Blue Jays change tune on boosting payroll

On a day when the Blue Jays acquire a bonafide closer in the process of building a contender, the organization decides now is the time to talk about frugality.

Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and president Paul Beeston say for the Jays to spend, attendance must go up

Suddenly Jays’ president Paul Beeston and GM Alex Anthopoulous are backtracking on previous claims that a beefed up payroll was there for the asking from the Rogers folks. Now it’s back to the Jays’ version of moneyball. Translation: If you come, we will built it. In other words, if you spend dough at the ballpark, we’ll open up our wallets for big ticket free agents.

Funny, it didn’t sound like that last January at a meet-and-greet with season ticket holders. Beeston said he could envision a time in the near future where the Jays payroll could expand to as much as $120 million from their current $70 million.

Frankly, this is lousy PR at a time when the organization needs all the good karma it can muster. Holding fans hostage for a brighter day doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. It could even backfire, making support for the team even more apathetic.

Blue Jays trade for former White Sox closer Sergio Santos who notched 30 saves last season

The news coming out of the winter baseball meetings has been positive.

Granted, the Jays didn’t make a big splash in backing up the Brinks truck to win the Prince Fielder sweepstakes but that was a long shot to begin with.

Instead they got closer Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox with a much more digestible contract. In his prime at 28, the one time shortstop, formerly in the Jays’ system, has 3 years left on an $8.25 million contract, plus a $2.25 million buyout at the end of that term if they don’t pick up the optional 3 years. That’s a bargain in major league terms and in AA-speak, Santos is “under control” — a closer with 30 saves and 92 strikeouts in 63.1 IP — a strikeout rate that puts him in the top five in the A.L.

Going to the White Sox is 22-year pitching prospect Nestor Molina who dominated at A and AA-ball with a 12-3 record with a 2.21 ERA in 23 starts. He could bloom into a solid starter but these are the deals you have to make when building a contender — and that’s awfully close to where the Jays sit going into 2012.

Unfortunately the deal was watered down by the tone-deaf pronouncement that Beeston wants more bums in seats in order for the Jays to justify in increased payroll to acquire free agents or players in trades.

Blue Jays' president Paul Beeston says more ticket buyers needed to justify an increased payroll

Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

Fans will not show up in increased numbers – especially in that lame “ballpark” — in the hopes that the team will spend to build a winner. Not in this market.

The only exception being the Leafs who, no matter how bad, never had to worry about attendance and revenue.

“We’re still capable of going to the US$120 million payroll once we start drawing the people,” he said. “Once we start drawing the people means that we’re winning, right? The formula hasn’t changed.”

For several years the message was the money will be there when the Jays are in position to contend. Well now with the teetering Red Sox – who may implode under the vain Bobby Valentine — and the ever-aging Yankees squad plus the added chance of an additional wild card, the Jays might finally be able to crack the tough nut of the A.L. East.

One could argue there’s never been a better time to strike and take a legitimate shot at a Prince Fielder or another big bat. Or starter. Forget Pujols. He’s gone. Now living in Disneyland both literally and figuratively with his 10-year, $254 million signing by the LA Angels. Now there’s spending money on a star and sheer idiocy which the Angels seemed to have exercised but that’s another story.

This franchise has been making positive moves, thanks largely to the integrity of GM Alex Anthopoulos and leadership of Paul Beeston. Sadly, it is typical of the organization that there would be some kind of financial pullback by the corporate parent Rogers; that the big bucks would be available for the asking;  and that, too, there would always be a catch. And now we know. You pay, we’ll play with the big boys.

But that strategy just won’t work anymore in this baseball market. Baseball has become somewhat of a niche sports with dwindling interest and as such, it has to capture the casual fan to increase its fan base. The only way of doing that is winning. Period.

Winning is the best marketing plan, bar none. With the positive strides the Jays have made in the past couple of years, they still haven’t played any meaningful games in September. Until that happens, expect disappointing crowds.

Attendance at the Roger’s Centre has been in decline since the glory days of 1992-93.  People have long ago grown weary of this stadium if you can call a glass-mall-artificial-turf-concrete box a good place to play and watch baseball.

In addition, ticket prices are too high for a mediocre team. Fans are gouged with $12 beers, expensive food and parking. Also, the hardcore baseball demographic has aged & doesn’t go out as much anymore and the demographic itself has shifted — Toronto has become a much more international city than and many people just aren’t interested in following baseball.

Attendance returning to 30 or even 25,000 on a nightly basis is a pipe dream. Even with a winner on the field, it still won’t be an easy sell. Linking finances to attendance is just an ill-advised move and the timing sucks. Why deflate the positive vibe that’s currently around the team?

Toronto sports fans are tired of being promised things and then screwed. Show us, show us! a winner and we might support you. Earn our respect, charge a fair price and we may open our wallets.

Otherwise we may forget you entirely.

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About Rolf Sturm

Sportswriter & blogger, news writer, video journalist, photographer, podcaster
This entry was posted in Hockey and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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