Jays From the Couch Architects a Reasonable Offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays
It’s that time of year again. Over the last eight months or so, teams have been priming themselves for October baseball, and the baseball world is watching quite possibly the best four teams – potentially three but the time this is published – battle it out for a place at the top of baseball’s awkward pyramid.
What we’re seeing now is a mix of the teams that have tanked for glory (Houston) and those that print money for their mostly redundant place in the playoffs (Los Angeles, Boston) and the miracle of getting hot at the right time and riding the heels of an unlikely MVP (Milwaukee).
The majority of fans right now have no stake in the games going on, but are rightly enjoying what has been an excellent October in baseball. That doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about their own teams, and the content machines need their fuel. With the majority of teams out of it right now, it’s worth thinking about 2019 in the five minutes between every pitch and the 10-minute video replay reviews.
So let’s talk about the Toronto Blue Jays.
Mapping out the 2019 Offseason
The Blue Jays need a manager. It’s not that they didn’t have a great one in 2017, but the sturdy John Gibbons will not be returning in 2018. We won’t get into whether this was a good or bad decision, but it’s understood that the new skip will be good with the players and have a keen analytical streak. You know, just like every other top managerial candidate.
We won’t pretend to know who is best for the job, so there will be no predictions here. Let’s just hope that the new guy can relate well with the players, and honestly, just let’s them play. Just don’t expect a John Gibbons clone.
Clear Some Space
With a potential 40-man roster crunch incoming and some names worth protecting for the Rule 5 Draft, it would help the Blue Jays roster situation by freeing up some redundancy. Yangervis Solarte is the strongest candidate to be cut, and the Blue Jays can free themselves of his $5.5 Million option. Solarte had an unsightly -1.3 fWAR – helped out by negative contributions in defense, offense, and baserunning. With the emergence of guys like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in 2018 and others like Richard Urena threatening to produce even a little, that roster spot is essential for the 2019 roster.
As much as it pains me to write, Dalton Pompey might be out of Toronto this winter as well. He could easily be designated for assignment, clearing a 40-man spot and aiding in the reduction of some of the mediocre outfield clutter. Pompey’s career is Toronto has been plagued with injuries and demotions (deserved or not). It’s time for a change of scenery.
There’s also been a lot of talk about cutting reliever Jake Petricka, which I just can’t get on board with. I get that the team will need to save some money now to play on the free agent market in the future, but his raise through arbitration should net him about $1.5-1.75 Million, which doesn’t seem too bad for a reliever who’s salary you can trade in August should be have another decent season in 2019.
What Not to Do
At this point, this post is looking pretty similar to one over at Sportsnet. That’s not necessarily by design, as the author makes some solid points, but there’s some moves proposed there that many would be terribly uncomfortable with.
Moves like trading Russell Martin for a catching prospect. There’s quite a few free agent catchers available this offseason, but while they’re all mostly unsexy names in their 30’s, they’ll likely provide more value offensively that Martin. Guys like Matt Wieters, Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado and Wilson Ramos will receive those catching slots on contending teams before someone absorbs Martin’s defense-only contribution, even if the Jays pick up significant cash. As for receiving a catching prospect in return – those aren’t exactly growing on trees out in baseball’s minor leagues, but there is one team loaded with them: the Toronto Blue Jays.
Should they trade for pitching with their infield depth? Maybe. But I’m not sure why Aledmys Diaz is the guy in that proposed article. He improved in 2018, but not to the point that he would be a starter on a first-division club. He’s good, but we need to view him as the front office, and likely the rest of the league views him: as a placeholder for any combination of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Richard Urena, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Cavan Biggio.
And no, Kendrys Morales isn’t getting traded.
Let the Rest of the League Pay for Pitching
The Blue Jays could use some extra arms for 2019. JA Happ likely won’t be back, and based on the way Marco Estrada went out, he won’t be either. That leaves a rotation of Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman (and about eight usable fingers between the two of them), Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone. Even when you’re not looking to contend for a year, that’s a bit scary. There’s a good chance Sam Gaviglio continues to receive some unwatchable playing time, as well, as Stroman and Sanchez will almost definitely miss time.
So should they go all in on some more mediocre starters like Jaime Garcia in 2019? Please, no. Let the other clubs do that.
And when you take a deep look at who is out there for free agent SP, they mostly fall into two categories: late-career lottery tickets and long-term rotation mainstays. The second category should not factor into the Blue Jays plans at all.
That leaves the old guys or the reclamation projects, with names like Tyson Ross, Wade Miley, Lance Lynn, Edwin Jackson, Gio Gonzalez and Clay Buchholz out there. All of these guys would seem like suitable stop gaps to keep Sam Gaviglio off the mound, but aren’t necessarily useful in that they’ll push the likes of Reid-Foley and Pannone back to Buffalo. Which we’ll get into now.
Let the Kids Play
From May to early August, the Blue Jays were mostly unwatchable. Then it happened, what we’ve been secretly waiting for since the team fell out of realistic contention in April 2016: The Kids.
First, we saw the emergence of Danny Jansen behind the plate. A solid defender and doubles machine. Then Rowdy Tellez, a higher-end version of a doubles machine with some glaring weaknesses, but an excellent debut. We’d already witnessed the pure joy and flair that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. brings to the park, and by September, Richard Urena, Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Alford were all receiving plenty of playing time, and holding their own against some surprisingly competitive teams.
That’s without mentioning the young arms, with Ryan Borucki and Thomas Pannone exceeding expectations and Sean Reid-Foley showing signs of brilliance late in the season. If fan entertainment means anything, which it damn well better after using it as an excuse for not making moves last winter, then the Blue Jays need to go with the youth and not delay their development pitching to the Org Guys of the International League.
And that’s it, really. With the Red Sox and Yankees (and Rays?!) building powerhouses, pushing towards contention in 2019 is mostly out of the question. I know that second Wild Card slot is tempting, but mortgaging your future for one game isn’t just unwise, it’s irresponsible (hi, Twins).
The next few years will be lean, but there is a prize at the end, and the pieces are in place to move in that direction.
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.