$70M not enough for Blue Jays

JON COOK -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 5:11 PM ET

It was fitting the Blue Jays used Ground Hog Day as the occasion to announce this past week they had officially purchased the SkyDome and were now prepared to pour millions back into the product.

Listening to owner Ted Rogers and CEO Paul Godfrey wax eloquently about how owning the building they play in was suddenly going to change the fortunes of their foundering franchise should have given you that sense of deja vu.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, the Jays brass trotted out yet another three-year plan to restore the club to its former glory.

The latest scheme was filled with mostly aesthetic changes.

The SkyDome, whose purchase from Sportsco International was officially finalized on Monday, is now the Rogers Centre.

The artificial turf is now artificial grass.

The dated JumboTron is now a state-of-the-art interactive super scoreboard. In addition to instant replays, fans will be shown the number of runners on base, outs, pitches thrown and the location, speed and type of pitch delivered.

It can even do your taxes.

There is no doubt that the Jays' 16-year-old home needed a makeover, but a nicely-wrapped box is still only as good as the gift inside. If there is no steak to follow the sizzle, you might as well close the restaurant.

"You just can't have transmitters and wires... you need to have content," conceeded Rogers, before shocking the media-jammed room by announcing he will inject $210 million US into the club's payroll over the next three seasons. "You need to have some of your ammunition spent on content and we understand that."

Undoubtedly the happiest person in the room was general manager J. P. Ricciardi, who has been firing blanks in the free-agent department for three years now, having the equivalent of Canadian Tire money left to play with after paying his core players.

While Rogers' infusion of cash, into a team that has lost him more than $100 million US since he purchased controlling interest in September 2000, should be lauded, it must also be put into its proper perspective. The Yankees current payroll for just the 2005 season stands at $205 million US.

If the previously hand-cuffed Ricciardi spends the new money evenly over the next three years, his payroll will average $70 million US. That's a 40 per cent increase over last year's $50-million US total. It's still about $10 million US below the level it was when Ricciardi took over from Gord Ash at the end of the 2001 season, but those were different economic times.

Both Ricciardi and Godfrey believe the new figure makes them competitive. In Vegas terms, it amounts to the minimum bet to play at the major-league table.

"We realized that probably $50 million is competitive in every division except the American League East," said a straight-faced Godfrey, who nevertheless has pressed commissioner Bud Selig to expand the playoff format from eight to 12 teams. "There's only one wildcard, so you've got to put yourself in a position to be able to tell your fans that you're going to at least get the wildcard, if not the division title."

Last year 13 teams had opening-day payrolls of at least $70 million US. Eight of them finished the season above .500. Seven of the eight made the playoffs.

Out of the remaining 17 clubs that spent less, just six had winning records and only one - Minnesota - participated in the postseason dance.

What these numbers suggest is that by spending $70 million, you have a 60 per cent chance of having a .500 or better record and a roughly 50 per cent chance of making the playoffs.

On the flip side, where the Jays have resided for the past several years, you have a mere 35 per cent chance of gaining at least 81 wins and a little better than zero chance of making the playoffs.

It doesn't take a Sabermetrics wiz to figure out that the Jays are just doing the minimum to ensure that they have half a chance to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Despite his Moneyball references, Ricciardi has been unable to duplicate the success he had in Oakland in Toronto. Under his guidance, since the start of the 2002 season, the Jays have won 78, 86 and 67 games respectively. That's an average of 77 wins per season, a full 20 games off the pace of your average AL wild-card winner (97) during that same three-year span.

In fact there's little evidence that winning the wild card is any easier than winning your division. Since the format was introduced in 1995, the AL winner has averaged 93 wins. Wild-card teams have won the last three World Series and four times in all. That's a 40 per cent success rate.

Ricciardi and Godfrey love to say how the Jays chances of making the playoffs would be vastly improved if they played in any other division, but even if they played in the AL Central, they'd still need to better the Twins' 92 wins last year.

The only way the 2005 Jays have a shot at making the playoffs, is if they start playing in Triple A. With the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles all having improved, it looks like they will once-again be fighting the Devil Rays for the AL East cellar.

Where are the days of finishing third?

The new money likely comes too late for the Jays to sign any significant free agents. Ricciardi made a three-year $22.5-million US offer to Matt Clement, only to see him sign with Boston for more. He was also not a player in the Carl Pavano (New York) and Moises Alou (San Francisco) negotiations. He even failed to nab Steve Kline, who went to Baltimore.

Even now with all this money, he can't even afford an injured Magglio Ordonez.

While he did sign Corey Koskie, Scott Schoenweis and Billy Koch and traded for Shea Hillenbrand, they don't make the Jays a feared opponent. If they couldn't manage more than 67 wins last year with Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado, it's hard to see how they can improve enough with this new group to be competitive.

They'd need career years at virtually every position in order to even contend for the wild card.

"You might say why didn't you get going earlier when it might have been more helpful?" offered Rogers rhetorically on his loosening of the purse strings. He didn't really provide an answer, just another multi-year plan and the statement that he "hates to lose."

Rogers then promised to beat the Yankees in baseball, just like he has beaten competitor Bell Globe Media in business.

Better keep your cheque book open Ted and make sure your pen never runs out of ink.


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