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Evaluating the 2017-18 Blue Jays Offseason

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

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
One of these guys had a better offseason than the other
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Last October just after the season ended, I took a look ahead to what the 2018 roster would look at using only players that were either under contract or organizational control for 2018. 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. I did the same thing last year, settling on a low-B grade (an added year of hindsight would push that down to the C range).

So let’s look at how the roster on Opening Day compares to that would-be roster from October 2017, in terms of expected production and cost. I’ve included Troy Tulowitzki since he is expected back in June and at this point would still figure to step in as starting shortstop. 16 of the 25 spots overlap, including seven in the starting lineup, four starting pitchers, and four relievers.

The WAR production estimates are generally an average of the preseason projection systems at FanGraphs, with discretionary adjustments (mostly to playing time). For example, I’ve adjusted down Josh Donaldson and Tulo downwards based their injury issues.

One significant difference this year is I’ve included primary depth options in order to better reflect the overall organization position and fill-in the playing time that the players in the 25-man won’t accrue. The production estimates are based on the playing time that trickles down from above, not what the player would do in a full season.

2017-18 offseason 2

(Green for players who can be unilaterally optioned in 2018; blue for those that cannot)

Looking at a high level, the replacement offseason Jays projected around 81-82 wins (47.7 win team replacement level + 34 WAR), and the current Jays project around 84 wins, which roughly matches FanGraphs depth charts. That extra 3.5 WAR was achieved with the team payroll increasing from around 144-million to just under $160-million.

There’s a lot in that chart, and to the extent that we’re focussed on the marginal changes, the aforementioned 16 holdovers don’t change anything at all. The Jays brought in two new outfielders, a starting pitcher, two infielders and three relievers; however, some of those moves caused other players to shift roles and changing their projections. Below is a simplified version of the chart, showing and grouping the net changes.

2017-18 offseason 2

Signing Curtis Granderson had the net effect of replacing Ezequiel Carrera, while moving Steve Pearce to the bench in a platoon role. On balance, the estimated pick-up is a half win or so, at a net cost of $3.4-million.

Likewise, acquiring Randal Grichuk displaced Teoscar Hernandez from the starting RF role to the primary depth option, in turn replacing Anthony Alford as the guy likely to get the first call. The net expected upgrade here is about a win, at just over $2-million more in salary. Though Alford has a higher ceiling, whether he could produce in 2018 is an open question, so this is a big boost to depth that the pure numbers might underestimate. Though considering losing Dominic Leone in the trade, the net gain is smaller.

Finally, adding Jaime Garcia pushed Joe Biagini to Buffalo as the 6th starter. In terms of WAR, this doesn’t show up as a big upgrade, but that’s because Biagini’s lack of injuries means he could be projected for a full season and 180 IP, whereas Garcia’s history is such that he projects for 120-130 IP (and then a bunch of those innings fall to Biagini). I’m penciling Biagini in for a half season of starts.

Since it’s almost certainly the case the Jays will need a 7th starter at some point, there’s a further small benefit from that pitcher (I’ve assumed Borucki) displacing a replacement type like Tepesch or the likes we saw last year. All this to say, I’d assume the net upgrade in adding Garcia is more than the 0.3 WAR showing above, probably at least half a win.

Overall, I get an upgrade of about 3.5 WAR throughout the roster, at cost of about $16-million in 2018 salary and $3-million in future commitments. That works out to about $5.5M/win, which is quite reasonable. However, unlike last winter where the offseason upgrades were done on the open market for cash, this winter the bulk was done in trade we can’t limit the analysis to just cash.

Two of the most significant upgrades came on the infield. Aledmys Diaz provides an upgrade in 2018 over Ryan Goins at similar cost even if he’s more of a second division regular than the 2016 All-Star. But if he is a regular, that upside is controllable through 2022 - all for a cost of a an outfield prospect with huge K problems in A-ball (think a very poor man’s Grichuk). I don’t see a way to dislike that deal.

Likewise, Yangervis Solarte is the single biggest expected upgrade in the utility role over what is available at the beginning of the offseason, and his value has already been apparent with Donaldson’s shoulder situation. The Jays had to give a decent prospect with upside regular to get him, but beyond the considerable 2018 value they have options through 2020. Again, hard to see what’s not to like.

The Grichuk deal is less clear cut. Him and Hernandez ultimately have very similar skillsets, though that Grichuk has produced at a better than major league average rate for 1,400 PA certainly increases the 2018 floor (in addition to depth). He’s also a candidate to put everything together and emerge as an above average outfielder, with two years of control.

But it did come at a cost. As mentioned above, losing Leone sets the bullpen back. If you’re bullish on Teoscar, the net for 2018 might wash out to zero. I’ve long been bullish on Conner Greene, the other piece they sent back, but he’s been spinning his wheels for two years and a fresh start is probably best. That said, if he ever puts it together, the Jays likely regret this deal. Otherwise, I’ll generally side with getting a young regular with upside for a good reliever.

The three free agent signings (to major league deals) were all one year deals, two with team options. None project as impact additions, but all appear to be at least reasonable value and the Jays avoided any long term risk while securing some upside via options. Taylor Guerrieri was also a very interesting waiver claim, and potentially like Leone an under -the-radar move that a year later is a coup.

That’s a survey of the tactical/2018 level, and on balance not only is there really not anything to dislike, but there’s considerable potential upside. Not all of that will be realized, but it’s a pretty neat trick to not only layer in sorely needed depth to raise the floor, but also raise the ceiling as well. And to accomplish that with limited budget room, but without borrowing from the future via dipping into the core of the farm system.

At a strategic/long-term level, the major takeaway is that the Blue Jays avoided any material commitments beyond 2018. As discussed above, there’s a few million of buyouts on options that could well be picked up. More significantly, as I wrote two months ago, the total future commitments are at historical lows, retaining maximum flexibility. If the Jays are competitive in 2018, there’s will be room to add players to thread the needle to the next core. If not, they can pivot without having to work through a mountain of dead money.

But the major strategic decision was to compete in 2018 rather than a rebuild/reload. I can understand those who preferred this route, and if the Jays don’t contend in 2018 there will be a significant opportunity cost to having not done so. But it’s very difficult in light of the success of the past couple years and attendance revenue gains to essentially just give up and have that backslide. Moreover and more significantly, the market simply wasn’t there to do it. Infamously, it was a strong buyer’s market, not a seller’s market, and the returns to tearing things down would almost inevitably have disappointed.

The one criticism to this offseason might be that if they wanted to seriously contend in 2018, they didn’t do enough to really move the needle past a number of other teams. New York, Boston, Cleveland and Houston are powerhouses on paper. Los Angeles upgraded around Mike Trout, and Minnesota made some shrewd additions to a young core in a division with three rebuilding teams. All the very least, it’s not obvious the Blue Jays can exceed two of those as well as anyone else who emerges.

All that considered, I’d give the front office a high-B grade for this winter.


The front office’s offseason grade should be:

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