By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Easter Sunday of a long weekend. The Yankees are in town.
The final game of a four-game series at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
I went up to my Jays' seat attendant prior to the game and I say, "I wonder what kind of a crowd there will be today.''
The young chap replied, "We're told it will be around 30,000.'' He was pretty close.
Sure enough, later in the day, after Justin Smoak's grand salami lifted the Blue Jays to a 7-4 win over the Yankees, I went looking for the attendance online because from what I remember my wife and I don't recall the Jays announcing the head count or at least displaying it on the Jumbotron. They did announce the winning 50/50 winner.
I went on bluejays.com to find the boxscore of the game and there it is: 29,091. The seat attendant was right. Pretty close. Actually 1,000 less. With such a low attendance, the Jays didn't want to telegraph it. In the previous three games against the Yankees, there were crowds of 33,000 and change, 37,000 and change and 48,000 and change.
You would think that with Easter weekend and the Yankees in town the place would have more than 40,000, especially after they had beaten the Yankees in Game 3 after losing the first two. Think of Yankees Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and other studs including Didi Gregorius from the Netherlands, a left-handed batter, who loves hitting to the opposite field.
Wait and see: that would appear to be the focus of Jays' fans. The Jays added a lot of new faces in the off-season but not enough big names to convince fans to go and buy season-tickets in droves. Fans want to see how this team will fare in the first month or two before they commit to much in the way of small or large ticket packages.
The Jays were careful about what they added to the roster, especially in a winter that gave one illusions of a quasi-collusion scenario. They acquired or signed Curtis Granderson, Seung-Hwan Oh, John Axford, Yangervis Solarte, Gift Ngoepe, Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz, Jaime Garcia and others but it seems it wasn't that convincing for fans.
It's a message to Rogers beancounters and a message to president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins that fans are in holdback mode when it comes to buying tickets. The Jays have so far failed to sign Josh Donaldson to a contract extension so we assume that had an impact on fans not wanting to go crazy about buying tickets.
Talking of contracts, we found out that the Jays signed Diaz, a pre-arbitration player, to a $2-million deal. He's a pretty unusual case because the Cuban was originally signed to a four-year contract as a free agent by the Cardinals. That contract expired after last season and he became part of the group of Jays not eligible for arbitration.
I'm assuming that because Diaz was an international case, that he was given more money than usual.
"Your assumption is correct,'' Shapiro said. "It's much like Lourdes Gurriel makes more than our 0-3's now.''
Diaz’s 2018 salary was affected by the maximum salary reduction rule in Article VI of the collective bargaining agreement. Although, not yet eligible for arbitration, he cannot earn less than 80% of his 2017 salary – hence, the high salary, according to sources.
Jays publicist Jay Stenhouse said in an interview that Diaz actually earned $2.5-million last season, including a $500,000 signing bonus thrown in.
"His signing bonus got spread out over four years,'' Stenhouse said. "The most you can reduce a player from the previous year is 20% so that's why you see the $2-million for this year.''
On a comparable note, Jays' reliever Ryan Tepera, who is not arbitration-eligible, had his 2018 salary come in at $574,700, a raise from his 2017 salary of $542,700. Him and his agent Scott Leventhal could not have been happy about that. Leventhal does not comment on contract negotiations for any of his clients.
It's very likely that Leventhal pushed for a salary closer to $600,000 but the Jays drew a line in the sand.