This off-season will have to be spent wisely
The projected salary arbitration numbers are in, and they provide some clarity on how much money the Blue Jays will be working with this off-season.
This past week, MLBTradeRumors released its estimates for the 2022 season. The projections are based on stats, service time and previous cases, the type of things that would be part of the arbitration process if one becomes necessary early next year.
The numbers aren’t “used as a scorecard” for agents and teams, but they provide a general idea of what arbitrationeligible players should be expected to earn. The popular website is pretty good at this stuff too, typically coming very close to the final number.
The Jays have 12 arbitration eligibles who are projected to earn a combined $43.1 million (U.S). Potential ace José Berríos, entering his final year of arbitration, should become the highest earner at $10.9 million. Teoscar Hernández is second at $10 million, while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sits third at $7.9 million.
There’s also approximately $65 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season in George Springer, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Add in the rookie-scale contracts for players such as Bo Bichette and Jordan Romano, who are not yet eligible for arbitration, and the Jays currently have an estimated payroll in the range of $110 million to $115 million.
The Jays don’t publicly announce their budget, believing it would put them at a competitive disadvantage with teams and agents. Still, we know from previous comments by president Mark Shapiro that payroll was expected to increase in waves and that it would be possible to eventually top the previous high of $163 million, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, set in 2017.
The 2021 payroll was about $135 million to $140 million, which means another bump to $150 million or $160 million, if not more, should be expected this winter. That leaves general manager Ross Atkins with upwards of $40 million to $50 million to spend on upgrading his roster prior to next season.
There are ways to free up even more cash.
Preferably, the Jays would find a taker for Grichuk. They could non-tender Ross Stripling, who is projected to earn $4.4 million, but that seems unlikely considering the versatility he offers as a starter and reliever.
Jacob Barnes’s $1.2 million should be cut loose, while Trent Thornton’s $900,000 figures to be at risk because of a crowded 40-man roster more than his salary.
The Jays have $60.3 million allocated in 2023 for the same four of Springer, Ryu, Grichuk and Gurriel. After that, the number drops to $24.2 million with Springer the only one signed through 2024 and 2025. For a team that should have enough resources to eventually operate with a payroll of $180 million to $200 million, that offers a ton of flexibility, but it comes with a caveat.
While they don’t have a lot of long-term contracts to worry about, the costs through salary arbitration are going to keep increasing.
Next year, Hernández and Guerrero will be due another big round of raises, and the bullpen trio of Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards and Tim Mayza won’t be the same bargains they are today. Guys like Bichette will soon be on a similar trajectory.
The Jays’ payroll should be increasing again after 2022, but the percentage will be key because if it only goes up by another $10 million to $15 million, the majority of that would only cover the pay bumps of the arbitration cases alone.
That means any money used on long-term contracts this off-season will have to be spent wisely, and one- or two-year deals will have to figure prominently into the Jays’ plans. Another megacontract is manageable; two probably is as well. But three or more and even a club with this much flexibility backs itself into a corner quick.
The Jays will be among Major League Baseball’s most aggressive shoppers again this offseason, a role they’ve assumed each of the last two years. There will be more heavy hitters involved in the bidding process than after last year’s abbreviated season, but backed by Rogers Communications the Jays should be able to keep up with any of them. It just must be done in prudent fashion.
In an ideal world, the Jays would do exactly what they did a year ago. They signed Springer as their big long-term investment and found a pair of veterans in Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien who were willing to take one-year deals to re-establish their market value.
The thing is, a repeat of those moves probably isn’t even possible, let alone likely.
Ray became the favourite to win the Cy Young Award, while Semien is expected to finish in the top three in MVP voting. They were two of the best signings made by any team. Replacing their production with equally good numbers is an extremely daunting task.
There are a lot of ways the Jays front office could decide to go in the coming months.
Next year’s estimated payroll provides room for this team to grow. The difficult decision isn’t just how to spend it on 2022, but how to use it in such a way that another round of upgrades can be made again next off-season, so this becomes a continuous process and not one kick at the can.
The Jays are in this to build a winner for 2022, but they intend on keeping this window of opportunity open for the foreseeable future. The upfront costs are easy to swallow. It’s the longer-term investments that will give the organization some pause as they search out the proper fit at an acceptable price.