Jonah Keri published an article late last week over on Sportsnet about how the Blue Jays failed to play in the shallow end of the Free Agent pool, and as a result the Blue Jays are playing bad baseball. The sentiment echos one that former Jays’ beat writer Gregor Chisholm debuted with at the Star as well, although Chisholm’s focus was more on the rotation, and aiming for a little bit higher pieces like Yusei Kikuchi.
The point that they neglect to address is that the Jays did bring in pitchers. They traded for Clayton Richard and Trent Thornton, they added Matt Shoemaker, Clay Buchholz and Ryan Feierabend. Add on top of that Julian Merryweather and David Paulino, who were traded for over the summer last year, and the Jays added 7 Major League ready (or thereabouts) starters to go along with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid-Foley.
The sextet of Stroman, Sanchez, Shoemaker, Buchholz, Richard and Borucki were expected to hold down the rotation for the bulk of the early going, while Thornton, Paulino and Reid-Foley would be ready to step in as needed. Merryweather was set to be a mid-season backup plan, perhaps as other guys get injured or traded, while Feierabend represented a long shot insurance plan. All told, that’s 11 starters the Jays could have relied on before the All Star Break, with the option of adding more on waiver claims/easy deals if things fell apart (like Edwin Jackson).
They for sure had question marks regarding health, but they were also 9 men deep at the start of Spring Training. Who else would they have been able to target to convince to come over on a 1 year deal to compete with this group? There are only so many roster spots available to give to starters as well, so they really couldn’t have brought in more starters.
For sure there’s an argument to be made about who they brought in, as the threat of injury was definitely there for Shoemaker and Buchholz, but so was the upside. But the same people that lament going after those two because of their injury history also get upset that the Jays brought in Clayton Richard, a veteran starter who made a combined 59 starts the previous two seasons.
In the outfield, Keri complains that the Jays didn’t spend money on one year deals for guys like Melky Cabrera, Avisail Garcia and Adam Jones, a trio that put up a combined 1.1 WAR last season. On top of the fact that they weren’t very good, the Jays outfield was already so overcrowded that they lost Dwight Smith Jr., because they needed to have room for the other 6 guys they wanted to give playing time to. I don’t understand how someone can honestly say the Jays needed to add a below average outfielder for a season or two.
Keri does bring up Michael Brantley, who would have been an interesting addition. However, with Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk already cemented in the outfield, they likely would have needed to move one of Pillar or Grichuk (which they ultimately did), just to give playing time to another outfielder that was on a 2 year deal. Add in Brantley’s injury history, the fact that luring him to Toronto would have been very difficult, and Brantley’s $16m per year salary that he got from the Astros, and I have a tough time seeing how that move would have made sense for the Jays over the winter.
Keri’s most laughable suggestion was catcher James McCann, showing that this article was written entirely on the premise of hindsight. The Jays already had four catchers on the 40 man roster, which they helped clear up a little bit by moving Russell Martin to allow for enough playing time for everyone else. The reason that Keri brought up McCann though is because he’s off to an amazing start with a 141 wRC+, so obviously everyone who didn’t sign him missed out on an obvious prize. Let’s just ignore his 58 wRC+ and -0.5 WAR last year.
Next on Keri’s list is the failure to bring in Nelson Cruz and C.J. Cron, completely ignoring that we already had Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak and Rowdy Tellez. Morales is now gone, Smoak is hitting better than Cruz and Cron, and signing them would have meant not giving Rowdy a chance at the Majors. It just doesn’t make sense.
As for the rest of the infield, even after the Jays cleared out Aledmys Diaz and Troy Tulowitzki, they still had Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Devon Travis, Richard Urena and Brandon Drury for the middle infield spots, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr the immediate future at 3B. Yet they even went out and brought in Freddy Galvis to play SS and Eric Sogard on a Minor League deal. But even with those 6 guys to play the middle infield, and Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio also banging on the door, Keri still thought the Jays failed in not bringing in other middle infielders on one year deals, like Jose Iglesias, Mike Moustakas and Derek Dietrich.
I will never understand the negativity towards a team for not bringing in below average players, especially when those positions are already full of other average or below average players that need a chance to show what they have.
If you want to be upset about the Jays in FA, you can be upset a bit about who they brought in due to their shortcomings. But nearly everyone in Jonah’s list has some sort of red flag, and pointing to their early season breakout/bounceback numbers and saying that the Jays blew their chance on a bargain is a pretty poor conclusion, especially when there were many reasons to not go for those players.
Should the Jays have spent more money in the Free Agent marketplace? Sure. But it wasn’t more below average players in positions that were already full that they should have spent money on. The complaint really should be on that they didn’t bring in any high upside relievers (Jake Diekman is the only one that Jonah mentions) and they didn’t throw their money around on long term guys that would have actually helped, although convincing someone like Harper to come could very well have been impossible.