What might the Blue Jays look like in 2017? A dystopian scenario
We’ll start with the bleakest roster scenario. This will just be a thought exercise as payroll was never going to go down and today we’ve received confirmation, of sorts, that payroll will indeed rise. We’ll imagine, heaven forbid, that the payroll not only doesn’t go up and doesn’t even reach last year’s but that it remains roughly at its current level of $127.5 million (guaranteed contracts, arbitration estimates and pre-arb guys). This one’s just for fun but it will give insight into how many lower budget teams are forced to operate.
The current roster situation is this:
It’s actually not too bad considering. This could be a .500 team.
Now, where to trim the fat and improve without spending a dime more…
One could certainly find a cheaper starting shortstop but Tulo holds a no-trade clause so that’s pretty much a non-starter for these purposes.
Russell Martin is the next most obvious, no NTC attached and he’s still valuable.
Justin Smoak is overpaid even at $4.125 million and should not have been extended. Harder to find a taker for him.
I’m not risking trading a starter:
MLB teams need to cover 32 starts on avg beyond their top 5 starters. #BlueJays covered 10 this yr. Crazy low. Enjoyed excellent health 1/2
— Mike McKee (@mjfmckee) October 24, 2016
Cant expect that to continue next yr. #BlueJays will need more than 10 extra starts. Dont trade SP. Probably need more 6th/7th types too 2/2
— Mike McKee (@mjfmckee) October 24, 2016
And JD is actually vastly underpaid. That’s about all the realistic cost cutting possibilities. Here’s where we head off into the unknown. I have no idea if these deals would work in real life because I don’t have access to the same information GMs have. Without doing the weeks of heavy lifting that actually occur to make trades like these go down, here’s some roughly hewn guesses:
Wilson Ramos is likely leaving the Nationals and Washington will need a new starting catcher. Enter Martin. Washington won’t be thrilled by the $60 million remaining on Russell’s deal. As the Blue Jays, I don’t want to further deplete my farm by sweetening the pot with a prospect. So the option left is to take back a hefty contract in return. Ryan Zimmerman is on Washington’s books until 2019 and is owed $46 million. Zimmerman had a dreadful 2016 and has been plagued by injury.
Martin is the far more useful player so Washington would need to cover some of Zimmerman’s salary. Let’s say $16 million and add in a prospect such as A.J Cole (That might be too much to ask; I don’t know much about him. But someone along those lines). So Russell Martin to Nationals and Zimmerman, $16 million over three years and A.J Cole to Blue Jays. The Nats get a great but declining catcher for just $30 million (from their perspective) over three years. Toronto saves $10 million per season by taking on Zimmerman and Cole.
Zimmerman at first means the Jays can part with Smoak. The Rockies don’t have a first baseman currently. Smoak to Colorado in exchange for taking on Chad Qualls. Saves about $400k in 2016 ($4.75m in total)
Sign James Loney for $1 million as Zimmerman’s platoon partner at first.
Sign C Alex Avila for $3.5m and C A.J Ellis for $3m. Two of the best game callers out there.
Sign OF Ryan Raburn for $1m.
Non-tender Jose Thole for a savings of ~$900k.
C Alex Avila
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Devon Travis
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Melvin Upton
CF Kevin Pillar
RF Dalton Pompey/Raburn
DH Ezequiel Carrera
C A.J Ellis
IF Darwin Barney
IF Steve Pearce
1B James Loney
Compared to the initial lineup, this is actually a significant improvement catching-wise compared to 2016 mostly because Thole and Navarro’s collective -1 WAR are off the books. Ellis and Avila together would likely be slightly less valuable than Martin in 2016. Loney’s an improvement on Colabello, Raburn competes for an outfield spot, while Zimmerman could hover around Smoak’s value. The bullpen has a much better chance of being effective with an infusion of some veteran comebackers.
This reworked roster could be roughly 2 wins better than the original without spending one penny more.
Of course, 83 wins would not be enough so thankfully the Blue Jays have far more financial room to manoeuvre in real life. Thought exercise complete.