Friday, December 2nd is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2017 contracts to players under team control. At the beginning of of the offseason, the Blue Jays had five arbitration-eligible players without contracts; with Marcus Stroman a lock to be tendered and Josh Thole's release, that leaves three potential tender decisions for the Blue Jays. Each will be examined this week, starting with Darwin Barney.
Background: Signed as a free agent last December after electing free agency following October outright off 40-man and September trade to Blue Jays.
2016 production: 1.8 b WAR / 1.5 fWAR in 306 plate appearances; 86 wRC+. Below average batting offset by excellent defensive work at premium middle infield positions.
Status: 5.085 years of service (last expected year of arbitration-eligibility), $1.05-million platform year ($2.525-million max annual salary)
MLBTR 2017 Salary Projection: $1.6-million
At first glance, deciding whether or not to tender a player who produced 1.5 WAR over just half a season in 2016 at positions where the Blue Jays have injury-plagued starters and whose salary is projected barely $1-million over the minimum would seem to be a no-brainer. And it probably will be, since even if the Jays ended up going in a different direction, they should be able to move him without having to eat the contract.
The major issue is that most famous of mutual fund disclaimers, past performance is no guarantee of future results . 2016 was basically a tale of two seasons for Barney. Through the end of May, he was very productive at the plate over 91 PA, but that 115 wRC+ was almost entirely driven by a .371 BABIP. From June onwards he only produced at a 73 wRC+, which just happens to match his overall career rate.
Basically, we can't expect the same production in 2017 (Steamer projects 70 wRC+). He can provide value off the bench thanks to his defensive wizardry, but he's a pretty significant hole in the batting order if he's pressed into regular service, such as if (when) Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis miss time. He projects as a below average player, with the critical question being whether that's closer to replacement level or "second divison" regular.
For that reason, the Jays might look for an upgrade - they were rumoured to be interested in Sean Rodriguez, who would have fit that bill. That doesn't necessarily mean there's no room for Barney, especially if rosters expand to 26 - but it makes his position far more precarious. One thing is for sure: Barney is very lucky Ryan Goins has basically proven at this point that he cannot hit a lick, or Barney would be totally redundant.
A further issue is that in my view the MLBTR salary projection is highly suspect, and the actual cost could be upwards of twice as high. Barney is in the uncommon position of having gone through arbitration a couple times, become a free agent and signed for a lower salary, and then (if tendered) ending up back in the system. It's not clear MLBTR's system handles these players accurately: another such player was Justin Smoak last winter, who was projected at $2.0-million and yet who settled with the Jays at $3.9-million, consistent with a typical increase over his higher 2014 salary.
If based on this precedent we consider instead that his floor in arbitration would be his career high 2015 salary of $2,525,000, a typical increase on that probably brings up to the $3-million ballpark. If this is the case, would it make sense to commit that to Barney, with a number of other holes to fill? Doubly so if they're in the market for an upgrade.
Whether or not Barney is tendered a 2017 contract will come down to how the Jays see him fitting into the roster, and what exactly the cost would be if he is tendered.