Monday, January 24, 2011

That Wells money shouldn't be burning a hole in your pocket

After the "hysteria and hyperbole" (TM John Lott, NatPost and J-School Jedi) subsided on Friday night, we received a number of cards and letters outlining to us that the only way to determine the efficacy of trading of Vernon Wells was to see what the Jays did with the money that they saved.

To which we say: Are you frickin' kidding us? Do you not realize and appreciate what was just accomplished here?

Before the trade, Jays were on the hook for $86 Million to a player with ongoing injury and performance issues over the past three seasons. They were going to carry on a significant percentage of their player payroll being attributed to a player who is likely (given age and past track record) to diminish in on-field value. Now, they've moved a contract that was deemed "untradeable" right up until about 5 PM Eastern Time on Friday evening.

"But wait!" you exclaim! "It shouldn't matter because Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston said that money wasn't an issue, which I of course took to mean that the Blue Jays can spend all of the money that they want and sit on a huge contract if they have to because Rogers is totally the richest company ever!"

To which we respond: You've really got to learn to parse words better than that, and stop hearing what you want to hear. (Also, you should probably see a shrink, because we're assuming that this sort of behaviour doesn't limit itself to the Blue Jays. For your sake and the sake of your loved ones: Get help.)

When AA or Beeston make claims along these lines, they are intended primarily to move the conversation away from Ricciardi-style defeatism where the limitations of the budget made competing in the AL East seem to be an impossibility. Which is not to say that they are cynical, because if the Jays' front office can make a compelling business case for upping the payroll, we're sure that their comrades around the Rogers senior management table (you know, the mobile and cable guys who make all that money that you're looking to piss away on Vernon Wells' 2014 performance) might actually be able to buy in. But no one at that table is going to put their own personal performance bonus on the line so that the Jays can heave cash at this fire or that one in the hopes of putting them out.

What the Jays bought themselves this weekend was payroll flexibility. And that flexibility will allow them to look towards extending their relationship with the products of their own system over the next four season. They'll have the funds to lock up Travis Snider, should he turn into the 35 homer, 5 WAR player that we think he can be. That $21 million four years from now will also go a long way towards locking up Deck McGuire, or some June 2011 pick of whom we haven't yet even heard the first peep.

Just because the Jays have this additional money today, it doesn't mean that the trade pulled off this weekend can only be judged based upon how they spend that extra dough. Because frankly, spending the money in your pocket just because you've got it is how Tony Reagins got himself into this deal.


Ty said...

The amount of times I read gross misinterpretations of AA's "the money will be there when we need it" line this weekend was a little unsettling. A bad contract is a bad contract no matter how much money is theoretically available. To assume that it's a matter of the Jays front office being "cheap" is a distorted way of viewing this; heck, just look at Cashman's comments last week about the Soriano signing.

Being smart with their money (or in this case, Rogers' money) doesn't make the Blue Jays cheap or dishonest or whatever it is you want to call them, it makes them a better organization. The improvement of literally every aspect of this team since AA took over has been borderline unbelievable: what possible reason (other than just wanting to be a douche) could anyone have to distrust or dislike the front office at this point?

jerkstore said...

The other thing i am looking forward to is the roster flexibility. Not that i am excited to see rajai davis everyday, but nobody is too big to fail (get benched, platooned, demoted or cut). if wells was here, he was going to be in center and hitting somewhere 3-6 in the batting order.

Anonymous said...

The flip side to saying that they didn't previously have an unlimited budget may be that they just pocket the entire difference.

It happens all the time in the corporate world -- if you don't spend your whole budget, then you obviously didn't need the money, and your budget is reduced accordingly.

Tao of Stieb said...

Exactly: Wells had a sense of entitlement to the middle of the lineup and the middle of the outfield, and any move to wrest those from him were going to set him into pout mode.

Whatever Rajai ends up being, he won't be an immovable barrier to change.

