TORONTO -- Payroll parameters have once again become a talking point because of the uncertainty surrounding the Blue Jays' ability to spend additional money on their 2014 roster.
Toronto entered the season with a payroll of approximately $137 million, according to Baseball Prospectus. That's up from last year's estimated total of $127 million and the overall figure ranks slightly ahead of the Nationals for the eighth spot in the Majors.
The financial sum is substantial to say the least, but there have been some questions raised about whether additional funds will be made available for future upgrades. General manager Alex Anthopoulos addressed that issue Thursday, and while remaining vague, he seemed to indicate the Blue Jays have reached their current maximum but that could change under the right circumstances.
"We have a number that we work with and I always have the ability to have that conversation [with ownership]," Anthopoulos said. "We came into the season at the number we expected to be at and as the year goes on, we have needs. Depending on how we're playing and what's available, if we have a need come the Trade Deadline, I have every confidence we'll have the resources to do that. I have no doubts about that at all."
Rumors of the Blue Jays' financial situation reached a crescendo in the past week. First it was comments Anthopoulos made to Peter Gammons in which he conceded the lack of flexibility by stating: "We are pretty much maxed out in terms of payroll."
That statement seemed obvious enough, but then there was a report on Wednesday night from Sportsnet that went a step further. It suggested that money was so tight that Toronto won't even have its "usual war chest for next week's Draft." The insinuation seemed to be that the Blue Jays would need to find cheaper alternatives instead of approaching their normal allotment of funds for the First-Year Player Draft.
The reports sent a flurry of media requests in the direction of Anthopoulos. He agreed to hold an impromptu scrum with reporters to address the situation before Thursday's game against the Royals, and during a 15-minute exchange, some answers were provided and even more questions were raised. The overall message was that if things continue to go the Blue Jays way -- they entered the evening on a nine-game winning streak and were atop the American League East -- then additional funds could follow.
"I believe so," Anthopoulos said when asked if he could add more payroll before the July 31 Deadline. "We're not at that point right now. We've had a nice nine games, but you don't really even start to engage in trade dialogue until mid-June, after the Draft.
"I hope we're in that position. It's late May and we need to see how we play in June and we'll re-evaluate things at the beginning of July. If we're in a good position then, we'll know the landscape a little bit more with respect to our needs. I can have that conversation with Paul [Beeston, team president and CEO] and Paul will have that conversation with ownership. We need to still be playing well at that time and we're far away from that."
During Anthopoulos' time as general manager, the Blue Jays have never publicly discussed a specific payroll figure. Instead, Anthopoulos tends to speak in general terms about a "range" he is told to stay within. In his early years, he frequently pointed out that ownership group Rogers Communications has never said no to any of his requests.
Those types of comments have been noticeably absent in the past several months, but Anthopoulos maintains that nothing has changed. Still, a series of reports in Spring Training indicated that several Blue Jays players agreed to defer payments of millions of dollars on their contracts in order to accommodate the potential signing of free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana .
Anthopoulos was asked if that situation was an indication that Rogers Communications had said no to one of his requests. He partially sidestepped the question, but still had a point he wanted to get across.
"I never specifically addressed the Santana scenario, but the only thing that I can say about that is, people make it like we were getting Santana for free," Anthopoulos said. "Money was going to be spent on Santana.
"I think people lose sight of the fact that we were still adding payroll at that point and we had the go ahead. There may be reasons to structure things certain ways and obviously some of those things are internal. We've been able to add payroll, we may need to be creative, we may need to do some things but we've been able to add payroll when needed."
All of those comments still left some unanswered questions about the First-Year Player Draft. Anthopoulos was asked if the payroll range he works with includes the upcoming Draft and he said no. The figure is included in the budget for the entire baseball operations department, but player payroll and Draft allotment are separate.
Anthopoulos said he wouldn't try to save money in the Draft in order to secure additional players for his 25-man roster. The Draft remains a priority, there is a separate budget for it and, according to Anthopoulos, the only difference between this year and the one from 2013 is that Toronto has multiple picks in the first round.
"I think the Draft is something that's always very important to us," Anthopoulos said. "It's something that you can never neglect. It's just so key, it's so important, especially with where some of the salaries have been going, free agency and things like that. The Draft is always going to be extremely important for us."