It's been a weird calendar year for the Toronto Blue Jays by anyone's measure. There was the Dan Duquette saga, in which the Blue Jays tried to hire a new President while Paul Beeston -- the sitting President -- had no idea he was being replaced. Then there was the Alex Anthopoulos stuff; while many fans thought this would be his last season with the Blue Jays and many others thought he should have already been dismissed. Somewhat rightfully so as he had been at the helm of a floundering team despite making pretty big name trades.
Less than 12 months later and Anthopoulos is something of a Canadian hero. Beeston is still being replaced, but it's now by Mark Shapiro, the former President of the Cleveland professional baseball team. On top of that, the Blue Jays might have the MVP and Cy Young winners on their roster. It's funny what a year can do.
Where they stand: 2016 payroll obligations
By Baseball Reference's estimations, the Blue Jays will have roughly $117 million in payroll obligations going into the 2016 season. With $20 million committed to Troy Tulowitzki alone, the rest of the obligations are actually bargains. Russell Martin is going into the second year of his heavily-backloaded contract. He will make $15 million next season, which is less than the qualifying offer for free agents. The club will most-assuredly pick up Jose Bautista's $14 million option and Edwin Encarnacion's $10 million option. R.A. Dickey's $12 million option might have seemed less palatable to some during the first half of the 2015 season but, unless he retires, he too will likely be a member of the Blue Jays next season. That's $71 million for an elite shortstop, catcher, first baseman, and right fielder plus a starter that gives you 200 innings. In summation, that's pretty good shape.
Pending free agents
One of the biggest names on the Blue Jays roster will also be one of the biggest names hitting free agency this off-season: David Price. Although Price has said he would consider re-signing with the Blue Jays, there could be very many potential suitors for his services this off-season. Assuming Anthopoulos does return as Blue Jays general manager (which is still up in the air because of his contract status), he may have a hard time re-signing Price. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo put Price's contract expectations at around the $210 million range. That means the Blue Jays would definitely have to break their self-imposed five-year contract limit. For Price, however, the investment could be worth it.
Mark Buehrle, Dioner Navarro, Marco Estrada, Cliff Pennington, and LaTroy Hawkins are all also hitting free agency. While Buehrle could retire, nothing is official and he could want another shot at 200 innings. Considering how serviceable he is -- even at 36 years old -- Buehrle could be worth re-signing if the price is right. Hawkins -- who is six years Buehrle's senior -- has confirmed his retirement though, despite yet another above replacement-level season.
Navarro and Estrada, who were battery mates all season long, seemed to work very well together. Navarro has been vocal in the past about his desire to be the starting catcher for a team. With Martin as the long-term catcher for the Blue Jays, he may look to move elsewhere to any team that offers him the starting role. It will be interesting to see if Estrada and Navarro attempt to work in tandem in free agency considering how good their rapport seems. Regardless, it might be difficult for the Blue Jays to retain either of the players' services.
In all likelihood, Estrada is the only one on this list that will earn a qualifying offer (which could seriously impact his free agency). Anthopoulos has made it clear that he tried to acquire Estrada "three off-seasons in a row" so there will be little question that he wants to keep Estrada in Toronto. Extending a qualifying offer would likely increase their chances of resigning Estrada, as it would force an outside team to give up their first round pick (if they didn't have one of the ten worst records in 2015). He's already 32 years old, has a low strikeout rate, and his best season came in 2012 for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Other payroll obligations: Arbitration
Along with all this, the Blue Jays will have an abundance of arbitration cases to deal with. Josh Donaldson, Ben Revere, Michael Saunders, Brett Cecil, Josh Thole, Justin Smoak, Aaron Loup, and Drew Hutchison will all be eligible. Cecil, Saunders, Thole, and Smoak are all headed into their last seasons of arbitration before free agency. Cecil, who was the Blue Jays best reliever by xFIP this past season, is the most likely one to end up with a term contract this off-season from his current team. However, Cecil could opt for more leverage in his free agency year next season.
If Donaldson gets to arbitration he could set the a record for most money received. It just so happens that the current holder of the arbitration record is Price, who was awarded $19.75 million last season. Donaldson, who won his previous arbitration case and was awarded a measly $4.3 million for his MVP efforts, will look to repeat. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, may try to avoid the remaining arbitration years and a couple years of free agency by signing Donaldson long-term -- a bit like the Mike Trout deal worth $144.5 million over six years.
The prospect pipeline was mostly depleted following the trade deadline. The top names still remaining in the system -- Jonathan Harris, Anthony Alford, Sean Reid-Foley, Max Pentecost -- are still a while away from the big leagues. Dalton Pompey will definitely look to crack the Opening Day roster but, with Revere and Saunders to compete with for left field duties, nothing is guaranteed. Pompey made a good case for himself during the post-season however, where he stole four bases in four attempts.
Where do the Blue Jays go from here?
While their roster situation is by no means dire, the Blue Jays window of competition is nigh. With Bautista just turning 35 and Martin coming up on those $20 million years, it definitely seems like 2016 would be a good season to make a push. If ownership is ready to break their self-imposed contract limit then, it might make a 2016 push a bit easier. However, that may come at the cost of future irrelevancy and that's a steep price for a fanbase starved for a competitive team.