Instead of focusing on external acquisitions, maybe the Toronto Blue Jays best path forward is keeping the team they have built together.
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“We became, in my opinion, the best team in baseball. But it was just a tick too late.” – Marcus Semien, during his end of season interview.
The 2021 Toronto Blue Jays season was a roller coaster ride, both for players and fans. It saw the team call three different stadiums home. A late season run that saw the team go 19-9 in September and 3-0 in October had Jays fans dreaming of a playoff berth.
Unfortunately they fell just short. In spite of an impressive 91-71 record, tied for 6th best in franchise history, they were one game behind the two wild card teams, the Yankees and Red Sox, at 92-70 each.
It’s not too hard to see that having the team the Jays ended 2021 with for all of 2022 would be expected to earn a playoff spot.
Let’s look at a few key players:
Jose Berrios, the Jays’ key trade deadline acquisition, had 1.7 fWAR in 12 games for Toronto. Assuming he pitches in 30 games in 2022 with similar effectiveness, that would be 4.25 fWAR, an increase of 2.55.
Rookie Alek Manoah started the 2021 season in AAA, and didn’t make his MLB debut until late May. He was still good for 2.0 fWAR in 20 games. So again, assuming 30 games over a full season in 2022 with similar production, the resulting 3.0 fWAR adds another win to next year’s team.
George Springer showed that when he is healthy, he is every bit the elite player the Jays paid top dollar to in free agency. He was good for 2.4 fWAR in only 78 games. The tricky part is trying to estimate how many games he will play in 2022. Optimistically assuming he will be healthy and double his games played total from 2021, add another 2.4 fWAR to the team.
Adding 5.95 fWAR, call it 6, and all of a sudden 91 wins becomes 97. That would easily have earned the Jays the first wild card spot in 2021, and they would even have challenged the Tampa Bay Rays (100-62) for the AL East title
Now that the Jays are in the off season, they need to decide what their best course of action is, to move forward in 2022 and beyond. For me, I think their biggest focus should be keeping most of the current team together.
The good news is that most of their players are under contract or team control through at least 2022 and in most cases longer. They should focus on re-signing Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien and (for the right price) Steven Matz.
The Jays had a payroll of approximately $150 million in 2021, which includes the following amounts:
Robbie Ray $8 million
Marcus Semien $18 million
Kirby Yates $5.5 million
David Phelps $1.75 million
Joakim Soria $1.22 million
Tanner Roark $12 million
Troy Tulowitzki $4 million
Shun Yamaguchi $3.175 million
Brad Hand $1.975 million
Add all of that up and it comes to $55.62 million. If the Jays wanted, they could pay Ray and Semien $25 million per season each and not increase their payroll at all!
In my opinion, Ray and Semien are the perfect duo for the Jays to re-sign as free agents. They have a recent history of excellent performance, they are both young enough to reasonably expect a few more good seasons before eventual decline, but they aren’t so young, with a phenomenal track record that they can reasonably expect a Tatis like deal. Hopefully the Jays will give those to Guerrero and Bichette, and with a luxury tax system in place you can only have so many players with mega contracts.
There is one change I would make to the current roster. If the Jays are serious about winning in 2022, it’s time to cut ties with Randal Grichuk.
When they signed him to a 5 year contract extension early in the 2019 season, it looked like a good move on paper. Unfortunately Grichuk has not been able to find consistency over a full season.
Looking at the position players the Jays finished the 2021 season with, Grichuk had one of the lowest fWARs (0.4). Only Breyvic Valera (0.3), Cavan Biggio (-0.1) and Jarrod Dyson (-0.1) had lower fWARs. Valera had 0.3 in 39 games with the Jays, Grichuk had 0.4 in 149 games. Biggio played hurt for much of the 2021, I am not at all convinced that his 2021 fWAR is indicative of his future value. Dyson is who he is. His value is as a defensive replacement late in a game when the Jays have a lead, or as a pinch runner when they are tied or trailing. His OPS with the Jays was .371.
If there is another MLB team that would take Grichuk, even if it means the Jays paying a majority of his salary they need to do this. Championship caliber teams can’t afford to carry a player who is barely better than replacement level.
Early in the season, I commented that the Jays were still a work in progress. At the end of the season they were much closer to a finished product, one capable of a deep October run in 2022. They need to do what is necessary to get there. Bring back the players that help them win and cut ties with the ones that don’t.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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