MJK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MJK said...

resigning your homegrown talent is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to turning this team in to a playoff contender. i don't believe that all positional needs will be internally addressable, so trades or signings will be needed to get to 95 wins.

flexibility is great if it leads to deft signings. getting rid of the Wells contract makes it easier to take on new salary. but for some reason you seem unwilling to countenance the withholding of judgment on the intentions of ownership until moves are made to take on salary for the purpose of improving the major league win total.

i have not seen enough to know what the intentions of ownership are.

Tao of Stieb said...

I hate the term "pocket the difference".

The Jays have a budget, and there is no motivation for the team to "pocket" that money. They want to be able to spend, but it's not as though there is some nefarious thing where they steal money from the fans and give them nothing in return.

Rogers isn't going to yank money away from the Jays any more than they are going to keep dumping money in. And if AA and Beest need to reallocate money for 2011 in order to make certain that it remains in the 2012 budget, I'm sure they can find a way.

Tao of Stieb said...


But can't you accept the deal as a good one for the team, in and of itself?

If you took out all of the salaries, getting two every day MLBers with playoff experience for one of your guys seems like an okay deal, right?

And then add back in the fact that even with arbitration, you'll have to 50% for the two players what you would have paid for the one.

Then add back into the mix that both are approaching free agency, and have a good chance at being at least a Type B, and possibly a Type A (in the case of Napoli), which means you make money and you've got draft picks down the road.

I understand reserving judgment...but there's a point where those reservations start to sound a bit absurd.

G Man said...

Great post. The speculation that the money will be used on Bautista (or Fielder or Pujols) should stop. It's not the same money. They moved a bad contract; future contracts should be examined on their own merit.

The Ack said...

One aspect that's been doing a slow burn on the road to "genuinely excited" for me that's been underplayed is the acquisition of Napoli.

The guy can flat out rake.

In a down year last season - .238 batting average, everybody! - he still managed to OPS .784. That's the lowest of his career.

Sure, he's probably only been used in favorable situations (2010 was a career high 453 AB), but there's a lot of potential there.

A platoon partner for Lind/DH you say? How's a .966 OPS vs LHP sound?

Nevermind JPA, the guy with the most to lose in this deal is Edwin. If he's unplayable at 3B, where will his AB's come from?

MJK said...

But can't you accept the deal as a good one for the team, in and of itself?

absolutely 100%. the benefits to the Jays are indisputable.

where you and i disagree is what follows from the fact that they saved a bunch of money over the next 4 years.

i have reservations because i have not seen a significant commitment to filling organizational needs by spending money at the major league level to acquire top talent. it is plausible to me that ownership could be saying internally "let's wait and see how the young talent develops through 2014". as a fan i would find that very frustrating.

i'm hopeful that AA can convince them to invest in above average major league talent next off season, if not sooner. that would be a change of course from the last 2 years though.

William J. Tasker said...

Spot on as usual with this post. Roster and payroll flexibility is the outcome of this deal and there is no waiting to see how good this deal was for the Blue Jays. It was a stupendous coup.

jerkstore said...

I agree with mike about reserving judgment. Everything i have seen in terms of willingness to spend is positive so far (draft, scouts, international signings). However a time will come when they need to sign a big time FA or resign a player to a mega deal. it's not clear yet that rogers will maintain the focus on drafting high upside players, signing international FAs as well as have a 100M$ payroll.

At this point they seem to have lowered the major league payroll and upped the international FA and draft payroll.

Cautious optimism?

Tao of Stieb said...

The Jays signed Adam Lind and Ricky Romero to extensions last year...

And yet, you say that they haven't done enough to prove that they are willing to spend?

The Jays signed B.J. Ryan and Frank Thomas and A.J. Burnett to big deals, and by the end of them, everyone was talking about what a horrendous shitshow that was, and how unwise it was to try to build through big FA signings.

Now, we want to go sign monster free agent contracts.

What the what?

Xave said...

