Making the 2017 Blue Jays—Armchair GM: Cautiously Optimistic Scenario

What might the Blue Jays look like in 2017 with a solid payroll boost?

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After entertaining a rather fantastically pessimistic scenario in the first Armchair GM instalment, we move on to a much more realistic scenario: Payroll is rising from its current level of $127.5 million (guaranteed contracts, arbitration estimates and pre-arb guys) and from last year’s opening day payroll of $136,782,027.

We’ll also assume a higher year end payroll than 2016 (the Jays added about $22 million [not pro-rated] around the deadline). We’ll set $150 million as the upper limit of the budget for opening day 2017—an increase of $13,217,973 million over 2016.

There is $22.5 million to play with beyond the current roster situation:

C Russell Martin
1B Justin Smoak
2B Devon Travis
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Melvin Upton
CF Kevin Pillar
RF Dalton Pompey
DH Chris Colabello

Bench:

C  A.J Jimenez
IF Darwin Barney
IF Ryan Goins
OF Ezequiel Carrera

SP Estrada
SP Happ
SP Stroman
SP Sanchez
SP Liriano

RP Osuna
RP Grilli
RP Loup
RP Tepera
RP Schultz
SP/RP Bolsinger
SP/RP Biagini

Signing Edwin Encarnacion isn’t feasible with a $150m budget. You might have to shed some salary from the roster above just to make room for his contract and that wouldn’t leave anything left to fill the club’s other needs. There about 5 spots that need filling and with $22.5m in available funds that’s $4.5m per player.

Even by freeing up some space with the trades suggested in the dystopian scenario, there’s still not enough room to substantially improve the team and drop ~$23m on Edwin. I’m also passing on Jose Bautista (overvalued) and Michael Saunders (too big of a question mark).

  • Sign C Jason Castro. Castro will be more expensive than you’d generally want to go for a backup but Russell Martin has played too much over the past two seasons. They need a back up to carry a significant workload and possibly take over starting duties in 2018 or 2019. Castro has been the Astros’ primary catcher for four years. He’s decent offensively for a catcher and very solid defensively—especially with pitch framing. He’s ranked near the top framing-wise in each of the past three years. $19.5m over 3 years.
  • Non-tender Josh Thole. Saves ~$900k
  • Use Smoak-Qualls gambit from the dystopian scenario. Moving on from Smoak is addition by subtraction. Taking on Qualls helps offset salary for the Rockies and gives the Jays another Grilli-like bullpen arm with a chance at a turnaround. It also saves $350k
  • Sign Steve Pearce. He plays nearly everywhere, does so decently (best at 1B) and swings a mean stick. He can fill a hole at 1B and provide a more offensive option in the outfield when needed. $10m over 2 years.
  • Trade Ezequiel Carrera to the A’s for Liam Hendriks. Carrera’s value will likely never be higher. Liam’s ERA was average with the A’s last year but his peripherals remained excellent. The Croc is due for a bounce back. The A’s don’t really have an outfield at the moment so Carrera helps fill their need while Hendriks improves a thin Jays pen. Both players are controllable until 2020. It also saves (based on arb. estimates) $250k.
  • Sign Junichi Tazawa. $7m over 2 years. He didn’t have a great year but a change of scenery will likely do him good—perhaps especially with the Blue Jays. Toronto has crushed him in the past. If you remove his numbers vs Toronto, his career ERA improves from 3.58 to 3.21. In 2016, Tazawa also contended with a HR/FB 6% higher than his career average.
  • Sign J.P Howell. $8m over 2 years. Howell is a lefty, similar but somewhat less effective than Brett Cecil. He’ll be cheaper than Cecil and is less prone to prolonged slumps.
  • Sign James Loney $1.5m one year + bonuses. Provides a cheap left-handed compliment to Pearce at first and allows the use of Pearce’s flexibility elsewhere. Chris Colabello will provide insurance and competition.
  • Sign Gregor Blanco $1.5m one year + bonuses. Blanco is a high OBP 4th outfielder coming off a down season. Capable of starting if needed.
  • Use the remaining $2m on cheap show-me type deals to compete for a bench spot, 7th starter or bullpen role. E.g. Rickie Weeks, Andres Blanco, Josh Hamilton, Kevin Jepsen, Charlie Furbush, Shawn Tolleson, Henderson Alvarez. Provides competition and insurance on Goins, G. Blanco, Qualls and injury scenarios

C Russell Martin
1B Steve Pearce
2B Devon Travis
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Melvin Upton
CF Kevin Pillar
RF Dalton Pompey
DH Gregor Blanco

Bench:

C  Jason Castro
IF Darwin Barney
1B James Loney
IF Ryan Goins

SP Estrada
SP Happ
SP Stroman
SP Sanchez
SP Liriano

RP Osuna
RP Grilli
RP JP Howell
RP Tazawa
RP Hendriks
RP Qualls
SP/RP Biagini

This is a probable playoff team in my eyes. The lineup is certainly less scary but it’s more flexible with better speed and superior contact. Blanco’s just been slotted in the DH spot to put him somewhere. There’s no primary DH here and it can be utilized for rest and optimal match-ups. It’s a net downgrade offensively but significantly improved defensively. The bullpen too is definitively better and more qualified than it was last year.

It’s a brand new direction for the Blue Jays’ franchise: a defense and pitching first team. But it’s certainly not a bad offensive roster either. This roster won’t bludgeon opponents into submission but it will grind, hustle and hold leads better.

Of course, even more money is preferable and would allow for an even better team but $150m would be enough payroll to compete again.

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