Toronto Blue Jays and the “Bad” Minor League Contract

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 01: Jaime Garcia
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 01: Jaime Garcia /

There is an old saying that there is no such things as a bad minor-league contract. But is that true?

Drew Hutchison is reported to have signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies earlier this week.  Some writers had suggested (the fools!) that the he would have been a good lottery ticket for the Blue Jays.  This signing contributes to an offseason that’s been unusual in many ways, among them the high number of pitchers who are likely targeted for minor-league deals, and the Jays’ seeming unwillingness to sign any of them.

Remember last year., when the Jays gambled (alas, unsuccessfully) on T.J. House, Mat Latos, Gavin Floyd and Lucas Harrell?  Why aren’t they in this year – when as many as 40 pitchers are said to be in the market for minor league deals?

Turns out there *is* such a thing as a bad MiLB deal.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

It is probably true that the financial cost of a MiLB deal is minimal in the major league context.  But that is not the only cost of signing a Hutchison or Wade Miley.  There is also the question of innings – a limited resource.

Let me explain, in context of the 2018 Jays.

The current major league rotation is set at (in some order) Marcus StromanAaron SanchezJ.A. HappMarco EstradaJaime Garcia.  Assuming the Jays want to keep Joe Biagini stretched out as a starter (injuries do happen), the Bisons’ rotation looks like Chris RowleyThomas PannoneRyan BoruckiLuis Santos – Joe Biagini.  And New Hampshire has Sean Reid-FoleyJon HarrisT.J. ZeuchJordan RomanoAngel Perdomo.

The problem (and yes, it *does* feel strange typing these words!) is too much pitching depth in the system.  Suppose the Jays were to sign an Anibal Sanchez, or Trevor Cahill.  Where could they put them?  Those players are likely not good enough to displace any of the current major league starters, and employing one of them in Buffalo as “insurance” would mean displacing one of the current Bisons’ rotation.  It would not even be easy to push one of the Buffalo starters down to New Hampshire, as the Fisher Cats rotation is also full.

Even if the Jays do not sign any additional starters, the situation has the potential to be problematic.  Suppose Reid-Foley, Zeuch, or Harris step up in AA, and the Jays want to expose them to AAA hitting as the next step in their development.  Where to put them?  Of course, the Jays could move Biagini (or another AAA starter) to the big league bullpen, freeing up a Buffalo rotation spot that way.  But promoting a prospect before they are ready is dangerous, and taking that risk just to free up AAA innings seems like backward thinking.

Of course, injuries are always the wild card, and given Aaron Sanchez’s finger and Marco Estrada’s insomnia, the Jays might feel that they need another experienced MLB starter in Buffalo. Or it is possible that, as opening day looms, the Jays get an offer for an excellent #6 that they just can’t refuse?  Absent those situations, it appears that the Jays fans will be denied the excitement of a Mat Latos / Mike Bolsinger / Casey Lawrence experiment this season.

The bottom line

It is good to have deep depth, but even advantages bring problems, and limitations. Though I suspect that the Jays would welcome those kinds of problems!

Next: What's the best way to use Joe Biagini now?