Stoeten over at DJF made note earlier in the week of the persistent mention - particularly by Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman - of the Jays being part of the discussion of where Manny Ramirez suits up next season.
Now comes Jay Onrait blogging at TSN on this subject and the case is a compelling one. Now, since I have stated publicly that they Jays, given their 2010 salary obligations, need to avoid long-term high-dollar contracts but Manny is in a special category.
On an emotional level, without any consideration of budgets, 98.7 percent of Jays fans would be thrilled with the signing of Manny. The reasons why he would be willing to join the Jays have been discussed at length and the transformitive effect he would have on the Jays line-up are so obvious as to make a discussion of them unnecessary. Suffice it to say he would instantly become the best hitter in the history of the franchise.
The question is, as it has always been - money.
Manny and his agent Scott Boras dismissed the Dodgers' offer of 2 years and $45 million and don't seen any more impressed with the suggestion of a third option year that takes the deal to $60 million. Boras had earlier implied a 5 year/$85 million deal was a reasonable goal. That's $17 million a year, so let's see if we can work with that.
As I noted Wednesday, if one assumes the jays payroll will not be allowed to exceed $100 million over the next 3-4 years, the Jays have about $19 million in hand right now and will likely add a couple more when Frasor and Tallet are moved along. In 2010 they only have about $3 million to spare. After 2010, several high value contracts come off the payroll. if we assume Halladay is extended before then and make some reasonable guesses about the shape of the roster, it seems likely that they would be somewhere in the low 80's (albeit with no obvious internal option for shortstop unless Jackson is rushed through the system). After 2011, it's useless to speculate except to note that in general terms a lot of positions will be filled by inexpensive players. One may note in passing that Wells' opt-out is in play after 2011 too (and don't assume he won't exercise it).
So, here's the deal I propose to work with:
Four years plus an option for a fifth (since Boras seems hung up on five years). $19 million a year for the first four years, and a $4 million buyout of the fifth year, or $10 million in the fifth year. That's at least $80 million and potentially $86 million.
What does it take to afford this? Well, let's assume that a natural normal progression of payroll on a "static" budget (i.e. all payrolls - except the Marlins - have a slight upward drift) would be about 5% year-over-year.
2009: A 5% increase over 2008's $98 million would be a $103 million budget. With $81 million projected for current players, and the opportunity to gain a couple million by moving Tallet and Frasor, that puts the money available at $24 million. Give $19 million to Manny and you have about $5 million to work with for other needs.
2010: A 5% increase over 2009 sets the budget at $108 million. A reasonable projection of the current roster, plus Manny making $19 million, would total $116 million. But as noted in the previous article, Overbay and Ryan are easily replaceable players who could and should be dealt before spring training 2010 begins. That saves $17 million and gives the GM $9 million to work with should the team have other needs (and frankly, the needs between 2009 and 2010 should be very minor barring a big injury).
2011: Add another 5% and you are at $113.5 The presumed low-80's figure, plus Manny, equals about $100 million. That team would project, as of what we know right now, to have a rookie 3B and continued uncertainty at SS but again, it doesn't project to be a payroll that is exorbitantly more expensive than 2009 and 2010. There is some uncertainty in this projection (the further out you go the more guesswork is involved) but not $13 million worth.
2012: Another 5% takes you to $119 million. for the sake of this discussion, I'll assume Wells doesn't opt out after 2011 ( I won't go into the reason here why Wells might opt out, but it's very much more possible than most people assume). As a VERY rough guess, looking ahead to who the Jays will try to retain through their arb years, having Manny here would lead one to think that the payroll for 2012 would have to be somewhere in the $120's. That would be somewhat over budget if Wells stays.
Quibble the numbers a little either way - take out your calculator and run it again with a 3% increase or a 7% increase if you want - the point is that if Rogers is willing to commit to a 5-7% annual increase in salary, the jays can afford to give Ramirez and Boras what they want.
Now, the calculation is over my head but, will Ramirez drive enough revenue to wash out that payroll increase? Will he put enough more fannies in the seats and etc to account for some $40 million more in payroll (over that hard $100 million cap) spread over 4 seasons? My hunch is that the answer to that question is yes. If not all of it, enough of it so as to make the difference negligible.
So, bottom line? Yes - the Jays can afford it. They can afford to outbid the other mentioned contenders for Manny Ramirez without much payroll gymnastics at all. And they should. Even if one argues he'll decline in the out years, he's a guy who's OPS+ routinely runs in the 150-170 range. If you get two years of that, and two years in the 120-130 neighborhood, your money is well spent. Of course there is a chance that he'll fall completely off the table by 2012 and you'll have $19 million (plus the buyout) tied up in an unproductive player - but you might have won a World Series in the meantime too. The Jays ownership risk more annual salary in 2012 and beyond on a much lesser hitter when they signed Vernon Wells - it would be criminal if they blinked on doing so for a hitter of Manny's caliber.
Note well, though - this is NOT an argument for spending big money on any other free agent. throwing an eight figure salary at a Burnett or a Ben Sheets or a Derick Lowe would be insanity. no one else out there on the market can change the completion of a team the way Manny can.
Once the pretense of perusing Burnett is thankfully finished, the Jays should step to the front of the pack on Ramirez and get it done.
UPDATE: I don't want to steal anyone else's good idea - so rather than edit it in I will only say, read the comments on this one as Ari has really added to this idea in his comment.