Agreed about the future prospects of extending our young stars with the payroll flexibility, and I'd add young stars that we acquire with our suddenly-great farm system.

AA has already shown that he prefers trades, and somehow he's already picked up two premium young players (Escobar and Morrow) without giving up top prospects. The system will only get better as the '10 class matures and the '11 class comes in, and I hope AA does everything he can to turn that depth into more premium young MLB players, a la Colby Rasmus. Obviously this isn't easy to do, but we've got the system to make the trades and the money to extend the players.

The free agent market is rarely a good investment - I hope AA doesn't spend just because he has the money, which is exactly what the Angels apparently did. He's smart enough to target free agents who he thinks will be worth the money and truly beneficial to the team, and if he misses out on those guys, doesn't search desperately for a consolation prize.

jerkstore said...

Nobody is advocating signing bad contracts. It seems to me to compete with the yankees and red sox the jays have two options:
1) Build through the draft and wait for your magic moment as the rays have done.

2) build through the draft and supplement with FAs. This option involves spending money.

All the talk of being a perennial contender is bullshit if rogers is not committed to having a 100M$+ payroll. The jays under JP had a window of higher payrolls. They "went for it" by signing those bad contracts. The payroll has snapped back down since then.

I don't have reason to suspect Rogers won't spend the money to be a player in this division. WE just have not seen it yet.

jerkstore said...

*have not seen it yet on a consistent basis i should say.

Ty said...

I don't have reason to suspect Rogers won't spend the money to be a player in this division. WE just have not seen it yet.

I hear this a lot, and the thing is, we haven't had a reason to see it yet. So why do people bring it up so much?

It's just the whole connotation of this "I'll believe it when I SEE it" attitude is that, somehow, Rogers have given some indication that they're not going to keep their word. And to me, that's just untamed cynicism, not rational discourse or "realism" as people so often put it.

If you're being realistic, then so far Rogers has done exactly what has been promised, have they not? AA keeps saying the money will be there once they have a solid core in place and the free agent signings will actually help the team make the playoffs. That opportunity hasn't come up yet. He's only had one year, for goodness' sakes.

Tao of Stieb said...

Nicely put, Ty. I agree that this regime has carried out on everything they said they would...more money for draft, more money for international signings, more money on pro scouting...

If they say the money will be there if they need it, I'll buy it.

MJK said...

Ty's comment is well put. I disagree about the cynicism/realism point though. The reality is that the most expensive way to improve your team is by paying FAs. It's risky, and you often end up adding years you don't want to, but on most playoff teams you'll find guys that were brought in to put the team over the top. We have yet to see that kind of addition, but Ty is right that we have not reached the stage where that makes sense yet.

that is why i will reserve judgment until the 2011 off season. i believe the team will be well positioned to make a playoff run at that time.

Anonymous said...

A .966 OPS vs. LHP?!?!

Holy shit, it almost makes me hope Pettitte comes back! I love seeing that piss-ant get knocked around the Dome.

Anonymous said...

I was there when Aaron Hill stole home off Pettite. Best. Burn. Ever.

Darren Priest said...

This medicine goes down well after reading Steve Simmons' article in the Sun. A guy with that little apparent understanding of baseball should not be allowed to opine on the topic in the break room --let alone in multiple national media venues. He is either related to someone powerful, has incriminating evidence on someone powerful, or is the only living being who can bring Dave Hodge to orgasm.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that a couple of FA signings after the first 3 months in 09 could have went a long way in making a push that year. Would it have been so terrible to make the playoffs or secure a wildcard that year? That wasn't unrealistic either, a key bat or two in the middle of the lineup right about the time their offense went into the shitter may have been the difference that year.

I personally don't care if it's a one year thing, 17 years is enough time to wait. I fear the direction now is this "sustained success" model is going to be used as an excuse not to do anything in the present. I believe there has been "reason" to spend, even last year with the pitching being as good as it was.

