This offseason, I took over from Dexfarkin as the GM in the SB Nation sim off-season exercise. This post is too long, so I’ve bolded actual moves if you want the tl;dr version. The rules were:
- No 40-man decisions or rule 5 draft
- No extensions. In the real world, I think extensions are probably top of mind for Ross Atkins and co., but I wasn’t allowed to do that (it’s too much work for the guys at Royals Review who run the show)
- Arbitration just happened at the projected number for eligible players. I could non-tender but I couldn’t take them to a hearing or anything like that.
- I had a suggested budget, in this case $179 million for the 26 man. I didn’t have to stick to it exactly, but for the purposes of realism I tried to stay close-ish. No runs into the luxury tax.
That payroll constraint put me behind the 8-ball immediately, as the Jays’ 26 man roster as of November 5th projected to cost roughly $188m in 2023. In the real world, the way the Jays have behaved suggests to me they’re willing to get a little closer to the tax than that, but $179m would still represent an all time high team budget, so there’s nothing in the team’s history to prove their willingness to go up to $200m+.
Alright, with those ground-rules laid out, here’s the team’s roster going in:
- First base: Vlad, $14.8m arbitration estimate
- Second Base: Cavan Biggio, $2.6m arbitration estimate
- Shortstop: Bo Bichette, $6.2m arbitration estimate
- Third Base: Matt Chapman, $12m
- Danny Jansen, $3.7m arbitration estimate
- Alejandro Kirk, $0.85m
- Gabriel Moreno, $0.85m
- Left Field: Lourdes Gurriel jr., $5.4m
- Centre Field: George Springer, $22.5m
- Right Field: Teoscar Hernandez, $14.1m
- Santiago Espinal, $2.1m arbitration estimate
- Whit Merrifield, $6.5m
- Raimel Tapia, $5.2m arbitration estimate
- Bradley Zimmer, $1.3m arbitration estimate
- Kevin Gausman, $21m
- Jose Berrios: $15m
- Alek Manoah: $0.85m
- Yusei Kikuchi: $10m
- Mitch White: $0.85m
- Jordan Romano, $4.4m arbitration estimate
- Anthony Bass, $3m option ($1m buy-out)
- Adam Cimber, $3.2m arbitration estimate
- Yimi Garcia, $5.5m
- Tim Mayza, $1.9m arbitration estimate
- Trevor Richards, $1.5m arbitration estimate
- Trent Thornton, $1.1m arbitration estimate
- Dead Money:
- Hyun-Jin Ryu, $20m (out until at least August, assume he’s effectively retired)
- Randal Grichuk, $4.3m (owed to Colorado Rockies in the Raimel Tapia trade)
Looking at this roster, I have a couple worries. It’s too expensive, mostly because of $24.3 in money that’s essentially being lit on fire from a baseball point of view. It’s also scary thin in the rotation. The lineup is excellent, either the first or second best in baseball, although it could stand to add a slugger from the left side. The bullpen could be better but could also be worse.
Thinking a little longer term, a whole bunch of money will be freed up in 2024 as six significant deals come off the books. The problem is that four of them (Chapman, Hernandez, Gurriel and Garcia) are good to very good players who won’t be easy to replace for less money. At that point, Bo and Vlad will also be starting to get very expensive and also near free agency, meaning the clock for an extension will be ticking.
Based on all this, my self-set goals were:
- Add two starting pitchers and a left handed bat (ideally in the form of a centre fielder)
- Add a CF capable fourth outfielder
- Ideally add a controllable high end bullpen piece
- Keep payroll near at least near $179m in 2023
- Don’t compromise 2024 flexibility
To get started, I had to make some decisions about guys on the 2022 roster. That included decisions on options, tendering contracts, and extending qualifying offers to free agents.
- Options: The Jays only had one option choice to make, and it was a no-doubter in picking up Anthony Bass at $3m. Bass pitched to a 1.54 ERA in 2022, and although that was better than he can be expected to do in the future, he still looks like a solid setup man next season. With relief prices going insane this winter, one year at $3m is a steal.
- Non-Tenders: There were three guys on the roster I seriously considered non-tendering. Bradley Zimmer and Raimel Tapia were easy calls, as the former was awful in 2022 and the latter, while useful, just wasn’t worth guaranteeing over $5m when money is tight. The other one was Trent Thornton, who’s useful but making more than the minimum and probably not going to stick on the 26 man roster. I ended up getting some trade interest so I tendered him. The only other candidate was Trevor Richards, in his second year of arbitration and likely to earn about $2.4m next year. He had an awful 2022, but based on his 2021 and his continued strong strikeout rates I decided to keep him around.
