AA Speaks, Part I: On Payroll


Alex Anthopoulos popped up on the Fan 590 this morning, chatting with Jeff Blair about the off-season so far, and while you probably could have written a bunch of Alex’s answers in advance — I actually did for one of them, about how much of a distraction the Beeston rumours have been, on Twitter (shock: they haven’t been distracting at all, he says) — there were surprisingly more than a few nuggets worth taking note of.

Blair spent a lot of time in the early part of the segment talking about Melky Cabrera, seemingly attempting to fold that talk into a bigger discussion about the club’s payroll. This tactic actually worked fairly well, as Anthopoulos was as close to specific about where his club’s payroll is going (er… staying) as he’s maybe ever been.

The G.M. admitted that, as Blair had been reporting for the last week or so, he had contacted Cabrera’s camp as the Michael Saunders deal was being finalized in order to let them know that the Jays were no longer interested. Two stray thoughts about this: one, so much for John Gibbons saying at the Winter Meetings that the door had yet to be closed on Melky coming back, and two, hopefully this means that the Jays are keen enough not to view Saunders as a potential centrefielder (which he almost certainly would have become if they continued to pursue, and ultimately landed, Cabrera). But obviously, it’s Alex’s thoughts on why they exited the Cabrera chase — despite Melky actually landing in Chicago on a reasonably-priced deal — that actually matter, and in giving us those he continued to assert that the two sides, as he’d claimed all along, really had trouble lining up.

“I don’t know that we were ever going to be close,” he said of the talks with Melky, which took place both around the All-Star break and after the season ended. And when the deal with the Mariners for Saunders came about prior to the Winter Meetings, Anthopoulos liked it for all the obvious reasons, and made the hard choice to go for it while it was still on the table, even as he knew it meant ruling himself out of the Melky market — the catalyst being his fear that if Seattle had shopped the player at the Winter Meetings, another club might have made a better offer.

“We had, and still have, a lot of needs on this club,” he explained. “Our payroll’s a very strong, healthy payroll. Again, though, we do have a limit of where we’re prepared to go. Our payroll is certainly — I expect it to be right there in that top ten range, or at least close to the top ten. And at some point you have to make a decision. So, when we signed Martin, and being able to get Saunders, and two years of control with Saunders,  at his arbitration salaries — and you recover the draft pick for Melky, as well, that we lost with Martin — and also to have dollars to allocate to some other areas, that’s what made the most sense to us.”

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White Sox Claim Increased Ticket Sales After Earlier Moves The Catalyst For Melky Signing


It’s never a good idea to take the public utterances of a baseball executive — or any executive, really, or a politician, or… just about anybody with an agenda — at face value, so I don’t know if it’s healthy to read too much into comments from White Sox G.M. Rick Hahn about his conversations with ownership as ticket sales were spiking in the wake of their splashy additions of Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, etc. But holy hell, whereas in this city we get executives paying hollow, sycophantic lip service to the supposed benevolence of the Corporation whenever the idea of raising the budget is broached, did the Chicago White Sox ever just demonstrate — or claim to — a dynamic between ownership and ballclub that actually works.

Or at the very least an owner that actually gets it, as opposed to one that just pretends to get it and treats fans like a bunch of rubes who won’t see through the transparent facade.

“The ATM was empty and the White Sox offseason spending spree was over,” explains the Chicago Tribune. “That was the message general manager Rick Hahn delivered last Thursday at the winter meetings in San Diego, capping a nice winter renovation.” But apparently things quickly changed:

“Hahn said ‘the response we’ve received from Sox fans so far this year, in response to our moves’ led to a ticket sales increase that convinced Reinsdorf to go for it.

“‘As we sit here today, we’re beyond where we expected to go in terms of 2015 payroll,’ Hahn said. ‘And that is a direct result of Jerry saying he saw a fit, he understood what we wanted to do, and in the end gave us the flexibility to convert on the deal.'”

“I know that as of our conversations Saturday afternoon with Jerry, he felt good about the sales numbers we had been receiving all offseason. I think the last week there’s certainly been a significant uptick, given our activity (in San Diego),” Hahn adds. “But really, throughout this entire offseason, we’ve felt and seen in our fans a level of excitement and optimism that’s helped me us feel more confident about what we can handle from a payroll standpoint.”

I’d supect that there are White Sox fans who’d find it pretty amusing to see Reinsdorf held up as a model owner. But here we are.

Of course, I think that, given the history, Jays fans can be forgiven for not rushing out and throwing down their money on tickets the way that White Sox fans did, and maybe the takeaway here is that it’s on fans to drive spending and not ownership at all.

But no. It’s not The takeaway is that it must be seriously fucking nice having an owner who is responsive to team needs, and that understands the huge importance of spending dollars at the top of the budget threshold to add the kinds of pieces that can take a team projected to win 86-89 games to the crucial 90+ win projection mark and beyond. Yes, he wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t tied to ticket sales, but still. Cute as it is to be able to say that your club has a “top ten payroll,” or whatever it is, it’s the dollars that get spent to push the boundaries of what’s possible that usually end up being hugely important. Good on the White Sox for seeing it.

Image via the internet

It Won’t Be Easy To Make Good On Payroll Promises If The Jays Run Out Of Free Agents To Spend On


The Canadian dollar closed the day on Monday at 85.8 cents US. “CIBC economists, in a new currency outlook,” according to a Globe and Mail piece last week, “forecast that the loonie will sink to about 85.5 cents by early next year, then edge lower in the second quarter and then close in on the 81-cent level by the third quarter.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays continued to sit on their hands as other MLB jump full-on into the free agent market.

