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The Blue Jays' Incredible, Shrinking Payroll

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As things currently stand, the Blue Jays have 14 players under contract for 2015 (including Ricky Romero), with a total reported salary commitment of $112.75 million. If we conservatively assume that both Josh Donaldson and Danny Valencia win their arbitration hearings and the 25-man roster is rounded out with 10 players at or near the minimum, then that brings the salary commitment to around $126 million. There are also option buyouts to account for, which is a little more complicated. My understanding is the convention is for option buyouts in November to hit the next year's budget (hence the manuever the Jays did with Rajai Davis a couple years back), so that's another $2.4 million. Even were this incorrect, the Jays have five potential 2016 option buyouts totalling $5.6-million that they'd have to reserve something against ($1.6-million of that is virtually guaranteed), so it's not going to change much. There's also an unknown amount of money sent to the Mariners in the J.A. Happ - Michael Saunders deal, so we'll call the grand total an even $130 million.

In early October, Paul Beeston did a radio interview with Jeff Blair in which Beeston was asked about the 2015 payroll and said, "you know it's going higher [relative to 2014 payroll]". This echoed comments from another radio hit in August in which he expressed the same sentiment. Using the same type of accounting as above for consistency, the Jays had an opening day 2014 payroll of about $136 million.

Technically, any number above that would fulfil Beeston's commitment, but realistically it must have meant at least $140 million. Anything under that would be such a trivial increase that it would be not be possible to be so confident about going past the actual 2014 number. Moreover, due to the strong salary inflation in Major League Baseball, even $140 million in 2015 would have less purchasing power than $136 million in 2014. So it's safe to say that based on what Beeston was talking about back in October, at this point in the offseason the Blue Jays should have at least another $10 million in available funds for 2015.

On December 30, the Toronto Star's Richard Griffin informed us that the Jays were believed to have only $9 million in budget room left. Given that the Jays have not made any major league moves that would had affected payroll since early December (other than agreeing on contracts with Brett Cecil, Marco Estrada and Saunders at nearly $1 million less than was publicly projected), this would seem to imply a small cutback compared to what Beeston promised in early October. Technically not, but certainly in spirit especially since he was talking about Melky Cabrera likely being back and there's no way that could have happened on a budget only trivially higher than 2014's.

Not one week later, Shi Davidi wrote for Sportsnet that on the contrary, there was "$5-$7 million...thought to still [be] available".

Then last week, Ben Nicholson-Smith, also of Sportsnet, wrote that the Jays' "payroll flexibility [is] believed to be $5-6 million", which once again is slightly lower than the previous report. This again, despite nothing happening in the intervening period that should have reduced things. And it's noteworthy that this range would outright leave the 2015 payroll shy of the 2014 payroll calculated in the same manner.

It would seem then, that over the course of the winter, the 2015 budget has shrunk. And if all the reports above are to be believed, then it's shrunk continuously. Frankly, at this point, by the time we get to Opening Day I'm half worried we'll hear the Blue Jays have negative payroll flexibility.

What's curious is that something else has been shrinking continuously at the same time: the value of the loonie versus the greenback. We know that has obvious impacts on the Jays, though one would think that when the budget is set there would be either internal or external measures taken to hedge currency exposure so that the budget is not a moving target throughout the offseason (or worse, regular season).

So that's probably coincidence. But either way, it looks like the Blue Jays will fall short of Beeston's commitments last year. Conveniently, the State of the Franchise is later week, which would be a good time for fans to demand some answers about the budget directly from the front office. But with questions now pre-screened and this administration's track record, I'll bet against it.