After a great start to his career as a Blue Jay, Yangervis Solarte’s season quickly bottomed out to the point that he was not tendered a contract for 2019 and is now a free agent.
Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays’ front office made a few trades last offseason, mostly in the interest of shoring up their middle infield picture to cover for the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. In two separate moves Atkins picked up Aledmys Diaz from the St. Louis Cardinals, and Yangervis Solarte from the San Diego Padres. A year later, the lack of depth is no longer a problem in Toronto, and as a result both Diaz and Solarte are no longer with the team.
Diaz was traded to Houston for a pitching asset in Trent Thornton, and turned out to be a great pick up for the Blue Jays, especially for the cost of just J.B. Woodman, who was later cut by the Cardinals. As for Solarte, despite the fact that he started out as one of the best hitters in the Blue Jays’ lineup in 2018, the Blue Jays ultimately decided that he was no longer needed going forward.
When you look at Solarte’s season as a whole the decision makes a lot of sense, especially given the young talent the Blue Jays have in the infield picture. However, when you think back to the way that Solarte’s Blue Jay career started, it’s hard to believe it’s come to the point that he wasn’t even tendered a contract.
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Back in April, the 31 year old was one of the team’s top hitters and quickly gained the adoration of fans with his on-field play, and more importantly the positivity and energy he displayed with his new teammates. He slashed a solid .250/.348/.500 with seven home runs and and 15 RBI in the season’s opening month, and followed it up with solid performances at the plate in May and June. In fact, at the All-Star break he already had 16 home runs, 18 doubles, 48 RBI, and was slashing a respectable .241/.297/.422.
And then the second half happened.
Granted, he battled some injuries and only played 30 games after the All-Star break to the 92 he played before it, but he was a totally different player. He cratered to a .175/.204/.223 slash line in 103 at bats, and collected just one more home run and six RBI.
Fans also became very critical of the way he ran the bases, specifically when he was running out a ground ball to first base. While it didn’t infuriate me the way it did for some people I saw on social media, it definitely a bad look for him at times that I wasn’t fond of either. It also didn’t help that Devon Travis stayed healthy all year, Diaz played well and bounced around the infield a bit, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. earned regular playing time when he was healthy. Solarte had been the number three or four hitter in the lineup in the season’s opening months, and now he was looking to crack the lineup as the summer wore on.
You can’t blame former skipper John Gibbons either, as Solarte’s performance didn’t warrant getting him on the field in the second half. The Blue Jays had to prioritize getting playing time for young players like Gurriel, but Solarte was also playing poorly enough that the Blue Jays had better options. Despite having quite a bit of positional flexibility, he finished the year with a -0.7 bWAR, which again, is kinda crazy when you think about the way he started the season.
The lesson in this for the Blue Jays (and us fans) is two fold, at least to me. First, Solarte is a great reminder that we shouldn’t get too excited when a player seemingly turns a corner. Yes, it happens on occasion, just as we witnessed with guys like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in their late 20’s, but it’s pretty rare. Solarte had decent seasons in San Diego, but the hope was that he would take it to a new level at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, and for a while he did. Unfortunately once the AL pitchers got a better handle on him, he couldn’t make the adjustments to keep up and regressed to even lower than his career norms.
Secondly, it’s a good reminder of how fluid building a roster can be, especially in a rebuilding situation. It’s fun to think about a 2022 lineup that should feature Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, and maybe some veteran holdovers like Randal Grichuk or Marcus Stroman. However, so much can change in a few years that there is no way to know for sure how things will develop. I mean, back in April I was thinking about how Solarte could be a good veteran utility piece to keep around during a rebuild, and look at things now. I’m not suggesting that the Blue Jays should have commitment issues, but I do understand the reluctance to sign a player to a decade long contract when you can see a Jekyl and Hyde scenario in the same year.
Unfortunately, that’s what the Blue Jays saw in 2018 from Solarte, who was a borderline All-Star one month, and then easily expendable a short time later. I’m confident that with the depth they have and the talent on the way that Atkins made the right decision, and one that was necessary in order to give the young players playing time, and to make room on the 40 man roster.
However, it’s still hard to believe that a guy that can play multiple positions and was hitting in the middle of the lineup last spring no longer has any trade value, or enough value to the club to warrant keeping around. It’s also a good reminder of how quickly things can change.