Wednesday, December 2nd is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2021 contracts to players under team control. The Blue Jays have a small class of arbitration eligibles this year, with Teoscar Hernandez a complete lock and Ross Stripling a virtual guarantee to be tendered a contract, so we’ll look at the cases of others for whom that’s not the case leading into the deadline.
Previous profiles: A.J. Cole
Background: Signed as a free agent last December after non-tender by Milwaukee; career 9 WAR and 102 wRC+ with two above average seasons in 2017-18 followed by 2019 collapse.
2020 production: 0.2 fWAR / 0.0 bWAR in 180 plate appearances, 95 wRC+ as BABIP and power output rebounded but strikeout rate remained elevated at 28%.
2021 projections: 99 wRC+, 1.5 WAR in 499 PA per Steamer; .229/.320/.432 for a 102 OPS+ and 1.8 WAR in 485 PA via ZiPS
Status: 5.053 years of service, $4-million platform year salary ($4.675-million in 2019)
2021 MLBTR Salary Projection: $4.2-million to $5.4-million
Estimated likelihood of tender: 15%
The Jays took a flyer on Shaw last winter, looking to buy low with the upside of retaining control for 2021 after a miserable across-the-board offensive collapse in 2019. From a strong 119 wRC+ in almost 1,200 PA in 2018-19, he fell to 47.
Shaw did rebound somewhat in 2020, returning to respectability if not a middle-of-the-order impact bat and providing positional flexibility at the infield corners that proved handy when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. let himself go and was abruptly forced to first base. But most glaringly, the contact issues that emerged in 2019 largely carried over to 2020, which even in abbreviated samples carry some salience.
Barring correction, a high strikeout rate even with the ability to draw some walks limit upside, and more disconcertingly it was paired with mediocre pop. A .172 ISO, while a big bounce from .113 in 2019, remains well below the .239 mark of 2017-18. That said, there were positive signs in his Statcast batted ball output, with strong exit velo, a regression to more even and normal average launch angle, and strong rates of hard hit balls and barrels.
Projected arbitration salaries are even more uncertain than usual, but based on past precedent of players who were non-tendered, signed as free agents for less than their previous salary and then went back through arbitration (Justin Smoak for 2016, Darwin Barney for 2017) I’d expect an arbitration salary to exceed his 2019 salary of $4.675-million. The MLBTR model appears to base a raise off the previous season’s salary, whereas it appears the actual platform is the previous arbitration number.
In a vacuum, upward of $5-million isn’t exorbitant for a player who forecasts as a decent bat and fringe regular. But a number of factors suggest that it’s unlikely the Jays do tender him or that they should.
First and foremost, if the Jays are looking to make a significant upgrade on the infield, then there’s not really room in the mix for Shaw with Vlad, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Rowdy Tellez already in the mix and forecast for everyday or near everyday playing time. Given where the Jays are in their building cycle and their salary structure, there’s a very good argument for aiming for ceiling rather than floor, and at this point Shaw projects some in the latter camp.
Moreover, the veteran fringe regular player is the exact type of profile who has been squeezed out of the market in recent years. While the handful of early signings this winter don’t seem to suggest the total market freeze some were anticipating in the wake of 2020 lost revenues, added supply from a flood of non-tenders this week would suggest there probably won’t be an imminent bidding war for Shaw even if the Jays were interested in keeping him around or circling back later if other paths were first exhausted.
If there was mutual interest in a reunion, there’s always the possibility would be working out a deal in advance of the deadline that would lock in a 2021 number rather than leave it to the vicissitudes of the arbitration process. Still, I expect the Jays to instead free up a roster spot and at least evaluate other options on the market.
Should the Blue Jays tender a 2021 contract to Travis Shaw?
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