Every year in the off-season the obsessive fan like me wonders and speculates on what kind of budget their team has got to work with. As in most years, the Jays are being fairly tight-lipped about that but they have done nothing to dispel the idea that the budget will remain in the same general neighborhood as in 2008. That figure, depending on the source you choose, was right at $98 million (All my figures are from the invaluable Cott's Baseball Contracts).
So, let's assume that the team is going to want to stay on the low side of $100 million - what does that mean for off-season spending?
Here's a list of the Jays guaranteed contracts for 2009:
Halladay - $14.25 million
Rolen - $11 million
Ryan - $10 million
Wells - $1.5 million ($8.5 million bonus payment)
Overbay - $7 million
Rios - $5.9 million
Downs - $3.75 million
Hill - $2.59 million
Barajas - $2.5 million
McDonald - $1.9 million
Scutaro - $1.1 million
Total: $61.49 ($69.99 with the bonus)
Right away you, like me, are asking "What the hell is the deal with Wells' pay?"
Good question. Truth is, no one outside the front offices of major league baseball teams really knows. Every time salary discussions come up it's said that the bonus doesn't count, but if you add up the 2008 payroll without the $8.5 million bonus scheduled for last year, it doesn't add up to the total team payroll reported everywhere. That being the case, I will henceforth count his bonus as part of his salary except for one bit of speculation I'll get to at the end.
This year's arbitration eligible Jays are Bautista, Accardo, Frasor, and Tallet. If all these players were to remain on the roster (and speculation is heavy that Frasor definitely won't and Tallet will be floated as a trade chip) that's about $7 million, in my opinion.
That leaves 10 open spots, plus Marcum who will receive a major league salary but won't be on the 25 man roster. Fill in Lind, Inglett, Carlson, Janssen, Litsch, Purcey, and McGowan at pre-arbitration salaries (along with Marcum) and you have roughly $4 million at most.
All told that's about $81 million. And there are three other spots. Reserve catcher, DH, and probably another outfielder. So if you wanted to throw in a big money FA like Giambi or some such . . . you are doing so against an available budget of $17-19 million.
That said, if you get Frasor and Tallet off the roster, you pick up a couple more million (when you adjust for having Wolfe and Romero or someone in their place at league minimum), if you make the Overbay rumors come true that's $7 million more - find a taker for Ryan and that's $10 million. So in theory you could double the available case to $38 million.
Sounds pretty good, eh? But you can't do a proper job of understanding this without looking ahead to 2010. In that season the commitments to those already under contract add up to $82.45 million (including Wells' bonus) and arbitration eligibles include Accardo, League, Janssen, Marcum, Bautista and McGowan (again, assuming Frasor and Tallet are gone). My guess is that Bautista won't be on the 2010 roster either. So that will take the team over $90 million for 12 players. If every other player on the team was pre-arbitration you'd be right around $97 million.
What does that mean? it means that the $19 million which is in play in 2009 is only available (short of a pay raise in 2009. Now, I am of the opinion that the payroll will trickle up 3-5% just on natural inflation from year to year, but even with that you are only looking at maybe a $5 million cushion in 2010.
So if the Jays sign a Bradley or a Furcal or some such to a multi-year deal one of two things must be true - either the 2010 payroll is going up, or Overbay and Ryan will not be on the 2010 roster. Maybe both will be true depending on the amount of commitment made. They don't have to be dealt this off-season, unless the team has some impressive plan to sign Manny or something, but they would have to go before 2010.
Simple, huh? Try reconciling all that with the "attempts" to keep AJ in the fold.
Well, there's one more complication which puts a lot of what I just said in potential doubt - that signing bonus mystery. When the Jays signed Frank Thomas they paid him a small base and a big bonus. Wells had a big bonus paid out in 8.5 million installments over three years (do you realize his official salary in 2008 was only $500,000?). The implication of that is that you could, in theory, sign a player like Milton Bradley (just to use him for an example) to a deal like this:
2009 - Bonus $1 million, Salary $7 million
2010 - Bonus $7 million, Salary $ 1 million
2011 - Salary $8 milion
Such a deal would help avoid payroll pressure in 2010 according to the mythology that the signing bonus isn't salary. The problem with that is, as I observed earlier, when you see a team's total payroll listed - it always includes the signing bonuses. Confused yet?
I think that's the goal.
So I'm going to boil it down to a bottom line, now that you have seen the information that informs my assumptions:
The Jays have up to $19 million available as of this minute and likely at least $21 million as of the tender deadline. They have, at a generous estimate, $6 million in flexibility in 2010. so they cannot sign big multi-year deals unless they expect to shed some of the multi-year deals they already have. The most likely being Lyle Overbay and BJ Ryan. Expect to see both players available this off-season, and if not dealt even more available in July and next winter. It's almost a certainty nether will be on the team in 2010 unless the Jays get a significant payroll increase from Rogers.