Friday, December 1st (today) is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2018 contracts to players under team control. The Blue Jays have 11 arbitration-eligible players, four of whom I identified at the beginning of the offseason as less than complete locks to be tendered. Having examined the cases of Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Goins and Tom Koehler, the last is Aaron Loup.
Background: Drafted by the Jays in 2009 (9th round), debuted in 2012 and in the bullpen since then with the exception of a short stint in 2016 following an injury at the beginning of the season. Longest current tenured Blue Jay.
2017 production: 3.75 ERA and 3.66 FIP in 57.2 innings, 0.6 fWAR / 0.9 bWAR. Faced roughly 40% lefties, without much of a split although allowed an abnormally high .362 BABIP against lefties (.273 career).
Status: 5.040 years of service, $1.125-million platform year salary, two option years remaining but cannot be unilaterally optioned.
MLBTR 2018 Salary Projection: $1.8-million
Estimated likelihood of tender: 95%
Let's cut to the chase: for a multitude of reasons, the Jays will almost certainly tender Loup a contract. For one, he's actually coming off a decent year. For another, the projected salary is quite modest. For a third, they don't any other internal, established lefty options. And the bidding for free agent lefties can often get stupid (see the contracts Mike Dunn and Marc Rzepcynski got last winter).
There are interesting lefty relievers available if they want to target an upgrade (Jake McGee and Mike Minor; more pedestrian options like Zack Duke or Brian Duensing). But even if the Jays want to upgrade or add another lefty to the man, the logical move is to tender Loup. He could likely be moved afterwards, and the worst case scenario is ending up out upwards of $500,000.
So why have him as anything less than a lock to be tendered, and among the non-tender candidates in the first place? Simply put, I just don't know what to expect from him anymore. His early career ability to manage opposite handed hitters far more than a sidearmer has any right to gave way when the league figured out how to layoff his changeup. Then he was essentially a lefty specialist who couldn't stop plunking lefties. Loup's an enigma.
At this point, I have a hard time seeing him as much more than a wormburning lefty specialist, at least with any degree of certainty. That certainly has its place in 21st century bullpens, the only question being one of overall resource constraints and allocations. Maybe then they look to Tim Mayza if they want a second lefty. But even then, with the perpetual paucity of lefty pitching, it's hard to not see interest in Loup on a cheap one year deal.
The other players eligible for arbitration are Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar and Dominic Leone. Needless to say, it would be utterly shocking if any one of those were not tendered a 2018 contract.
Tonight is not only the deadline for arbitration eligible players, pre-arb players (whose contracts can be unilaterally renewed) must be tendered contracts as well. In almost all cases, this is a mere formality, though every year there's an exception or two. I don't anticipate any for the Blue Jays. At this point, I would list only four pre-arb players as anywhere near the 40-man bubble: Matt Dermody, Luke Maile, Gift Ngoepe, and Dwight Smith Jr. All have options, and I can't fathom why any would be non-tendered (as opposed to put on outright waivers if and when roster spots are needed).