Price of Winning: What the Blue Jays Can Learn from Raptors' and Leafs' Spending
You gotta spend money to make money.
That's why you spent a few bucks for the paper and crayons to scrawl your lemonade stand's sign, and why you paid for the necessary lemonade-making products. Otherwise, well, what kind of person is going to buy lemonade from a kid with no sign or lemonade?
Nobody, that's who.
The Toronto Blue Jays are trying to make their lemonade with dirt. And not great-tasting dirt either.
The financial crisis has ushered in an era of thriftiness for the Jays' front office, which is trying to cut costs. Buy one Roy Halladay, get two overpriced outfielders free! Offer not available in the AL East.
So that must mean every team in Toronto is feeling the pinch. Right? Pinch? Feelin' it? No? Well, that's odd.
Let's look at Toronto's favorite son, the Maple Leafs. Have the Leafs been scaling back costs in this time of economic crisis? Well, does Brian Burke love talking to the media?
The Leaves (as my grandmother would say) have been throwing around some serious coin to improve their team. Offseason acquisitions of Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, and Garnet Exelby have been part of Burke's mad scientist spending.
Swedish export Jonas Gustavsson was purchased from the Sweden's Elite League for $850,000 plus bonuses—and he's projected to back up starting netminder Vesa Toskala. The Leafs also inked fellow Swede Rickard Wallin to a one-year deal worth $800,000.
Yeah, that sure looks like a team strapped for cash. I heard that Burke just shows up at player's houses with a briefcase full of unmarked twenties. Then he sets it on fire in front of the player and leaves his card.
But that must be because this is hockey, and hockey in Canada sells, right? Canadians would give up universal health care for seats in the corner.
What about the Toronto Raptors, fellow franchise to the Leafs and Jays?
The Raps haven't been penny-pinching much either. After smuggling SF Hedo Turkoglu out of Portland in a burlap sack full of gold doubloons, they signed C Andrea Bargnani to a five-year, $50 million contract.
It didn't stop there, as the Raps then decided to outbid the Indiana Pacers by luring in PG Jarrett Jack with $20 million over four years.
Now that's what I call impoverished. Did Bryan Colangelo perform an Ocean's Eleven-style heist to pay for these players? Should I call Vegas and tell them I know who robbed the Bellagio?
The Raps and Leafs have two things in common: They're both owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and they both really sucked last year.
So naturally, they'd trade all of their proven veterans and tighten their purse strings, right? But if you've read up to this point, you know that isn't the case.
Why is every Toronto team making moves while the Jays remain listless and conceding defeat to the rest of MLB? The other Toronto franchises know that the only way to get people out to games is by paying for good players.
The Blue Jays have found themselves snared in the traditional baseball stereotypes.
In baseball, you either outspend the competition, or you bide your team accumulating draft picks and prospects, hoping that someday they will be cheap superstars. When they get old and expensive, you'll dump them and start to build once more.
The Jays are caught in the middle. They have money, but they want to rebuild the franchise in the mould of the Tampa Bay Rays.
That's the wrong move.
We're in a buyer's market right now. If you've got the cash, you can lowball potential All-Stars into joining your team for reduced contracts. That's the move the Jays need to start thinking about.
The Jays have already squandered millions on expensive contracts. They've made their bed; now it's time to build the race car frame around it.
Fans will come to games no matter what. More fans will come if you sign some players to get excited about—and there's no franchise in Toronto with more room for expansion than the Blue Jays.
Every game there are 15,000 seats in the Rogers Centre sitting empty. Find a way to fill those seats, and you're looking at millions and millions of dollars worth of ticket revenue.
And you've got to spend money to make money.
Excited as I am for a chance at building a winner from the ground up, it's just not something a Toronto team can do. If the Jays go down that road, it will be a death knell for the franchise. They've got to keep adding to and refining their team until they get it right.
You can't guarantee a prospect will succeed, but you can guarantee people will show up if you start throwing money at big names.
Remember the Montreal Expos? A good franchise with a penchant for foibles when it came to trades and free agency, they also managed to develop some of the best baseball talent in recent memory.
The Expos were the reason we even have the Toronto Blue Jays. Their successes opened the door for another Canadian team. The Jays have survived, but they can't ignore the lessons Montreal learned before becoming the Nationals.
After assembling an excellent team in a locked-out 1994 season (Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Larry Walker, Rondell White, Marquis Grissom), in 1995 and ensuing years, the Expos cleared out all of their significant talent to cut costs. The Expos' attendance never averaged over 20,000 a game for the remainder of the franchise's existence.
When they lost Vladimir Guerrero to free agency in 2004, it was the equivalent of Old Yeller being taken out behind the shed and put out of his misery. Montreal was under league control, and the franchise given to Washington.
Is this the beginning of Toronto's clearance sale? Roy Halladay could be the tipping point for the Blue Jays. Fans can smell decline coming from a mile away and will flee like downtown Tokyo from Godzilla.
This is the lesson the Raptors learned, and the Leafs have also to a lesser extent. The Raps know that their fanbase won't support another 33-win season or the people who built it. That's why they pulled a serious coup and stole one of the most prized free agents in the NBA.
The Leafs know they can't keep charging a pound of flesh for a terrible hockey team as well. They can do it for a mediocre one, but if they look like they aren't trying, people will start to question the Maple Leaf cult.
Apparently the Jays think they can cheat this T.O. trend. If J.P. Ricciardi trades Halladay and tries to rebuild, he may not get the time to. Chances are if the Jays get worse, the fans will eventually want blood. Or they'll just stop caring. Both would be catastrophic.
If fans weren't coming to watch a mediocre team with millions of reasons for success, why would they come to watch a sub-.500, Triple-A team?
The Jays could join that elite company if they decide it's time to start anew. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
You've got to spend money to make money.
You've got to spend money to make money.
YOU'VE GOT TO SPEND MONEY TO MAKE MONEY.
Am I making myself clear?
The Jays would do well to glean this lesson from their fellow Toronto franchises. They may be different sports with different rules, but they're all in the same city. You don't have to spend now, but you're going to have to later.
Lest we forget, the 1992-93 championship teams had the highest payrolls in baseball. The Jays spent roughly $52 million in 1993 dollars to win the '93 World Series. Adjusting for inflation, that's $76 million in 2008 dollars, or as Ricciardi calls it, "Getting closer."
That's the thing, though—the Jays have been spending the same amount of money since 1993 and trying to win. The game has changed, and the Jays are living in the past.
You've already overpaid for the likes of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. Why not go the extra mile and steal a Matt Holliday when he hits free agency? You're already in the jackpot, Ricciardi; you put together this team, and all you can do is spend your way out of this mess.
To quote Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross: "'Cause only one thing counts in this world: To get them to sign on the line that is dotted."
To quote me after writing this article, "Uh-oh, my hyperhidrosis is acting up."
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