It’s been a while since my last post, so let’s jump right in and take a look at a few things that have transpired so far in the offseason.
1. Marco Estrada Signing
It’s always a huge risk to sign a player coming off a career year. Do you reward him with a market value (or above) contract based on one year? Is his performance sustainable, or is regression to his normal output expected? With so much uncertainty, how do you put a monetary value on a new deal? The Blue Jays have had success with these transactions in the past, locking up Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion after huge years, and those deals look like steals today. I think the same thing can be said about this signing. For me, $26-million over two years is a great deal, for both the player and the team. For Estrada, he potentially could have received a third year in free agency, but more than likely at a lower average annual value. For the Blue Jays, the term is short, and at $13-million per year (on average), the salary is below market level for an elite pitcher. And let’s be honest – Estrada was elite last year, finishing in the top-10 in the AL in ERA, WHIP, and Hits/9, and flat out dominating in the playoffs. Yes he set a career high in innings and could be a regression risk, but he still has an airtight defense behind him so there is reason to expect that he can provide close to the same production. If he does, it’s a steal.
2. Jesse Chavez Trade
On the surface this is a terrible deal. Chavez is older (5 1/2 years), more expensive (by at least $3-million), comes with less years of team control (three fewer), and put up worse numbers last year (4.18 ERA, 1.35 WHIP vs. 2.92 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) than Liam Hendriks. Chavez was also a Blue Jay once before in 2012 and, quite frankly, sucked: 8.44 ERA in 21.1 IP. But while Hendriks really came into his own last year as a 6th / 7th inning reliever, here is the key difference between the two: 41. That is the additional number of starts that Chavez has made over Hendriks in the last two seasons, including 26 to 0 last year. Yes Hendriks pitched well, but finding a starter for the back end of the rotation is much more difficult than a mid-inning reliever (just ask Drew Hutchison). Going by WAR, Chavez was worth 2.8 WAR in 2014 and 2015 combined, while Hendriks was worth 0.7. If Chavez can post the same numbers he did in each of the past two years, he is an immediate upgrade over Hutchison and will go a long way to stabilizing the rotation. It might not be a popular move, but I think it’s a smart one.
Josh Donaldson won the MVP last week, becoming just the second Blue Jay to ever win the award, behind George Bell in 1987. But to me, what is even more impressive than that was the fact that the Blue Jays were represented on the ballots for every award. Roberto Osuna finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting, earning two second and two third place votes. John Gibbons finished 4th in Manager of the Year voting, including a first place vote. The Jays placed two pitchers in Cy Young voting, as David Price came 2nd and Estrada finished 10th. Finally, five Jays earned MVP votes, with Bautista (8th), Price (9th), Encarnacion (12th), and Russell Martin (24th) joining Donaldson. It marked the fourth time in team history that the Jays have received votes for all four major awards, joining 1985, 1990, and 1991, and it also broke some long gaps. The Cy Young votes for Price and Estrada were the first for a Blue Jay pitcher since 2011 when Ricky Romero finished 10th. It was the first time since Gustavo Chacin (!!) way back in 2005 that a Jay has received any ROY votes, and the first time since Cito earned a 5th place finish in 2010 that a manager has appeared on the ballot. Very impressive.
4. What’s next
Estrada is back and a starter has been added, but there is a lot of work remaining for Tony LaCava and Mark Shapiro. As it stands now, the starting rotation consists of Stroman, Estrada, Dickey, and Chavez, with Hutchison or potentially Sanchez or Osuna. Clearly one more starter (or two) would be ideal. Whether that be from the A flight of starters (Price, Greinke), B flight (Zimmermann, Cueto, Lackey), or the rest, the rotation needs to be addressed.
There have been some interesting rumours floating around that Toronto has been in contact with Cleveland, with names like Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar floating around. With the Indians in need of an outfielder, names like Pillar, Pompey, and Revere have been talked about as going the other way. Such a deal would be massive.
Then there is the whole notion of planning for life after 2016. Key players like Bautista and EE see their contracts end after next year. Donaldson is arbitration eligible and there has been some talk of getting him signed to a long term extension. Obviously those are the three most important Blue Jays, so determining their future is crucial.
Baseball’s winter meetings are less than two weeks away. You get the sense that something big is on the verge of happening.