Ratings, Rogers, and Rumours: On TV numbers, Bautista talk, Edwin’s comment, and Jay Bruce

Jose Bautista
Photo credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sportsnet is crowing today about the first half TV ratings that the Blue Jays pulled in, and why shouldn’t they be?

Oh. Wait. That was supposed to be rhetorical, but I think I can answer this! Is it, perhaps, because this impressive achievement has literally nothing to do with the TV network and everything to do with the team? A team that, despite whatever these big numbers might mean, is almost certainly going to cry poor when it comes to re-signing their biggest impending free agent, Jose Bautista — and may well do so with others, like Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, and Brett Cecil?

I mean, I get that Rogers likes to needle their competition with such boasts, and I get that these sorts of breathless press releases are de rigueur in that industry, but ugh. A thing like that just invites cynicism, and invites questions about who will actually end up benefiting from Sportsnet’s great financial windfall here. Will it be fans of the Blue Jays, thanks to a big increase in team payroll, or will it be Rogers shareholders and TV executives who can use the Jays’ success to offset the bath they took this year on NHL rights and the overall decline of the TV industry, which they’re only noticing at least 10 years too late?

Colour me more than a little fucking skeptical of the former. But only based on a half-decade of watching Rogers fail to see the value in acting like a big market team with an enormous TV base and a stadium that cost them practically nothing sitting within spitting distance of the financial heart of Canada.

Of course, even the wealthiest of teams will sometimes find reasons not to outbid the rest of the league in order to keep their best free agents — the Yankees with Robinson Cano, and the Dodgers with Zack Greinke, for example. And none of this is to go far as making the discourse-dumbing implication — as Richard Griffin did in the Toronto Star a couple weeks ago — that Alex Anthopoulos left the Jays a payroll martyr, and Mark Shapiro (“the frugal one,” as Griff uncomfortably calls him) has been brought in to run the club exactly like the one he ran in Cleveland (just like Andrew Friedman was brought in to run the Dodgers exactly like he did the Rays, RIGHHHHTTTT???).

It’s just… it’s complicated. Though mostly it’s frustrating that all the reasons that the Jays shouldn’t have a payroll that currently ranks between Kansas City and Baltimore seem so plain, while all the reasons it can’t be higher than it is seem like logically twisted corporate horseshit.

Yet some will tell you that these Sportsnet numbers aren’t something to roll our eyes at and make unoriginal sarcastic comments about. Some who clearly know more about the business world than I do — which, granted, includes approximately everybody — can only view it as a positive.

Take twitterer @AbstractMonkey for example, who says, “Canadian dollar aside, this is the clearest indication of ‘winning implies more money’ yet. This is good. It’s something their accountants can calculate when deciding whether it’s worth it to ‘win now’ or not. Of course they are happy it’s offsetting hockey. But ‘offsetting hockey loss’ is not the goal. They just want to maximize profit. The argument against what I’m saying is that Rogers is a ‘divisional organization’ and not a ‘functional organization’. So, ‘Sportsnet’ and ‘Blue Jays’ are separate line items in their reports, and they justify profits separately for each. This is in contrast to organizations who do not divide, and would instead categorize ‘Jays TV and Jays org’ as only one item. But the fact they bought the Jays and the Fan to improve Sportsnet means they are perfectly capable of thinking functionally.”

I certainly pushed back against the lunatic this-will-fuck-the-Blue-Jays narrative when Rogers announced its huge NHL rights deal in November of 2013 by pointing out that the company obviously saw the huge value in PVR-proof content. But it often feels like whether the Jays and Sportsnet are to be viewed as separate depends on which is most convenient for Rogers.

So… I don’t really know what to claim this means, if anything. I guess, at the very least, that the Jays are good and attendance is strong and ratings are record-breaking is better than if all those things were bad.

* * *

Whether all that means payroll will rise enough to accommodate re-signing Jose Bautista is still impossible to say — which, naturally, and insufferably, has led to a whole lot of talk about the possibility of him getting traded before the deadline on August 1st.