- Qualifying Offers: the only serious QO candidate for the Jays this winter was Ross Stripling, who I decided not to qualify. On the surface, Stripling’s 2022 performance would easily justify a $19m one year deal. I ended up deciding not to go there, though. First, because it’s a lot of money to commit to a fourth starter, and second because I’m at least a little worried that Stripling will fall back to his 2020-2021 level. Lacking overpowering stuff, he needs all his pitches working and sharp command to get outs, and we’ve seen both those things wander in the recent past. I was open to re-signing him, but it’d have to be at a lower salary.
The first move I was able to make was flipping Trent Thornton to the Nationals for centre field prospect Jayce Easely (who they’d earlier acquired from the Rangers). Easley is a capable defensive centre fielder with excellent plate discipline and some feel for contact but little power. He projects as a handy fourth outfielder type in a couple years, a nice return for a fringe pitcher.
My main goal of the sim was to find a good deal for one of the Jays’ catchers. The real Jays front office insists that they’re willing to carry three catchers in 2023, and I guess I can see how they could carve out playing time for all three, but it doesn’t make sense to me to concentrate so much talent in one position when there are serious needs elsewhere on the roster. Better to turn a catcher into pitching or a centre fielder who’d be a better roster fit. Luckily for me, catching is thin in the league right now and there was lots of interest. I found that teams were most interested in Alejandro Kirk, with Danny Jansen as the fallback. Gabriel Moreno didn’t draw any offers, which surprised me, but in retrospect I can see how other GMs weren’t willing to roll the dice on a player who was both likely to be the most expensive of the three and also is mostly unproven at the MLB level. After a few false starts, three basic packages came together:
- The Diamondbacks were offering Alek Thomas and a pitcher (probably Drey Jameson) for Kirk
- The Cardinals were offering Lars Nootbaar and Matthew Liberatore for Kirk
- The Brewers were offering Brandon Woodruff for Jansen and Jordan Romano
On paper, all three make some sense. Thomas strugled in his debut, but he’s still 22 and all the tools that made him a top 10 prospect are intact, and Jameson has huge stuff even if he might not ultimately have the command to stick as a full time starter. Nootbaar doesnt’ have Thomas’ pedigree but is a proven well-rounded starter who’s above average to plus across the board, and while Liberatore’s prospect stock has fallen a bit his plus or better command should allow him to at least solidify the #5 spot for years to come. Jansen and Romano is a very steep price, but the Brewers deal is the only one where I’m getting receiving the single best player in the deal, and the ability to go Gausman-Manoah-Woodruff in a playoff series would be fun.
All of these deals took a while to come together, and all were big enough that neither I nor the other GMs were ready to move quickly, so while I waited I made a few smaller moves around the margins:
- Kevin Kiermaier signed on a one year, $6m deal. Kiermaier isn’t what he was four years ago, but he still rates as an excellent centre fielder, and he still offers offensive competence from the left side. For roughly Tapia money, I get someone I’d be much more comfortable playing every day for a month if a starter got hurt.
- Traded Otto Lopez to the Diamondbacks for Joe Mantiply. I was surprised how strong the interest in Lopez was. More than one other team offered me worthwhile trades for him. In the end I chose Mantiply, who’s been excellent in the Arizona bullpen for the past couple seasons and is controllable through 2026. At 32 next year he isn’t young, and his 91mph fastball doesn’t blow anyone away, but he gets his share of Ks, issues few walks, and keeps the ball on the ground, and should solidify the lefty setup man job for a while
- Traded Julian Merryweather to the Angels for Brandon Dufault. Merryweather’s stuff remains tantilizing, but he hasn’t been either healthy or consistently effective in his time in Toronto. He’s out of options, and I didn’t feel comfortable guaranteeing him a bullpen job this coming season. I was happy to get anything for him, and Dufault is something. A 16th round draftee out of Northeastern last year, he throws 96 and has racked up strikeouts through A+, with the potential to move fairly quickly as a multi-inning relief arm but without needing to be protected in the Rule 5 draft this winter or next.
