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Reevaluating Shapiro/Atkins after five years: drafts, international, other

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Draftees and Signees and Waivers, Oh My!

2020 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Two years ago, I looked at the performance of the Shapiro/Atkins front office after three years in charge, a time when the Blue Jays were at the trough of a rebuild and they bore the weight of the disenchantment. Now on the other side, coming off a postseason appearance of sorts and things broadly looking up, I thought the end of the year was a good to update/repeat the exercise at the five year mark with more information and data now available.

2018 three year evaluation: Free agents | Trades | Other moves | Strategic direction

2020 five year evaluation: Free agents | Trades | Draft, IFA, other | Strategic direction

Having covered two critical avenues of achieving value in free agency and trades, this third post will round up a variety of remaining areas. Some are equally or even more singificant, but where there’s less in the way of concrete conclusions to draw at this point, and others are more minor in nature. Again, the dominant perspective is pure value achieved, not where they fit in a strategic context.

Rule 4 Amateur Draft

While there’s considerably more basis to evaluate the drafting by the front office than two years ago, it’s still limited especially the much reduced visibility from the 2020 minor league season being cancelled. Even in the best of circumstances, five years is really the bare minimum time needed to make a reasonable assessment, and upwards of 10 to make a really comprehensive assessment.

2016 has already produced two infielders who have established themselves as above average regulars and perhaps even as impact or star level performers. The general barometers is that a draft class is a success if you get one regular and a decent complementary player, so assuming no slippage Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio alone make this draft a resounding success even with a slightly higher bat from having the extra second rounder.

It’s even more impressive considering that first rounder T.J. Zeuch figures to top out as more of a complementary backend starter as opposed to impact (in hindsight, Dane Dunning would have been preferable). This draft was an eclectic mix, and there were a few complete whiffs. Josh Palacios could be a major league contributor, and Josh Winckowski and Chavez Young could add some value from the high school lower down.

With two top-30 first round picks, the 2017 draft faces an inherently higher bar for success. Logan Warmoth was an underwhelming pick in the first round and hasn’t worked out, but the bottom line is that if Nate Pearson even mostly lives up to the promise and is a successful frontline starter (~750 innings/85 ERA- over control years) then it’s still a success.

It was a well-regarded draft as the Jays nabbed five consensus top 100 draftees. Hagen Danner didn’t work as a catcher, but now we’ll see if things go better on the mound. Riley Adams was just added to the 40-man, as was Ty Tice. Him and Kevin Smith project as potential complementary contributors, and there’s a few other interesting pitchers who I have hopes for likewise. But fundamentally, this comes down to Pearson.

It’s a lot less clearly defined from this point on. 2018 will be defined by the gambit to land Jordan Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein. So far it’s looking about as good as it could, but prospect development is fundamentally a long business of attrition and there’s a long way to go. Second rounder Griffin Conine and his prodigious power have already been moved, in time we’ll see if the mistake ends on the draft side or the trade side.

Likewise, I was disappointed that they moved 2019 second rounder Kendall Williams. Beyond that, there’s of course little to say. The Jays were quite fortunate to have Austin Martin drop into their lap in 2020; if he ends up a regular they’ll be very happy and if he really hits he’ll make a draft class on his own too.

Overall, it’s still very early to make judgments, as I said at the outset. But at the very least, there are no obvious clunkers, the one for which we have the most information looks very good, and two more where there’s very viable paths to ending up with strong value.

Poll

For drafting, the front office headed by Shapiro/Atkins warrants a grade of:

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    A
    (141 votes)
  • 58%
    High-B
    (348 votes)
  • 12%
    Low-B
    (72 votes)
  • 4%
    C or worse
    (29 votes)
590 votes total Vote Now

International Free Agents (IFAs)

If it’s early to be trying to evaluate draft classes, it’s doubly the case when it comes to IFAs. Nevertheless, there’s some very good early indications. Perhaps most interesting is there’s been no singular approach to allocating money, with almost every year being a little different. If there has been one hallmark, it’s been the sheer volume, as the four complete IFA periods have seen over 170 players signed, an average of over 40 per year.

The 2016-17 cycle was characterized by the restrictions carrying over from signing Vladimir Guerrero Jr., limiting bonuses to $300,000. Nonetheless, the Jays found two top-10 prospects in Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno, as well as another in Otto Lopez who merited promotion to the 40-man. It remains of course for them to make that final and biggest leap to MLB value, but that’s an impressive haul. And there’s a few others beyond them who could figure into the picture.

