Friday, November 30th is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2019 contracts to players under team control. The Blue Jays have 10 arbitration-eligible players, two of whom I identified at the beginning of the offseason as less than complete locks to be tendered (in addition to the already departed Jake Petricka). Both will be examined this week in addition to a survey of the others, starting with Yangervis Solarte
Background: Acquired from San Diego in January for OF Edward Olivares (since added to their 40-man) and RHP Jared Carkuff (since released). $5.5-million 2019 team option declined in lieu of $750,000 buyout.
2018 production: -1.3 fWAR / -0.7 bWAR in 506 plate appearances as his offensive production cratered to a 77 wRC+
Status: 5.000 years of service, $4-million platform year salary (as part of multi-year deal), all three years options remaining but cannot be unilaterally optioned due to service time.
MLBTR 2019 Salary Projection: $5.9-million
Estimated likelihood of tender: 5%
Before getting directly to the question at hand, I want to revisit Solarte’s 2018 campaign, which still frankly puzzles me. While on the surface it appears an unmitigated disaster, and there’s a narrative that he was great for the first five weeks and then bad thereafter, that’s simply not the case. As late as July 6th (I’m admittedly cherrypicking the highwater mark), Solarte had a 108 wRC+, a solid .256/.314/.455 line in 363 PA.
But after that point, he was abysmal, hitting .154/.183/.191 in 143 PA. He didn’t walk, didn’t hit for any power, and BABIP’d .174 as his ground balls spiked and when he hit the ball in the air a quarter of them went straight up on the infield. For a guy with a 4.5 year track record of solid hitting, it was a stunning and almost total collapse. He spent a month on the DL, and I have to think something was wrong before that given the drastic falloff.
Was there a harbinger? After posting above average batting lines in each of his first three seasons from 2014 to 2016, he fell below to a 91 wRC+ in 2017. That was driven by a career low BABIP of .258 compared with a previous low of .275, but everything else was in line so it appeared more cyclical than glaring red flag. Did San Diego have some inkling? In hindsight, his popup rate did spike in 2017, increasing further in 2018 (remaining at the 2017 level even early in the season). Given that he was solid for the first 3+ months, I suspect his availability was more about San Diego’s direction than trying to sell before an impending collapse.
To some extent, Solarte is a cautionary tale about so-called “second division regulars”. Over the first four years of his career, averaged just over 500 PA and a little shy of 2 WAR per year. Overall, that’s a little shy of a true average regular player, though of course there’s variability and in 2016 he played at that level and 2017 ended up on the other side, closer to replacement level. These type of players are very valuable to contending teams, especially when it comes to competently backfilling injuries. But the issue is, there’s not a whole lot of room between second division regular and replacement level, so when skills start deteriorating there’s not a lot to fall back on.
In any event, whatever the reason for the drop in production, while Solarte was the exact type of player the Jays needed for the 2018 roster, he doesn’t really have a role as they move forward with their rebuild. They needed a decent bat who could plug holes and layer depth around the infield, and he did exactly that when it mattered early in the season, only collapsing long after the Jays’ playoff hopes had. They didn’t have to commit multiple years (as with Eduardo Nunez, who also collapsed in 2018) and it only cost them an outfield prospect who would have otherwise been caught in a deep glut.
But with Lourdes Gurriel proving himself big league ready, the acquisition of Brandon Drury, the theoretical return/availability of Troy Tulowitzki and the imminent promotion of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (once his baserunning is big league ready by say the third week in April), there’s just not really an obvious path to playing time even if one was bullish on a rebound. That the Blue Jays already parted with a younger and more productive player in Aledmys Diaz for the same reason underscores the degree to which Solarte does not fit the future direction.
And of course, most indicative in my view is that the Jays did not exercise their team option. While I’m skeptical of the $5.9-million MLBTR arbitration projection given his dismal 2018 platform season, if the Jays wanted to keep him it should have been close enough that you just exercise the option and forget about haggling over relative pennies. I said at the beginning of the offseason that the option decision was effectively the tender decision, and it still seems to me that was the case.
So if the eventuality of a non-tender has been baked into the cake for several months, why did he stay on the roster unlike Petricka? The most obvious answer is a lack of urgency in requiring further roster spots. True, they could have protected another player from the upcoming Rule 5 draft — but the real constraint there is ultimately the number of non-MLB ready pitchers that can be carried, not the ability to open up roster spots now. Perhaps they have been trying to retain him on a cheaper deal, or held out hopes of moving him.
But it seems very likely that when the calendar flips to December, Solarte’s tenure with the Blue Jays will have come to an end less than 11 months after it started.
Should the Blue Jays tender Yangervis Solarte
This poll is closed
No, but they’ll work out a deal instead