Rios != Wells

Thanks to the declaration that Roy Halladay is available, the Blue Jays roster has been thrust into trade speculation in the last few days. Yesterday’s surprising release of B.J. Ryan, who had $15 million left on his contract that ran through 2010, only heightened the attention towards the contracts Toronto has on the books. It has become commonplace, in fact, for people to refer to the ugly contracts for Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, and speculate about Ricciardi’s ability to get someone to take those two off his hands.

Except, you know, those two aren’t remotely similar, and lumping them together is pretty dumb.

Vernon Wells contract is awful. He’s owed $12.5 million next year, $23 million in 2011, and then $21 million per season from 2012-2014. He’s locked up for five years after this one for the price of $97 million. Since the beginning of 2007, Wells has earned a grand total of +1.2 wins in 1,488 plate appearances, or about +0.5 wins per season. Yech. $20 million a year for a guy with a league average bat and defense that belongs in LF/RF? That might be the worst contract in baseball. He’s giving Barry Zito a run for his money, at the very least. The Wells extension has been nothing short of a total disaster.

Alex Rios, though? He’s guaranteed $59 million from 2010 to 2014 or $71 million through 2015, depending on if his option year at the end of the contract is exercised. That’s $40 million less over the same time period, or $8 million per year less in annual average salary. And Rios has been nothing short of fantastic the last two years – he was worth +4.6 wins in 2007 and +5.5 wins last year. And he’s got the exact same skillset as he had then.

BB%: 6.5% in 2008, 6.5% in 2009
K%: 17.6% in 2008, 17.0% in 2009
ISO: .170 in 2008, .156 in 2009

His .350 wOBA from last year has become a .325 wOBA this year simply due to BABIP variance, where his .335 batting average on balls in play has dropped to .288 this year. His career BABIP? .328. This “slump” just isn’t anything to be concerned about. He has 32 extra base hits, he’s 13 for 16 in stolen bases, his contact rate is exactly the same as always… there’s just no offensive decline here. He’s the exact same above average hitter he was the last two years.

ZIPS projects a .355 wOBA going forward from Rios, which sounds about right for a 28-year-old with his skills. That makes him something like +15 runs per year offensively, and he’s a terrific defensive outfielder to boot, easily capable of playing center or being a gold glove candidate in right.

Rios is a +3.5 to +4.5 win player in the prime of his career, and he’s due to make just under $60 million for the next five years. This is a really good contract for the Jays. Rios is an outstanding player being paid less than his market value. He’s as far from being a Wells-like albatross as you could possibly get.

Vernon Wells contract is awful, and the Jays have to regret giving it to him every single day. Alex Rios‘ contract is very good, and he’s one of the pieces Toronto should be building around. They are in no way similar.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

45 Responses to “Rios != Wells”

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  1. Kevin S. says:

    How much of Wells’ contract would the Jays have to eat for some enterprising GM short on talent and long on money (let’s call him Momar Inaya) to take him off their hands for a non-prospect?

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    • Torgen says:

      I think you put him on revocable trade waivers after the deadline and hope someone claims him thinking you’ll pull him back.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        What team would have the balls to claim him and risk getting stuck holding the bag on that entire contract?

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      • twinsfan says:

        The Red Sox put Manny on waivers a couple times with no takers, no one is going to take that albatross.

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      • Torgen says:

        Didn’t the Mariners put Jarrod Washburn on waivers last year and the Twins claimed him? But the M’s pulled him back for some reason.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Wells makes *significantly* more than Washburn.

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  2. jw says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve been hearing that Rios has a bad contract for a long while now and have been trying to argue it every time. I’m glad at least one other person is being rational here.

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  3. Keith says:

    Absolutely. The problem is perception. I’m a Canadian fan and the perception of Rios is that he’s a superstar waiting to break out, and people complain that it hasn’t happened yet. Yet the same people perceive Wells as a franchise cornerstone, which never actually happened… he just got paid like one.

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  4. Rob in CT says:

    I think some people (like, say, me) looked mostly at Rios’ OBP (and its similarity to Wells’ OBP) and figured he was a bit of a bust offensively. Focusing on the one weakness he has, in other words, and forgetting his strengths, including plus D.

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    • Rob in CT says:

      Also, I hate Rios, because the Yankees can’t seem to get him out (yes, this clearly conflicts with thinking he’s not a good offensive player).

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  5. DR says:

    Thank you X2. Thi was an obvious point that needed to be made.

