The Toronto Blue Jays added valuable, and much needed, depth and versatility by trading for Yangervis Solarte
The Toronto Blue Jays finally resolved their long-standing issue of middle-infield depth by trading for Yangervis Solarte, a ready-made super-utility man. Solarte checks off all of the super-utility boxes. He has experience at all four infield positions, with a reasonably strong track record at each spot. He’s a league-average hitter, so he can be slotted into the infield every day without worrying about creating an offensive black hole. He’s no speedster, but he’s certainly not going to be clogging up the base paths. And, as a cherry on top, he has an extremely team-friendly contract.
Before I jump into the data, here are some tweets that effectively capture this pick up:
Diaz and Solarte brings the #BlueJays infield WAY up over last year. It is a solid group, assuming health. And, if health is an issue, it looks WAY better than 2017
— Jays From the Couch (@JaysFromCouch) January 6, 2018
AND, the OF can be addressed with money, should they choose.
Or, via trade since Olivares is high talent, but not the highest
— Jays From the Couch (@JaysFromCouch) January 6, 2018
I think it’s important to note that while the Jays haven’t raised the ceiling of the team this year they’ve definitely raised the floor
— Brian Clement (@brianfhclement) January 6, 2018
— Ty Berry (@tberry3) January 6, 2018
The Blue Jays’ middle infielders collectively in 2017: -1.3 WAR.
Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz together in 2017: 1.3 WAR.
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) January 6, 2018
Solarte brings plenty of offensive value
Let’s start with Yangervis’ bat. Over four close-to-full seasons, he has displayed a very balanced approach at the plate. He walks at a league-average rate but strikes out about half as much as the average hitter. He’s got an average amount of pop, which might play up in the AL East. The one knock is that when he puts the ball in play, he gets on base less often than average. These components sum up to a slightly above-average hitter. Since 2014, Solarte ranks 126th in wRC+ among 289 batters with 1000+ PA.
These observations are reasonably well supported by the Statcast data: he has posted a a slightly above-average xBA and a slightly below-average xwOBA. Combined, the stats suggest that Solarte generates the kind of contact that gets one on base, more so than extra-base type contact. This is corroborated by his high rate of “solid contact” and “flares/burners”, as per Statcast (which defines good contact as these two types, plus barrels). He generates either solid contact or a flare/burner in 24% of his plate appearances. That ranks 55th among 232 batters with 1000+ PA since 2015.
Bonus: he’s a switch-hitter! He is a bit stronger as a lefty (111 wRC+), but hits reasonably well as a righty too (92 wRC+).
In terms of base running, he rates as below-average. He has generated -2.5 BsR per 600 PA over his career. Since 2014, that mark ranks 215th among 289 players with 1000+ PA. This jibes well with his underlying speed: he has averaged about 26.5 ft/s (as per Statcast), which is a little below the league average (27 ft/s). Coincidentally, Marwin Gonzalez (fellow super-utility guy) posted the same average speed.
Solarte’s rare combination of defensive versatility and quality is what makes him special
The key to appreciating the super-utility position is appreciating how hard it is to be an average defender at multiple positions. Using Fangraphs, I had put together a database of fielding stats for each position in one spreadsheet (going back to 2015) to help me think about utility players. Here is a fun fact to underline Solarte’s uniqueness: only nine players have played 1000+ infield innings, with at least 100 innings at each position.
Solarte has primarily played at third and second, posting just below-average DRS and UZR at both positions. He has also held his own in limited action at first and shortstop. A statistic like Fangraphs’ Def can help contextualize Solarte’s versatility/quality combo: his career -1.8 Def ranks 106th among 212 players who suited up for 400+ games since 2014 (exactly middle of the pack).
Solarte’s strong combination of hitting and fielding has enabled him to stay in the lineup and generate lots and lots of value (7.1 fWAR over his career). Since 2014, he ranks 127th among all position players in terms of fWAR.
Solarte’s contract makes him extra special
Solarte has one year remaining on his contract, with two team options afterwards. He is owed $4 million in 2018, with options worth $5.5 million (2019) and $8 million (2020). Each option comes with a $800,000 buyout. This is a very, very team-friendly contract for the Blue Jays. If things work out, they get to pay a proven everyday player a total of $17.5 million over three seasons. If things don’t work out, they can cut ties with him during the next two off-seasons.
Solarte’s strong production and cheap contract give him a ton of surplus value. Let’s say that he maintain his career norms over the next three seasons, playing in 130 games and generating 1.8 fWAR per season. At $9 million per win, that kind of production is worth $48.6 million. With $17.5 million coming to him in salary over the next three years, his surplus value is just over $30 million.
The cost of doing business
Unfortunately, the Jays had to give up two prospects in order to acquire Solarte: Edward Olivares and Jared Carkuff. Olivares is the Padres’ big get. He performed very well at Lansing, with his 130 wRC+ overshadowed by the exploits of Vladdy Jr. and Bo. Our own Ryan Mueller is a fan, and will probably have more to say about the trade in the coming days. He wasn’t really on any prospect radars prior to 2017: Fangraphs didn’t include them in their Top 17 list for 2017, while MLB Pipeline ranked him 18th by season’s end. With a 45 FV, Olivares slots into the Padres’ Pipeline rankings at 24th.
Jared Carkuff is likely a player most Jays fans will only get to know as he’s leaving the team. A reliever, he was a very late pick in the 2016 draft (36th round). He got to see a lot of North America in 2017, starting the year in Vancouver, before moving to Lansing, Dunedin and Buffalo.
At first glance, these two prospects seem like a more than reasonable price to pay for Solarte, considering the sheer amount of surplus value he brings (and the fact that he solves such an important issue that the Jays had last year). Olivares looks talented, but the outfield is a fairly deep position for the Jays system. There is the MLB-ready-ish Teoscar Hernandez. In the upper minors, the Jays have Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith Jr. And, at AA, there’s Jonathan Davis, who put up a very solid AFL this off-season.
Things are (very) slowly starting to take shape
In 2018, the Blue Jays backup infielders are projected to be league-average hitters. Let that sink in. Hypothetically, the Jays will field four average or better infielders in virtually all 162 games this coming season, even if Tulo and Devo deal with injuries again.
Moreover, the team still has about $25 million in payroll to use towards filling holes in the outfield and starting rotation. Plus, the system is still well-stocked enough to be used to help fill one or both of those gaps on the roster. All in all, this was a very good bit of business. Hopefully, more good bits of business are to come. [CAIN! Please, sign Cain!]
Finally, while I’ll leave it to Andrew Stoeten to more fully take down the “Josh Donaldson is gonna get traded now” voices, this trade does not mean that Josh Donaldson is gonna get traded now. It’s fair to disagree with any front offices decisions, but this one has been very clear about their plan to focus on fixing the middle-infield depth issue. With the additions of Aledmys Diaz and Solarte, they most definitely have done that. Now, the focus will turn to the outfield and starting pitching and, potentially, extending Josh.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.