Chase Headley signed with the Yankees for four years and $52-million. Jed Lowrie returned to Houston for three years and $23-million. Jason Motte went to the Chicago Cubs on a $4.5-million one-year deal with incentives. Brett Anderson signed an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Dodgers with a base salary of $10-million. Alex Rios has signed with the Royals for one year and $11-million.

And, of course, over the weekend, Melky Cabrera signed with the Chiago White Sox for three years and $42-million.

Taken individually, that the Jays passed on all of these players at these prices — or whatever extra we might think it would have taken to get them to Toronto — is pretty defensible. But taken in concert, all of the above facts, along with ownership’s history of dispassionately slashing or freezing payroll at the expense of their own product, and fans start to worry.

Add it to rumblings from someone like Bob McCown that “the team lost a fair bit of money last year, and Rogers wasn’t thrilled” — for whatever little those are worth, given that less than three weeks before he was saying there may not be a real limit to payroll, and that Rogers’ aim was to use their ownership of the club to help burnish their reviled brand — and machinations behind the possible ouster of Paul Beeston as team president, and you get where the fan vitriol that again seems to be strongly pushing through the surface of the conversation about the club  is coming from.

What role any of this stuff has in the Jays quiet few weeks is hard to pinpoint. The idea that the team is losing money is, of course, preposterous, unless one isn’t factoring in the TV rights fees Rogers doesn’t have to pay to itself. Any time the dollar is mentioned someone will be quick to point out that a big company like Rogers will be hedged against currency fluctuations, but to what extent that will help spare them… nobody seems to have any idea. Alex Anthopoulos could very well be slow-playing the market, especially when it comes to pitching. He could also be be losing out on guys who’d rather be in other situations — Lowrie, if the Jays even wanted him, staying near his Houston home and taking advantage of Texas’s lack of a state income tax and Motte choosing the Cubs — or to teams with less margin for error, as in the Dodgers and Anderson (whose $10-million salary means a whole lot less on their books than it would tied to Alex’s neck).

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Gregor Chisholm Lays Down An Excellent, Deflating Point About Payroll


Where’s the money, Anthopoulos?

Alex Anthopoulos spoke to reporters this afternoon, discussing things like the relievers signings made by the Astros — Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek both went to Houston, in part, perhaps, because of Texas’s lack of a state income tax — which has all been excellently recapped in a piece at BlueJays.com by Gregor Chisholm.

But it’s when he goes beyond the quotes, and starts talking about payroll, what might be available, and why, that Gregor’s piece really gets ones wheels turning. And not necessarily in a good way.

To wit:

The Blue Jays are expected to have an increased payroll in 2015, but there are a number of factors that will be a concern for the organization. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey and Ricky Romero can be bought out of their contracts at the end of the ’15 season for a combined $4.6 million. Romero is the only one of that group that’s expected to have his option terminated, but there is still time for that to change.

If Bautista, Encarnacion or Dickey suffered a serious injury that jeopardized the 2016 season, the options could be bought out. Even if that’s unlikely it’s something the organization will have to take into consideration for accounting purposes. In other words, the buyout would have to be paid immediately and could not be deferred to the following season.

The Jays, he’s surmising, can’t plan on a gift from ownership if they’re tight against their budget number come next November, so whatever that limit is, they need to be sure the money to pay those buyouts is there. They can’t spend quite to their full budget, they have to be $4.6-million under, just to be safe.

Of course, that was the situation last season, too. There were $1-million buyouts for Adam Lind and Brandon Morrow, $750K for Sergio Santos, $500K for Dustin McGowan, and $200K for J.A. Happ. So that’s almost $3.5-million there. But I think the point is that we maybe can’t just look at last year’s $137.2-million payroll figure and assume to get to there from where they are now is entirely simple.

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Taking Stock Of Payroll As The Non-Tender Deadline Approaches


“Now that Russell Martin signed,” tweeted Buster Olney just after noon on Monday, Toronto’s “payroll flexibility this winter greatly overstated. His contract was likely backloaded for a reason.”

That sure would be a real buzzkill, if… y’know… we didn’t already entirely kinda think that Martin’s deal was backloaded for a reason. Right?

I mean, I’m not sure what the hell else we were supposed to think about a thing like that, frankly.

And furthermore, it’s not like Olney — surely the “influenced” writer Jose Bautista was referring to when he angrily tweeted on Friday about playing fast and loose with free agents’ (read: Melky Cabrera’s) market value — is necessarily saying anything monumental here. Whether you want to make something major of it depends, I suppose, on what exactly you thought became possible after the Martin deal was signed.

It’s true, we have definitely heard some crazy numbers being thrown around so far this winter. Even before the Martin signing, Shi Davidi painted a scenario in a piece at Sportsnet that could have seen the club with upwards of $50-million to spend (if given a $10-million bump up from last year’s final number, and with a bunch of salary shed through non-tenders and trades). In his Monday afternoon piece at Sportsnet, however, the scene depicted is darker:

As things stand now, the Blue Jays have $108.2 million committed to 11 players, a figure that jumps to about $128 million when you factor in projections for their seven arbitration-eligible players, including Donaldson. Add another $2-$3 million for 0-3 service time players, and that leaves $9-$10 million to seek upgrades at left field, second base and the bullpen presuming a payroll of $140 million,” he explains. “Barring salary-clearing deals for Dioner Navarro and/or J.A. Happ, there’s no room for Cabrera under such a scenario.

So, if the club having $40-million to left to splash around (i.e. the suggested $50-million, minus Martin’s $7-million salary for 2015, and the difference between the arbitration projections for Lawrie ($1.8-million) and Donaldson ($4.5-million) was a thing you were banking on, maybe there’s some disappointment to be found in Olney’s tweet and Davidi’s piece. But — and I get that this is maybe wishful thinking on my part — I’m not sure how much I buy the implication that there isn’t much money left, either.

Or at least that things aren’t all that much different than we always believed.

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