Blue Jays are Spending: The Cost of Flexibility

This offseason has revealed that the Toronto Blue Jays are willing to spend money on the right deal; the deals that provide roster flexibility.

 

Rogers is cheap! Mark Shapiro is going to run the Toronto Blue Jays into the ground. These are commonly heard expression this winter. Rogers is being blamed for not providing enough money to land big time free agents. Management is being criticized for, well, everything.

But, if you take a step back and look at this offseason, there is actually a pattern emerging. The Toronto Blue Jays are spending. They aren’t competing with the Dodgers or Diamondbacks. But, they are spending. For years, we have heard that the club will spend on the right deal. Under former GM, Alex Anthopoulos, we never really knew what that deal would look like. With a new regime in place, the philosophy has not changed. But, what has emerged is the picture of what the right deal looks like.

Examining the moves of this offseason shows us that the Toronto Blue Jays are willing to pay for roster flexibility.

Trading for Jesse Chavez was a deal that saw the team take on more payroll. Liam Hendriks made the league minimum in 2015 and will again in 2016. He’s not even eligible for arbitration until the following season. That’s two years of minimal payments for his services. The Blue Jays took on Chavez and his arbitration eligible contract, immediately seeing a bump in payroll. They could not come to a deal and look to be headed for a hearing to decide whether he’ll make $3.6M (club’s offer) or $4M (his offer). The difference between the two sides is ~$100K less than what Hendriks will make in 2016.

The financial commitment provides them with a pitcher who can battle for the 5th starter spot OR come out of the bullpen as a long man OR both! Chavez’ past struggles late in the season mean that he could potentially start the year in the 5th rotation spot and then decrease his role into the bullpen. This would ever so neatly coincide with a possible insertion of Aaron Sanchez into the rotation. Having Chavez (and the flexibility he provides) allows the club to stretch Sanchez out without rushing. Whatever the plan is, there are more options with Chavez in the fold than Hendriks.

Justin Smoak signed with the Blue Jays for $3.9M before the arbitration issue even came up. He was expected (by MLBTR) to see $2M. Why would the club go so high above that? It is because of the flexibility that Smoak provides. With Edwin Encarncaion and Chris Colabello already options at first base, this may seem silly at first. One could argue that Smoak is an expensive, superfluous addition. But, he provides a late inning defensive option that is much batter than the other two, he provides power off the bench, he is a switch hitter, which means that there is a lefty matchup waiting in a very right handed lineup. As well, early on in the offseason, having Smoak in the fold meant that the club had more flexibility to explore potential upgrades in other areas. Keeping him provides roster flexibility. Using him as trade bait also provides options.

Trading Ben Revere to the Nationals for Drew Storen saw the club willing to take on about $2M in extra salary. Now, most (if not all) of that will be negated by the Washington sending cash to Toronto. But, we should see this as the Blue Jays willing to consider more expensive options. They didn’t take the cheap, “lightning in a bottle” approach that we’ve come accustomed to. Instead, they took on a late reliever who will earn $8.385M in 2016 and likely head to free agency at the end of it.

Like the Chavez deal, this move helps the team in more ways than just adding an effective arm. Adding Storen into the ‘pen makes the possibility of Sanchez and/or Roberto Osuna being stretched out to start an increasingly easier transition. This has been gone over and over already, so an extensive explanation is not really needed, here. But, it does highlight the ripple effect kind of benefits that the Blue Jays are willing to pay for. Rather than cut costs, as some feared, the club is spending money.

If we look at the rumors being floated recently, they do not point to a club whose aim is to make like Walmart and hold a roll back event. Whether there is any truth to the rumors that the Blue Jays are actually in on discussions for Yovani Gallardo or were actively pursuing Antonio Bastardo, the fact is that these possibilities exist because they represent the kind of flexibility that the club is willing to pay for.

Consider this: moving Sanchez (or less likely, but still possible: Osuna) to the starting rotation maximizes the value the team receives on the dollar they spend. Sanchez will earn minimal money in 2016 (and 2017). Last season, he put up 0.3 WAR in a season that saw him split time between starting and relieving. Fangraphs values his 2015 at $2.5M. For comparison, Drew Hutchison put up 1.5 WAR (a value of $11.9M). If Sanchez slides into a starting role and can put up 2 or more WAR, he will have provided more value on the dollar; minimal contract, maximum performance. The money saved there makes the money spent elsewhere totally worth it.

That’s the point, here. The Blue Jays are not spending like we’d hoped they would in the past. There is not $217M waiting in the wings to drop on an ace left handed pitcher. But, that does not mean that there is not money to be spent. The new management of the Blue Jays are spending money. They aren’t throwing it around like they’re in a hip-hop video. Instead, they’re being much quieter about it. They’re being smart about it.

 

Hey, MLBTR Readers! Did you miss out on the last week at Jays From the Couch? Don’t worry. Here’s a recap for your enjoyment! We look at Blue Jays roster options, management and prospects!

*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.