The Blue Jays began the offseason with a bang but after signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson/Michael Saunders everything seemed to come to a grinding halt. Despite a previously stated desire to upgrade the bullpen there wasn’t much done to improve an area of the club that was a major weakness in 2014.
Along the way there was plenty of speculation about “payroll parameters.” It seemed like the club didn’t have as much money at its disposal as previously thought and as relievers started coming off the board there was a thought that the lack of funds was the main reason why. Along those same lines, it was discovered that potential buyouts and money for players getting called up after injuries had to be factored into the club’s overall payroll. Even the sagging Canadian dollar was being hypothesized as a reason behind the lack of spending.
But then came news this week that the Blue Jays signed left-hander Johan Santana to a Minor League contract. Even though the deal doesn’t come with guaranteed money, Santana would make $2.5 million if he makes the big-league roster and could earn as much as $6.55 million through incentives (according to CBS Sports) based on number of games started and time spent on the active roster. Two days later, outfielder Dayan Viciedo was added through a similar Minor League deal that would be worth another $2.5 million if he makes the team.
Anthopoulos is right when he says that both deals are completely risk free but if buyouts and DL time have to be factored into the club’s set payroll, one would assume both of these deals would have to count towards that as well. Toronto wouldn’t be offering upwards of $9.05 million unless it has received permission from ownership group Rogers Communications to have the current payroll increased by that same amount.
So that begs the question, if Toronto had this amount of money to spend all along why wasn’t it used on the bullpen instead of on late additions to a couple of spots where the club already has at least some degree of depth? It’s possible that the disappointing performances of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Francisco Cordero in recent years are one motivating factor. It’s also possible that Anthopoulos simply didn’t like the available pitchers enough, there were health issues or they didn’t want to come to Toronto. But with the bullpen still very much in a state of flux let’s take a closer look at some of the pitchers who signed that would have been affordable in hindsight:
RHP Burke Badenhop — $1 million with the Reds plus a $4 million mutual option for 2016 with a $1.5 million buyout.
RHP Joba Chamberlain — $1 million with the Tigers, plus an additional $500,000 possible through incentives
RHP Jason Grilli — $8 million over two years with the Braves
RHP Casey Janssen — $5 million with the Nationals
RHP Jason Motte — $4.5 million with the Cubs
RHP Alexi Ogando — $1.5 million with the Red Sox, plus an additional $1.5 million through incentives
RHP Luke Hochevar — $10 million over two years with the Royals
A more expensive group that would still technically fit into the $9.05 million the Blue Jays could be spending on Santana/Viciedo:
RHP Luke Gregerson — $18.5 million over three years with the Astros
RHP Pat Neshek — $12.5 million over two years with the Astros
RHP Sergio Romo — $15 million over two years with the Giants
(Editor’s note — I’m purposely leaving Andrew Miller and David Robertson off this list because their contracts went quite high)
Rafael Soriano is still available but Anthopoulos has already ruled out adding another player on a guaranteed deal. The Blue Jays are open to the idea of signing more pitchers to a Minor League deal and one possible fit could be Phil Coke but he’s still holding out for guaranteed money. Either way, it doesn’t seem like the Blue Jays are going to do anything significant with the bullpen.
Relievers are notoriously difficult to predict from year to year. There seems to be an endless list of candidates for a spot in Toronto with Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup as the only ones with guaranteed jobs. Aaron Sanchez likely can be added to that list because even though he’s competing for a starting job the lack of viable options likely forces his move to the bullpen (which potentially could have been avoided if Toronto added a pair of arms this winter).
It’s also worth pointing out that because the money going towards Santana and Viciedo isn’t guaranteed if they don’t make the team then that money could be available for additions during the season. Despite all of that, based strictly on need, it seems like it would have been more beneficial to spend at least some of that $9.05 million on a veteran reliever. The Blue Jays obviously don’t agree.