The Blue Jays’ 2018 Payroll Outlook

Trying to figure out where the Blue Jays payroll is going — or where any team’s payroll is going, I suppose — involves quite a bit of guesswork. Believe me, I’ve done this a few times already this season alone.

The data available at Cot’s Baseball Contracts is an enormous help, as (among other things) it outlines who dollars have already been committed to, and where guys are in the arbitration process. But as far as deciding what we figure players’ arbitration salaries will actually be, while it maybe isn’t quite a crap shoot, it’s not exactly scientific, either. At least not when I do it.

But our friends over at MLB Trade Rumors do use a bit of science for this stuff! They, along with Matt Swartz, “have developed an accurate model to project arbitration salaries” — something that Swartz explains a bit here. And today, they released their projected arbitration salaries for 2018. So let’s see what they say about the Jays, how these new numbers fit into our payroll projection, and how we (read: I) did when spitballing these numbers early in the summer.

First, here are the projections for the Jays’ ten arbitration-eligible players (service time in parentheses):

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  • Josh Donaldson (5.158) – $20.7MM
  • Aaron Loup (5.040) – $1.8MM
  • Tom Koehler (4.090) – $6.0MM
  • Ezequiel Carrera (4.039) – $1.9MM
  • Marcus Stroman (3.148) – $7.2MM
  • Kevin Pillar (3.113) – $4.0MM
  • Ryan Goins (3.106) – $1.8MM
  • Aaron Sanchez (3.069) – $1.9MM
  • Devon Travis (3.000) – $1.7MM
  • Roberto Osuna (3.000) – $5.6MM

In total, that’s $52.6 million projected to go to this group of players. My most recent attempt at a calculation came last month, when the club re-signed Marco Estrada. My guess at that time: that these players, all told, would add up to $51.7 million. LOL! Pretty not bad!

Mind you, I was farther off than that with some individual valuations — a couple million high on Donaldson, a million low on Stroman; high on Sanchez, low on Pillar — but more importantly, I guess this means that my calculations at the time were fairly sound. Here’s what I wrote at the time, minus the guesswork on the arb guys:

The Jays now have eight guaranteed contracts on the books for 2018:

  • Russell Martin, $20 million
  • Troy Tulowitzki, $20 million
  • J.A. Happ, $13 million
  • Marco Estrada, $13 million
  • Kendrys Morales, $11 million
  • Steve Pearce, $6.25 million
  • Justin Smoak, $4.125 million
  • Lourdes Gurriel, $1.429 million

Add in a $500K buyout for José Bautista (*sadface*) and that’s $89.304 million.

At that point I added the arbitration salaries, which then took us to “about $141 million,” and now, with MLBTR’s figures, takes us to $141.9 million. That covers 18 players.

I went on:

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Because Gurriel won’t be on the big league roster, though, let’s actually say that this roster has just 17 players on it, and so would be filled out by another eight players making, on average (judging by this year’s crop of pre-arb salaries on the Jays), a touch less than $550K. So that brings us to a little bit over $145 million in total.

With the revised figures, we’re now talking about $146 million. Realistically, though, it’s more like $140 million, because it seems unlikely that the club would tender a $6 million contract to Tom Koehler.

The Jays’ payroll in 2016, per Cot’s, was $163,381,937.

So, assuming payroll stays about the same, they’re going to have between $20 and $25 million they can spend this winter.

Sure though, there are ways that the club could get creative to add a little wiggle room for themselves. Maybe they find someone who’ll take Morales or Pearce. Maybe they can flip Pillar for a cheaper piece. Maybe they sign Stroman or Donaldson to an extension that pays them less than their projected number this season, with those dollars being added back into the contract in later years. Maybe, with ownership perhaps being more keen on avoiding a rebuild than the front office is, even more money will be made available, just to help avoid killing the golden goose that is the Jays’ TV ratings. Maybe they get some cheap big league pieces for Donaldson and argue that those, plus whatever they can get by adding another $20 million to shop with, makes the team better than it would have been if they had kept him and had less to spend.

But more realistically? Yeah… that’s probably about it.

Can the Jays obtain “one impact arm and one impact position player for sure” with that kind of money? Depends on your definition of “impact,” I suppose.

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It’s not a bad amount, don’t get me wrong. It’s just… to be successful they’ll have to thread the needle pretty good with these dollars, and still hope for better health than they had this season. They may not need to earmark quite as much for depth than they did in 2017, thanks to the strides they’ve made internally in that department. But… yeah…

Better get creative, Jays!

      • Deener32

        I was reacting to this “So, assuming payroll stays about the same, they’re going to have between $20 and $25 million they can spend this winter.”

        And the paragraph after about being creative to add wiggle room.

        I honestly believe they will be hard pressed to not increase payroll after how strong viewership and attendance was last year.

        On the other hand-When I renewed my 20 game pack I received significantly better seats than I did this past year.

        • They’ve already increased payroll a whole lot. I’m not sure there’s much higher they’ll go — and I think even just staying at the same level, despite not generating any playoff revenue this season, is pretty big.

          Unfortunately, the ticket increases are more about ensuring that revenue stream remains in line with what their competitors get out of their own in the long term, I think.

          Rogers will always be able to spend more than they are, but payroll really has come a long way pretty recently. And while much of that is that the new CBA phased the Jays out of revenue sharing, I dunno, I guess I just find it hard to want to break out the pitchforks and torches, even with the ticket increases, when you look at where it’s gone. $40 million higher than 2015 is pretty good!

          • Adamg

            “$40 million higher than 2015 is pretty good ” – depends on how you look at it. Could easily say they vastly under funded 2015 team with 10th highest payroll (only $6 million more than Cincinnatti).

  • Tom Flawless

    I wonder if this offseason we’ll finally see some splashy moves (trades and/or free agent signings) from this front office. I think it’s inevitable that Shapiro and Atkins will make this happen at *some* point, it’s just a matter of when. It seems like they’re just waiting for the right FA player or right trade offer(s) to come their way, and I’d like to think that the team’s poor performance this year will spur them on to act more boldly.

    The moves we’ve seen so far are mostly limping in, and some of that has worked out; I’d say it’s about 50/50 so far. Off the top of my head: extending Estrada (+), signing Happ (+), signing Morales (-), signing Pearce (+/-), coming up empty on Reddick (based on getting outbid or based on a lack of player interest?) (-), and falling a year short on their offer to Fowler (+/-).

    The Jays’ front office knows they have some money to play with. And while they’re rather stubborn with their valuations (that’s often a good thing), they’ll inevitably look to alter the core of the team. E.g. the Donaldson situation will see them extend him, trade him, or perhaps replace him with a splashy 5+ WAR player, presumably after next season — because losing him leaves a hole talent-wise and also in terms of payroll, even when you factor in ARB raises for Stroman, Sanchez, and others.

    • Tom Flawless

      I should add that I think ownership buy-in, as with Edward Rogers Jr.’s assistance on the Bautista deal (and what I deduced was a promise at that point to offer further expand payroll if the Jays stayed in the race until the non-waiver trade deadline), supports this point.

      For example (and this is dreamworld stuff, I know), ownership would support the front office’s pitch to Otani and have Rogers sign him to a massive sponsorship deal (or quietly get behind a massive extension offer) if Shapiro and Atkins pitch them on this. Or maybe they’d offer to sign Darvish just to entice Otani. All of this farfetched, but it’s daydream-worthy and it makes the offseason fun.