    The Jays have 4 players with about the same contract and skillset.


    They’re all paid 10 million or so for slightly above average hitting and very above average defence. If one of them has a flukey poor season one year, it doesn’t make them poor deals. (Rios this year, the rest last year)

    Wells somehow got paid twice as much to do the same thing well into his decline years. UGH

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  6. rwperu34 says:

    I noticed this just last night. I was shocked at how long Rios contract had been extended, especially since he hadn’t even gone to arbitration when they signed the deal. That doesn’t make it a bad deal though. There’s a little bit of an abritrage opportunity for Rios as well. Just by looking at the UZR numbers, it looks like he can handle CF and gain value as a player. If the Jays can move Wells, Rios slides to CF and improves. If not, maybe they trade Rios (for a pantload) and whatever team that gets him could slide him to CF.

    BTW, is anyone else annoyed that Rios is consistantly batting at the bottom of the order…behind Vernon Wells?

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  7. Exactly right, Dave. I’ve pointed this out myself in comments elsewhere… I was actually going to write a full-blown column on this, but you beat me to it (and much more concisely, too).

    I don’t think Rob Neyer got the memo, though…

    Some people are never going to let the Adam Dunn thing go. Do they realize that even this season, Rios (in a BABIP-slump) and Dunn (tearing the cover off the ball and playing his usual “defense”) are equal in WAR (which isn’t yet adjusted for league,either, right?). And, of course, Rios is likely to be far superior going forward.

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  8. AJS says:

    I don’t know where to begin deconstructing this argument. I’ll grant the obvious premise that Rios (and his contract) are better than Wells, but to say Rios is “an outstanding player being paid less than his market value. He’s as far from being a Wells-like albatross as you could possibly get” is not being honest.

    For one thing, comparing Rios’ offensive production this year to his production last year is a bit disingenuous. That’s because last year was actually a regression from 2007 for Rios, at least offensively.

    (An aside: Keith is absolutely right about the perception of Rios. That’s what engenders the complaints — that Rios has taken a step or two backward over the past two years.)

    2007 was Rios best career season at the plate, and Jays fans expected him to continue to build on that, not regress to the numbers he put up in 2008. So if you compare Rios’ rate stats between 2007 and 2009, you get a much bigger difference than you do when you compare 2008 and 2009.

    BB%: 7.9% in 2007, 6.5% in 2009
    K%: 16.0% in 2007, 17.0% in 2009
    ISO: .201 in 2007, .156 in 2009

    When you look at it that way, Rios’ skill set does seem to have declined. And that’s what Jays fans are upset about. We thought we were going to get the 2007 version of Rios in 2008 and 2009, not the 2008 version in both seasons. (And in any case, he’s clearly way below his 2008 numbers in both the field and at the plate this year.)

    So that’s why people lump Rios in with Wells. Rios has been nowhere near as good as everyone expected him to be, so he’s considered a Vernon-like disappointment. And regardless of whether Rios’ contract is a good one relative to “market value,” the Jays aren’t a franchise that can afford “market value.” Considering how much management pinches pennies, the Jays need to do better than market value. That’s why it’s a problem that Rios is making so much and doing so little.

    P.S. All that said, I love how much discussion of the Jays there has been here recently!

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    • Victor says:

      The point is that they shouldn’t lump the two together. Rios is a good player with upside who is getting paid what he’s worth even while slumping. Wells is severely overpaid.

      And don’t forget Wells’s signing bonus:

      $25.5M signing bonus (paid in 3 $8.5M installments, March 1 2008-10)

      That + next year’s salary means he’s getting paid $21M in 2010, making it $107M total owed from 2010-2014. Holy crap that’s a Zitoesque albatross.

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      • AJS says:

        I understood all that. My point is that we should you look at Rios’ last three seasons thusly: excellent 2007, mediocre 2008, then — instead of bouncing back — continuing to regress in 2009.

        If that’s the case — and the numbers I posted above back it up — then Rios is also getting paid more than he’s worth. When the Jays signed Rios to a 7-year, $70 million contract after the 2007 season, they weren’t expecting these kind of numbers for the first season and a half. At this point, I don’t think Rios is “slumping” — I think this is what he is, and that 2007 was an aberration that resulted in the the Jays paying too much.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think you can count defense in Rios favor as much as the author does here. If in 2.5 seasons Rios has put up UZRs of 9.2, 27.5 and 0.8, I think he’s probably closer to the lower end of that scale than the higher one. In which case he’s worth far fewer runs than we’re assuming, making his contract look even worse.

