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Blue Jays 2016 Arbitration Predictions and Decisions

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Matt Swartz and MLB Trade Rumours have published their annual predictions of arbitration salaries for all of the MLB arb-eligible players, including the nine Blue Jays who they identify as arb-eligible at the end of this season.  I say the nine that they identify, as they do not include Darwin Barney on their list.

Their estimates (and mine, for Barney) are as follows:

The first decision that the Jays face relative to these ten players is whether to offer them arbitration at all, or whether to non-tender and release them.  Non-tender is less common than offering arb, though it does happen.  For example, in December 2014 the Jays non-tendered John Mayberry Jr., Andy Dirks and Justin Smoak.

These non-tenders were done for different reasons.  For Mayberry and Dirks, the Jays did not believe that they would have room on their 2015 roster.  Justin Smoak’s case was different – he was projected to earn $3 million in arbitration, and the Jays did not want to pay that much.  So they gambled that they could release him and re-sign at a lower price (which they eventually did – $1 million).

In the case of the players above:

Brett Cecil

It is hard to imagine the Jays releasing Brett, particularly given his impressive performance in the second half of 2015.  The only exception would be if the leg injury he suffered in the playoffs were so severe as to limit his ability to play in 2016.  The more likely decision that the Jays face is whether to extend Brett for a single year, whether by arbitration or negotiation, or whether to sign him to a longer-term deal.

Michael Saunders

In 2014, Mikey would have had a WAR of 4.5 (extrapolated over a full season).  He is a bargain at $2.9 million and is unlikely to be released.  Again, the question is whether the Jays will extend him for a single year or try to “buy low” by negotiating a longer term deal while his bargaining position is reduced.

Justin Smoak

Justin is an unusual case.  He is clearly well worth a $2 million arb salary, but it is not clear where he would fit in the 2016 Jays.  Many are calling for Chris Colabello to be given more opportunities at first base, and Edwin Encarnacion will likely also want significant time at 1B if he remains an impending free agent.  That said, Justin’s 18 homers in 328 PAs were impressive, and his wRC+ of 107 was only marginally below the mlb average for first basemen of 117.  His UZR/150 at 1B was +4.6 – the highest mark of his career – and his ability to scoop errant throws was particularly valuable.  But with a four-man bench, it remains to be seen if the Jays have the room to keep both Colabello and Smoak.

Ben Revere

Revere’s salary is projected to rise to $6.7 million – not cheap, particularly given his poor defensive performance since joining the Jays.  It is not clear that the Jays will keep him (with Saunders and Pompey competing for LF at-bats) but Revere’s ability to play CF, lead off and steal bases (and his two remaining years of team control) make him worth more than $6.7m.  I predict that the Jays will trade Revere in the offseason, but if they do not I would expect them to offer arbitration.

Josh Thole

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With Dioner Navarro almost certain to leave, Josh Thole would become the Jays’ back-up catcher.  At a price of $1.8 million, I would expect the Jays to extend him for another year since (a) it is likely that the Jays will exercise Dickey’s option in 2016, (b) Martin will likely be catching ~120 games, making the backup catcher role less critical and (c) Thole’s career 77 wRC+ is bearable for a backup C.

Josh Donaldson

JD is a huge bargain at $12 million.  Can you say “no-brainer”?

Drew Hutchison

Hutch had a bad 2015.  But given the potential he showed in 2014, and the lack of other experienced pitching options in the Jays’ system, I can not imagine that the Jays would not extend him at a $2.6 million price.  That is, unless they trade him first!

Loup and Delabar

Pitching assets are pitching assets.  I can not see the Jays failing to offer arbitration to two pitchers with mlb experience, despite their 2015 struggles, when they collectively cost less than Josh Thole.

Darwin Barney

Confession time:  I like Barney.  I like his gold-glove level defense, his above-average baserunning, and his ability to play SS, 2B and 3B.   At $2.5 million, I like him as the Jays’ 2016 bench middle infielder (assuming one of Devo, Tulo and Gogo are traded).   I even like the chance of some Jacoby magic, similar to the help he gave to Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar.  I hope that the Jays would not release him.

The bottom line?  Most of the arb decisions that the Jays face in the 2015-16 offseason appear pretty straightforward.  And for the ones that are not, the deadline for offering arbitration is usually in December – after the November 9-12 GM meeting and the December 7-10 winter meetings – so the Jays should have a clearer picture of their needs before they have to make the arb decisions.

Next: Blue Jays will be fine starting Dioner Navarro over Martin

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