On the Jays' 2022 payroll and the drama at Rogers

What might the Blue Jays’ payroll look like in 2022? On Tuesday we may not have gotten the answer, but we certainly got something to think about. And how might the future of the Blue Jays be affected by Edward Rogers’ removal from his position as chairman of the board of Rogers Communications? That’s maybe a little murkier. So let’s talk about it!

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On Tuesday morning I woke up, immediately opened up Twitter like a maniac, and saw a tweet purporting to have inside information about the Blue Jays’ 2022 payroll that didn’t make any sense. I fired off an incredulous tweet or three about it, which in retrospect I shouldn’t have. The account, stylized BLUEJAYS HOTSTOVE, had reported on the Jays being approved to return to Toronto before the news was officially announced. They were also ahead of the curve on news of capacity at Rogers Centre being increased to 30,000. That doesn’t mean that this information is necessarily accurate, but for me it adds credibility — as does the fact that they were more polite with me than I deserved when adding context to the information they gave on Tuesday morning.

After a coffee, some back and forth, and some prodding and discussion elsewhere about the general leakiness of things to do with this team, I’ve come around to the idea that the information might actually be valid — just a little bit misleading.

Here’s the tweet:

Now, here’s some important context:

Mark Shapiro said in his session with the media on Monday that the meeting with ownership to finalize payroll is still a month away, and that the Jays will need to still make their proposal to the board. The operative word in the tweet, then, is “expected.” It was explained to me that this is the number the Jays are planning for, and Shapiro did say on Monday that “every indication I’ve received … leads me to believe that we will stay on plan.”

So the number does still have to be finalized, but the Jays don’t expect any surprises there, and according to this info — if true — they’re mapping out their off-season with the idea that payroll will be $180 million.

Something Shapiro also said, however, was that the team will not likely be in a position to push payroll up to the level of the competitive balance tax threshold at any point in the near future. “It's not something that we're planning for as we sit here and look at the payrolls moving out,” he explained.

This is where the misleading bit comes in, because there are multiple things that one can mean when referring to “payroll.” Most discussions about payroll usually refer to a team’s opening day payroll — quite simply the salaries of the players on a club’s active roster on opening day. But if you go to the team pages at Cot’s, which is my go-to site for all this kind of stuff, you’ll see three distinct payroll columns: the opening day 26-man payroll, the year-end 40-man payroll, and the competitive balance tax 40-man payroll.

To get the CBT payroll number Cot's adds $15 million per club in estimated “benefits” (pension payments, insurance, meal money, transportation, etc.) for players, plus $2.25 million for salaries of players on the 40-man but not on the active roster. (The CBT number also uses average annual value for any player on a multi-year contract, rather than his actual salary for that particular year.)

In other words, if the Jays were to run an opening day payroll of $180 million, their CBT payroll would be something like $200 million. The threshold in 2021 was $210 million. But with Shapiro also indicating that the team expects payroll to continue to grow in future seasons, and with clubs needing to budget for in-season additions and any performance bonuses they may need to pay out, that would take the Jays very close territory that Shapiro said he hasn’t really even thought about. Provided, that is, the threshold doesn’t skyrocket under the terms of the new CBA — but I think that’s unlikely to happen because, as Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported back in August, MLB’s first economic proposal to the Players Association called for the tax threshold to actually be lowered to (interestingly enough) $180 million in exchange for a new salary floor of $100 million.

This means that the $180 million figure, if accurate, can’t be the opening day payroll.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that if this figure is true, it represents a pretty significant bump, as Cot’s has the Jays’ 2021 CBT number calculated as $153 million, and Roster Resource — another great site for this stuff — has their 2021 year-end payroll coming in at $140.5 million.

As for next season, Roster Resource has already gone to the trouble of estimating where the Jays’ CBT number for 2022 currently sits. That includes the average annual value of guaranteed contracts ($58.5 million), estimated salaries for pre-arb players ($8 million), salaries for players on the 40-man who aren't on the active roster ($2.25 million), player benefits (in Roster Resource's estimation that's $16 million), and estimated salaries for arbitration eligible players ($41 million).

All told, that’s $126.4 million.

Now, some tweaking. The average annual value of George Springer's deal ($25 million) is $4.7 million lower than his real salary in 2022, while the AAV of Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s deal ($3.1 million) is $1.8 million below his 2022 salary as well. That brings the number to $132.9 million.

So does that leave the Jays with about $50 million to spend on the free agent market? Maybe! But there’s more to the puzzle to consider. For one, do those “benefits” actually factor into this number? The CBT number is really just an instrument that the league uses to determine if a club owes luxury tax at the end of the year. It’s possible that those benefits would go into a different column of the club’s budget sheet, just as you’d expect with money for the draft, international signings, minor league affiliates, etc.

If I had to guess — and, let’s be clear, this is all guesswork — I’d figure the $180 million number being reported, if true, is probably more like the expected year-end 40-man roster payroll. If so, that means we can exclude the $16 million for benefits so our number goes down to $116.9 million. That would mean the Jays have something like $63 million to work with this winter. But keep in mind that, as I said above, clubs also need to budget for in-season additions and performance bonuses, so maybe that takes it down to $55 million or so.

