OAKLAND, Calif. – Sometimes in the immediacy of the moment it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, and with Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching, this is an important time for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans to take a long look at where things stand.
In the standings the situation isn’t very pretty, now 48-57 after Monday’s 9-4 Oakland Athletics, but perhaps more worrying are the challenges general manager Alex Anthopoulos must overcome if he wants to adjust his club’s core for 2014 and beyond.
Unless a significant payroll hike from the current $120 million or so is coming for next year, or they manage to move some money through trades now or in the fall, the roughly $109 million they have committed to 13 players in ’14 means the Blue Jays could have very limited financial flexibility.
Factor in the looming arbitration raises due to Colby Rasmus (whom the Blue Jays may need to think about locking up with prospect Anthony Gose’s progress stalling), J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers and Emilio Bonifacio, and even shoehorning in Casey Janssen’s incredibly reasonable $4 million option looks out of reach. Extending Josh Johnson a qualifying offer of about $14 million, meanwhile, seems out of the question from a strictly financial perspective, regardless of his performance.
Besides Johnson, Rajai Davis and Darren Oliver are the only other free agents coming off the books.
Now, it's reasonable to think that when Anthopoulos won ownership approval for the Miami Marlins blockbuster last November he also gained a tacit nod that the club's payroll would be expanded in subsequent seasons to accommodate a pricey roster's growth.
But given 2013's underachievement and the potential implications upon 2014 sales, might that be scaled back? The link between revenues and payroll has certainly been underlined repeatedly by team president Paul Beeston in the past, and expecting a boost to $130 million may be too much to ask.
As things stand, the starting rotation is the place where a significant portion of 2014's payroll is tied up, and is also the area most in need of upgrading.
Mark Buehrle ($19 million), R.A. Dickey ($12.5 million), Brandon Morrow ($8 million), Ricky Romero ($7.75 million), J.A. Happ ($5.2 million) are due a total of $52.45 million, and that's before a raise for Rogers, making $509,000 in 2013, is factored in.
Finding five starters among them to realistically close the gap between the Blue Jays and the rest of the AL East is unlikely.
Romero is still trying to find himself at triple-A Buffalo, Morrow is recovering from an entrapped radial nerve in his forearm, Happ is working his way back from a knee injury, Rogers is getting an extended look as a big-league starter for the first time, and while Buehrle has delivered more or less what was expected of him, Dickey has been mostly inconsistent and a return to his Cy Young form is no given.
The Blue Jays do have four inexpensive internal options in Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek, both returning from Tommy John surgery, plus prospects Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin, but they all come with no guarantees and counting on any of them is risky.
Johnson further complicates things, as the Blue Jays would surely prefer to make him a qualifying offer to ensure draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere, but at the rate he's going the 6-7 right-hander may very well accept for a lack of better options.
Without a big-time turnaround from him in the final two months, that might be an unacceptable risk for the Blue Jays to take even if they have the payroll room to make it happen.
Anthopoulos will also need money to either pick up the $7 million option on Adam Lind (his $2 million buyout would count against the '13 payroll if exercised) or replace his production with another first baseman/DH, and to find either a second or third baseman with Brett Lawrie locking into the other spot.
There are no real internal options on either front there, so the Blue Jays certainly have their work cut out for them, whether they do it before the trade deadline, or next fall, where the heavy lifting is more likely to take place.
If nothing is accomplished before Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, Anthopoulos will at minimum have gained some insight into what may be available to him in the off-season.
The Blue Jays have explored a wide array of trade scenarios over the past week, and while no deal is yet done, that legwork may pay off down the line.
"We're constantly talking about different things to do that might make the team better, and he's told me too that phone has definitely been heating up," manager John Gibbons said Monday of his conversations with Anthopoulos. "Whether something will happen or not involving our guys, I don't know, but there's definitely some interest in some of our guys."
Interest is one thing, a constructive opportunity something else entirely. The Blue Jays must to bide their time and make sure they get the latter, positioning themselves for the tweaks this team so desperately needs to make.