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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays have the second largest payroll decline in MLB

Times are tough in Major League Baseball. Despite record-setting revenues of $10.3 billion in 2018, 23 of 30 MLB teams have chosen to ratchet down their payroll in 2019. As it stands, only seven of 30 teams have more money on the books in 2019 than they did in 2018.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that the Blue Jays are among the contingent who have scaled back significantly in terms of payroll for the 2019 campaign. They aren’t the biggest purse-string-tightener in Major League Baseball, but it’s pretty close.

Only the Baltimore Orioles have scaled back more than the Blue Jays have. Where the O’s ran a $127.6 million payroll in 2018, they’ve dialled it back over 50% to a mere $60.8 million in 2019. The Blue Jays had a $150.9 million payroll in 2018 and they’re forecasted to run $104.5 million payroll in 2019. That’s a 30% decrease from the year before.

A full breakdown of all 30 teams below.

Data via Spotrac

Sure, payrolls fluctuate as free agents are signed and trades are made throughout the season, but at this moment, 23 of 30 teams have spent less on payroll than one year ago. Nearly one-third of teams have seen a dropoff of 20% or more in total payroll year-over-year. The Blue Jays have the sixth largest payroll decrease among all 30 teams.

Team 2019 2018 Difference Percent
Baltimore Orioles $60,893,782 $127,633,703 -$66,739,921 -52.29%
Pittsburgh Pirates $58,925,002 $91,025,861 -$32,100,859 -35.27%
Kansas City Royals $84,446,667 $129,944,821 -$45,498,154 -35.01%
Tampa Bay Rays $47,029,166 $68,810,167 -$21,781,001 -31.65%
Cleveland Indians $98,778,751 $142,804,703 -$44,025,952 -30.83%
Toronto Blue Jays $104,573,571 $150,946,147 -$46,372,576 -30.72%

Factor in the $38.595 million the Blue Jays are paying Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Yangervis Solarte and Jaime Garcia to not play for them in 2019, the team has just under $66 million in payroll devoted to active players on their 25-man roster. That’s the fifth-lowest total in MLB.

Unless something drastic happens which miraculously vaults the Blue Jays into a contender this season, chances are they will subtract even more members from the roster, which will further decrease their payroll.

A midseason trade of Ken Giles here and trade deadline deal of Marcus Stroman there and the Blue Jays could easily finish with a sub-$100 million payroll this year. There’s a strong possibility they will end the 2019 season running a sub-$100 million payroll, something they haven’t done since the 2012 season.

For the past six years, the Blue Jays have invested at least $100 million or more in their payroll, and 2019 might be the first year when they finish under $100 million. It’s a very strange dynamic because the Blue Jays were among the top 10 spenders in baseball from 2013 to 2017.

This is the new norm in baseball now. It’s the same universe where two MVP candidates in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remained unsigned. It’s the same universe where the bulk of teams seem uninterested in winning and fielding a competitive team.

I’m not saying what the Blue Jays are doing is “wrong”. It’s completely expected and warranted, given where their organization is developmentally and the high calibre of teams that they’re facing in the American League East. But would it hurt them to at least try?

The San Diego Padres have been the brunt of a lot of jokes across baseball for their apparent faint attempts at wooing Harper and Machado, but at least they’re doing something. If ever there was a time to get an MVP-calibre free agent player at a discount, this is it.

The Blue Jays’ timeline for contention projects to take place within the next two to three years, which means 2019 and 2020 could be painful to watch as young players develop and find their footing in the organization.

The front office is employing one of two strategies here; they’re either shedding payroll in the short-term to make themselves significant players in the free agent or trade market in a few years (much like the Jays executed during their 2012 and 2014 offseasons). Or, they’re scaling back spending to increase their profit margins.

Part of me believes it’s a bit of both. Fast forward to 2021 and in an ideal world, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has established himself as one of baseball’s brightest stars, Bo Bichette is an everyday player and the Blue Jays have a payroll healthy enough to sustain significant free agent (or two) to supplement their young core.

Major League Baseball is entrenched in this odd transition phase where teams are either all-in or all-out. 23 teams have chosen to step back, while seven have chosen to soldier on in their quest for a World Series title.

Some of those 23 teams may fall ass backwards into contention like the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays found themselves last year, but unless that organization has a stellar record of drafting and developing, a $60 million payroll is no way to sustain a contending team.

The Blue Jays should take note.

  • Jeff2sayshi

    Ok, so I understand developing prospects. I get what the Jays are doing. BUT…..

    They’re not in an absolute zero position with no prospects and therefore losing the most games to get the best prospects makes sense. They have some very good prospects in certain positions. Shedding payroll everywhere because “well, we’re not going to win it all, so why bother?” is kind of an offputting message. Why bother paying attention when the front office doesn’t care? And, yes, the answer is because I enjoy it, and the team. Which, they understand the psychology. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to spend money to watch them.

    • Piercey20

      Ok… thought about it… offer more. There is $0 of guaranteed money after this year besides the pittance that is owed to LGJ. Vlad JR will be making very little in the first 5 years of his playing time. Front load Bryce contract. Offer opt out after 5 or 6 years.

  • getrdone

    If management is scaling back because this year is the year to reboot and winning is not THAT important, are you not telling the fans that you really do not care about fielding a good team? Do they give any of the gate back to the folks who have to sit through a mediocre season “by design”?