The Blue Jays have many contract decisions to make in the offseason. Some of them are no-brainers: extending Jose Bautista at $14 million, for example, or Edwin Encarnacion at $10 million. Others, while attractive, are not as crystal-clear. Is R.A. Dickey worth $12 million? Is Mark Buehrle worth a qualifying offer of roughly $17 million?
But lost in all of these big-name big-decisions are some lesser questions – players who are not stars like Jose or Edwin, but who have the potential to add value, whether as bench/AAA depth or as trade chips.
Which brings me to the first such player: Maicer Izturis.
Maicer signed a three-year deal with the Blue Jays in November, 2012. The contract called for a salary of $3 million per year, and gave the Jays a 2016 option for $3 million with a $1 million buyout. Things did not start well – in 2013, Maicer struggled to overcome some distractions and struggled early, with a 34 wRC+ in April and 70 in May. But by June he was back up to 83, and by July he was at 93, roughly his career average. He sprained his ankle in August, ending his season.
Maicer’s improvement through 2013 gave the Jays grounds for optimism in 2014. At first, their optimism appeared justified. Maicer arrived in camp in shape and eager to prove that 2013 was an aberration. In his first 11 games, he batted .286/.324/.314 for an 81 wRC+, while shining at 2B with an 18.2 UZR/150. Things appeared to be looking up – until he suffered a season-ending tear of his lateral collateral ligament (LCL) on April 12th, in a freak tumble down the clubhouse stairs.
Maicer’s 2015 year started on a down note, with his sustaining a groin injury in spring training that caused him to miss all of April. Then, in only his fifth medical rehab game with Class-A Dunedin, he badly injured his shoulder diving for a ball. The surgery that resulted cost him the full 2015 season.
Which brings us to 2016.
It would be easy for the Jays to decline Maicer’s $3 million option, pay him the $1 million buyout, and move on. But is that the best course of action?
Maicer is always injured
One argument in favour of declining Maicer’s option is that he is “always injured”. What is the use of paying an incremental $2 million ($3m – $1m buyout) if he is just going to spend the season on the DL?
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Maicer’s injury history in 2014 and 2015 is clearly a concern. But it is hard to blame him for the dugout fall in 2014 – likeMichael Saunders
in 2015, it was more bad luck than poor conditioning or brittle bones. And in the previous three years – 2011-2013 – he missed a total of 54 games, of which 36 were due to his August 2013 ankle sprain. Clearly not a threat toCal Ripken
, but perhaps not the complete injury writeoff that some would suggest.
Maicer is not that good even when healthy
Another argument that you often hear is that Maicer is not all that good even when he is healthy. Why take a chance on him, the argument goes, when the downside so heavily outweighs the upside? It is easy to fall into this trap when you look at Maicer’s career fWAR figures, until you realize that he was playing off the bench for most of his career at Anaheim. If you extrapolate his fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) to 600 ABs (a fWAR/600), he averaged an excellent 2.8 from 2006-2012.
There is no room for him
A third argument is that there is no room for Maicer on the major league roster, and that (as a player with 5+ years of major league service) he has the right to refuse an option to the minors. This is true, but Maicer can still be optioned with his consent. Given his history of injury in 2014 and 2015, it is unclear whether other teams will be clamoring for his services. It could very well be in his best interest to accept a minor league assignment to re-establish value (and health!). The Jays could make their exercise of the option conditional on Maicer accepting a minor league assignment.
Goins is better than Izturis
The Jays could start 2015 with Devon Travis at 2B, Troy Tulowitzki at SS and Ryan Goins as the bench MI. Where would Maicer fit in? The answer lies in the words “could” and “start”. First, it is not certain that Goins will still be with the Jays in 2016, as he might be a very valuable trade commodity after his brilliant end to 2015. And even if the Jays start 2016 with those three, there are no guarantees that injuries or slumps will not create the need for replacements – as they did in 2015, and in 2014.
The bottom line? The incremental cost of retaining Maicer is $2 million ($3 mil option – $1 mil buyout). For that sum, the Jays would be getting a bench (or AAA) player with a lifetime 91 wRC+, and decent career defense at 2B and 3B. As the injury to Devon Travis demonstrated this year, depth is good. It might be good enough to be worth $2 mil (or a lower figure that the Jays could negotiate, a la Justin Smoak)