While all this was happening, the catcher trade options solidified. On reflection, I decided to turn the Brewers down. Romano is too important and I didn’t have the prospects or the money to easily replace him. For Jansen alone, or even packaged with a prospect, it’d have been tempting, but I didn’t want to plug one hole by opening another. At the same time, the Diamondbacks pulled their offer. That left me with the Cardinals, and after sweating for a while as their GM tried to pivot to dealing for Oakland’s Sean Murphy, we closed the deal as Alejandro Kirk for Lars Nootbaar and Matthew Liberatore. This was pretty close to the deal I’d had in my head when the sim opened. Kirk’s absence will hurt, but Nootbaar is a perfect fit. Although he’s mostly played right field in the majors, he rates as a solidly above average outfield defender and should be capable of handling centre just fine. He has plus power, makes about average contact, and his plate discipline might be even better than Kirk’s for an overall offensive profile that shouldn’t be much of a drop off. Liberatore has at least plus command and is a consensus top 100 prospect who made it to the major leagues at 22. Neither player hits arbitration for at least two years, preserving maximum financial flexibility while filling two starter jobs long term.
At this point, I had an excess in the outfield. I decided to move Teoscar Hernandez, like the Jays did in real life, not because I don’t value him but because he’s expensive and yet also a valuable trade chip. Like the real Jays, I ended up targeting high end relief pitching in the return. The best offer came from the AL West, but in the sim it was the Texas Rangers, who offered Marc Church and Larson Kindreich for Teoscar Hernandez. Church is the rare prospect to crack the top 100 as a pure reliever, on the strength of a power fastball that hits 97 with big movement paired with a plus or better slider and above average command. He reached AA in 2022, and could move quickly into the back end of an MLB bullpen by the 2023 stretch run. Kindreich, an 8th round pick in 2021, is a projection play. He’s a lefty with a power pitcher’s frame and three very promising pitches who’s racked up Ks in the low minors, but he needs to both throw harder and harness his command to stick in the rotation. In truth, I like the real life Jays’ return a bit better than what I got, mostly because Swanson will help the team in 2023, but the shape is very similar in one high end reliever and an interesting but flawed prospect.
I still had one hole in the roster: I needed a fourth starter. I tried to re-sign stripling, but ultimately wasn’t willing to top a 2 year, $25m offer from the Giants. Not wanting to spend big money or impair future flexibility, I looked for a one year deal for a solid veteran. I ended up signing Corey Kluber to a one year, $15m contract. The Klubot is a shadow of his former self, with a fastball that doesn’t crack 90 anymore, but he still pounds the zone with four quality pitches, he’s still hard to square up, and the underlying metrics suggest he’s significantly better than the already palatable 4.34 ERA he put up last season. I think he’s a safe bet to give you 150 competitive innings, share some veteran presents with the kids on the roster, and I was willing to pay a small premium to avoid commitments beyond 2023.
The last big move wasn’t in my plan. I decided to shop Tim Mayza near the end of the sim, initially with the goal of freeing up a little money. With Manitply in the fold, and with Yusei Kikuchi unavoidably in the bullpen, there were other lefty options. The Mariners were interested, but they didn’t want to offer a prospect. Instead, the proposed Tim Mayza and Josh Kasevich for Jesse Winker and $2m. Winker is a rental, set to make about $8m in his final year of arbitration. I have to confess that he’s been my white whale for the real Blue Jays for years. He shouldn’t play the outfield, but he has elite plate discipline, easily plus contact and power from the left side. He had an ugly 2022, possibly due to a minor shoulder issue for which he had surgery after the season, but the two previous years in Cincinnati he was a top 15 hitter in baseball. Plugging him into the DH spot for a year takes the Jays’ lineup from excellent to absurd. Kasevich is a good prospect, but with zero power projects are more of a utility man than a potential starter to me, so I was comfortable giving him up.
Here’s the final roster:
CF Lars Nootbaar, SS Bo Bichette, 1B Vladimir Guerrero jr., RF George Springer, C Danny Jansen, 3B Matt Chapman, DH Jesse Winker, LF Lourdes Gurriel jr., 2B Santiago Espinal/Cavan Biggio (platoon)
Whit Merrifield, Gabriel Moreno, Kevin Kiermaier
Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, Jose Berrios, Corey Kluber, Matthew Liberatore
Closer: Jordan Romano
Setup: RHP Anthony Bass, LHP Joe Mantiply
Mid: Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, Zach Pop, Trevor Richards, Yusei Kikuchi
Closer: Jordan Romano
Setup: Anthony Bass, Joe Man
I have Mitch White staying stretched out in Buffalo, and Nate Pearson, Hagen Danner and Adrian Hernandez hopefully forcing their way into the back of that bullpen. On the farm, I sent out Josh Kasevich and Otto Lopez and brought in Marc Church, Larson Kindreich, Jayce Easley and Brendan Dufault. Payroll ended up around $193m, $14m above target. I don’t think that’s unreasonable for a team whose window is open.
Am I Fired?
This poll is closed
"Security is here to escort you"
"A mutual parting of ways"
No, but on the hotseat
"We like our team, Barry"
Offer an Extension