Again, I have no idea if the reported $180 million figure is accurate, or whether any of my guesses are on the mark, but that all seems fairly realistic, doesn’t it? It’s also not necessarily a whole lot of money to throw around when you consider what the Jays will need to do this winter.

And, of course, with the drama coming from the Rogers boardroom, that number might be even less likely to be correct.

On Wednesday, Alexandra Posadzki and Andrew Willits of the Globe and Mail reported on the matter thusly:

Independent directors at Rogers Communications Inc. are pushing back against attempts by chair Edward Rogers to overhaul the telecom and media giant’s leadership, and the company’s family trust will hold an emergency meeting to consider limiting Mr. Rogers’s ability to exercise voting control.

The boardroom rift in the middle of the $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. erupted after Mr. Rogers attempted to replace Rogers chief executive officer Joe Natale with chief financial officer Tony Staffieri and oust other members of the company’s leadership team. It pits Mr. Rogers against his mother, Loretta Rogers, and sisters Martha Rogers and deputy chair Melinda Rogers-Hixon. The majority of the Rogers family and the company’s board opposed Mr. Rogers’s plan, and Mr. Staffieri left the company.

Several independent Rogers board members, including lead director John MacDonald, presented their case to curtail the chair’s powers at a meeting of Rogers family members and advisers late Tuesday, according a source close to the board. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because they are not authorized to speak publicly about it.

In Posadzki’s reporting on Thursday she confirmed that Rogers has indeed been removed as chairman, though he will remain on the board. Awkward! Especially because of the delightfully Bunglefuck Eddie-esque way that the impending power play came to light.

“The warning from independent directors comes after company chair Edward Rogers attempted to replace Mr. Natale with the company’s chief financial officer Tony Staffieri and remove nine other senior leaders,” she writes. “Mr. Natale learned of the plan when Mr. Staffieri accidentally pocket-dialled him while he was discussing the matter with former long-time Rogers chief legal officer David Miller.”

While that part is extremely funny, obviously many Jays fans aren’t getting great vibes off this whole situation. Understandably so, considering the club’s relationship with ownership has seemed to be so good of late — and that it seemed to noticeably improve at the same time as Edward Rogers’ name became more prominent in connection to the club.

For example, when Mark Shapiro read out his prepared remarks at the beginning of last winter’s press conference announcing the signing of George Springer, the first person he thanked for his support was Rogers. It was different enough than usual to be noticeable, and at the time seemed to signal nothing but good. Now things feel like they could be a little bit messier in that relationship. When Shapiro makes his budget presentation a month from now, he’ll be doing so to a board chaired by MacDonald. That’s probably less good than presenting to one chaired by the chairman of the club. Also present will be the CEO that the chairman of the club (assuming Rogers retains that title) just tried to oust, while Staffieri, clearly an ally of Edward’s, is no longer in the picture.

That doesn’t sound great, but there are a few reasons why I think this situation is probably not as bad as Jays fans’ worst fears.

For one, it’s clear that Edward Rogers is not the only member of the board that Shapiro and the Jays were working with. We can see that in the words he said at the Springer presser as well.

I want to take a minute to acknowledge and thank Edward Rogers for his consistent belief and support. To thank senior leadership at Rogers as well — Joe Natale, Tony Staffieri, and Jim Reid — for their consistent commitment and support of our plan throughout years (in which it) was more difficult to believe sometimes in what we were doing.

I don’t know precisely what the structure is, who Shapiro reports to, or how any of it works, but the team isn’t just Edward’s toy. In fact, in February 2020 the company rebranded its media division as Rogers Sports and Media to more accurately reflect its mix of assets. Partly that’s because Rogers also controls a sizeable portion of MLSE, but the Blue Jays matter there. It may not anywhere near as big a part of their business as the $26-billion takeover of Shaw, but part of what Shapiro has done wasn’t merely sucking up to one fail son.

For two, as is made clear by the Globe’s reporting, a large part of the reason Edward’s power play was rejected is because the company wants stability, and wants to avoid the perception of chaos at the top as it tries get the Shaw deal over the finish line. It's about staying on plan, not suddenly upending what they're doing.

For three, the CEO is still the CEO, and he has been clear about his commitment to the Jays in the past. He was quoted by Bloomberg saying as much in April 2019, in the wake of the team having to eat a ton of money in order to move the expensive contracts of Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales.

Rogers Communications Inc. Chief Executive Office Joe Natale remains fiercely committed to the Toronto Blue Jays even after costly trades of two players led to an earnings miss for the Canadian telecommunications firm.

“We are very much focused on the broad sports business and we’re focused on investing in the capabilities of our sports properties as a whole,” Natale said by phone. “We continue to operate the best media and sports assets in our industry with increasing efficiency and you’ll see that in the full-year margin improvement for media,” he added on an analysts’ call.

