Plan to boost payroll looms as Blue Jays enter key low season


TORONTO – The talk around the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason will certainly center on the free agencies of Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz, and whether some or all can be re-signed.

Considering their importance to the club’s unrewarded 91-winning season in 2021, that’s entirely understandable. But in the micro question of will they or won’t they be back, there is also a much more macro question, the answer to which, to a large extent, will determine how aggressive the Blue Jays can be in trying to ‘accomplish the first.

And that is to say, how far will the payroll of this club end up reaching?

This is the crux of the matter, as the efficiency of payroll that helped drive races to an expanded post-season berth during the pandemic summer of 2020 and the near-crash of that season are disappearing. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s salary will skyrocket as he enters arbitration for the first time, the same will happen to Bo Bichette next fall, while Teoscar Hernandez is expected to jump for the second time, all like Jose Berrios, ready for a third round. before hitting free agency.

Therefore, sustaining the Blue Jays’ transition from a young, rising team to a mature club trying to maintain means the payroll has to increase proportionally just to keep the core in place, let alone grow the squad.

The need for such a phased progression is part of the long-term vision that Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro has sold to owner Rogers Communications Inc. (who also owns this website), and he expects, despite two seasons of pandemic upheaval, that plan to stay on track for 2022 and beyond.

“Our offseason choreography leaves our last payroll meeting with the property in about a month. While I like to think that I am making these decisions unilaterally, I certainly am not. We have to make our proposal, ”Shapiro said in a Zoom media conversation on Monday. “But every indication that I have received and every indication that we have received … leads me to believe that we will stay as planned and that the payroll will continue to increase despite the fact that we are still a little behind in terms of income. due to uncontrollable circumstances.

This is important because generally payroll increases are driven by income growth and while the Blue Jays forecast a normal April next year, the past two years have shown us the danger of holding out for. acquired the containment of COVID-19.

This year, the Blue Jays spent roughly $ 140 million on their major league payroll, and with all the increases due, bringing everyone back would cost a lot more. They have already pledged around $ 65 million to George Springer, Hyun Jin Ryu, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., while MLB Trade Rumors alone project Berrios, Hernandez and Guerrero to raise an additional $ 28 million.

Add in other arbitrator-eligible players and players with 0-3 hours of service earning near the big-league low, and the Blue Jays are in between $ 110 million and $ 115 million.

Even if Semien and Ray were to wrestle in the market and sign some very conservative deals with an average annual salary of $ 20million, it would push the Blue Jays way past last year’s total and that’s without bringing Matz back. , increase the enclosure, balance programming and construction of depth.

Then in 2023, when Bichette begins to be paid, Guerrero becomes even more expensive and Hernandez earns money, the constraints become even stricter. Ryu’s $ 20million rolls off the books after 23, but his sleeves will need to be replaced, so as much as the Blue Jays need some talent this winter – there’s probably another big contract in them for this round – they’ve got it too. need efficiency gains even as their wage bill increases.

To that end, it should be noted that the Blue Jays were generating a payroll in the order of $ 160 million as recently as 2017-18. Shapiro said if current COVID trends continue, he expects the club to “grow rapidly towards these levels (2015-16 attendance) here.”

This is why, “I think we can continue to increase the payroll, as we have already reached unprecedented levels, and as our team and our fans and the city and this incredible market, which is a country, can help us keep increasing it, ”Shapiro said.

Whether that’s high enough to pull off mega-deals for Guerrero and Bichette, plus an expansion for Hernandez, Springer and one or two new impact additions, is another matter. The Blue Jays have long valued their financial flexibility and unless they’re a team spending up to the competitive balance tax, currently set at $ 210 million, they’ll be in a tough spot to properly support a group. of five or six people. premium players.

When asked if the Blue Jays could be a team that crosses the threshold, Shapiro said “it’s not something I’ve given much thought to”, adding that, “I’m not sure the way we’re currently built, we ”I have the income to support a team that goes above and beyond CBT.

“We need to determine if there are any outside revenue streams that we haven’t yet tapped or tapped into if we’re going to get into those areas, or a level of proactive deficit spending that our property sees as a strategic decision,” he said. he declared. added. “But that’s not something we anticipate as we sit here and watch the payroll move outward.”

Perhaps a redevelopment of the Rogers Center, something put on hold by the pandemic, changes part of that calculation. The dome will have a new dashboard in 2022, but a larger update is “a bigger issue that we need to fix.” That won’t change in time for this current core and Shapiro chose not to immediately dive too deep into the macroeconomic reasons why one of North America’s largest markets cannot make the leap into the CBT lineup when ‘we asked him.

Either way, the Blue Jays will need to position themselves decisively in the top third of the baseball payroll (Spotrac had them 11th this year), CBT crossing or not, to perpetuate and build on what they already have. So yeah, a lot of this offseason is about Semien, Ray, and Matz, but it’s also a lot more.


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