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Looking ahead to 2018

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Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Every year when the season ends, I like to take a look forward at what the next year's 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 2018 Opening Day roster shouldn't be at least this good.

The first step is to categorize the current roster into groups, according to contract/control status, service time, talent, and option status (the latter two going to the likelihood of being on the roster). It looks like this:

2018 Roster flowchart

There are currently 47 players on the 40-man roster (players on the 60-day DL don't count towards the limit), which I divide as follows:

40man breakdown

Some commentary on each group

  • Free Agents (5): There's good news and bad news here. The bad news is in 2017 this group combined for 1,169 PA and 33.1 innings totaling -1.1 fWAR (-3.2 bWAR). The good news is free agency will consequently not be taking a bite out of the roster. In fact, it's arguably addition by subtraction. In total, these five had 2017 salaries of $49-million, of which the Jays paid about $22-million.
  • 2018 Contracts (8): These eight players produced 10.1 fWAR in 2017 at a cost of $88.5-million in salary. Their cost is essentially flat in 2018 at $88.4-million.
  • Arbitration (7): This group combined for $23.1-million in 2017 salary, with all but Donaldson and Stroman at or near the minimum. MLBTR projections aren't out yet, but my rough guesses put the 2018 total at about $45-million. In other words all the FA money coming off the books gets eaten up. Dominic Leone will be right near the Super Two cutoff; if he comes up short he'd be in the renewals group.
  • Non-tender candidates (4): Most of this group will be tendered, but for reasons of value, productivity or roster spots it's not guaranteed they'll be on the 2018 team and therefore could be non-tendered in December. Their 2017 salaries totaled about $8.6-million; Tom Koehler shouldn't get a raise, the rest modest ones, so I'd figure 2018 salaries through arbitration at around $9.5-million.
  • Pre-arb renewals (10): This group is pre-arb players who have positive expected future value based on on-field performance or potential, to the extent that they are clearly assets. As such, they will hold their roster spots and have their contracts renewed (at or near the minimum when at the MLB level). Admittedly, the line between this group and the next is somewhat subjective.
  • Bubble (8+5): Shortly after the World Series, the 40-man once again becomes a hard limit. With 47 players and only five free agents, they'll have to cut between now and then just to get down to the level. That's before any spots needed over the winter for players signed or acquired and Rule 5 additions. Assume a handful of additions and 4-7 Rule 5 additions, and potentially most of the roster spots for these players are in danger.

With all that considered, a 2018 Opening Day roster constructed solely with existing organizational resources would look something like this:

2018 lineup

A few points and thoughts:

  • Priority is given to out-of-options players where it's close. Blue is for players without 2018 options, green is for players who can be optioned unilaterally.
  • Darrell Ceciliani and Cesar Valdez do not appear as the two players "DFA'd" to get down to the limit of 40. That still leaves Schultz and Campos off the roster but out-of-options. Conceivably, one could be saved by taking the bullpen spot of Carlos Ramirez..
  • The bullpen situation appears far more settled than in recent years, even with Joe Biagini as a starter. Leone, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes would appear to be locks behind Osuna; Ramirez and Koehler are strong possibilities and then a lefty could round things out.
  • Obvious areas for improvement: adding a starting pitcher, an established outfielder, better middle infield depth, and backup catcher.
  • By my estimation, the total cost of this Opening Day roster would be about $147-million. Without Koehler, it would be more like $142-million. Non-tendering all four listed above (and replacing with pre-arb players) would bring the total to about $139-million.
  • This baseline implicitly presumes they are looking to contend in 2018, and do not sell off core pieces for future assets. If the front office did decide to punt 2018 as part of a reloading effort, a number of starters would likely go. Without considering any players coming back, the lineup would be adjusted as follows for the following players being traded.
    - Donaldson: Goins to 3B (?), Urena to the infield backup
    - Happ: Borucki into the starting rotation
    - Smoak: Pearce to 1B, Alford/Pompey to LF, depending on health
    - Martin: Danny Jansen to C from off the 40-man