Jays salary deferral offer raises questions

Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos (Frank Gunn/CP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays headed north amid new questions about the restrictions on general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s off-season dealings that are sure to hang in the background of Friday’s home opener.

A stunning report by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com that a group of players was willing to defer salary so free agent Ervin Santana could be signed is sure to rile unhappy portions of the team’s fan base, surely part of the intention by those who leaked the details.

The revelation, confirmed by multiple sources to sportsnet.ca, demonstrates the determination to boost the roster belonging to an unnamed group of the team’s players with significant guaranteed money, and how Anthopoulos essentially had his hands tied this winter.

Logically, you don’t borrow from players and against future payrolls if you have money to spend. Anthopoulos must have been given the resources to support the roster’s internal growth through raises and arbitration, and nothing more.

Still, the deferred money has nothing to do with why Santana ended up in Atlanta. The Blue Jays are thought to have had a deal in place that the free agent backed out of days ahead of his signing with the Braves, and the deferred dollars would have by rule been announced at the same time. Therefore all the pieces, including union approval, must have been in place.

Unclear is whether the deferral initiative was player driven or hatched from the front office, and how much that would have covered of the $14 million the Blue Jays were going to pay Santana. As for who might have been involved, they have five players with enough money on the books to contribute to such a venture.

Jose Reyes is due $16 million this season plus $22 million in each of the next three seasons, Jose Bautista gets $14 million this year and next, Edwin Encarnacion makes $9 million this season and $10 million next, and each has close ties to Santana. Mark Buehrle is due $19 million this year and $20 million next, while R.A. Dickey gets $12.5 million this season and next.

Regardless, the bigger issue is why it came to this, and what that means in the short and longer terms.

The only player the Blue Jays committed significant money to during the off-season was catcher Dioner Navarro, but that transaction was revenue neutral, since the $3 million he gets in 2014 and the $5 million he’s due in 2015 is roughly what the released J.P. Arencibia would have earned over the same span.

That suggests Anthopoulos was restricted not only from adding to a payroll that sits at roughly $135 million in 2014, but also to future seasons, too. The Blue Jays have $94 million on the books for 2015 and only $22 million plus potential buyouts in ’16 and ’17.

The logical follow-up question is why would the reins be pulled so hard on Anthopoulos?

One possibility is that after upping the team’s payroll from roughly $85 million in 2012 to the $120 million neighbourhood last year and watching the Blue Jays finish last in the AL East, ownership is taking a wait and see approach with Anthopoulos.

Things played out similarly in former GM J.P. Ricciardi’s last off-season in charge of the club after the 2008 campaign, when A.J. Burnett opted out of his deal and the only notable addition was that of veteran Kevin Millar. The Blue Jays finished 75-87 and Ricciardi was fired on the penultimate day of the season.

Another scenario is that ownership is simply making Anthopoulos stick to the club’s predetermined budget set when the blockbusters with the Marlins and Mets went down two winters ago, given that last year’s struggles ate into projected revenues.

Either way, the decision to not spend more money to service the $135 million committed to this year leaves the Blue Jays at risk of spending big on an older and flawed core unable to provide a sufficient return on investment.

Teams need to be in, or out, and right now they’re straddling the dangerous middle ground, leaving their chances partly in the hands of the development path of their top young pitching prospects.

Things could certainly break right for the Blue Jays, but they’re going to need a lot of ifs to fall the right way.

Put all together, the news only adds to the perception of this being a tipping point year, with the push of last year either being extended, or a reset of some sort being initiated. Regardless of how that plays out, the players in question deserve credit for being more than willing to do their part to build a winner.

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