Perhaps for the first time in his tenure as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos will look to dive into the free agent market in earnest.
Or at least, that’s what his recent comments to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet would suggest … if you were do inclined as to read between the lines anyway. If taken to an extreme in assuming that Rogers will finally open up their wallets, this would obviously be a game-changer for the Blue Jays and their fan base: it would mean instead of daydreaming about folks like Brian McCann or Matt Garza signing big contracts to play in Canada, even wild speculations like a Max Scherzer trade with the Detroit Tigers might end up being possibilities.
Taken at face value, however, it’s likely the fact that what interest the executive might have in the big names will simply remain just that.
Call it well-honed pessimism that few can provide as well as Toronto sports, but despite Anthopoulos’ best intentions to turn this roster around once more by using his “prospect capital” and the “advantage” of the fact that they don’t have to give up a first-round pick to sign a big-name free agent, the GM appears to be hamstrung as far as how much money he’ll actually have to make it happen.
This is especially true of pitchers, who are the most costly commodities on the market. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at Ervin Santana‘s outrageous nine-figure expectation after a 3.0 fWAR bounce-back season.
Then again, even guys who didn’t really bounce back much at all like Tim Lincecum ended up getting paid $34 million over two years, so maybe it’s not so wild after all. If the team is to add even one of the top free agent starters, it would more than likely make that player the highest paid player in 2014, and given that the existing payroll will only continue to increase (Mark Buehrle will make $18 and $19 million on 2014 and 2015 respectively, while Jose Reyes‘ salary jumps to $22 million in 2015), any sort of fiscal responsibility would say that it’s just not happening, lest the Blue Jays have a wish to approach the luxury tax threshold.
In short, unless some major salary is cleared off the roster, they aren’t going to be adding big-name players.
Even if the team wanted to push having a $150 million payroll for a few years, that would realistically only get them one impact arm (like a Scherzer, if traded for and signed for around $20 million per year). The problem with top-tier players, of course, is not just about annual salary — there’s a significant investment in term to be considered as well, and it’s likely that Toronto would be outbid there even if they have some money to spend.
Besides, if Anthopoulos has to get rid of the salary of an existing asset to clear up room, what would be the point? It’s not like the team is just one arm away, yes? If anything, they’re two arms, a catcher and a second baseman away from before even considering themselves contenders in 2014 — and that’s something that the free agent market won’t fix.
So, while it would be nice for Blue Jays nation to think about McCann putting on a Toronto jersey to save the team from J.P. Arencibia, the fact is that the added interest in free agency this year on the part of Anthopoulos will not change the team’s measured approach there. It’s still much more likely the case that they’ll try to trade for reinforcements, taking the risky but necessary route and banking on players not being busts.
Payroll parameters and common sense do converge at some point; as far as overpaying for known quantities, even if Toronto needs them … well, that’s not happening as long as guys like Ricky Nolasco are asking for $80 million, you know?