        Ultimately, Rios’ contract isn’t as bad as Wells’. I’m not saying it is. But it still looks pretty bad. If not Zito-esque, it’s certain Russ Ortiz-esque.

        (By the way, doesn’t it change everything if we hypothetically switched Rios’ and Wells’ positions? If that happened, doesn’t Rios become that much less valuable because he doesn’t compare as well defensively to the rest of the league’s CF? Likewise, doesn’t Wells become somewhat more valuable because he compares better defensively to the league’s LF/RF? If that’s all it takes to make their contracts seem like better investments, then this whole exercise seems pretty silly.)

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Search “positional adjustments” on this site. Essentially, we’d add 10 runs to Rios per 150 defensive games and take 10 away from Wells to cover the positional adjustments.

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  9. Ben says:

    Let’s just put it this way…Rios has always been toolsy, but the lack of true plate discipline is becoming an Achilles’ heel. The infamous 5K night(s) notwithstanding, he really needs to be able to harness his urge to swing. The last couple of years have been plagued by a tendency to chase bad pitches, which had been reinforced by his ability to hit said-pitches a bit better. In general, his bat doesn’t merit anything better than a 6-spot in the order, which will always hamper any visions of a 30-30 season (barring an unbelievable Toronto lineup). Aforementioned lack of plate discipline also puts a damper on the stolen base-half of the 30-30; ultimately, we’re looking at a guy that had the opportunity to turn the corner in his career, but has went the wrong way. There’s a little time for him to right the ship, but with a few full seasons under his belt, it will be difficult.
    This all being said, I took a chance on the guy this year, and he is a real pain in the ass to own.

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  10. Seamhead says:

    In your urgency to make your case about Wells, I think you understate his defence. Maybe he’s not where he was a few years back, but he’s still a good CF, takes good routes, tracks down balls, etc. And your arguments with Rios feel too… well, convenient. BABIP is an unreliable stat for measurement of performance, because it assumes balls will be put in play with a consistent rate of power given time. If you watch Rios he’s swung at a lot of bad pitches this year, putting weak swings on balls BUT putting them in play. The idea that his lower BABIP is an anomaly due to some sort of luck variable by defenders is hard to swallow for anyone who has watched him for the past several years. He’s not hitting the ball hard as often as a few years back. His confidence looks shot. Saying that, however, I don’t think the contract can be termed bad at this point, just a bit leaky. (Change that stance – too much weird knee bend and playing with arm position that messes with his timing). On a side note, why is everyone congratulating the Jays on releasing BJ Ryan. Yes, he looks done, but he had a sub-3 ERA last year and hasn’t shown any good medical reason for his extreme regression this year. Why not lean on him to take a minors assignment (like Contreras in Chicago) and see if he can sort himself out or ‘reinvent himself’ like he rambled to the local newspapers. $15 million reasons…

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  11. Mark says:

    “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you can count defense in Rios favor as much as the author does here. If in 2.5 seasons Rios has put up UZRs of 9.2, 27.5 and 0.8, I think he’s probably closer to the lower end of that scale than the higher one. In which case he’s worth far fewer runs than we’re assuming, making his contract look even worse.”

    You do know Rios was top 3 in +/- between 06-08 in RF, right (+43)? He was also a top 6 CF @ +11, not very impressive till you realize he only started 59 games there. Rios is a very elite defensive OF. On the other hand, Wells is a -15 last year (fourth worst CF), and his last UZR/150 was 24 (and this year 33).

    Rios needs to be in CF & Wells should be in RF but that’ll never happen. I can only pray that Wells opts out of his contract before they pay him 20+ mil a season (and yes, he does have an opt out).

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    • AJS says:

      Yes, that’s what I said, the Jays should switch Rios’ and Wells’ positions. However, I still don’t see how that makes Alex Rios’ contract a good one. I basically second what Greg and Joe R posted below.

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  12. RollingWave says:

    If we assume that Wells is a 0.5 WAR guy a year going foward (which isn’t exactly crazy, he’s on pace to be a -2 WAR guy this year!!) that means for the next 5 year he’s worth about 2.5 million dollars. and he’s paid 97M .

    So yeah. You need to trade about 2 Doc Halladay for someone to take Vernon Wells. Jesus Christ.

