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.
Background: Acquired off waivers from Tampa in July 2018; career 1.2 fWAR / 0.6 bWAR in 657 plate appearances; just 48 wRC+ but +23 fielding runs above average in essentially one full season equivalent
2019 production: -0.3 fWAR / -0.5 bWAR in 129 plate appearances, 14 wRC+, +7 FRAA
2020 Steamer projection: 58 wRC+, 0.8 WAR/600 PA
Status: 3.099 years of service, $579,000 platform year salary, one option year remaining
2020 MLBTR Salary Projection: $800,000
Estimated likelihood of tender: 85%
At this point, it’s pretty clear what Luke Maile is and isn’t as a major league player after three years in Toronto. Outside of a BABIP-fuelled run in the first half of 2018, he hasn’t hit at all. By contrast, he’s a rock behind the plate — an excellent receiver, strong blocker, solid at controlling the running game. In short, the prototype of all glove, no bat, backup catcher.
Catchers with this skillset tend to stick around the major leagues for a long time, though often as journeyman who bounce from place to place. When all is said and done, I expect Maile will have had a 10-year MLB career. The question is just how much longer that will be in Toronto.
While Maile’s production ultimately might be modest, given the issues the Jays had not too long ago finding a competent back-up, tendering Maile might appear a no-brainer, especially with a very modest projected salary that’s not much above the league minimum even as a first-time arbitration eligible player. And indeed, he most likely will be.
The only thing working against him is the Jays are in the enviable position of having two young catchers who both grade out well behind the plate and offer much more offensive promise. Danny Jansen is already installed at the MLB level, and if the Jays decide that Reese McGuire likewise is ready and isn’t served from more everyday playing time at Buffalo, then there isn’t much of a role for Maile.
Of course, he has one last option year so the Jays have the flexibility of sending him to Buffalo as insurance in the event of injury or if one Jansen and McGuire struggle to the point of being sent down. Beyond the fact that Maile surely wouldn’t be thrilled by that after sending most of the last three years in the big leagues, this is where his newfound arbitration eligibility comes into play.
Teams can unilaterally renew the contracts of pre-arb players, and it’s routine for them to include different rates of pay in the minors and majors, with the minimum for the former being either about $85,000 of 60% of what the player earned the previous year (whichever is greater). But that doesn’t happen in arbitration, so the player makes the full MLB salary even if they’re sent down. Granted, most contracts are settled without arbitration, and there’s nothing preventing teams and arbitration-eligible players from nonetheless agreeing to a split-contract. But it’s the exception rather than the rule since players are rightly loath to give back hard-won leverage.
So the real question is whether the Blue Jays would want to plan on paying Maile upwards of a million dollars to play in Buffalo in 2020. Especially since it’s hard to see him figuring into the post-2020 plans when beyond Jansen and McGuire, Riley Adams and Gabriel Moreno become Rule 5 eligible, followed by Alejandro Kirk one year later.
On the flip side, there’s myriad possibilities where Maile does fit into the 2020 plans. There’s been talk of other teams being interested in Jansen and/or McGuire, so one could be traded which would leave Maile as the back-up (and the Jays would obviously have a muchbetter read here). Maybe McGuire is again ticketed for Buffalo. Even if Maile did spend the whole year in Buffalo, in the grand scheme those dollars don’t figure to be hugely consequential (though we should always be thinking at the margin).
If not Maile, they’d need to find another catcher with no viable candidates within the organization. That shouldn’t be an issue — Maile after all was a waiver claim in the first place — and I wondered if that was why they claimed Beau Taylor a few months ago. Alternatively, they could go the veteran minor league free agent route, which would also open a 40-man spot for the winter. The realpolitik is that even if a third catcher was pushed into a more substantial role role than anticipated and was a black hole, it’s not going to be a big deal in 2020 anyway.
In the end, the conventional call is to retain Maile at least for now, and that’s probably what the Blue Jays will do next week. But there are a few factors on the other side of the ledger, and it shouldn’t be a complete shock if they didn’t.
Should the Blue Jays tender a 2020 contract to Luke Maile?
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