There has been much speculation concerning a potential trade for Francisco Lindor by the Toronto Blue Jays. An alternative strategy for the Blue Jays would be to consider acquiring a top-end free agent shortstop after the 2021 season.
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Bo Bichette is the Blue Jays incumbent, starting shortstop. In his brief career, he has produced a 136 wRC+, but the defence has been average, at best. Hence, trade rumours abound regarding Francisco Lindor joining the Jays. A Blue Jays acquisition of Lindor makes sense given that he has produced the highest fWAR among shortstops during the 2017-2020 period, and he is a plus defender. Furthermore, Cleveland is open to a Lindor trade now because it is doubtful that Cleveland will re-sign Lindor after the 2021 season. Also, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins know Lindor from their days with Cleveland.
A question to consider is what players would Cleveland want in exchange for Lindor? Baseball Trade Values indicates that a fair trade would be either Simeon Woods Richardson and Miguel Hiraldo or Alejandro Kirk and Anthony Kay in exchange for Lindor.
There are two things to note about these trade examples. First, these theoretical trade components are just that, speculative. However, it indicates that the player capital needed to acquire Lindor is not insignificant. Second, the trade elements above assume that the Jays do not receive permission to speak with Lindor before the trade. If the Blue Jays could extend Lindor before the transaction, the player cost will be much higher. Lindor will not come cheaply in a trade.
Status Quo Option
Instead of trading for Lindor, the Blue Jays could pursue another course of action this off-season. Toronto could opt for the status quo and re-assess after the 2021 campaign. The Blue Jays could keep Bichette as the 2021 starting shortstop and use the season to evaluate whether he is a championship-calibre shortstop. Perhaps the 2021 version of Bichette can demonstrate that he is, or will become, an average or better-than-average defender.
There is the risk that Management concludes that Bichette’s defence isn’t sufficient. Fortunately, there is a treasure trove of high-quality shortstops scheduled to be free agents after the 2021 season. Those players are as follows: Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, and Carlos Correa. Let’s call them the Group of Five. If the Blue Jays determine that a shortstop change is required, Toronto could sign a free agent after the 2021 campaign.
Table 1 contains DRS/1200, Outs Above Average/400, fWAR, fWAR/150, and wRC+ numbers. The period covered is 2017-2020, which corresponds to the period during which the relevant Statcast data is available. Table 1 includes the player’s respective number and their ranking among all shortstops with a minimum number of innings, fielding attempts, and plate appearances. The population sizes are as follows:
- DRS/1200 – shortstops with a minimum of 1,500 innings (33 players)
- OAA/400 – shortstops with a minimum of 400 fielding attempts (38 players)
- wRC+ and fWAR – shortstops with a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances (37 players)
Baez is the best of the five in terms of DRS/1200 with his #3 ranking. Next in line is Correa (#5, tie), Lindor and Story (both tied at #7), and Seager (#19).
Baez and Lindor share the top OAA/400 spot of the group with their #4 scores. Correa slipped in at #8, trailed by Story (#10) and Seager (#13).
Correa was the best hitter among all shortstops in the data set, closely followed by Seager (#2, tie). Lindor came next (tied for #6), Story was #9, and Baez ranked #12.
Overall, Lindor was the best shortstop during the 2017-2020 period. Next on the charts was Seager (#3), one grade better than Story (#4, tie). Correa (#6) and Baez (tied for #12) rounded off the list.
Bichette has demonstrated an excellent bat during his brief MLB career. He has produced a 5.2 fWAR/150, albeit in a small sample of 75 games, and a 136 wRC+. Table 2 shows that his expected metrics rank well among the five noted shortstops. Hence, it is reasonable to expect that Bichette’s bat will continue to flourish.
The question is whether his defence is championship-calibre. Therefore, if the Jays were to move Bichette to another position after the 2021 season, who among the Group of Five is better defensively and is a good hitter?
Seager is the first and only cut. As determined by DRS/1200 and OAA/400, his defence is not better than Bichette’s. Baez is the best defender, but his bat lacks on a relative basis. However, Baez also offers positional versatility.
Table 3, Table 4, Table 5, and Table 6 are contract estimates for Lindor, Correa, Story, and Baez. These theoretical deals indicate the relative market value of the remaining shortstops from the Group of Five. These hypothetical contracts are a guideline and are not gospel. The assumptions used are as follows:
- Five-year deal for each player (for the sake of consistency, comparability, and simplicity) starting in the 2022 season
- The projected fWAR in the Year 2022 (the first year of the deal) is the average of the 2021 ZiPS and Steamer projections for each player
- The ageing-curve factor reduces the previous season’s fWAR by 0.5 starting in the age-31 season
- $7 million per fWAR
The contract values for the players are as follows:
- Lindor – $192.5 million ($38.5 million AAV)
- Correa – $129.5 million ($25.9 million AAV)
- Story – $115.5 million ($23.1 million AAV)
- Baez – $77.0 million ($15.4 million AAV)
Out of interest, I estimated the contract value of Lindor’s contract if the term was ten years. The model produced a contract worth $308 million.
The Pros and Cons of the Status Quo Option
- Prospect capital can be retained or used to acquire other players.
- If Bichette’s defence is championship calibre, the Blue Jays can avoid shuffling the infield. For example, if Toronto moves Bichette to second base, the club will have to switch Cavan Biggio to another position.
- If Bichette is not adequate defensively, an opportunity to acquire a better defender would be forfeited, at least during this off-season.
- It is possible that, if the Blue Jays acquire Lindor this off-season, he may be willing to sign a long-term contract extension at a discount given the current MLB financial landscape.
The last word
Management has been very public about improving the Blue Jays this off-season. Media reports have linked free agents such as J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and Trevor Bauer to the Blue Jays. There are also trade rumours concerning Lindor, who is a top-tier shortstop. If the Blue Jays acquired him before the 2021 season, the club would be better. But, the player cost to obtain Lindor is not insignificant.
An alternative option for Toronto is to opt for the status quo and use 2021 to determine whether Bichette is a championship-calibre shortstop. If he is, then the Jays would have preserved player capital for other uses. However, suppose Bichette does not measure up as a shortstop. In that case, there is a bounty of top-tier shortstops scheduled to enter free agency after the 2021 season. My view is that the status quo option is preferable to trading for Lindor this off-season.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.