TORONTO – The Blue Jays recent stretch of winning baseball has fans thinking of the possibilities, dreaming big, about the summer – perhaps the autumn – that's to come.
It was difficult, watching Royals' ace and long-time Toronto tormentor James Shields work on Thursday night, not to consider how good he would look as a front-end of the rotation rental for the playoff push about which the organization, its players and its supporters has long dreamed.
Using a July acquisition of Shields as a hypothetical example, nothing more, the Blue Jays would have to take on the pro-rated portion of his $13.5-million. If the club, say, was to acquire Shields on July 31, it would be on the hook for approximately $4.5-million.
What isn't clear is whether the money would be available.
"We have a number that we work with and I always have the ability to have that conversation," said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "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."
Shields is exactly what Toronto needs. He has an expiring contract and would test the free agency waters for the first time in his career this winter. He has won at least 11 games in seven-straight seasons and pitched no fewer than 203 1/3 innings in each year of that span. He's pitched in the playoffs three times, for the Rays each year from 2008 to 2010 and is notorious for his work ethic.
Ownership stepping up in response to a group of players that have given the city its first tangible hope of watching a Major League Baseball playoff game live for the first time in more than two decades surely wouldn't go unnoticed in the clubhouse, either.
This run of nine consecutive wins and 17 in 22 games has helped in more than just the standings. On some occasions, the home run has been the difference. On others, speed and defence. The starting pitching and vastly improved bullpen have been major contributors. Put together, it has created belief in a clubhouse a year removed from stunning disappointment.
"It's just being a complete baseball team," pitcher Drew Hutchison told TSN.ca. "We can do the little things. You can do everything. You can beat them with speed. We saw that so much with Reyes scoring from second. You've got a guy like Gose putting down bunts and making diving catches. You've got the power of Eddie and Francisco and Bautista. There are so many ways, the way this team is, we can beat you."
According to baseball-reference.com, the Blue Jays have $134.4-million committed to player payroll for 2014. Earlier this season, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that a group of high-salaried Blue Jays had agreed to defer salary in order to allow for the club to sign then-free agent pitcher Ervin Santana.
When the deal fell through, Santana signed with the Braves, the National Post's John Lott reported that five players – Mark Buehrle, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey – had pooled together $14-million in the failed bid to bring Santana aboard.
Last week, Peter Gammons reported on his website, gammonsdaily.com, quoted Anthopoulos suggesting the payroll was maxed out. One would infer there isn't much wiggle room for a payroll increase; that a dollar in, dollar out scenario would be most likely in any deal.
"We're at a number to start the year. I think that's fair. I don't think it varies from anything we've ever said. It's always fluid," said Anthopoulos. "Even when we did the deals last year, we were supposed to be in an area and then something came up."
With the annual June draft set to begin next Thursday night, trade talk is virtually non-existent. Consider, too, that with the two wild card system in each league there aren't many teams that believe themselves to be completely out of contention at the moment.
"We are having no dialogue whatsoever," said Anthopoulos. "If there is any (rumours) out there that we're engaged with players, we're not having any active talks at all. We're really immersed in the draft right now. I expect that when that draft is over, the Monday after, that's when everyone is going to start making their calls again."