With the final big free agent signing in James Shields going to the San Diego Padres early this morning, the offseason circus has unofficially come to a close (although Mark Ellis is still on the market). There was a smidgen of hope that the Blue Jays would be in on Shields, but most people seemed realistic enough to concur that the team would probably bust out the chequebook on a relief pitcher before Shields became a legitimate target.
While the terms of the contract are not fully available, it's been reported that the deal is for four years worth a total of $75 million with an option year as well. For a pitcher that can be counted on to provide somewhere between 3.5-4.5 WAR each season, $18.5 million annually isn't too crazy at all. When you factor in the age issue (Shields recently turned 33-years-old) and the fact that he also requires a forfeited draft pick, the deal begins to seem just about fair value.
Since we're all Blue Jays fans, let's consider how this deal would have looked from our point of view. Obviously if the deal has no back-loading then the payroll would have shot up $18.5 million this year, which may have been a non-starter for the front office whether you like it or not. After the 2015 season though, the Blue Jays financial flexibility loosens up a bit with the departure of Mark Buehrle and his $20 million contract and possibly R.A. Dickey as well ($12 million option with $1 million buyout). On the flip side, Russell Martin's $7 million contract in 2015 nearly doubles next season so some payroll room would be eliminated.
As you can see below (ignore the Casey Janssen error), after the 2016 season the Blue Jays have very few contracts on their books and they won't have a ton of expensive arbitration-eligible players either.
For all the talk of the Blue Jays having their hands tied financially, it's a bit of hyperbole. A slightly back-loaded contract wouldn't increase their $130ish million payroll annually that they currently seem to be hitting a glass ceiling with. After even the most basic of analysis, it really does beg the question of what has stopped the team this offseason from being more aggressive in their pursuit of upgrades.
At the State of the Franchise only a few days ago, the team seemed utterly unsure of how their rotation and bullpen was going to end up looking which makes you wonder why they decided to let some affordable contracts pass them by in the last few months. Looking for bargains has done wonders for the team in the recent past, but at some point it's going to take real money to bring proven talent up to Toronto. It's hardly fair to bring out the pitchforks against a front office that signed Russell Martin only a few months ago but without a supporting cast, this core of players could end their days in Toronto asking what could have been.
With the confusing handling of the budget in the past few years, it makes you wonder if the team is one losing season away from a complete rebuild, since it's certainly expensive to be just mediocre in the the MLB. Sure, James Shield wasn't a piece the Blue Jays HAD to have and maybe he didn't want to venture north of the border anyway, but if four years and $75 million was too high of a price to pay then how much money is there really left to be spent anyway.