It’s an idea that, like a whole lot of Jays fans, I don’t want to take particularly seriously. Yet I do think there’s a non-zero chance that something like that actually happens. Just not much more of a chance than that.

There *is* sense, if you’re the Blue Jays, in wondering if you can get something that will help you more in the immediate- or near-term than the compensatory draft pick you expect to get for one of your free agents when they sign elsewhere. And I think there are scenarios, at least theoretically, where you can do that without dealing your current season a fatal blow. The Red Sox dealt Nomar Garciaparra under similar circumstances once, and not for prospects, don’t forget.

But is putting in the work to find a deal like that actually worth the use of a club’s finite amount of resources in the lead-up to the deadline? Specifically this club’s, given how complicated it would be to pull it off? I have a hard time believing it.

Bautista has 10-and-5 rights (which Garciaparra did not), meaning he can block any trade. And while I’ve seen it suggested that giving him a window to negotiate a contract extension with a new club might entice him to waive those rights, he’s so close to hitting the open market that I have a very hard time seeing him forgo that opportunity — something he’s said “everybody should experience at least once in their life, if they get a chance to” — and frankly, right now I doubt that there will be teams lining up to sign him on his terms anyway.

Complicating things further is the fact that Bautista is currently injured (the Jays are “hopeful” he’ll be back “by the end of the month”), that he hasn’t exactly been great this season, and that it’s hard to envision this team being better without him than with him. I mean, sure, they’ve been excellent since he hit the DL, and that ought to give us a whole lot of hope about next year (especially if they at *least* re-sign Edwin — though, judging by his comment this week to noted teen Chris Cotillo, that won’t be happening over the All-Star break, unfortunately), but we all know how a baseball season works. Or at least we ought to know before we start suggesting that the team will be fine without one of the most productive offensive players on the planet. All three of Donaldson, Encarnacion, and Tulowitzki won’t be scorching hot for the rest of the season (OR WILL THEY?), so to think that there won’t be moments when the Jays need Bautista’s bat the rest of the way is utterly, utterly ridiculous. A team playing well for 20-odd games means nothing — ask the Red Sox! HEYO! And the Jays are actually only just 13-9 over the 22 games Bautista has been out.

We really don’t need to talk so much about this.

* * *

In fact, the idea of dealing Bautista seems all the more silly when you look at what Ken Rosenthal said about the Jays in his latest Full Count video for Fox Sports. In it he discusses the fact that the club is still said to be sniffing around the Reds’ Jay Bruce — a player, as we all know, they almost dealt Michael Saunders for this spring.

Bruce to the Jays, Rosenthal says, “Makes more sense than you might think.” That’s because, while “pitching is their priority,” it appears that the market for pitching is “so limited the team may try to upgrade on the offensive side.”

Bruce’s defensive skills have deteriorated quite badly, especially according to the metrics. So much so that he’s merely been a replacement level player this season, according to WAR. But August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs wrote last week that the numbers may not tell the whole story, and there are scouts who certainly think he’s been better than that). And Bruce has hit for power while posting his lowest strikeout rate since 2009 (albeit with his lowest walk rate as a big leaguer), which likely makes him an upgrade on Ezequiel Carrera and Justin Smoak.

It also doesn’t hurt that he has a not-entirely-awful $13-million option for next season, which would at least guarantee the Jays a second big league outfielder next season, with only Kevin Pillar currently under contract for 2017, and Bautista and Saunders free-agents-to-be (Zeke, bless him, doesn’t count in this equation).

I wouldn’t exactly be falling all over myself to get Jay Bruce on this team, but if he didn’t cost an exorbitant prospect price to acquire I can see how it would make sense.

Plus, going full-out on offence would be kind of amazing. I think actually workable, too. And, perhaps more importantly, it would also be a plan that Jose Bautista is very much a part of. At least here in 2016 — which is all that really matters, because even with the big ratings and robust revenue streams, where the team goes from here is still anybody’s guess.

Now go pay Edwin before the damn All-Star break ends!