Back (loading) troubles: Toronto Blue Jays’ payroll outlook not so cut and dry

As it stands right now, the Toronto Blue Jays have about $110 to spend heading into 2016, and that’s if the payroll stays as is.

Great! you may say. That flexibility should allow them to back load some contracts this offseason and maybe sign a few premium free agents this winter. With Jose Reyes’ $22 million yearly payout the only guaranteed money the team can do as it wishes.

And that’s true, to an extent, but let’s not get carried away. First, Jose Bautista’s and Edwin Encarnacion’s options are almost a sure thing to be picked up. If RA Dickey has another season like the last couple then his $12 million option will likely be as well. That brings the total up to $58 million already.

The list of players going through arbitration is quite long: Smoak, Dirks, Mayberry, Francisco, Cecil, Thole, Valencia, Delabar, Loup, Lawrie and Hutchison. Sure, some of those guys – Fat Juan, come on down! – will be non-tendered, but Toronto will likely be relying on a good chunk of them to field the team in the coming years.

Long term, Toronto also has to take care of its catcher situation, with Dioner Navarro only under contract for one more year and not much coming up in the system (Max Pentecost was a first rounder in last June’s draft and could progress quickly, but his future is somewhat up in the air and his progress surely stalled after undergoing shoulder surgery in October).

One would assume that the Jays would like to keep at least the two sluggers around longer. And if the team wants to contend for the next few years it will need guys like Brett Lawrie and Drew Hutchison to step up. That would be great for the team, solid seasons in 2015 for those two could go a long way in a postseason push, but they’re also not that far away from becoming expensive.

It’s unfortunate, from a team perspective, that both players accrued so much service time while sitting on the DL, but such is life. So factor in possible extension for Lawrie and Hutchison down the road, as well as costly extensions for Bautista and Encarnacion, not to mention likely having to sign a starting catcher next year, and the payroll quickly escalates.

So while the flexibility is great, the team can go in any direction it wants, it’s also scary. Back loading some free agent contracts could come back to haunt the team in a big way in two to three years when it comes time to start locking up the young players Alex Anthopoulos and company have developed.

There are some bad contracts coming off the books in the next couple years but that doesn’t mean we should push to replace those bad contracts with similarly bad contracts. It’s a sad reality, given the wealth of the owners, but continued prudence is key to sustained success for the Jays.

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