Jays may not have the payroll to sign Cabrera

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos denies speculation that the club is looking to trade one of its current five starters. Instead, the Blue Jays would prefer to keep their depth as much as possible.

TORONTO – The endgame between the Toronto Blue Jays and Melky Cabrera is probably coming soon, and the perception that Alex Anthopoulos is sitting on a significant cache of payroll to spend may not be the case as the moment of truth looms.

Where the final number for the free-agent outfielder lands is unclear, although the $57-million, four-year agreement Nelson Cruz reached with the Seattle Mariners combined with the $53-million, four-year deal the St. Louis Cardinals handed Jhonny Peralta last year might offer a rough guideline.

If that’s the case – and we’ll get to why it might not be later – the Blue Jays are unlikely to have enough room in the budget for Cabrera because things are starting to get pretty tight.

Worth keeping in mind as you consider the numbers is perhaps Anthopoulos heavily backloaded Russ Martin’s $82-million, five-year deal because he had to, not because he wanted to maintain payroll flexibility for other moves. And that part of Josh Donaldson’s appeal is that at a projected $4.5 million arbitration hit for 2015, he is a very reasonably priced middle of the order bat.

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.

Barring salary-clearing deals for Dioner Navarro and/or J.A. Happ, there’s no room for Cabrera under such a scenario.

Even if the Blue Jays did move either of them, each would leave holes in their wake, Navarro as DH/catcher and Happ thinning out a pitching staff already down two depth pieces in Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, both dealt to the Oakland Athletics as part of the Donaldson trade.

None of that rules out the possibility of another significant transaction, but calculus is much more complicated for Anthopoulos from here on out.

A debate can be had on whether the Blue Jays are best served by piling their remaining dollars into one more significant player and riding in-house assets elsewhere, or spreading it around for a wider range of incremental gains.

For instance, Cabrera’s price could reasonably be pegged beneath that of Peralta – who provides offence at a premium position, shortstop – and Cruz – who hits home runs. If that happens and he prices out in their salary range, are the Blue Jays better off bringing him back, or spreading the dough around?

Internal options available to Anthopoulos include an Andy Dirks/John Mayberry Jr., platoon in left field, a Maicer Izturis/Ryan Goins platoon at second base while prospect Devon Travis seasons, and some combination of Edwin Encarnacion/Navarro/Justin Smoak/Danny Valencia at first base and DH.

The Blue Jays also have a stash of potential bullpen arms, but likely not the elite relievers a team with designs on the post-season requires.

Remember that Anthopoulos has focused on the bullpen – 12th in the AL with a 4.09 ERA – as a key area of failure in 2014. With Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos and Dustin McGowan all gone from last year’s late-inning crew, and who knows what Steve Delabar will look like next spring, you’d think at least two more relievers with some prior success are needed to fill the void.

If the Blue Jays do get two relievers, will they then be out of money to get someone like free agent outfielder Nori Aoki, who’d be a perfect less-expensive fill-in for Cabrera in left field? Ideally they’d get someone that can also play centre field in case of injury or underperformance by Dalton Pompey or Kevin Pillar.

An everyday second baseman would be nice, too, and while the Blue Jays have done background work on Alberto Callaspo, as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted Sunday night, they don’t appear to be locked in on him at all.

One other thing worth keeping in mind: Sportsnet colleague Jeff Blair suggests the Blue Jays might save some payroll money for the deadline, learning from this past July not to max out early. How might that factor into play?

Put all together, the Blue Jays in many ways still have their heavy lifting ahead of them.

Sure adding Donaldson and Martin makes them better, and replaces the lost offence from Adam Lind and, probably, Cabrera, but their primary needs at the beginning of the off-season are still their primary needs now.

Upgrading areas that were already set is an unusual way to improve a team, but when you factor in that Anthopoulos has also been changing the heartbeat of the club at the same time, the greater whole makes more sense.

The key now will be in finishing a job very well done so far, but not good enough just yet.