It was very clear that at the absolute top of the totem pole for off-season moves was adding depth to the middle infield. Mission accomplished with the additions of Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte.
Of course, there were other holes that needed fixing and one has been partially fixed with the addition of Curtis Granderson. With approximately $15 million left for 2018, how many more holes are there actually left to fill?
I went into the off-season thinking that there were the following holes that needed to be addressed by the front-office:
- Middle infield depth
- Two outfielders
- 5th starter
- Backup Catcher
- Bullpen Arms (preferably a left-hander)
As mentioned above, middle-infield depth has been solved with Diaz and Solarte. They have half solved the need for two outfielders with the addition of Granderson, who makes a perfect platoon mate with Steve Pearce. That would leave one more outfield spot open that needs to be fixed. If it is fixed with a nice answer, I would feel much better about the Blue Jays chances to secure a wildcard spot.
The last 3 holes I have ranked in order with my personal preferences and in an ideal world, I’d love to have them filled. However, over the course of the off-season, I’ve started to think the front office believes they have the in-house solutions for the last 3 on my list. Let’s look at them.
There are those who believe that adding a 5th starter could be of more importance than adding a 2nd outfielder following the Granderson signing. I am on the fence if they do need to add a 5th starter and I get the sense that the Blue Jays are warming up to the idea of having Joe Biagini open as the 5th guy in the rotation.
Biagini’s final surface stats weren’t pretty with a 3-13 record and 5.34 ERA. However, he rolled up groundballs slightly above what he did in the bullpen with a 55.7% GB rate, which does play at Rogers Centre. He also had a FIP of 4.27, which for a 5th guy, is fine. If you like using xFIP, which adjusts a pitchers HR/FB rate is adjusted to 10.5%, it was even better at 4.11.
Biagini did give up a lot of home runs as a starter in 2017. He did struggle as well but there were some bright spots throughout his stint as a starter. Biagini was turning into a starter on the fly and needed to build himself up over the course of a few weeks due to necessity based on how decimated the rotation was. Give Joe Biagini the 2017-2018 off-season to prep for a starter’s workload and compete for the 5th spot in the rotation and the results may be okay.
The Blue Jays also have the luxury to be able to afford to have Biagini as the 5th guy, because behind him there is no more Mat Latos‘ or Casey Lawrence‘s. There will be some quality young arms starting the season in Buffalo like Ryan Borucki, Taylor Guerrieri, and Chris Rowley. Any of these three arms could push Joe Biagini in the spring or at some point during the season.
Personally, I would like to see Joe Biagini open the season in Buffalo, which a lot of people would like as well. Unless a starter who the front office knows could deliver better results than Biagini out of the gate drops to their price range, they likely won’t sign someone. I believe they’re now comfortable with Joe Biagini as the 5th guy and even though I’d prefer him to start in Buffalo, I wouldn’t hate seeing Joe Biagini as the 5th guy in the Opening Day rotation.
The catcher market was one of the rare position player markets to actually have a bit of traction this off-season with guys like Chris Iannetta and others sign contracts. If the season opened today, it’s looking like Luke Maile will serve as the backup to Russell Martin. Maile didn’t hit a lick in 2017 with a 0 wRC+ in 136 plate appearances, but he will provide you with some good defense.
Maile hasn’t been known for his offense at any point in his career but pitchers do like throwing to him when he’s behind the dish, which can have a very positive effect on a starter. Russell Martin is getting old, so it would be nice to have a backup who can play 2 times per week to keep Martin fresh. But where are you going to find that on the free agent market? Currently available are the likes of A.J. Ellis, Alex Avila, Jonathan Lucroy, Miguel Montero, Carlos Ruiz, Geovany Soto, and Chris Stewart.
Lucroy and likely Alex Avila will sign on somewhere as starters or a role greater than a backup catcher. We’ve already been through the Miguel Montero experiment and it wasn’t overly impressive. A.J. Ellis had an 80 wRC+ in 163 plate appearances. Carlos Ruiz barely beat out Ellis with an 84 wRC+ in 145 plate appearances. Geovany Soto was a 0.0 win player in 13 games and can’t throw back to a pitchers mound. Finally, Chris Stewart was almost as bad as Luke Maile.
There isn’t much out there that would be a crazy, significant upgrade over Luke Maile on the free agent market. Should Maile get off to a terrible start or Russell Martin get injured, the Blue Jays will bring up one of Reese McGuire or Danny Jansen. McGuire or Jansen would take over as the everyday starter for Martin in the event of an injury. It’s likelier McGuire would come up to replace Maile as a backup, as Jansen does profile as the catcher of the future when Martin’s time in Toronto is done, so it’s important to keep Jansen getting as many at-bats as possible.
Much like the situation with Joe Biagini, there are in-house options to replace Luke Maile should he be as bad as he was in 2017. The difference with this is that there is no true upgrade on Maile available in free agency, which is why the Blue Jays likely will save the money and open up with Maile as the backup catcher.
This is the easiest to figure out. Much like last year, if bounceback arms come available on a cheap, 1-year deal, they’ll pounce on the opportunity and hope to catch lightning in a bottle like they did with Joe Smith. That, combined with the emergence of so many arms like Danny Barnes, Ryan Tepera, and Dominic Leone, the bullpen is in much better shape than last year. In my mind, this is by far the lowest on the totem pole to add to. They can have an open competition in camp with all the internal arms to fill the last 2 spots in the bullpen. Of course, should an arm come available for cheap, they’ll be added.
With approximately $15 million left to spend, it’s still quite clear to me that the top priority would be to add another outfielder to keep the young guys in Buffalo. Lorenzo Cain or Carlos Gonzalez would be great by me.
I truly believe the front office has prioritized another outfielder over the other needs based on the in-house solutions available to them. If they don’t add another outfielder, I’d be quite surprised. That would mean they’d add another starter to be the 5th guy, but at the price range they’d want to spend, the only clear upgrades over in-house solutions are free agent outfielders.
So, are there really that many holes left to fill for the front office? In a perfect world, yes. You’d like to see all of these filled. However, with budget constraints and the ability to fill with some in-house solutions, it’s looking like the front office thinks that a 2nd outfielder is how they’ll use their remaining budget and I agree with it.