Last year, in the wake of a large number of non-tenders, I put together a roster of such players and compared it with the 1977 expansion Blue Jays roster, a rather motley crew of largely cast-offs.
The basic idea is that between players who cleared waivers and were sent outright after the end of the season and players non-tendered, there were in excess of 130 players who were available to all major league teams either for free, or just for cash. That was in stark contrast to the expansion Blue Jays, who found it difficult to acquire major league calibre talent after various waves of expansion that had diluted the talent pool in adding 10 teams within one generation.
With another large cohort of over 50 players non-tendered this year — many of them bona fide major league players — and another 90 sent outright after clearing waivers, I thought it would be interesting to repeat the exercise this year. But rather than comparing to that same 1977 roster, I figured I’d move on to the 1978 team.
Not that it makes a huge difference: after posting a 54-107 inaugural mark, they improved all the way to 59-102 in 1978. Some names were different, but the 1978 Blue Jays were a lot like the 1977 Jays: solid behind the plate, terrible on the middle infield, respectable at the corners, and a little production in the outfield. The biggest difference was probably that after getting a number of surprisingly solid seasons in the rotation, the starting pitching regressed.
By 1978, the Jays had been able to leverage financial resources to make upgrades at some spots: they had paid $200,000 to essentially buy Roy Howell, took on John Mayberry’s $200,000 a year contract to get a legitimate bopper for the middle of the order, absorbed Rico Carty’s salary to get another proven bat, and even signed a major league free agent in shortstop Luis Gomez (overpaying a reported $250,000 guarantee over three years for a guy who only hit his weight because middle infielders were expected to be svelte).
The starting core of the 1978 team did improve, with its ~8 WAR a significant improvement over 1977’s ~4 WAR (though both of those marks were dragged down with sub-replacement bench contributions).
I think my freely available team gets pretty close even without any major league free agents, which would certainly help with the infield. Daniel Robertson might be a bit of a stretch at SS, the other option would be Jeison Guzman, who would be legitimate defensively but probably replacement overall with little bat.
What’s particularly interesting is how much it generally mirrors the strengths and weaknesses of the 1978 Jays. I don’t have much of a problem finding players who can hit a bit at less premium defensive positions, but up the middle things are a lot thinner.
Once again, filling out a rotation is a lot more of a challenge:
Unlike last year, I can’t “anchor” my rotation with an expensive but reliable backend type (Kevin Gausman), and injury prone but effective option in Taijuan Walker. Basically, there’s a bunch of replacement type options who project for 100+ innings at at 5.00 ERA or so. There’s flavours within that, a higher upside, higher uncertainty guy like Rodon or even Urena, and then more your classic innings types, one of whom might post a solid inning and the others who would likely be shelled. I chose a mix.
Then again, the 1978 Blue Jays didn’t have much either. Clancy, Underwood and Jefferson combined to eat 600 innings at a little worse than league average, and that was about it. Everyone else who threw 100 innings was terrible, and Victor Cruz was the lone standout in the bullpen.
This is where the non-tender team can compensate for what the starters lack. It’s a completely different game of course since one inning relievers didn’t exist back then, but with the likes of Ryan Tepera, Matt Wisler, Archie Bradley, and even A.J. Cole to ancor a bullpen, plus other flyers, for less than $10-million I can easily add 300 innings of well-above pitching, at least 2-4 WAR that the 1978 team can’t really match.
All in all, I think the 2020 “freely available” team would have a good shot at winning 60 games, on a combined payroll of $75-million, which is well below the MLB average. They’d give the 1978 Jays a good run for the money, without considering any major league free agents who either end up signing more cheaply than players included above or don’t get major league deals. If some of those were added into the mix, one could probably get to 65 wins or so on the same $75-million.
Which team would win more games?
This poll is closed
2020 non-tenders/free available
1978 Blue Jays