Monday, December 2nd is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2020 contracts to players under team control. After trimming non-tender candidates Devon Travis, Ryan Tepera and Tim Mayza over the last month, the Blue Jays have six remaining arbitration-eligible players. Ken Giles is the only lock to be tendered a contract, so we’ll look at the cases of the other five leading into the deadline starting alphabetically with Anthony Bass.
Background: Claimed off waivers from Seattle, debuted in 2011; career 4.38 ERA in 347.1 innings with a 16.6% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate and (4.38 ERA in 249 innings as a reliever); just turned 32.
2019 production: 3.56 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 48 innings with Seattle, 0.6 fWAR / 1.0 bWAR.
Status: 5.010 years of service, $950,000 platform year salary, out of options (and service time to block optional assignment in any event)
MLBTR 2018 Salary Projection: $1.7-million
Estimated likelihood of tender: 75%
After an almost decade run as a MLB journeyman, Bass experienced a career rejuvenation in the last four months of 2019. Now the Jays have to decide whether they’ve hooked a trophy catch or just more flotsam.
Bass took the league by storm in 2011 with a 1.68 ERA, but a 4.20 FIP pointed to ample good fortune. Indeed, the following three years were below replacement and after 2014 he was sent him outright and became a fee agent. He won a job with Texas and spend most of the 2015 season (though not the playoffs) posting middling numbers in their bullpen before heading over to Japan for 2016 as a teammate of Shohei Ohtani.
He’s settled for minor league deals each of the last three winters, earning a call-up every year. He actually had a nice run for the Cubs in the summer of 2018 with a 2.93 ERA in 15.1 innings, though still relegated in August for whatever reason. A good run to start 2019 in AAA (2.21 ERA in 20.1 innings) intrigued the Mariners to sign him to a major league deal, and he stuck with them the rest of the year. He was arguably their best reliever, but apparently not enough to warrant to being a part of the 2020 picture as they cast him off on waivers.
There are legitimate reasons to believe this resurgence is not a mirage. In those 63.1 innings in 2018-19, Bass’s strikeout rate is just under 23%, 7% above his career rate (and similar in between in AAA). That’s still only about league average these days, but he’s also pushed his ground ball rate to just above 50%. Add in a mediocre walk rate, and that’s the basis of a solid middle reliever.
There’s also underlying reasons to explain the results. In 2019, Bass averaged over 95 MPH on his fastball, which has increased over the past few seasons. Early in his career he used primarily a four seam fastball, but in recent years he’s used a sinker more, in 2019 going primarily to it for essentially the first time (2017 was a 5.2 inning sample):
Chart courtesy Brooks Baseball
That explains the increased ground ball rate, though to be frank the difference between the two fastballs seems to be more in horizontal movement than vertical movement, so it seems like more of a two seamer than true sinker with downward movement. About five years ago he started using a splitter instead of a changeup as his third pitch. All told, it’s quite possible the Jays have found themselves someone who has adjusted and improved himself into a viable major league pitcher.
MLBTR is projecting a $1.7-million salary, but the unconventional nature of the circumstances are such that the model’s level of confidence would be much lower. Typically, arbitration cases for a player with five years service are based off the last year;s performance and the previous year’s “platform” salary (which itself is an output of arbitration dynamics). But Bass has actually never been tendered a contract that would lead to arbitration, with major league salaries negotiated into the minor league contracts he’s signed. Accordingly, that $1.7-million is probably represents more a ballpark figure than hard number based on precedent, and if anything my gut says a little optimistic.
Ultimately, the tender decision is effectively a decision about the likelihood of Bass being a solid contributor to the 2020 bullpen since he has to stick on the major league roster. Of course, a team can always release a player before the season begins for 16-to-24% of his salary, which would be less than $500,000. So they could tender him to evaluate in Spring Training and make a decision then, but then he’s also taking a roster spot for the entire winter. It seems to me it’s a decision that you make now.
If the Jays believe in a late career breakout (of sorts), would a multi-year deal make sense? Perhaps something like a two year, $3-million guarantee with a 2022 team option and incentives based on innings thresholds? One could imagine a Bass being quite eager to locking in the security, and if he replicates the performance there’s additional value for the Jays either via trade if they decide to flip him or just having him beyond 2020. If it doesn’t work out, it’s an insignificant number for them to write off.
Coming into this, my feeling was this would be a coin flip at best, leaning towards a non-tender especially seeing as some roster spots are going to need to be opened up this winter. The Jays clearly liked him enough to make the claim, but ultimately he was still available on waivers for essentially free in the first place. Diving a little deeper, I’m admittedly much more intrigued by what the Blue Jays may have hooked in trawling the waiver wires and see a legitimate case for him in the 2020 bullpen.
Should the Blue Jays tender Anthony Bass a 2020 contract?
This poll is closed
Yes, and work a multi-year guaranteed deal if feasible