing some of the versatility that exists on the roster and was added to with the signing of Steve Pearce.

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