Paul Beeston always said the money would be there when the Blue Jays needed it.
The Welland, ON native has spent much of his three-year return stint as Blue Jays president and CEO assuring an increasingly impatient fan base that team owner Rogers Communications was prepared to one day boost the team’s payroll to rank it among the game’s elite.
All he had to do was ask, Beeston said.
A little more than a week ago, when it became apparent the Blue Jays were in a position to pull the trigger on a 12-player blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins, the need arose and so general manager Alex Anthopoulos asked Beeston to seek ownership’s approval on a transaction that would add $37 million to the team’s payroll.
According to Anthopoulos, Beeston “didn’t flinch” when presented with the framework of the deal and he immediately began working the phones with Rogers executives, likely beginning with president of media Keith Pelley and, given the magnitude of the financial investment, probably going all the way up the chain to CEO Nadir Mohamed as well.
Beeston, talking to reporters Tuesday at Rogers Centre, said his pitch to ownership was simple: the deal will improve the team, the front office is highly recommending it, and opportunities like this don’t come along too often.
“It was not a hard sale because there was a rationale for it when you get a guy like (Jose) Reyes, two starting pitchers and then you come along with Melky Cabrera and where we were going there,” Beeston said.
Word of the Cabrera signing first leaked on Nov. 16, four days after news of the trade broke, indicating the team had been granted ownership’s approval to pursue the free agent outfielder for sometime.
The Cabrera signing (two years, $16 million) and the Marlins trade have boosted the Blue Jays projected 2013 payroll to roughly $120 million, according to Beeston.
A year ago, that total would have tied them with the Texas Rangers for the fifth highest in baseball.
In 2012 the Blue Jays ranked 23rd in MLB with an average home attendance of 25,921, albeit an increase of 3,476 per game over 2011. Fourteen clubs averaged 30,000 or more fans and six averaged 40,000 or more, led by Philadelphia’s 44,021.
The Jays are banking on another spike in attendance to help offset some of the salary they’ve taken on and it’s believed MLB’s new national TV deal with Fox and TBS will begin providing teams with up to an additional $40 million in annual revenue, beginning in 2014.
Neither factored in to ownership’s willingness to sign off on the payroll increase, according to Beeston, adding it’s not the first time Rogers has given him the green light on a big deal.
“We’ve had opportunities in the past, we’ve gone to them and said this is what we wanted to do, we would have gone over our budget, but it didn’t happen because the deal didn’t go through, and so nobody knows about it,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is we’re getting the benefit of the dollars (Rogers) gave us when we actually started putting money into the minor leagues,” he explained. “(Adeiny) Hechavarria was a big signing. We could have got (Aroldis) Chapman. I mean people forget about the money we were given to carry out the philosophy that Alex had which was to build the minor leagues.”
With holes still to fill in the rotation and middle infield before the season begins, the question now is whether the Blue Jays plan to keep spending.
Maybe a little, but if they do, it likely won’t be through signing a free agent to a long-term deal.
“I don’t think that’s the intention to expand (payroll) too much more, we’ve gone up the way we are,” said Beeston, quickly adding, “but if it was going to make the team a better team, the answer to that is yes.”
With ownership’s financial commitment no longer a question, the focus now turns to the field, where Beeston is feeling cautiously optimistic about his club’s chances in a seemingly wide-open AL East.
“We didn’t (make the trade) to be anything other than a contender,” he said. “I don’t want to put it into the context of what number of wins you’re going to have but it’s built to win.
“I think that was the way that it came together when we made the trade and then signing Melky. I think it’s something we have to be very optimistic about, positive about, but you have to play the games. You can talk all you want but once we get to spring training start on the field, we’ll find out how good this team is.”
Beeston said the moves and the resulting buzz in the city have led to a “huge” increase in season ticket sales, and most importantly in his eyes, a reason for jaded Toronto sports fans to come out to the ballpark next season.
“Fans are engaged right now and I think they’ve been given a reason to be engaged,” he said. “Alex has done that type of a job.
“If we can put the product on the field, I feel very confident in this city, this province, this country that what we’re going to end up with is the support that we had before. We’ve got to give them a reason though and I said that when I first took the job, we’ve got to give people a reason to come out.”
Beeston surprised by Gibbons choice
Count Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston among those surprised by Alex Anthopoulos’ choice of John Gibbons as the next Blue Jays manager.
On Tuesday, the 50-year-old Gibbons was introduced to the Toronto media after signing a two-year deal with an option.
Or make that, re-introduced. Gibbons managed the Blue Jays for parts of five seasons beginning in 2004 posting a 305-235 record including an 87-win season in 2006.
The Blue Jays were believed to be seeking a manager with prior major league experience to replace the departed John Farrell, but few, if anyone, thought Anthpoulos would turn to Farrell, Beeston among them.
"I will say when (Anthopoulos first brought him up to me) I said, "Are you serious?" but I told Gibby this so I’m saying anything behind his back," said Beeston. "But the more you thought about it, the more it made some sense for the team that we’ve got, the way that he comported himself here before and the fact that he spent three years with Kansas City, so he never left the American League.
Beeston added that prior to the hiring, he had met Gibbons "two or three times," and it was easy to see the type of man he is.
"He was a baseball guy," he said. "Forget about being an intellectual. He was a baseball guy.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it is absolutely 100 per cent essential that the manager and the general manager are on the same wave length, like hand in glove. (He and Anthopoulos) think the same way. I think it’s going to make it very easy for them to work together.”
Finally, Beeston was asked what was a bigger surprise to him: the 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins, or re-hiring Gibbons?
"They were back-to-back shockers," he said with a laugh.