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  13. Greg says:

    All this statistical stuff aside, it’s obvious to everyone that Wells’ contract is horrible – but Rios’ is only slightly better. There are two aspects to contracts: (i) how good the player is over the term, and (ii) WHETHER THE TEAM CAN AFFORD THE CONTRACT. By that, I mean, it doesn’t really matter if the player justifies the contract IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD HIM. Teams only have so much budget. This team has obviously put way too much money in a limited number of players relative to their budget. What they really should do is couple Halladay and Wells for nothing; just dump them on NY or BOS and be done with it.

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    • RollingWave says:

      This would make sense. except that even the Yankees would have a hard time justifying playing Wells over the Gardner / Cabrera platoon (which has actually been very productive) . and even for them eatting Wells contract is absurd.

      And besides. how would JP look if he trade the best pitcher in the franchise history JUST to get rid of a contract? in raw value wise ridding Wells is probably more valuable then any combination of prosepct they can get, but in reality it would look horrible beyond believe for the FO.

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  14. Joe R says:

    In this market, Rios’ contract isn’t good. The FA market of 2009 resembled the definition of a diseconomy of scale: averageish players were taking lower contracts than the norm while the superstars still got theirs. In that light, Rios deal isn’t nearly as good as other role players.

    It’s not bad, either. It’s just kind of there.

    JP Riccardi confuses me. For a Beane disciple, he has done some straight up odd things, from his ad hominem bash of Adam Dunn to that contract for Vernon Wells that I knew was bad from Day 1.

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  15. megamets says:

    We’re on the same page Dave(great blog). This is what I wrote on The Bitter Bill( my favorite blog)July 8th and it is right in line with what you said “As much as everybody in the media has been dumping on Alexis Rios, by the time next year’s free agent market comes around his contract could be right in line with what other attractive free agents will cost.”

    I do however think (I’m winging it here) that moving Rios is very up high on Richardi’s list of of things to do despite the fact that Alexis’ contract is right in line with what other 28 year old stars make. By the time the 2010 free agent market gets underway he may be considered undervalued(taking into consideration the weakness? of next years market and just may bring back a decent package of players. That’s when I think Richardi dumps Alexis.

    Prediction Wells+Halladay+27 million to the Yanks for Jackson, Joba, and either Cabrera or Gardner.

    On to the Mets game. If I were Omar Minaya I’d offer Reyes(DL), Flores, F-Mart(DL) or Parnell, Niese, and Francuer for Halladay and Rios. Just Pipedreaming here.

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    • Johnny says:

      I don’t think the Blue Jays will even get a good MLB-caliber player (Joba/Reyes) for Wells+Halladay+27mil unless you’re dealing with Minaya (lol @ the Francoeur trade)

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    • RollingWave says:

      Ehhh. this still doesnt’ look good for the Jays, and in fact it doesn’t look right for the Yankees either.

      let’s do a little math . we calculate that 1.5 year of Hallday minus contract is roughly 30 million. however 5.5 year of Wells (lets be very generous and assume that he bounce back to a 1.5 WAR player the rest of the way) is 8.25 WAR guy for the next 5.5 year. which if we keep WAR at 5M would be worth roughtly 27.5M while costing 98.5M (i’m not even counting whats left this year) . so Wells, if we calculate generously, is a -71M guy. so Halladay + Wells + 27M is STILL in the negative terrotory by over 20M!!!!! (faints) even assuming the worth of being able to extend Halladay. I would say that Halladay + Wells + 27M is worth… um…. maybe Melky Cabrera.


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      • RollingWave says:

        woops, looking it up Halladay fair value is more lik 40M, still , saying that Wells is -70M is a pretty generous evaluation at this point. so even then Halladay + Wells + 27M is basically what you value as being abel to potentially extend 33 year old Roy Halladay.. who may be signable as a FA anyway. (and the value of compensaiton picks for the Yankees is naturally lower due to where they usually draft in the slots)

        So the question we need to base our evaluation on is basically that, what is the value of (maybe) extending Roy Halladay? with hindsight it seems that this actually works AGAINST the trading team. (see the Santana case) when extention gets involved in the trade talk, but if we dont’ involve it, then we could basically say that the value of trading Halladay + Wells + 27M is um… 0.


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  16. Friend says:

    What would it take for a team like the Yankees to acquire Rios if the Jays are desperate to move his contract? Romine+Melky or something like that?

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    • RollingWave says:

      Probably .

      I think Rios is a sell low now though , I’m fairly confident he’ll bounce back some . I’m also more optimistic about Jesus Montero’s chances of being able to catch in the majors than most.

