The Blue Jays fell just short of achieving their goal of making the playoffs this season, but a 91-71 season has Toronto trending upward. That’s cold comfort for a fan base well-removed from its glory days, however. Following back-to-back World Series victories in 1992-93, Canada’s premier baseball club has made the playoffs just three times in the last 28 seasons – once during the shortened 2020 campaign that expanded the playoff field.
Still, the Jays appear on the cusp of sustained success that Canadians haven’t seen from their ball club since Joe Carter’s historic blast ended the 1993 season. Ownership seems to think so, too, as team president Mark Shapiro said today that, despite the COVID-related revenue losses, the payroll will continue to rise, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). With deadline acquisition Jose Berrios just a year from free agency, and young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette without long-term deals, the Jays will need to pony up significant dough to keep this core together and competitive long-term.
Cot’s Contracts put Toronto’s 2021 payroll bill to be around $154MM, tweets Nicholson-Smith, and it doesn’t sound as if the Jays are quite ready to consider exceeding the luxury tax. But there’s a fair amount of territory between the $210MM tax line (pending the new CBA) and the $154MM they spent in 2021. As of right now, they have an estimated $114MM projected for their 2022 roster, though that number included estimates for arbitration players and only includes contracts for those players under team control.
It’s no secret that Charlie Montoyo’s club has a couple of significant players heading towards free agency, namely second baseman Marcus Semien and starters Robbie Ray and Steven Matz. For what it’s worth, Shapiro didn’t shy away from saying they plan to try to bring those three back, per Nicholson-Smith (via Twitter). But he also made a point of saying that improving the club is the priority, not bringing back the same 91-team from 2021.
So is bringing all three back a reasonable expectation? Shapiro should have clarity from ownership on their spending limits in a month or so, per MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson (via Twitter). Shapiro certainly seemed to prepare the fan base to say goodbye to at least one of those three, if not more.
Semien is probably the most popular, as well as the safest bet considering his track record, but he also plays a position where the Jays have some depth – both in the near-and-long-term. Cavan Biggio could slide over to the keystone from the hot corner, as could 26-year-old Santiago Espinal after posting a surprising 115 wRC+ in 246 plate appearances. That could make Semien expendable.
Not to mention, Semien is likely looking for a long-term deal after making good on his season-long showcase, and the Jays have fast-rising 19-year-old infielder Orelvis Martinez making his way to the Majors. Martinez certainly isn’t ready to replicate Semien’s 6.6 fWAR season, but he might offer enough promise to push the Jays to devote their resources elsewhere.
Ray and Matz are coming off monster years considering where they’d been as recently as 2020, but the Jays need more starting pitching. Even with Berrios in the fold and Alek Manoah having established himself in the rotation, they still need an arm or two to fill out the rotation. Maybe they feel comfortable enough with the strides made by either Ray or Matz to invest in them long-term, but they might want to see the price tag first, too.
Toronto isn’t limiting their spending just to the payroll, however, as they’ve also allocated some organizational resources to upgrading the fan experience at the ballpark. There will be a new scoreboard at the Rogers Centre next season, per Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star. That doesn’t mean a future move is outside the realm of possibility, though it certainly would seem that the Jays will have at least a near-term future in their usual confines. While that leaves a fair amount of wiggle room for the future, even a full season back in the Rogers Centre would be more stability than they’ve had in years.