What should the Blue Jays do as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches?
For those who advocate against a reset/rebuild, two reasons are usually offered. First, the Blue Jays have a window of opportunity to challenge for a playoff spot in 2018 and possibly 2019. The second rationale cited is that fielding a non-competitive team will significantly reduce team and television revenues. But what if the chances to secure a postseason spot are not likely in the next two seasons? Also, what if the impact on revenues is not as critical as some suggest?
Let’s start by looking at some of the key Blue Jays going forward. Because age is an important factor to consider, the ages presented are as at January 1 of the noted season.
The contracts of Jose Bautista, Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Smith will expire after the 2017 season. For simplicity sake, I will assume any player with a ZiPS updated projected fWAR below 2.0 in 2017 will not return. Hence, only Estrada will be on the 2018 roster from this list.
The Blue Jays are currently the oldest team in MLB and will likely be one of, if not, the oldest in 2018
For the 2018 season, the key players would be J.A. Happ (35), Marco Estrada (34), Russ Martin (34), Kendrys Morales (34), Steve Pearce (34), Troy Tulowitzki (33), Josh Donaldson (32), Justin Smoak (31), Kevin Pillar (28), and Devon Travis (26).
According to the ZiPS 2017 projections update, only four position players have a projected fWAR above 2. Those players are Donaldson (3.8), Martin (2.8), Smoak (2.7), and Pillar (2.1). Will a sufficient number of players produce a future fWAR consistent with that of a playoff-bound team? Well, let’s look at 2018 and 2019 projected fWARs for the key position players.
The Blue Jays projected 2018 and 2019 fWAR figures show a core in decline
For the players, with the exception of Smoak, I started with their second best fWAR from 2015, 2016, and the 2017 ZiPS updated projection. For Smoak, I assumed his 2017 season is sustainable and used that figure. To those numbers, I applied the aging curve that FanGraphs has used in the past.
My projected 2018 fWAR figures are as follows: Martin (2.3), Morales (0.2), Pearce (-0.1), Tulowitzki (1.8), Donaldson (7.1), Smoak (2.2), Pillar (3.2), and Travis (2.6). For 2019, the numbers are as follows: Martin (1.8), Morales (-0.3), Tulowitzki (1.3), Donaldson (6.6), Smoak (1.7), Pillar (3.2), and Travis (2.8). I dropped Pearce from the 2019 roster because his 2018 projected fWAR was below 2.0.
The 2017-2018 free agent class is not bountiful with candidates whose skills align neatly with Blue Jays needs and organizational goals. Additionally, it would be highly doubtful that the Blue Jays could make trades from their roster for quality major-league players. Furthermore, other than Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford, the farm system is unlikely to bolster the roster in a meaningful way.
My view is that the position players will, as a group ex-Donaldson, perform less well in 2018 and 2019. While the roster can be supplemented through free agents, the problem is that the core will be in decline. Therefore, free agents would need to perform well enough to not only fill roster holes but also partially cover the deficiencies of the aging core.
Therefore, I think it is unlikely that the Blue Jays will make the playoffs in 2018 and 2019. Consequently, the Blue Jays should hit the reset button between now and the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline. The objective should be to build a competitive team for the 2020 season, largely through the acquisition of young talent.
How important are the Blue Jays to Rogers?
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The second matter to address is the concern for the impact of a reset/rebuild on revenues. The Blue Jays and other media entities accounted for only 3.3% of Rogers 2016 total adjusted operating profit. Therefore, a short-term revenue loss from the Blue Jays is immaterial to a company as large as Rogers.
What happens if the club does not hit the reset button and they fail to make the playoffs? Because the minor leagues are not well-stocked to meet short-term needs, the team will likely struggle for an extended period. Also, by attempting to keep the window open, the Blue Jays would have missed an opportunity to acquire high-quality prospects. Therefore, hitting the reset button now may shorten the period of revenue decline.
What are the organizational goals of the Blue Jays?
Mark Shapiro recently addressed this topic.
"If we build this organization through our philosophy with an obsessive focus on acquiring and developing the best young talent and strategically building a balanced major-league roster, we will have an opportunity to sustain a championship-calibre team."
Putting Mark Shapiro’s words into action sooner will be better for all Blue Jays stakeholders.