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Evaluating the offseason

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With Opening Day behind us, a quick high-level look back at the offseason

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Last October just after the season ended, I took a look ahead to what the 2017 lineup would look at using only players that were either under contract or organizational control for 2017. In my view, this represents a "replacement level" floor by which to measure the front office's offseason performance, since it's what the roster would be if they literally did nothing and their machinations and deployment of resources should add value to that floor.

So let's look at how the Opening Day roster compares to that would-be roster from October 2016, in terms of expected production and cost. I've substituted A.J. Jimenez for Josh Thole on the original roster since he was added to the 40-man shortly after, and I've included Roberto Osuna in the opening day roster since he still figures to be a significant 2017 contributor. 19 of the 25 players overlap, including six in the starting lineup, all five starters in the rotation, three on the bench, and five in the bullpen. In general, the WAR production is an average of ZiPS and Steamer, with some discretionary adjustments.

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Looking at a high level, the replacement offseason Jays projected around 81 games (48 win team replacement level + 33 WAR), and the current Jays project around 86 wins, which matches FanGraphs depth charts and feels about right.

There's a lot in that chart, and to the extent that we're focussed on the marginal changes, the aforementioned 19 holdovers don't change anything. The Jays made upgrades at two outfield spots, DH, backup catcher as well as two spots in the bullpen. Below is the same chart, but for only the six positions with differences:

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Let's start with what can be said definitively. Over the offseason, the Jays increased their 2017 payroll by just under $40-million, as well as adding just under $30-million in salary commitments beyond 2017. For that, they were able to add about five expected 2017 wins at a fairly important part of the win curve, though obviously that number is far less definitive.

The six incumbents going into the offseason cumulatively projected as essentially replacement level for close to replacement level pay (MLB minimum of $535,000). Most of the 0.9 projected WAR is attributable to Mike Bolsinger, and that was only using the Steamer projection with ZiPS at a very optimistic 1.4 WAR. At a skill level, I simply don't see it, and considering he's have been at the end of the bullpen, even less likely to accumulate that. On the flip side, that 0.5 WAR projection for Pompey might be a little on the low side.

In terms of the players added, there's basically three starters and three role players. For the role players, there's potential upside to the projections, but there's also the potential for disastrous seasons; overall, things look about right as modest upgrades at modest cost (just under a win for $7.3-million)

The three starters project for around 5 WAR in 2017, at a cost of about $35-million in salary and the 30-million in future commitments. At face value, that's about $7-million/win in 2017, which is very reasonable considering the expected value of those wins. In terms of total cost, using standard aging expectation, it's about 7 wins for $65-million, or just over $9-million/win. That's about the going rate in the market, so solid if unspectacular signings.

Of course, projections are just that, and there's some reason to expect more production than projected from those three. If Steve Pearce can stay reasonably healthy, he should produce more than 1.4 WAR (the depth charts at FanGraphs are quite optimistic, projecting almost an extra full win). Batted ball analysis is quite positive on Kendrys Morales, if he were a league average hitting DH (~115 wRC+) that would add another full win.

If the Jays instead got about 6.5 wins in 2017 from those three (and about 10 wins over the contracts), that would work out to just over $5-million/win in 2017 and $6.5-million/win over the contract, which would represent excellent value.  So at this point, grading the offseason spending on free agents would probably grade somewhere on the continuum from okay to good.

That covers the tactical aspect oft the offseason, since the Jays did not make any significant trades, exchanging current or future assets. There were a few waiver claims, and I'm intrigued by Dominic Leone, but this is mostly about depth until proven otherwise.

That leaves the strategic side. As outlined above, the Jays went from projecting around average to somewhat above average at 86 wins. That ranks as a fringe contender, and the question is whether they should have been more aggressive about adding marginal wins given an aging core and therefore closing window. It appears they've spent close to their budget, especially if some money is reserved for midseason additions. Short of spending that this winter and leaving little flexibility for later, that would mean trading prospects.

On that front, it's impossible to know what was potentially on the table. But with very few prospects close to the majors, in any deals they would have been forced into giving up volume to get significant upgrades. Even with a closing window, that's a hard thing to do, since it could force a major teardown rebuild in a couple years rather than hopefully a shorter retooling.

Overall then, based on what was added over the offseason measured against the cost relative to what was there at the beginning, I'd grade the offeason at a solid B/B-.