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  17. RollingWave says:

    There’s a few things at work here.

    If the Jays must tie Vernon Wells into trading Roy Halladay, they basically immeidately eliminated 28.5 or 29 teams from the talks. which does nothing for their leverage.

    Roy hasn’t demanded extentions being involed yet. which means he’s a very nice guy. otherwise he also eliminates about 25 teams from the talks himself. even before Wells consideration.

    They could probably get a lot if they just trade Halladay with no strings attached.

    With both, they probably need to cough up extra money and get really nothing. yikes.

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  18. Toffer Peak says:

    It will be interesting to see what happens now that Rios has been claimed on waivers. The press seems to indicate that team execs are surprised by the claim since free agent spending was down so much this season. Should give us a good sense of how much teams really value an average to solid hitting OF with good to great defense.

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  19. Scott says:

    And now it looks like Rios is headed to the Sox for nothing in return. Very interesting.

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  20. Tim says:

    What’s interesting is that this isn’t just a case of Dave’s analysis being different than a single GM. This is a case of the pure #’s analysis being _completely_ out of line with the analysis of 6 different AL GMs, not to mention any of the scores of teams that JP likely talked to before the non-waiver deadline in which even a fringe prospect could have brought Rios into the fold.

    I suspect that front offices are using a very different $/win # than the one used here. There’s probably also different valuation of D in play since that’s a huge part of Rios WAR value. Or at least a recognition of the fact that the error bars on those D values are really large and can’t be counted on in the way that this post does.

    That said, I certainly wish my AL team had made this claim. I think Dave’s right that Rios will earn this contract over its life-span. But it’s definitely weird that the folks who generally know best are in wide-spread agreement that he’s wrong.

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  21. Tim says:

    Update: I just read that Rios had a no-trade clause. That changes the valuation thing a bit. There could have been other teams that were interested, and even willing to send talent in return, that were vetoed.

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  22. Jurgen says:

    “But it’s definitely weird that the folks who generally know best are in wide-spread agreement that he’s wrong.”

    You’re talking about major league GMs? Have you been paying attention to baseball the past decade?


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  23. aj says:

    Keep in mind as well the possibility that other GM’s wanted Rios but simply could not afford to take on his contract. The fact that they didn’t place a waiver claim on him does not imply that no one thought he was good or worth the contract

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    • Joe R says:

      And the fact that only AL teams with a worse record could block that move. Chicago is pretty much the worst team still in contention in the AL (albeit Minnesota is just 5 back of the Tigers).

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  24. Joe R says:

    I like what the White Sox did. Look at his BB%, K%, and all that. Same guy. He can also play center now, which I think will increase his value. Going forward, he’s probably a .280/.335/.490 guy or somethong of that nature, which for CF is fairly good. Don’t have to worry about his price skyrocketing Beltre-style after one good season, too.

    2009 has pretty much been the low value of Rios, and he’s still pretty much an average player.

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  25. God says:

    The way ESPN reported it, they made the waiver claim seem horrible for the White Sox due to Rio’s contract.

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  26. wobatus says:

    Rios’s contract was signed in April 2008. The S&P 500 peaked on may 19, 2008 at 1426. It subsequently plunged to 666, losing 53% of its value by March 2009, one of the worst stock market crashes ever. The world financial system practically melted down, and some think only massive government support for financials prevented even worse. Money was flowing out of money market funds at a massive rate. even after a massive snap back rally the s&p is down 30% since it peaked, almost within a month of Rios’s contract signing.

    Although the market wouldn’t be directly correlated, there would have to be some effect on salaries. Team owners are effected by financial meltdowns. The Wilpons may have lost 100s of millions in the Madoff scandal, for example.

    I cannot help but think this effects Blue ja thinking and the value of contracts across baseball. Blue jay attendance this year is averaging 24,395. last year it averaged 29,626. That’s a HUGE falloff of 117.5%. TV advertising budgets are likely down, which won’t effect current contracts but maybe their next one.

    This is a lot of speculation, but suffice it to say the financial picture looks VASTLY different than it did in April 2008, for the Jays and for the world.

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    • wobatus says:

      and apologies for overuse of the word massive.

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    • AngMohClay says:

      To add to this, Toronto is a huge financial center. I’m not sure if it is the 2nd or 3rd largest financial market in North America (NY is obviously the largest, Chicago with it’s very large commodities market is the 2nd or third), but finance is a major part of the Toronto economy.

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