Can the Blue Jays soar with a constrained budget – or a new owner?

As the Yankees muscle up, the AL East becomes an ever-higher peak to climb for Toronto – particularly if Rogers sells the team

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It has not been a good two weeks for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The most recent body blow was the news that the New York Yankees, the Jays’ bitter American League East rivals, had won the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes. The prodigious Miami Marlins slugger spurned deals to go to San Francisco and St. Louis to accept a trade to the Bronx. The fact that the 2017 National League MVP is owed a staggering $265 million on his contract had eliminated most Major League Baseball teams – including the Jays.

The prospect of Stanton, who hammered 267 home runs and drove in 672 runs with the sad-sack Marlins in seven seasons, added to the Brobdingnagian Aaron Judge, who slugged 52 homers for the Yankees in 2017, will give everyone in the American League pause. No one more so than their opponents in the AL East.

Yes, neither man is exactly a gazelle on defence. It will still take a revived Yankees pitching staff to get New York to the top of the heap. Still, the bulking of the Yankees comes at a time when the management of the Blue Jays has decided to step back from the high-salaries model they’ve embraced the past few years.

The 2017 Blue Jays are going to get younger, cheaper and, presumably, worse than the star-laden lineup they’ve fielded recently. In the last two years, they’ve jettisoned Edwin Encarnacion and José Bautista – and perhaps Josh Donaldson this off-season – with few bonafide prospects to replace them. Matched against the Yankees and the young, exciting Boston Red Sox – who will look to match the Yankees’ move – the Jays’ chances in 2018 are going to be slim and none, outside of when either Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman pitch.

Toronto, like the rest of MLB, saw what the Houston Astros did in stripping out their team, taking a drubbing for four or five years to accumulate young stars. They now have the 2017 World Series title to show for their suffering.

Could Jays management be thinking of handing Toronto fans a nothing burger for a couple of seasons to rebuild? They say not. But if they do, how will it be received by the fan base that has grown accustomed to winning lately?

And how does that figure into the recent disclosure that the owner of the Blue Jays, Rogers Communications, might consider selling the team? Clearly, Rogers is straining under the weight of its bold US$5.2-billion purchase of the Canadian TV and digital rights for National Hockey League games.

The Blue Jays’ recent roaring success helped Rogers get over the financial shock of no Canadian teams in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

But it’s clear that carrying so many sports properties is a challenge for Rogers’ bottom line (it owns 37.5 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment). While it keeps them out of the clutches of its rivals at Bell (which owns TSN), Rogers needs financial flexibility as well.

If Rogers dumps its baseball property, Jays fans must ask:

  • Who in Toronto or Canada can afford the billion-dollar investment it will take to wrest the team from Rogers?
  • Will anyone buy the team and let Rogers keep the TV rights?
  • Does Rogers hold onto the Rogers Centre itself?

Jays fans don’t need a long memory to recall the dark days after Labatt Brewing gave up ownership of the Jays following their 1992 and 1993 World Series triumphs. In the hands of indifferent corporate leadership, the team’s management was given a budget that made it hard to compete. The post-season was a pipe dream.

Even in its early ownership of the Jays, Rogers was accused of being cheap. It wasn’t until it took the cuffs off the budget general manager Alex Anthopoulos worked with that the team vaulted back to contention.

What if the new owner is undercapitalized after paying Rogers’ asking price for the team?

The logical play seems to be Bell buying the Blue Jays. They’re desperate for a spring/summer property since losing Stanley Cup rights to Rogers three years ago. They claimed to have had the $5.2-billion Rogers paid for the NHL rights, so using even $2 billion to buy the Blue Jays would seem doable. Plus it would give them a shot in the arm after losing their hockey prominence in a  nasty negotiation with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Finally, Blue Jays fans are sure to miss Gregg Zaun, who was turfed from his job as analyst for inappropriate behaviour recently. There’s not much clear about what prompted the shocking move, except Rogers is feeling the pressure in the current hysteria to respond to any semblance of sexual tensions in the workplace.

But Zaun was the honest man in the Blue Jays broadcast crew. While other former players mouthed platitudes and excused shoddy play, Zaun cut to the chase. His stinging criticisms landed him in trouble with a Rogers management scared of its own shadow. But he was the fans’ voice in a trough of equivocation. That may be as hard to replace as Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson.

(Full disclosure: Zaun and I worked together on a book, spiked by Rogers, and I consider him a friend.)

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.


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