The Blue Jays 2015 payroll is an enigma. Earlier this offseason president Paul Beeston suggested the payroll would increase in 2015 from about $137 MM in 2014. The common speculation was that with the needed improvements and roster commitments the 2015 payroll should fall in the $140-150 MM range.
Currently the 2015 roster as stacks up to about $125 MM which includes arbitration estimates from MLBTR and reasonable guesses on the pre-arb players which fall into a $505K-520K range. The one player which could shake this up is Dioner Navarro, who has been expected to be traded. This would free up $5 MM and my calculations include 26 players as I couldn’t choose between several replacement options. So the current roster which is has some holes stacks up to about $120-125 MM.
As mentioned previously this would suggest the Blue Jays have a lot of money to spend in the range of $15-25 MM depending on what happens to Navarro. That range of available cash should be enough to fill in a few empty holes the Jays currently have. However recently several Blue Jays reporters have suggested there is not a lot of cash available. Richard Griffin of The Toronto Star noted there is about $9 MM remaining and Shi Davidi suggested AA has $5-7 MM left to spend.
This stood out to me as going in the 2015 offseason AA was adamant the bullpen needed to be fixed and was one of the main reasons they missed the playoffs in 2014. Additionally with the losses of Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Casey Janssen and the second base black hole the Blue Jays would probably need to spend.
AA started off the offseason at an incredible pace. He was traded 1B/DH Adam Lind for RHP Marco Estrada. Lind was a little redundant and they gained a bullpen or 5th starter in Estrada while saving around $3 MM. He signed Canadian Catcher Russell Martin to a 5yr/ $82 MM deal which was by far his biggest FA signing to date. Navarro did a good job, they could have lived without the improvement but he was also going to be a FA after 2015 and Martin gives the Blue Jays young pitching staff a large defensive & pitch framing advantage. In pure AA ninja style he acquired 3B Josh Donaldson for 3B Brett Lawrie,RHP Kendall Graveman, SS Franklin Barreto and LHP Sean Nolin. AA somehow managed to get one of the top 5 players over the past few years without giving up any of his top prospects. He did give up a solid player in Lawrie (when healthy) and two pitchers who could have been future rotation arms but probably decent relief options. Somehow Oakland will turn them into stars but its doubtful they would have been more than pen options with the Blue Jays. Next once it appeared that Mekly was not returning he sent SP J.A. Happ to the Mariners in exchange for OF Michael Saunders. Saunders could be Melkys equal in 2015 but if you had to pick the safe option you go with Melky and pay the money.
Overall these are some solid moves. You make two improvements at positions that probably didn’t need to be fixed but I can’t fault AA for making improvements where he could. Additionally he filled in his LF hole with a reasonable and inexpensive option, can’t complain and I never really liked Happ anyways. It’s good he is gone because he was slowly wearing me down and I started to rationalize why he was a good option. This opens the 5th spot for Estrada or Aaron Sanchez which makes sense and saves money.
However second base right now still has no owner they can trust and the bullpen is a complete gamble. AA sent speedy OF Anthony Gose to the Tigers for 2B prospect Devon Travis, again this is a solid move and I love it for both teams. The only issue is that Travis is not expected to MLB ready and probably still needs at least 1 more year in the minors. So for 2015 you are looking at Steven Tolleson, Maicer Izturis & Ryan Goins. I love me some Goins and his spectacular defense but the guy just can’t hit, Tolleson is a great bench bat as he crushes LHP but maybe redundant with Danny Valencia and Izturis was injured for nearly all of 2014. You take Goins & Tolleson as bench options but you can not trust Izturis to be even a semi regular at 34 coming off a major knee injury.
Right now the Blue Jays Pen looks something like this: RH Marco Estrada, LH Brett Cecil, LH Aaron Loup, RH Todd Redmond, RH Chad Jenkins and… a list of big questions RH Steve Delabar, RH Kyle Drabek,LHP Daniel Norris, LHP Ricky Romero (okay not really but he is getting paid $7.75 MM) and a list of guys you might have never heard of. Cecil and Loup are nice arms but might not be 9th inning guys, Redmond did well as a low leverage reliever, Estrada has been effective as a reliever and Jenkins somehow manages to get hitters out. What you have is a decent group of 5 guys and that is not a terrible starting point. What is missing is a lights out RHP and a closer. I buy the argument that closers can be overrated but right now I am not seeing a lights out 9th inning guy who can dominate. Cecil might be the one guy in the bunch or Sanchez or even Norris but right now there are holes. Relief pitchers are not trustworthy, take Delabar for example he had a great 2013 but his walk rate spiked as his strikeout rate plummeted in 2014 and he looked washed up and might start 2015 in the minors.
The bullpen is a delicate and fragile beast, one that needs a few electric arms that can dominate consistently. However as we can see the Blue Jays have a handful of good arms and a sea of potential or maybe a wasteland of rejected starters. It’s risky and when you want to content you need a little less risk. If Delabar can’t throw strikes, Cecil gets injured or Estrada turns nada the Blue Jays might be in for a long season.
So naturally the Blue Jays should sign one of those lower risk relief FA’s and maybe add another on the trade market. Think again, the FA market is long dried up and old Blue Jay Casey Janssen might be the best remaining. The same guy who lost his closer job, looked kinda pissed and really was terrible in the second half after a bad case of food poisoning.
I don’t envy AA at this point. The guy has made some pretty impressive moves this offseason and yet he has half a pen and no true second baseman. If he in fact only has $5-7 MM his options are a bit limited at this point. He might be forced to trade Navarro to free salary space and then trade potentially valuable future pieces for a top pen arm. That would not leave enough money to fill all the holes and maybe round out the bench.
Either way there is a mystery around the payroll numbers and it has been suggested that the current exchange rate could be a major factor. At the moment a projected payroll of $125 MM USD puts it at about $146 MM CAD. This could be a factor but at the moment the truth has yet to be revealed. If a few million is the deciding factor it would be hard for Blue Jays fans to watch another season end with a good but not great result. The Blue Jays have built some nice teams over the past 10 years but they have yet to build a great team and AA is close in 2015. If he can fill in some holes, there is a chance but they probably come short if $5 MM is truly all that remains.
Keep an eye out for more articles like Davidi’s latest. That will tell the story of what to expect over the next two months. Does the topic change to how they believe in their pen, how young guys like Norris will be the difference, how Estrada is AA’s big pen arm and other pieces with the intent to swing popular opinion. At the moment I fear more articles trying to suggest the Blue Jays love their pen, despite a few months ago publicly shaming it.