What would the Blue Jays team look like, and who would they buy in free agency, if the front office put a strong emphasis on the most affordable wins above replacement?
When Blue Jays president and CEO, Mark Shapiro, joined the Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet the FAN 590, he suggested that the team would pursue free agents who could add the most WAR per dollar value, in favour of targeting specific positional needs.
What do they have right now?
As it stands, the Blue Jays payroll just above $135 million, which includes arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries (both confirmed, and projected). With an expected final payroll of around $160 million, the Jays have about $25 million to spend on a corner outfielder, a couple of bullpen arms, and a backup catcher. The current projected Blue Jays WAR totals are as followed:
**based on ZiPS projections, used players with highest projected WAR as starters
Infield – Donaldson (7.0), Tulowitzki (3.3), Martin (3.1) Travis (2.9), Pearce (1.2), Total of 17.5
Outfield – Pillar (3.2), Pompey (0.8), Carrera (0.5), Total of 5.1
DH and Bench – Morales (2.0), Jiminez (0.9), Barney (0.8), Upton (0.4), Smoak (0.4), Total of 4.5
Starters – Sanchez (4.6), Estrada (3.1), Happ (2.5), Stroman (2.2), Liriano (2.0), Total of 14.4
Bullpen – Osuna (1.4), Bolsinger (0.9), Barnes (0.7), Biagini (0.5), Grilli (0.3), Tepera (0.3), Loup (0.2), Total of 4.3
Who would make the biggest difference, but cost the least?
If the Blue Jays made no more offseason moves to help the big league team (scary thought), then the ZiPS WAR total projects to be 45.8. In comparison, the 2016 Cubs had a team WAR of 59.9 and a playoff caliber team should have a total WAR close to the 50 mark. With approximately $25 million still left to spend, the following players (ordered from best to worst in terms of talent) are players that have been linked this offseason, or can fill a need.
**expected annual salary with this WAR based on Steamer projections (but could change depending on the park and lineup they play in)
Bautista (OF) – $16 mil, 2.3 WAR, $7.0 mil/WAR
Saunders (OF) – $8 million, 0.7 WAR, $11.4 mil/WAR
Moss (OF) – $7 million, 0.3 WAR, $23.3 mil/WAR
Blanton (RHP) – $7 million, 0.4, $17.5 mil/WAR
Greg Holland (RHP) – $9 million, 0.5-1.5 WAR (coming off TJ), $9 mil/WAR
Blevins (LHP) – $6 million, 0.0 WAR, N/A
Logan (LHP) – $6 million, 0.1 WAR, $60.0 mil/WAR
Navarro (C) – $ 3 million, 0.4 WAR, $7.5 mil/WAR
In an era where analytics and sabermetrics have taken over the baseball world, it is hard to blame Shapiro and Atkins for wanting to figure out the most efficient way of spending money. The above projections suggest the signings of Bautista, Holland, and Navarro to fill out Toronto’s roster holes. Although the need for a left-handed reliever is obvious, the exponentially high $/WAR for LOOGY’s may cause the Blue Jays to try and use internal options such as Loup and Dermody or swing a trade to strengthen their pen.
It may not be the method fans want their team to approach free agency, but if the Blue Jays want to stay a playoff contender, it will have to be through smart, not emotional decisions.
Catch up on our top-30 prospect countdown: