Toronto Blue Jays News

Dollars and Sense: Value in the Blue Jays starting rotation

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May 27, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) looks over to first base during the first inning at an MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
May 27, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) looks over to first base during the first inning at an MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Toronto Blue Jays starting pitchers lead the league with 376.1 innings pitched entering Monday night

Starting pitching has carried the Toronto Blue Jays through the first third of the 2016 season, just as we expected.

With 2015’s offence just recently finding a more consistent form, the starting five have stepped up as one of the league’s top staffs. On top of leading the way in terms of innings pitched, the Blue Jays starters rank 6th in ERA and have held opposing hitters to a .228 average, third-lowest in baseball.

A crucial number beyond these stats, however, is the dollar value of the Blue Jays rotation.

R.A. Dickey      –         $12,000,000
Marco Estrada   –     $11,500,000
J.A. Happ          –         $10,000,000
Marcus Stroman  –  $515,900
Aaron Sanches    –    $517,800

This produces a total salary of $34,533,700, just a touch above David Price‘s 2016 salary.

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Both Happ and Estrada’s deals are due to increase next season (not significantly), but this rotation embodies a combination of strong baseball decisions and strong financial decisions from the Blue Jays front office.

Young starters, like Stroman and Sanchez, will always be the key to a productive payroll. The same can be said for position players in Devon Travis and Kevin Pillar, but the ability for a major league team to field young and impactful starters making the league minimum (or close) in their pre-arb and arbitration years allows for a great deal of flexibility elsewhere.

This alone highlights the importance of the MLB Draft, which begins this Thursday. Baseball isn’t just about talent, it’s about talent at the right price. With prospects such as Conner Greene, Jon Harris, Sean Reid-Foley, Angel Perdomo, and Francisco Rios coming through the system, the Blue Jays should be able to keep 1-to-2 low-cost arms in the rotation even as Stroman and Sanchez become larger financial commitments.

Dickey’s $10 million falls under such titles as ‘reasonable’ and ‘fair’ within today’s market, a rarity for a once-dominant veteran at the tail end of their career. In Estrada and Happ, however, the Blue Jays have a different variety of good business.

On the free agent market, mid-level starters can make or break a team’s payroll. While fifth starters can be found with relative ease and front-end starters come at a premium, potential number two or three starters typically see their value balloon which ends in a team accepting a slight overpay.

These deals can often backfire. The Detroit Tigers have two examples of this (in terms of 2016 dollars) as Anibal Sanchez is earning $16.8 million at age 32 and struggling greatly, while Mike Pelfrey is earning $8 million. That’s $24.8 million of payroll producing what a well-managed (or well-drafted) $1 million could. Jake Peavy is off to a very difficult start with the Giants, earning $15 million at 35, while Jorge De La Rosa and his $12.5 million salary are a mess in Colorado.

Next: Looking back on the first night of baseball at the SkyDome

For just $11.5 million, Estrada has produced a 1.5 fWAR, already approaching his 1.8 mark from last season, and has essentially been the ace of Toronto’s rotation. Happ has given the Blue Jays a 0.9 fWAR entering last night’s start, and outside of a couple rough outings, has been the same left-hander the Pittsburgh Pirates enjoyed down the stretch last season.

These performances are excellent, but the numbers on the contract look just as nice as the numbers on the stat sheets. With young talent on the way to offset the eventual loss of more expensive veterans, the low-cost value of Toronto’s rotation could offer the club far more room to manoeuvre through their upcoming decisions elsewhere on the roster.

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