The shackles were off in 2017-18, and they were able to play in the more premium end. They still spread the money around, with four bonuses between $750K and $1M, landing Eric Pardinho, Leonardo Jimenez, and Miguel Hiraldo who are top-20 prospects in the system. None are sure things, but there should be some big league value. Additionally, Alberto Rodriguez was used to acquire Taijuan Walker providing direct realized value.

In 2018-19 by contrast all the eggs went in one basket, $3.5-million for Orelvis Martinez. It’s so early, but the reports are positive and from the attrition point of view, it’s positive he hasn’t flopped. If he ends up a regular, it’s as simple as it will have been a good gamble like with Vlad in 2015. The most recent period in 2019-20 was again spreading the money around, and again early reports point upwards on the talent they unearthed.

Overall, the worst that can be said is that the positives are highly speculative, but there’s no obvious clunkers and the Jays seem to have unlocked a pretty strong pipeline of talent adding depth to the farm system that if nothing else gives them the ability to go out and get MLB players to supplement the roster.


Contract Extensions

Given the playbook used in Cleveland, the almost total radio silence has been jarring almost to the point of shocking. But then they inherited a veteran contending roster transitioning to a rebuild/teardown situation, only now emerging out the other side with young foundational pieces for the future. This is likely an area for increased activity in the near future.

There have been three multiyear extensions, and one of those was buying out the middle two of Josh Donaldson’s arb years in 2016 at once which may have saved a couple million but hardly counts. There was what seemed like a very questionable extension of Justin Smoak for two years and a team option that was exercised. That ended up quite nicely, but also didn’t really move the needle.

Most recently and consequentially was the curiously timed five year deal for Randal Grichuk, a week into the 2019 season coincident to Kevin Pillar departing. It was the tail end of a huge wave of extensions across the league, and almost wonders if with the MLBPA unhappy, MLB central office was “encouraging” teams to make commitments where they were contemplating it to vent off some of the steam. In any event, while they’d almost certainly like to have the deal back, it was neither a disaster value wise or going to stop them from doing anything. Overall, it’s hard to see this area as anything but a push.


Waivers

If nothing else, there’s been a big difference in that unlike their predecessor(s), Shapiro and Atkins don’t obsessively churn the waiver wire. And yet despite that, they probably found more total value. The big one was claiming Dominic Leone in November 2016, who reprised his 2014 form with an excellent 2017 before being flipped at a high point to St. Louis.

Luke Maile (April 2017) was also a serviceable back-up for a couple years. More recently, they reeled in Anthony Bass last October when Seattle cast him out, and he turned in a very solid 2020. All in all, decent if modest value creation. Other than (re-)claiming Breyvic Valera, that was the last waiver claim for over a year until the pair last month.

ON the flip side, the most curious waiver move on the other side was losing Freddy Galvis to Cincinnati in August 2019. I suspect this was more about honouring a tacit understand since Bo Bichette had been promoted and thrived. But he would have been nice nice to have in as depth in 2020. More recently, the Jays have lost the likes of Richard Urena, Anthony Alford and Billy McKinney as they transitioned to contending and made room for upgrades.


Rule 5 Draft

The Blue Jays have made three claims, likewise had three players claimed (a total of four times). Joe Biagini was very useful in 2016 for a playoff team, which is a nice win even if he couldn’t reprise the form and consistency before he was sold low to the Astroas and eventually non-tendered this winter. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better to stick with the bird in the hand of a good reliever rather than trying for two in the bush as a starter.

In a completely different vein, they took advantage of an exception to the general eligibility rules to target a very raw but promising Elvis Luciano from Kansas City. It remains to be seen if he amounts to a successful MLB pitcher, but if nothing else it was a bold unconventional move to essentially steal a prospect at the expense of a roster spot in a rebuilding year.

On the flip side, none of the players taken have yet stuck (though Dany Jimenez may be lost regardless). That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes, as Jordan Romano returning owes more to Texas not realizing what was right under their nose. He was pretty close to, if not MLB ready as a reliever, and potentially a very good one. It would have been a shame to have lost him.


Having looked at value achieved in various areas, in the last segment, I’ll look at how it all fits together in terms of the broader strategic decisions made and direction taken by the Shapiro/Atkins regime.