The Toronto Blue Jays are off to a terrible start in 2017, but this past offseason isn’t to blame. Actually, it was quite a solid winter.
The start to the season hasn’t been pretty at all.. The offense continues to put up league worst numbers, while some will say it’s early, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to dig themselves a pretty big hole to start the season. This article isn’t about the first 16 games of the season, it’s about the Blue Jays offseason, which in my opinion was an effective one.
Their are multiple stages to building a championship contending team. These stages are just the very bare bones explanations of what teams go through from having a consistent losing record, to being World Series contenders. Now, it’s never as easy as just going through a list of steps. No step has a time limit attached to it, sometimes the rebuild can be a very long one, it can also depend on a lot of luck, and available funds. It’s also very rare that the stages work as a straight line, sometimes teams luckily skip stages. However, more often than not teams fail at a certain stage, either having to start all over again, or just move back one step and try again.
This is when teams trade off all major assets for prospects, and hopefully develop those prospects into reliable major league players. These are the lean years, wins aren’t coming in bunches, and it’s vital for teams to take advantage of their early selections in the draft. Teams will try and attract the best free agents possible, but players aren’t flocking to losing teams.
2. Bolster Roster
Your team starts to win, you have a group of prospects who are most likely in arbitration, and you can see a core group develop, and maybe your team comes close to the playoffs. Your team starts attracting bigger name players, this is either through trading some assets management doesn’t see panning out, or using available funds to make free agent signings that work out, this is the moment teams try to make a push for the postseason.
3. Address Final Needs
Your team is good, this is the season they make the playoffs. Those lean years of the rebuild were worth it at this point. When the time is right, teams will trade off their far off future prospects to address their final major league needs. This usually happens at the trade deadline when teams finally see the postseason in sight.
4. Maximize Potential
You’ve made the playoffs, your team is finally good, maybe you win a World Series, maybe you come close.. Now what? This is where teams have maxed out their potential, they try to make value moves, every big move has been made at this point. Teams will try to prolong that maximum output of the roster before the cycle starts again, big name players will decline.
Your once young core is getting older, and are setup for big paydays. Hopefully you can keep them, but nothing is guaranteed. Those veterans you acquired in trade or big signings are on the last legs of their contracts, you either trade their short term deal to someone in stage 3, or wait for them ride to off into the sunset.
Every team’s dream scenario is that they are successful, while developing prospects at the same time allowing their success to continue. It’s something that is almost impossible to do for an extended period of time, and even if you have one down year can move you back to stage one quickly. Wins will eventually start to decline, coming to grips with a rebuild is tough to do, but an inevitable sign to move back to stage 1 and start all over.
It’s interesting to think about other teams around the league, and see what stage of the building process they’re in. The White Sox are in stage 1, trading Chris Sale in the offseason for prospects that hopefully create a young core. For a long time the White Sox tried going all out for players hoping to get to stage two, but it never worked. It wouldn’t be very surprising if the White Sox moved deeper into stage one at the trade deadline, moving pieces like Jose Quintana or David Robertson.
The Mariners are in stage three, getting so close to the postseason for a few years. They have a great core in Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager, maybe the additions of Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura put them over the edge.
The Cubs are in stage four, they won the World Series last season. They moved through the stages very quickly, losing 101 games in 2012 to now defending as World Series champions. It seemed like they had built a young core, while adding players like Jon Lester and Jason Heyward at the same time. They are a solid group of players, now they will try and prolong that success for as long as possible.
The Yankees the past few season are a team that has gone quickly through stages 5, 6,and 1. They had their successful run, but even with “unlimited funds” they are bound to fail eventually. Waiting out the C.C. Sabathia contract, trading away big name players for prospects. The Yankees aren’t a great example because they can skip steps quicker than anyone, they can reload very quickly like adding Aroldis Chapman in the offseason. They went from being in stage one in September of 2016, to stage two in a couple of months. It goes to show, every team is different this isn’t a linear process, and there is no time limit to any of the stages.
The Blue Jays for a very long time were stuck in stage 1, trying to get to stage 2, but continuing to fail. The back and forth process would finally stop when players like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, provided some hope. Then the 2013 offseason happened, the Blue Jays made big moves to finally get them over the hump. It unfortunately didn’t work, but a core of Blue Jays players started bolstering the roster through the minors.
Players like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Kevin Pillar started to become very reliable pieces to compliment their veterans. The Blue Jays came close in 2014, they added Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson in the offseason. This team was all of a sudden very, very close. Then .500 at the trade deadline, the Blue Jays went all out stage 4. Adding David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, and stage four come and went, they were maximizing their potential.
Back-to-back appearances in the ALCS is no minor feat, any banner raised in the rafters of a major league stadium is a sign of a good team. The Blue Jays entering this season, were in stage 4, even with a poor start to this 2017 season, they’re still in stage 4 maybe close to touching stage 5. While many fans wanted the Blue Jays to go out and sign players like Dexter Fowler, the Blue Jays just aren’t at that point in their build. They have built their core, and that’s evident in the makeup of their roster.
Since the new front office regime of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins started, they have correctly positioned themselves within the building process, and the subsequent moves that have been made have kept the team on the right path. A source in the Blue Jays organization, told Jays From The Couch how they go about signing players.
This philosophy added up to the Blue Jays calculating that one win above replacement is worth $9mil. Players are the major beneficiary in the free agent process, a lot of players will get paid for their body of work while they were under team control and arbitration. Teams get more value out of players trying to get to their seven years of service time, where 46% of all MLB WAR came from arbitration players. The Blue Jays are one of the oldest teams in the MLB, entering the 2017 season, their projected 25-man roster had the most free agent contracts on the books, and according to spotrac.com, the Blue Jays have the fifth highest payroll in the MLB.
If you look at the Blue Jays offseason signings, they all fall under this method of buying wins above replacement for around the market price. In the bullpen, Joe Smith and J.P. Howell signed one year deals for $3 million dollars each, both posted WAR of 0.3 last season. Also exercising a $3mil player option on Jason Grilli was a no brainer. These three deals are low risk deals, $3mil is nothing in today’s MLB high quality late inning reliever dollars. Passing up on paying Brett Cecil $7.62 million (with a full no trade clause), after posting a half win above replacement, with his extreme season splits, seems like the Blue Jays made the right choice. Instead they spent $9million on three quality arms for around the same price of one.
Kendrys Morales is an interesting case, he posted a WAR last season of 0.7, the Blue Jays signed him for $11mil per season. This may seem like a slight over pay, but Morales posted an offensive WAR of 2.3, and a defensive WAR of -16.3 only playing 90 innings in the field last year. The Royals played Morales 53 innings at first base, where he put up pretty average fielding numbers. But the 37 innings he played in the outfield he was awful, and this effected his overall number in the end. The Blue Jays were paying for Morales’ offensive WAR, which looks like a solid deal.
The Blue Jays passed up on over paying for Encarnacion and Fowler, and never overpaid for complimentary pieces to help their core players. If you continue to go down the list of signings compared to WAR they all add up. Steve Pearce, Jose Bautista, and even Justin Smoak‘s contracts work under this new philosophy.
Management has no control on how these players perform as a team this year, and I don’t think any of us expected the Blue Jays to come out this cold to start out the season, but it’s just an unfortunate truth that is the ups and down of a baseball season. Despite how this season has started off, or what this team looks like in five months, it’s hard to argue that the Blue Jays past offseason wasn’t a productive one.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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