If you buy that you can build a perennial contender from draft picks and trade baiting without supplementing the roster with proven talent, then I guess all this is about is prospect porn. Or the other scenario is Rogers saying, I can build a team that wins 85 games on a 50 mill budget and still have decent TV ratings and all the avenues to promote my business.

Tom Jackson said...

This "sustained success" model is actually version 2.0 in Blue Jay history. Version 1.0? That would be the one that Pat Gillick used from 1978 through 1994. You know, the one that brought us those two World Series titles.

The free agents he used to put us over the top? Morris, Winfield, Molitor and Stewart? Not one of them signed a deal for longer than 3 guaranteed years because not one of them was younger than 36. Joe Carter re-signed for three years in between 1992 and 1993 at the age of 33. That was then, but this is now you say? All kinds of younger guys were signing 4, 5, and 6 year deals in the 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 offseasons, but Gillick somehow managed to get these guys while sticking to his "no more than three guaranteed years" rule.

There is no reason to sink 10 years and $300 million into a 31 year old ballplayer (just a wild guess on how much it will take for Pujols - who will probably re-sign with the Cards, but you never know) when you don't have to. He might prove to be worth it, but the back half of that deal could prove to be really ugly. Every single free agent class has bargains, even for good to very good players. Develop the elite talent from within and decide what to keep. Trade for whatever elite players you need for positions that lack it using the farm system depth and your non-keepers. Then go out and get those one or two pieces to put you over the top and use the farm depth to acquire pieces at the deadline. Sounds like a pretty good formula to me, and there's really no reason to think that can't happen here again.

By the way, the only free agents available three months into any season are basically minor league free agents, so I would argue that two of them would've made zero difference to the 75 win total that the team wound up with.

Tom Jackson said...

By the way Tao, brilliant post. Between you and G Man, I think you nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Ty's point about people insisting on distrusting the front office at this point is dead on. I loved watching Vernon and hope he does well in Anaheim. But the pies in the face on the one good night a week when the team's 30 games out, and the declining range, and the fact no one wants to tell a guy with that kind of longevity and pride that he now hurts the team at the position he used to excel, and still, after 10 seasons, won't just take the fucking walk the pitcher gives him. Who wants to do that to that kind of guy. Time to part ways and wish him well.

And by the way, why does AA singing the praises of his departing player at an appropriate moment ring true whereas, I dunno, Burke for example, makes it seem like he's filling out a line of sports copy?

Because you can't fake sincerity. Classy stuff from the young GM, and all of it true. Vernon didn't give himself a raise any more than Carlos did when he signed the contract that pushed him out of town (during his prime).

And people should stop picking on the Dub's dad. All sports art sucks. Even Ken Danby.


Anonymous said...

Nobody is talking about signing anyone 3 months into the season, they were still well within a wild card spot at the trade deadline. Sorry for having a differing point of view Tom, it must really be hard for your all encompassing ego to have to slum it with normal fans who are just tired of the constant wait till next year to contend mantra. Between this blog and DJF, your condescension is very much appreciated. I guess I'm sorry I dared share an opinion

Tom Jackson said...

@Anon 12:09 AM: Sorry if I come across that way. That's another problem with the internets. I would hope that if you disagree with what I say that you'd put it out there, as long as you accord me the same privilege. You might end up being right. Neither of us can tell right now. All we can go on is our respective opinions.

In the early days of the JPR regime, I was pretty enthused as well (which says that my enthusiasm is not a good barometer to go on), but this one seems different somehow. This regime's plan seems well thought out, instead of reactive, and there does seem to be a plan which doesn't change on a moment to moment basis like it seemed the Ash/Ricciardi ones did.

It also appears to go back to the roots of what made this organization a model organization under Gillick. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding and I may join the disenchanted if I don't see tangible progress 3 to 5 years (2013-2015) into AA's regime. Until such time, I'll cut him some slack because he's cleaning up someone else's mess.

Let's just hope for all of our sakes that we've finally gotten our man and can see this team get back to where it should be again.

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