Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Flip This Team: The Blue Jays in 2019

A bold predication: no one Jays opening day roster will necessarily be on the team after the All-Star game.  Clearly, the Jays won't have a full turnover for the entire team but -- with one or two possible exceptions depending on who is on the team on opening day  -- I think the Jays upper management (Atkins and Shapiro) are willing to at least listen to offers for just about anyone.  That might not, and I think will not, make some players happy but (again, with a possible exception or two), I think that the Jays front office projects a potentially different team in a few years. I'd also look for something on the order of 90+ losses and I don't think this concerns the front office either.

What this means is that the Jays will be a very active team. Expect a lot of changes as the year goes along. How so? Well, several things that I'd note in no particular order.

  1. I don't think Kevin Pillar is guaranteed a job. Pillar's value has been declining. He is a bit of a fan favour (although his homophobic comments might have been the beginning of the end for him in TO), but his offensive numbers have never been good and his defensive numbers have been declining. Each year we are treated to some sort of erudition about how "Kevin Pillar has found his swing." Each year, after a hot streak, it turns out to not be true. Pillar has value. I see him more as an NL fifth outfielder (and I think he would be really good in that role), but I am not at all certain that he will be with the Jays for much longer. His commitment to aggressiveness at the plate, for instance, seems misplaced noting the numbers it has brought him and seems out of step with the Jays new field level management. 
  2. Justin Smoak is a good player. Tellez might make the Jays out of Spring training as a back up, but Morales will likely occupy that spot along with his FT role as DH. Few AL teams carry a guy who just backs up 1B. Smoak is good both defensively and offensively. A team that has trouble at 1B and finds itself in the hunt might be looking for the kind of help he can bring and he is not expensive. He is exactly the kind of player that one might deal two mid-range prospects to acquire on a "if needed" basis. 
  3. Morales is in the last year of his contract so this is his last year as a Jay one way or the other. I'd look to either Tellez or Hernandez as the shorter-term DH solutions. Hernandez is not bad with the bat. He needs to take another step forward and he is one of the potential exceptions who could be with the Jays the entire year. But his defense is bad; he really cannot play the field. The Jays will look for some sort of deal for Morales and one might pop up among a contender that needs short-term support if he hits well at the start of the season. His career, however, is just about done one way or the other. 
  4. Stroman and Sanchez were once predicated as the core of rejuvenated pitching rotation. No longer. Sanchez has had two lost seasons and his agent's act (never popular with the Jays front office) has worn pretty thin. Boras (his agent) has tried to talk him up (but when your own agent is the only one talking you up ...)  and he is young enough that he could bounce back and pitch really well for several seasons. I think Shapiro and Atkins see this as enhanced trade value, as opposed to reason to keep him. The Jays have pitching prospects. As for Stroman, asking for an extension immediately after a horrible season is, well, an ask and you can ask for whatever you want, but having a minor fit on TV about it when not getting what he wanted did not endear him to the Jays. To be clear, one of the things the Jays wanted from Stroman was to exercise some veteran leadership. He's not a veteran but he's not a kid anymore and this failure to set a good example did not, I think, go over well (although Atkins will just keep smiling and never say for sure). There are teams that are interested in him and ... well ... the Jays have pitching prospects. 
  5. Luke Maile: he really can't hit but he's a good backup. He knows his role, is a team player, can make the odd offensive contribution, but is willing to come in late and play D. Some teams don't spend a lot of time on a good backup catcher and that is just fine ... until you need one ... and you need one more than you might think. Catcher is the one position on the field that really cannot be a day-in-day-out position. With the exception of a few players who are in the Hall of Fame, all catchers need rest. They can't play both ends of double headers (at least at catcher), often need one day per week off (a Sunday day game after a late Saturday game). Maile has played this role on the Jays for a couple of seasons: well last year; not well the year before, but he can play it and someone will likely need him as the season goes along. 
  6. Bullpen pitchers: are unpredictable. There are pitchers I like in the Jays pen, at least among the guys who will start the season (Giles, Tepera, Mayza, Biagini), but the unpredictability of a lot of bullpen pitchers means that making longer-term commitments to them is, well, something that most teams don't do. This is something that baseball will likely rethink as we start to see changes in the way in which bullpens are used (think Tampa Bay and the "opener"), but there is a good chance that none of these guys will be contributing to a Jays team that could contend in two or three years and so keeping them when they could bring some return seems like a no-brainer. Likewise, it will be difficult to keep all the potential bullpen arms the Jays have on their roster and so someone will be moving through waivers. What that means is that you might give them up for nothing and so trading and getting something back is a no-brainer. 
  7. Guys brought in to flip: there are a number of players on the roster who I think the Jays intend to flip just because of their age means that they are not long-term solutions to problems or pieces that will help the team contend when it becomes a contender. This includes Buckholz, Shoemaker, Axford in the pen, and Richard. These guys are being called "veteran depth" and I think no firm decision has been made about them one way or the other (are they on the team or not?). The Jays got a fair amount out of flipping some veteran pieces that were brought in at a low cost last year so they have repeated the act this year, picking up pieces no one else wanted. None of these players are going to command a Grade A prospect, but the Jays are not looking for a Grade A prospect for them (they would take one if they could get one but they already have those). What they are looking for is more mid-range prospects who they can sort through and see if they have either role players or a late developer. If these guys don't work out ... well ... not much has been lost. They are all on low salary one year contracts. 

Overall, then, you can expect a lot of movement in terms of the Jays roster. I've not listed everyone who could be on the block because that includes virtually the entire team. I think Jansen is not on the block. He's one of their top prospects and a potential catcher of the future. The core of young players (Vlad Jr, Bichette, Biggio, Alford and their younger pitchers like Reid-Foley, Barouki, Pannonne) are all not up to be traded because these guys are the guys who are going to be playing game in and game out in September and next year. The Jays, however, are two years away from being in the playoff hunt (or, likely two years away) so the question is not who is the best player who should be on the field but who are going to be the players who are going to be on the field in two of three years time. I can see a rotation that includes Nate Pearson, Reid-Foley, Barouki but not Stroman or Sanchez.  Smoak's greatest value for the Jays (and I like him) is the prospects he can bring back. 

With whom will the Jays trade? It is too early to tell, because that will depend on team needs and who is in contention at the All-Star break. It will not be a winning season but the Jays should be an exciting team. And, they should be even more exciting to watch after the break when we start to see who has made the cut (does McKinney have role on the team, will Grichuk end up in centre, is Tellez or Hernandez the DH of the future) and how the young core (who we will see this year for sure) is coming along. 

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