We’ll see how this all goes, and Rogers has certainly earned the skepticism of fans over the years, but my sense is the commitment to the team is more durable than being about just one Bunglefuck. It sucks a whole lot that it’s even become a question though!

Anyway, back to the off-season and the $55 million I’ve (probably incorrectly!) figured the Jays might have to work with.

I’ve heard fans talk about potentially extending a qualifying offer to Steven Matz, but at $18.4 million, if he accepts it that’s a sizeable chunk of the available budget right there. The $55 million figure suggests to me that they likely won’t do it unless they expect him to decline — or, as I suggested in this week’s mail bag, if they work out a Marco Estrada-like extension with him.

Want to bring back Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien? It’s doable, but you’ll be hard pressed to do a whole lot else if you did, especially if you extend José Berríos and want to balance out his next deal a bit by paying him more in 2022 than the $10.9 million Roster Resource estimates his salary will be.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a ton of things the Jays could do with this (supposed) money. José Ramírez will make just $11 million in 2022 (with $1 million in performance bonuses that would also need to be factored in) if you can pry him away from the Guardians. Arizona’s Ketel Marte also makes $11 million. Adding impact talent at those kinds of numbers would really set the rest of the Jays’ off-season up well.

Who are some other guys that they could look at in that range?

The A’s have starters Chris Bassitt (estimated $8.8 million) and Sean Manaea (estimated $10.2 million) heading into their last seasons before free agency and might want to get something for them while saving some dough in the process.

Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet had a good piece this week that looked at those guys, plus a few names from the Cincinnati Reds as well. One of those was Sonny Gray, who will make $10.7 million in 2022 with a $12 million club option for 2023. Another was Wade Miley, who I’d be kind of terrified of even though he continues to put together decent seasons and will make just $10 million in the last year of a three-year deal.

Some other guys making reasonable money but that might be too pricey or too close to free agency for their go-nowhere teams:

Could former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi be someone the Jays would be interested in? The Royals' left-handed hitting outfielder has never really become the player the industry once expected him to, but he had a 106 wRC+ in 2021 and is a year out from free agency with an estimated salary of $9.3 million.

Tigers' switch-hitting outfielder Robbie Grossman will make $5 million in the last year of his deal, and we know the Jays made a run at him at the deadline. His teammate, Michael Fullmer, had a very good year out of the bullpen and is estimated to make $5.1 million in his last year of arbitration. Though, as I said in another piece recently, I'm not sure how eager Detroit is going to be to shed contracts, as they seem to finally be on the upswing.

Washington's Josh Bell is a switch hitter who primarily plays first base. That is obviously not a position the Jays need to fill, but Bell also saw time in the outfield this season, and while he's not ideal there, maybe that gives him just enough versatility to view him as more than a full-time DH. He had a 114 wRC+ this year, with an 11.4% walk rate that ranked 26th out of 135 hitters with at least 500 plate appearances, and a 17.8% strikeout rate that was the 39th lowest of that group. His estimated salary in his last year of arbitration is $10 million.

The Pirates have reliever Chris Stratton, who has two years left before free agency and is estimated to make $2.2 million. He's not exactly a game-changer, but has had some good results the last two seasons while striking out 125 in 109 1/3 innings and is probably more valuable to the useless Pirates as a trade chip than on the field.

In addition to Marte, Arizona also has 36-year-old reliever Tyler Clippard on a deal with a $3.5 million mutual option for 2022. Clippard, who pitched for the Jays in 2018, dealt with a shoulder injury this season that kept him out until late July, and his strikeout rate was well off his career norm. But he's generally been durable otherwise and it probably won't take much to get him out of the desert if the Diamondbacks pick the option up.

The names on this list get quite a bit less sexy as you go along, but obviously the Jays will know better who is actually available than I can figure out with a quick skim of players on bad teams that have expiring contracts. And they’ll certainly have to do some of that in order to maximize what they can do with their dollars that the top of the market.

This is a team that I’d say needs two starting pitchers, an impact infielder, and at least a couple of relievers. If we believe the report and my subsequent estimations that give them about $55 million in real dollars left to work with — which we probably shouldn’t! — that’s an average of just $11 million per player for five additions.

Obviously there are ways to move some money around, not to mention the suggestion that more money could be available for the “right situation.” Moving a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or a Teoscar Hernández could potentially bring back cheaper players while freeing up even more payroll to aim high in free agency, though obviously that would create problems elsewhere.

Would the team be comfortable asking guys like Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal, Kevin Smith, and Brevic Valera to spend a lot of time in the outfield? Seems dicey! But there are clearly numerous ways to make this roster better, and seemingly a pretty decent amount of resources to do it with. They’ll have to thread the needle a bit, and I think it almost certainly means only one of Semien or Ray can realistically return (though I suspect neither will), but otherwise that’s sort of the fun part. And, at this stage, that’s about all we can ask for — even if my guesswork is probably wrong and the boardroom drama at Rogers could derail the off-season entirely!