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State of the 40-man: breaking down the path forward

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Workout Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With July upon us and the Blue Jays long ago buried double digits behind even the second wild card, things are very much about the future at this point. Last week, the Blue Jays traded Steve Pearce in what the first of many shoes to drop over the next month. Though it was a move triggered by injuries, the promotion of Ryan Borucki to make his Major League debut is in a similar vein. It might only be a couple starts for now, but certainly after the trade deadline he should be in the rotation for the rest of the year.

With that in mind, it’s an opportune time to look forward at how things should play out over the second half, most imminently through the trade deadline but also beyond. Let’s start by categorizing the 40-man roster, which currently has 42 players of whom 40 count towards the limit (or will very soon when Pannone is activated). I’ve broken it down into seven groups, though some players don’t don’t fit clearly and I’ve noted those with asterisks. And of course, things are fluid, with some players having moved since I first did this in June (which I’ll note below).

Longer Term Assets (13)

These are players who have established themselves as Major Leaguers, either under contract or control through at least 2019, and whose value is expected to materially exceed what they will be paid and thus are assets for the organization going forward. The common thread is that consequentially, none of these players needs to be moved by the trade deadline, and individually, none of them should be likelier to be moved than not.

That’s not to say that the Jays shouldn’t listen to offers on some or most of these players, especially since at this point none of them have truly established themselves as franchise cornerstones that are off the table. And there’s certainly a broad spectrum of control within this group, with someone like Smoak who only goes through 2019 will see their remaining control (and potentially value) fall by ~30% between the deadline and the winter.

But there’s no reason to move any of them absent the right offer and return, and that’s usually going to happen in the winter rather than the deadline when contenders are looking to focus their assets on current year upgrades. The wild card here is Osuna, for obvious reasons, but from a purely baseball perspective, I’ve left him here.

Other guaranteed contracts (3)

These are players with contracts that are underwater, where the amount owed exceeds the expected future production. There’s really not much that can be done about sunk costs, other than time running the contracts off - which they do to the tune of about $280,000 USD per day of the season through 2019.

Tulo aside, there are some possibilities. Russell Martin remains somewhat productive for a catcher (79 wRC+), and while any deal would require eating a lot of money, there surely would be some interest in adding a veteran catcher. The main reasoning for the Jays though would be opening a path to playing time for Danny Jansen, both this year but also next year. Regarding Kendrys Morales, he should be DHing everyday this point and if he keeps hitting there may be some value to salvage this winter. They’d still have to eat a good portion of his 2019 salary, but it may open up moving him, freeing the roster spot and saving some money.

Expiring contracts A: valuable assets (5)

  • J.A. Happ: For multiple reasons, at this point the goal should be to move Happ as soon as possible. He’s the best starting pitcher rental on the market, has proven himself as front of the rotation arm for three years in the gauntlet of the AL East and there’s really only downside risk to his trade value. This is the best chance the Jays have had to add a premium prospect, and the imperative must be quality over quantity. An early move means a contender might get 15 starts instead of 10-12, making it easier to justify giving up that type of return.
  • Curtis Granderson: after seeing what the Royals got for Jon Jay, I’m bearish on the Jays being able to get a significant return even given his performance and reasonable contract. Regardless, it makes sense to free up the roster spot and playing time to get a look at someone like Dwight Smith Jr.
  • Marco Estrada: A month ago, I had him in the next group, but in a reverse of last year a fine June has built real trade value. In terms of timing, I could see it going either way. It makes sense to move him sooner if a solid offer is on the table. Otherwise, there’s room to further increase value towards the trade deadline. Over the last two years, Estrada has had this weird pattern of distinct two month stretches, so that bodes well for adding value in July.
  • Aaron Loup should have value as a LOOGY, though the Jays are unlikely to reap a big return (maybe he gets packaged in another deal). He’s the longest tenured Blue Jay, but that’s no reason not to get what you can. Finally, the Jays have a cheap 2019 option on Seunghwan Oh, so they could keep him if there’s not a decent offer. But assuming he doesn’t have a rough stretch there’s probably more value in moving him, contenders always want to bolster their pens.

Expiring contracts B: not necessarily trade candidates (4)

These players have expiring contracts, and the normal course for a rebuilding team way out of the hunt would be to get anything that’s on the table. John Axford and Tyler Clippard were minor league free agents who got off to great starts, but have come back to earth and are unlikely to fetch much. Especially with Axford being a local, the Jays will still need bullpen innings so they shouldn’t move them just to move them. Now that injury has been added to ineffectiveness, Jaime Garcia won’t have any interest.

Josh Donaldson’s situation has been plenty discussed, at this point it’s probably likely he doesn’t get moved but there are a couple caveats. If he does make it back by mid/late July, it’s not out of the question that he goes off for 7-10 days like he’s the Josh Donaldson of old. That’s probably all that’s needed to restore real value. On the flip side, if he doesn’t make it back before or much before the deadline, the Jays should put him on waivers immediately. With ~$8 million left on his contract, there’s a good chance he clears. That would create another window for him to prove himself before August 31st.

Prospects (8)

Not all of these players are formally prospects anymore, but in any event they are not established big leaguers but project as possible or probable contributors. Borucki has already been discussed, and Danny Jansen is in a similar boat. He doesn’t have much to prove in AAA, it’s time to see what he can do in August and September. Likewise, Tim Mayza should be up after the deadline. The stuff is there, give him a chance to refine the command where it doesn’t matter if he gets shelled.

Lourdes Gurriel is back up, and hopefully they stop ping-ponging him and get him a good look over the second half, now that he’s shown some offensive consistency. Dwight Smith Jr. should get a good look too after the deadline, it’s time to see what he can do since there’s a lot of outfielders on the 40-man and he could get squeezed in the winter. Richard Urena is approaching the same point.

Ambiguous future (6)

These are players whose MLB future or future role are quite up in the air, and the rest of 2018 is a critical opportunity to make some evaluations. 2016 increasingly looks like the outlier for Aledmys Diaz, with now 500 PA since where he looks more like he’s a backup than a regular on a contender. But with no timeline for Tulo, he’ll have the second half to make his case.

Likewise, Sam Gaviglio should get the rest of the season in the rotation to go a long way in determining if he’s a future back of the rotation starter or more of an up-and-down depth guy or swingman. Luke Maile is here because while he’s excellent behind the plate and I could see him as a backup catcher for a long time, something has to give with him and Martin to work Jansen in.

The others the question is whether they’ll keep spots on the 40-man roster. Dalton Pompey just can’t stay healthy and will be out options; I’d hope they keep him and give him a shot as the 4th outfielder next year. I liked the Taylor Guerrieri waiver claim, but the stuff is just okay, the results haven’t been there and he’s on the DL again. Rowdy Tellez hasn’t hit enough in AAA.

Other (3)

I would be very surprised if anyone in this group were still on the 40-man six months from now.

There’s one final group to discuss, and that’s players beyond the 40 man roster who are Rule 5 eligible this winter and at the very upper levels. The headliner here is Sean Reid-Foley, who has recaptured his form and velocity from 2016 and is blowing AAA away. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be up in August or at least September in some capacity. Likewise, it makes sense to give Justin Shafer a look and see how his stuff plays against MLB hitters, despite mediocre peripherals in AAA. There are other players who will be added (Patrick Murphy, Jordan Romano, I’d think Jackson McClelland, maybe Jonathan Davis), but none of those are positioned to factor into the rest of 2018.