Every year when the season ends, I like to take a look forward at what the Opening Day roster would look before the offseason gets going, based only on existing organizational players. This is what things would look like if the Jays simply closed up business until mid-February and did nothing. In some sense, it represents a "replacement level" floor for the front office this winter, since there's no reason the 2017 Opening Day roster shouldn't be at least this good (unless for some reason they had to cut payroll).
The first step is to categorize the current roster, according to contract/control status, service time, talent, and option status (the latter two going to the likelihood of being on the roster). There are currently 41 players on the 40-man roster (players on the 60-day DL don't count towards the limit), which I divide as follows:
|Free Agents||Bautista, Benoit, Cecil, Dickey, Encarnacion, Feldman, Floyd, Navarro, Saunders|
|2017 Contracts||Donaldson, Estrada, Grilli, Happ, Liriano, Martin, Smoak, Tulowitzki, Upton|
|Non-tender candidates||Barney, Loup, Thole|
|Renewals||Barnes, Biagini, Osuna, Pillar, Pompey, Ramirez, Sanchez, Travis, Tepera|
|Bubble||Bolsinger, Burns, Ceciliani, Colabello, Dermody, Girodo, Goins, Schultz, C. Smith|
Below is an assessment of each group, and the implications that the characteristics of each will have on the 2017 roster:
- Free Agents (9): From a classification perspective, these are players with at least six years of service, but no 2017 contract. Within the next 10 days, they will of course be no longer on the 40-man roster. In total, the nine had 2016 salaries of $63.7-million, of which about $54.5-million was paid by the Blue Jays.
- 2017 Contracts (9): All these players have either guaranteed contracts, or team options that are likely to be exercised (Grilli). All have 6+ years except Josh Donaldson, who would otherwise be arbitration-eligible. None are such marginal performers that they are unlikely to be on the 2017 roster, with the exception of Smoak who was just extended. These nine combined for $105.3-million in 2016 salaries, of which the Jays paid approximately $77.2-million. They will cost the Jays around $109-million in 2017, with commitments of $115-million beyond 2017.
- Arbitration (2): Next up are players in the 3-to-6 year class of service time, which makes them eligible for arbitration if tendered a 2017 contract. This group are players I consider sure to be tendered. In my first pass a month ago, I didn't have Ezequiel Carrera here but the degree on which the team relied on him in the playoff and modest price tag ($1.2-million) suggests he'll surely be back.
- Non-tender candidates (3): This group is the complement to the group above, players who are not locks to be tendered. Darwin Barney being included here may be a surprise on the basis on his performance and modest expected 2017 salary, the reason being that Ryan Goins is now out-of-options and if everyone's healthy it's really one or the other (unless they carry two light hitting middle infielders on the bench). I expect Barney would win out, and assuming the health of Travis and Tulo is tenuous, but maybe they look to save some money. Aaron Loup was in a similar position last year, but a poor 2017 makes his status even more tenuous. Josh Thole is actually just 7 service days from qualifying for free agency, but figures to end up as such anyway just a month later by being non-tendered.
- Renewals (9): This group is made up of players with less than three years service and whose contracts can be renewed unilaterally at or near the MLB minimum, and who are either locks for 2017 Opening Day or have options and enough expected value to justify retaining a 40-man sport (Dalton Pompey, Danny Barnes, Harold Ramirez, Ryan Tepera). Admittedly, determining the line between which players are here and which are below is subjective.
- Bubble (9): This group is players who can be renewed but whose roster spots are tenuous. 2017 option status creates two subsets: Mike Bolsinger, Chris Colabello, Ryan Goins and Bo Schultz are out-of-options, so will have to make the Opening Day roster, and are far from guaranteed to do so. The other five can be optioned, but in my view have not demonstrated enough expected value to ensure they remain on the 40-man over the winter as additions are made (including Rule 5 protections, which will be discussed in greater detail soon).
- Priority is given to out-of-options players on the basis of past organizational practice, though the new front office may do differently, especially as it pertains to players they didn't acquire.
- Blue is for players without 2017 options, green is for players who can be optioned.
- At this point last year, the starting lineup appeared almost completely locked in and the rotation had a lot of holes. In a stunning reversal, the 2017 starting rotation is locked in whereas the lineup has a number of question marks.
- Thole is slotted in as the backup catcher only for lack of another option on the 40-man or realistic internal candidate who will be added.
- With no clearly better utility option, I've kept both Barney and Goins. Again, as stated above, unless Tulo and/or Travis are injured, it's likely an either/or situation for Opening Day; and if not then, almost inevitably at some point thereafter.
- As usual, the bullpen situation is very unsettled. Biagini, Grilli and Osuna are the only certainties. Bolsinger (long man) and Schultz are given the inside track lacking options. At least one lefty is needed, so Loup is there but either Girodo or Dermody could be slotted in. I've given Tepera the last spot.
- By my calculation, the total cost of this Opening Day roster would be about $123-million (using MLBTR arbitration projections), with a saving of $1-million or so if Thole and Loup are replaced with players at the minimum
With that in mind, that gives a 2017 Opening Day roster constructed with existing organizational resources that would look something like this:
A few points: