Well, they did it. The Marlins pulled the trigger on a deal that’s going to send Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, and now everything’s awful.
After the entire off season seemed to be held up by the Ohtani and Stanton sweepstakes, the last 48 hours have felt like a dam break, ushering in a strange new world where Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton play together on one team, and Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani play together on another. Both developments are problematic for the Blue Jays as one likely makes winning the division more difficult and the other likely makes winning the Wild Card more difficult.
For a team that has the potential to bounce back to 10 or 15 games over .500 if they push the right buttons this winter, this news narrows their window, and only increases the pressure on Ross Atkins.
Earlier in the off season we talked about how the Blue Jays were caught between the present and the future, and how the club needed to decide if it was best to take extreme measures or straddle the middle. At the end of that piece, we ran a poll to see how the community here felt about the issue:
A solid majority voted for the “straddle the middle” option, and there’s about a 99 percent chance the front office will be taking us down that road, but if recent developments are any indication, the baseball gods are hinting that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
There’s almost no margin for error now playing this middle of the road game. In order to make the playoffs in 2018, the Jays will have to finish ahead of at least one of the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros or Angels, and that’s looking like an extremely steep hill to climb now. So this means they can’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to looking for value.
Now, the first order of business when it comes to looking for value is going to be checking in with Miami after the Stanton deal to figure out if they’re going to have a full blown fire sale. The Marlins have some players that would improve the Jays, and if they can be had at a discount, Atkins needs to be ready to pounce. They’ve already dumped Dee Gordon and Stanton, and according to the Miami Herald, they still want to dump another $25 million before Opening Day, which means it’s time for us to start speculating.
Some of the early rumors in the Stanton to the Yankees deal had New York trying to pawn off Jacoby Ellsbury to Miami, which Florida rejected. New York desperately wants to get under the $197 million luxury tax so they can reset their percentage, and Miami desperately wants to shed salary in general. Looking at it through this lens makes it pretty clear why Castro was in the deal. The Yankees dump a contract that would make getting under the tax tricky, and the Marlins get a player back that has almost perfectly neutral trade value.
Most projection systems have Castro at about 1.3 WAR next season, and if you believe one WAR on the free agent market now costs about $8 million, well then Castro should be worth about $10.4 million if he was out on the open market, which almost perfectly matches his actual salary. In other words, the Marlins were willing to take on this contract because it’s a something they believe they can move in another deal, and who knows, that deal might be with the Blue Jays if they’re looking for more versatile infield help (although at this point, Casto kind of feels like a player who can play multiple infield positions because his glove isn’t very good at any of them).
In any case, the Marlins are looking to dump salary. So with that, let’s look at the players on Miami’s books set to make the most money after the Stanton trade. I ordered them by how much they are set to make in 2018:
Martin Prado: $13.5 million in 2018 and $15 million in 2019
Edinson Volquez: $13 million in 2018
Marcell Ozuna: Arbitration eligible in 2018 and 2019 (Projected to make $10.9 million in 2018)
Starlin Castro: $10.86 million in 2018 and $11.86 million in 2019 with a $16 million option in 2010
Brad Ziegler: $9 million in 2018
Junichi Tazawa: $7 million in 2018
Christian Yelich: $7 million in 2018, $9.75 million in 2019, $12 million in 2020, $14 million in 2021 and a $15 million million option in 2022.
Two names really jump out here in Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. If the Marlins really are going to move several players at a discounted rate, the Jays should be involved. Either one of those guys could be a great alternative target to the other outfield options out on the free agent market: J.D. Martinez feels like a disastrous contract waiting to happen, Jay Bruce isn’t very good, and Lorenzo Cain is going to cost a draft pick plus money.
My dream option here would be Yelich. I like everything about him. He’s a super underrated player because he plays in Miami and was under Stanton’s shadow (averaged 4.1 rWAR the last four years), has a very manageable contract, and is only entering his age 26 season. Then on top of this, he’s got other qualities the Jays need right now including the ability to play all three outfield positions (if you can play center above average, you can play anywhere out there), being an above average base runner (Lord do the Jays need that), and also the fact that he’s left handed.
Now of course, the Marlins aren’t going to be giving Yelich away as easily as Stanton, but they have shown an interest in shedding money. So now the magic question becomes just how much money are the Jays willing to spend in 2018? If they don’t want to move top prospects to get better in 2018, and they don’t want to blow things up, one of the easiest ways to stretch the limits of the middle of the road plan is to stretch the payroll. Let’s remember, the Blue Jays had the highest attendance of any team in the AL in 2017 and the largest TV audience of any team in baseball.
If they have a few million extra to spend because of this, it might not be a terrible idea to adsorb one of the other bad contracts on the list above in a proposal for Yelich (preferably a contract that doesn’t go into 2019 as the budget does get tight next year if Donaldson sticks around). Perhaps the Jays would be willing to take a chance on Ziegler bouncing back? And hey, if he doesn’t you’re off the hook in 2019 with control of Yelich for several more seasons. Or more likely, if you want to make it a little more painful, perhaps you have to take Volquez (Just eat the contract with him likely missing the whole year to Tommy John. This might allow you to pay less in prospect cost.)
Taking on a bad contract here could reduce the prospect cost significantly, especially when you consider yet another way the Marlins may have screwed themselves in the Stanton trade. See, the Marlins sent Stanton to a team that didn’t really need another outfielder, so now that Stanton is in New York and they already have Judge, and Gardner, and Hicks and Ellsbury, and Frazier coming up, somebody is likely getting moved. In turn, this will further saturate the outfield market and potentially cost Miami leverage in yet another deal.
Either way, a huge factor in how the Jays are going to work this middle of the road strategy will depend on how much money they’re willing to spend. Right now they’re sitting at around $142 million in committed money when you include all of the players already under contract and the arbitration projections. Last year, their Opening Day Payroll reached $163 million (a franchise record); so by that metric, they wouldn’t have much room to play with when it came to these Marlin contracts. However, if the Jays were willing to push things further north as a reward to the fans for the high attendance and TV viewership, then something like $180 million might be in play.
Right now though, we don’t know how high the payroll can soar, and as a result, we don’t know how creative the Jays can get when it comes to manipulating Miami into moving an asset like Yelich.
How high do you think the Blue Jays Opening Day payroll should be in 2018?
This poll is closed
Less than $160 million
Between $160 and $170 million
Between $170 and $180 million
Over $180 million