"The last three weeks has changed a lot of thinking," Blue Jays interim president and CEO Paul Beeston said to a group of Toronto reporters last week, referring to the uncertain economic times. "If you're not aware of it, I don't think you're being realistic."
While the Blue Jays' ticket sales this offseason have been consistent with previous years, Beeston noted that the team's sponsorship is down. Last season, Toronto operated on a team payroll of around $97 million -- a figure that will not increase, and could possibly see a decrease for the 2009 campaign.
If Toronto strikes out on re-signing Burnett, who was scheduled to earn $24 million through 2010 before opting out of his contract, the club might be more inclined to save its cash than to use it to reel in other free agents. That being the case, the Jays might opt to turn to some of their younger players this coming season.
"The biggest decision we have to make is what direction we're going to go with the team," Beeston said. "We can spend $100 million, but if it doesn't make sense, why do it?"
This isn't to say that the Blue Jays believe they are on the verge of a complete rebuild. Toronto still has a strong pitching staff, led by ace Roy Halladay, and an offense that has potential to be better than it was a year ago. Even if adding free agents isn't in the plans this offseason, the Jays still hope to field a competitive club in the American League East.
"We're not going down to [a payroll of] $40 or $50 million," Beeston said. "It's either status quo or you're going to add to it. If we don't get [Burnett], we're not pulling back. We're not going to be selling players."
The Jays simply might not be going after as many players as they initially hoped. When the offseason began, Toronto indicated that it was in the market for starting pitching, as well as an impact bat, a shortstop and possibly a backup catcher. Early this offseason, the Jays were rumored to have interest in a number of high-profile players as well.
Now, instead of going after free-agent pitchers like Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets, or pursuing Manny Ramirez, Milton Bradley and Rafael Furcal to add more offense, the Blue Jays may attempt to solve their holes internally. Toronto believes it has enough talented young players in the fold to fill in the necessary gaps.
There is always the trade route, and Toronto might keep an open mind to potential swaps when the decision-makers for every club convene in Las Vegas next week. Other than that, though, this offseason will almost certainly remain relatively quiet for the Blue Jays, who have more than on-field issues on the current agenda.
Toronto is still searching for a permanent replacement for Beeston and outgoing president and CEO Paul Godfrey. Beeston said that the field of candidates currently includes around 35-40 people, an estimated half that are "household names." Beeston added that the Jays are confident that the position will be filled prior to Spring Training.