The 2015 season was both exhilarating and heartbreaking. But it will soon be over (and is already over for the Blue Jays) which means that several off-season decisions are looming. Those decisions will determine the direction that the Jays take in 2016 and beyond.
The Jays have four players with team options for 2016. These options have to be exercised (or declined) within 5 days after the end of the World Series. Two of them are no-brainers: Jose Bautista at $14 million and Edwin Encarnacion at $10 million. One of them is likely a non-starter: Maicer Izturis at $3 million. Which leaves R.A. Dickey and his $12 million option (with a $1 million buyout).
Dickey’s performance as a Blue Jays has not met expectations, with a 3.95 ERA and an average Wins Above Replacement of less than two per year. But $12 million is a bargain, even for a mid-rotation starter, and with the uncertainties surrounding the Jays’ rotation in 2016 (and Dickey’s 210+ innings pitched per year) this option sounds certain to be picked up. Even if the Jays are so fortunate on the trade and free agent markets that they no longer need Dickey, he should still bring a substantial return in trade. Prediction: option exercised.
Qualifying offers (or “QOs”) must also be extended to players within 5 days of the end of the World Series. The qualifying offer amount is high – it is the average of the top 125 player salaries from the previous year – so relatively few players receive one. The 2015-16 qualifying offer amount has been calculated at $15.8 million.
The Jays have two candidates for a qualifying offer. In an excellent piece, Keegan Matheson has examined the case for extending an offer to Marco Estrada and concluded that it would make sense. The other candidate (given that David Price can not be extended an offer, as he was traded mid-season) is Mark Buehrle.
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Papa Mark might seem an unusual candidate for a QO, but in his three years with Toronto he averaged a 3.78 ERA and 200+ innings pitched. His average fWAR of 2.5 would equate (at $7 million per win) to an annual earned salary of $17.5 million. And, again depending on the Jays’ success in finding new pitchers, his 200 innings per year could be very valuable to what might be a young Jays rotation in 2016.
There is of course a strong possibility that MB will retire. But if that happens, the QO will have cost the Jays nothing. There is also the possibility that Mark would prefer to pitch his last year or two closer to his family (and to his dog!), but that the team he chooses does not want to give up a first-round pick. In that scenario, the Jays might well agreed to a deal where they sign Mark and then immediately trade him to the team of his choice. But making a QO could be risky. Mark pitched to a stellar 3.34 ERA (3.96 FIP) in the first half of 2015, but recorded a less impressive 4.54 ERA (4.74 FIP) in the second half. Which Buehrle would the Jays get in 2016, and if the latter, would he be worth $16 million? Prediction – no QO.
In the next article I will discuss the Jays players who are arb-eligible, and which ones are likely to be offered arbitration by the Jays in December.