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Mark Shapiro expects payroll to continue to rise despite Blue Jays lagging behind in revenue

The Blue Jays have a big winter ahead of them.

After coming up just short of reaching the playoffs with a 91-71 record, Toronto heads into the off-season with a pair of key contributors, Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien, set to hit free agency.

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Mark Shapiro gave an end-of-season press conference on Monday in which he offered some optimism for fans when it comes to how the team is going to operate over the winter. While Shapiro and Co. don’t yet have a payroll figure for the 2022 season, the Blue Jays President and CEO believes that ownership will continue the trend of increasing spending…

“The choreography of our off-season leaves our final payroll meeting with ownership still about one month away, so while I’d like to think I’m making those decisions unilaterally, I’m certainly not. We’ve got to make our proposal.

But every indication I’ve received, and I think every indication that we’ve been shown, which is the demonstration of consistent and strong support, along with us fulfilling our end of the bargain, which is demonstrating that the team continues to improve and we continue to perform on the field. That leads me to believe that we will stay on plan and the payroll will continue to rise despite the fact we’re still lagging behind that a little bit in revenues due to uncontrollable circumstances.”

After tearing things down and going cheap in 2019, the Blue Jays have made significant financial investments in players in back-to-back off-seasons. They signed Hyun Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million deal ahead of the 2020 season and they made the biggest signing in franchise history a year later, giving George Springer a six-year, $150 million contract.

The question Shapiro’s quote comes from is one from Shi Davidi about whether the Blue Jays payroll would increase despite the revenue shortfall the organization has dealt with due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, everyone played only 60 games and no fans were in the stadiums, and then, in 2021, while the rest of the teams largely returned to normal, the Blue Jays spent most of their season in Dunedin and Buffalo with much smaller crowds. Even when the Blue Jays returned to Toronto, they operated at a 15,000 seat capacity until the final six games of their season when they upped it to 30,000.

So, long story short, a whole bunch less cash came in over 2020 and 2021 than anticipated, but Shapiro is indicating that ownership will likely still increase the budget in order to move along with the big-picture plan, which was to lean in as the Blue Jays started to get good.

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To be honest, given the fact the team was given the green light to sign Springer to a $150 million deal last winter immediately after losing out on a full season of ticket revenue, there shouldn’t be all too much skepticism about Rogers’ comfort level with letting the front office spend. The question is simply how much higher next year’s payroll will be than last year’s and if it’ll be enough to sign Ray and Semien.

A couple of other notes…

Shapiro mentioned that improving the Rogers Centre is still a key issue for the organization and that it has sort of been swept under the rug due to the pandemic. The organization is still planning to address the issue and improve the stadium, but, for now, the only thing that’s on the horizon in that regard is that there’ll be a new scoreboard in 2022.

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Finally, Shapiro didn’t seem at all worried about how MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement situation would impact the team’s off-season. He said he’s confident that a new deal between MLB and the Players’ Association will be reached by Dec. 1 and this isn’t an issue that lingers throughout the off-season. That’s good news given Shapiro is close with the league’s front office.