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. While I’m a little late this year, I still think it’s a worthy exercise with an MLB offseason finally less clouded by uncertainty than the last few.
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 aspirations of not just contending but finishing at the top of the standings.
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:
Entering the offseason, there were 43 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:
Some high-level points on each group:
- Free Agents (3): These three had total full year salaries of $18.2-million, of which the Jays were responsible for just $7.5-million (including performance bonuses). The Jays received excellent bang for those bucks with 4.0 fWAR/bWAR in 198 innings and 80 PA. With a much smaller crop compared to last year, it’s not nearly as big a step backward, but there’s also not a pile of dead money coming off the books either.
- 2023 Contracts (10): In total, these 10 produced 17.1 fWAR/12.7 bWAR in 561 innings and 1827 PA in 2022 with a cash outlay of $127.1-million. Adding the money retained from Randal Grichuk’s contract brings the total to $132.4-million. That actually decreases to $116.7-million principally due to the frontloading of the Springer and Kikuchi contracts (and various other small adjustments). The Jays didn’t receive terrible value here, but they they surely hoped for more and is an area where the Jays could hope and expect for a little more 2023 production.
- Arbitration (10): For the second straight year it’s a large class, with two first-time eligibles om Jordan Romano and Santiago Espinal joining eight holdovers and offset by two departures (Stripling and Ryan Borucki). And it’s going to take a big bite out of the budget as these 10 totalled $28.4-million in 2022 salary, but MLBTR is forecasting an almost doubling to $54.5-million for 2022. Nothing looks obviously off, so the Jays can count on at least $25-million of additional cost here. The only one who might not be a total slam dunk to be tendered is Trevor Richards, but that barely moves the needle anyway.
- Non-tender candidates (3): North of $5-million, Raimel Tapia would make for a very expensive fourth outfielder, so this is arguably the best opportunity to save some money. Bradley Zimmer and Trent Thornton less, but the former is the definition of a replacement level. Thornton can still be optioned and ~$1.1-million is quite modest, so he’ll probably be tendered.
- Pre-arb renewals (7): 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 (whether with the Jays or elsewhere) and have their contracts renewed (at or near the MLB minimum). This is by far the smallest smallest group in recent years primarily due to many becoming arb-eligible, with a few core pieces, a few complementary players, a prodigious talent and question mark. Leo Jimenez has the most tenuous status, but having added him last year one assumes he’s safe.
- Bubble (8+2): The 40-man once again became a hard limit shortly after the World Series, with free agent declarations getting the Jays to the limit. Further additions and Rule 5 protections will require more spots, so it’s fortuitous that the bubble is much bigger and frankly softer than in recent years. The Jays have already made a couple moves, and I’d be surprised if more than a handful remain come March.
- Thomas Hatch and Otto Lopez are probably much closer to the above group than truly the roster bubble (but not completely safe either in my estimation). 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.
With all that considered, a 2023 Opening Day roster constructed solely with existing organizational resources would look something like this:
A few points and thoughts:
- Priority is given to out-of-options players where it’s close. Green is for players who can be optioned unilaterally in 2023, blue is for those who cannot.
- The lineup has been a source of continuity the last couple years, which not only remains the case but even more so. Barring a regular being moved for help elsewhere, and including Alejandro Kirk among the starters, there’s room for one addition among the top 10 positional starters.
- Gausman, Manoah and Berrios are an excellent foundation at the front-end of the rotation, especially if the latter can rebound to (or at least significantly towards) his 2017-2021 form. Beyond that, there’s some major work to do both in terms of filling out the backend, as well as building reasonable depth beyond the top six. The lack of feasible reinforcement options at the upper levels of the farm system has been a detriment the lack couple years, and there doesn’t appear to be much help for 2023.
- The bullpen can always use more upgrades, but it too is deeper heading into the offseason than in at least five years dating to the last competitive peak. They’re not the quite 10-to-12 deep you like to see to cover injuries and the inevitable unforeseen ineffectiveness, but it’s a solid base.
- This is actually a reasonably complete team just as things stand, given that it represents maximal subtraction and no additions. Depth would obviously be an issue but I think they’d stand a decent chance of winning 85 games and contending for the postseason. That’s a good thing because...
- The total cost of this Opening Day roster would be about $188-million (including some provision for injuries backfilled by pre-arb players at the minimum), quite a substantial total. Perhaps $5-million could be shaved off that with more aggressive non-tenders if one were so inclined (namely Tapia). The CBT threshold is likely not a binding constraint at this point, but how aggressive is Rogers willing to go?