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Looking ahead to 2022

A roster breakdown and assessment at the outset of the offseason

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Every year when the season ends, I like to take a look forward at what the next year’s Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day roster would look before the offseason gets going, based only on existing organizational players. The small matter of negotiating a new collective agreement and the potential labour fallout looms over both the 2022 season and the hot stove, but nonetheless the offseason beckons with the World Series about to end.

This is what things would look like if the Jays simply closed up business until mid-February and did nothing. In that sense, it represents a “replacement level” floor for the front office this winter, since there’s no reason the Opening Day roster shouldn’t be at least this good given a team in win-now mode with contending aspirations.

The first step is to categorize the current roster into groups, according to contract/control status, service time, talent, and option status (the latter two going to the likelihood of maintaining a roster spot). It looks like this:

2022 flowchart

There are currently 42 players on the 40-man roster (players on the 60-day IL don’t count towards the limit during the season), which I divide as follows:

2022 40-man breakdown

Some high-level points on each group:

  • Free Agents (8): These eight had total full year salaries of $52.0-million, of which the Jays were responsible for about $44.7-million. For that, they produced 14 fWAR/16.2 bWAR in 362.1 innings and 881 PA, most of that of course being Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz. The downside of having of buying so many wins at such a cheap rate is taking them off the books in turn represents a big step back in terms of 2022 baseline (though I’ll note just not massively underperforming their WAR baseline can offset about half of that).
    But that’s not the only money coming off the books. Five players (headlined by Tanner Roark) who had guaranteed MLB contracts and salaries in 2021 are already gone. The Jays paid them $20.4-million for 67 innings and 123 PA (-0.2 fWAR/-1.5 bWAR), so with this dead money off the books as well, the total if about $65-million of 2021 salary off the books.
  • 2022 Contracts (4): In total, these four produced 6.8 fWAR/7.8 bWAR in 169 innings and 1428 PA in 201 with a cash outlay of $65.8-million. That actually decreases to $61.8-millions due to the frontloading of George Springer’s contract, and cumulatively this is probably area where the Jays could hope and expect for a little more production.
  • Arbitration (9/10): After a tiny cohort of just two last year, the Jays will have either five or six players becoming first time eligible internally (depending on whether Cavan Biggio qualifies as a Super Two when the cutoff is determined) in addition to three acquired during the year. This is going to take a big bite out of the budget. Including Biggio, these 10 totalled $17.9-million in 2021 salary (of which the Jays only paid a little over $13-million), but MLBTR is forecasting $41-million for 2022. There’s a few figures I’d quibble with (I’ll take the under on Teoscar more than doubling his salary), but overall it’ll be in the right ballpark and the Jays can figure on $25- to $30-million more.
  • Non-tender candidates (1): I really only see one true non-tender candidate in Trent Thornton, and even then at a projected $800K it’s so trivially above the minimum that it makes him and the decision process more akin to a pre-arb player (where granted, I’d probably have him on or near the bubble). I suppose Ryan Borucki might not be completely safe based on 2021 performance, but similar logic applies. The only other less than 100 would be re-profiling Ross Stripling’s projected $4.5-million to the open market, but they really lack depth and he had really found his form with a strong 2+ month run before getting hurt.
  • Pre-arb renewals (12): This cohort is pre-arb players who have positive expected future value based on on-field performance or potential, to the extent that they are clearly assets. As such, they will hold 40-man spots over the winter and have their contracts renewed (at or near the MLB minimum). There’s naturally a continuum from several “core” building blocks, to “complementary” players with less upside but pretty clear MLB roles in 2022, to players who are more depth/prospects in 2022. This is a smaller group than in recent years primarily due to many becoming arb-eligible, but unlike in some previous years there’s a pretty clear delineation and to me the backend doesn’t get close to bubble territory.
  • Bubble (5+2): The nature of being a contending team is marginal performers tend to be jettisoned along the way in favour of veterans, so once again this year is a much smaller and softer bubble. Shortly after the World Series, the 40-man once again becomes a hard limit, but there figures to be six spots open after free agent declarations. Even with some holes to fill and prospects to protect, that limits the pressure on bubble players. Players who would qualify for minor league free agency cannot be sent outright (at least unilaterally) until March after the five day window following the World Series, so teams may opt to remove them now even without imminent numerical pressure and they are noted above.
    Josh Palacios is probably closer to the renewals bucket than the bubble, but at this point he’s not really in the mix for 2022. Breyvic Valera doesn’t have the benefit of being on the restricted list this winter, and likewise it wouldn’t surprise me if (at least) one of the unestablished lefties is gone by the time 2022 starts.

With all that considered, a 2022 Opening Day roster constructed solely with existing organizational resources would look something like this:

2022 lineup

A few points and thoughts:

  • It’s potentially something that CBA negotiations could affect, but I’ll assume active roster limits revert to the intended 26 and a requirement of 13 pitchers and 13 position players,
  • Priority is given to out-of-options players where it’s close. Green is for players who can be optioned unilaterally in 2022, blue is for those who cannot.
  • The lineup continues to be a source of continuity, with six of the starters carrying over from last year’s exercise, and nine position players repeating somewhere (and a similar rate of carrying over compared to opening day). Safe to say a regular will be added somewhere on the infield, and pushing Espinall down to the primary infield backup/reserve spot really rounds things out.
  • Ryu, Berrios and Manoah are a very good start on the rotation. Realistically, a rotation these days has to be considering more in terms of what it looks like seven or eight deep, and the likes of Stripling, Pearson and/or Hatch fit in more comfortably as options in that context than a traditional five man rotation. So they a need a bona fide arm or two, but that’s nothing we didn’t know.
  • The bullpen is probably the biggest difference, as it’s easily the most filled out it’s been entering the offseason since the peak of the last contending cycle, half of the spots firmly accounted for with track record and arms with potential behind. It doesn’t mean they don’t need to add quite a bit, but it also means it’s not the daunting task of building out a good bullpen largely from scratch
  • This is actually not a bad team just as things stand, I think they’s stand a decent chance of winning 80 games. Depth would obviously be a major issue, but it’s a nice place to start given it represents maximal subtraction and no addition when there should be $40- or $50-million of spending capacity. All in all, a pretty enviable position.
  • The total cost of this Opening Day roster would be about $111-million, up significantly from the minimal offseason baselines in recent years. Perhaps $5-million could be shaved off that with more aggressive on-tenders if one were so inclined (namely Stripling).