Blue Jays: Why Travis Shaw is a better fit than Eric Thames

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 30: Eric Thames #7 is greeted by Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers after hitting a three run home run in the third inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on July 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 30: Eric Thames #7 is greeted by Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers after hitting a three run home run in the third inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on July 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Many Blue Jays fans were dismayed to see the bargain contract signed by Eric Thames with Washington, however, they should be happy with their own addition of Travis Shaw.

Even with an improved roster already, and being one of the top spenders so far this off-season, Blue Jays fans have been wondering if the front office’s work is done this winter.

It’s pretty safe to say that Ross Atkins and company will sign a few players to MiLB contracts in advance of Spring Training, especially since they’ve had pretty good luck going that route to supplement their bullpen over the last couple of years. However, fans have been wondering if there is one more MLB addition to the lineup coming, as there are arguably still a few needs.

One of those question marks remains with what the team will do with the designated hitter spot. That same question applied to first base until last month when the Jays signed Travis Shaw to a one-year deal, but there were still rumours of interest in other veterans, like Edwin Encarnacion for example.

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Another former Blue Jay that could have fit nicely signed with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, and after seeing the term, it’s hard not to wonder if the Blue Jays had any interest at all. That’s because Eric Thames signed a one-year deal for just four million guaranteed, earning three million in 2020 with a buyout of one million if his option isn’t picked up. That’s peanuts for a player that hit 25 home runs in 396 at-bats last season, and there’s no doubt the Blue Jays could have beat that offer.

My assumption is that they weren’t interested, and that’s because they have a better fit in their own free agent in Travis Shaw. Sure, Thames had better numbers by a long shot in 2019, and their contracts are worth close to the same amount (Shaw gets four million with incentives up to just shy of 4.7), but the Blue Jays likely made a wise decision here, for a number of reasons.

First, Shaw brings a defensive versatility that will be very helpful in Toronto next season. He’s expected to be the primary first baseman, but he’s a natural third baseman with experience at second as well, and that should be helpful when it comes to backing up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. Yes, Thames has the ability to play in an outfield corner, but he’s not exactly a defensive asset, and the Blue Jays have plenty of options there anyway.

I would also argue that Shaw has the higher ceiling of the two, as he earned an average of 4.0 bWAR from 2017-2018 before his nose dive last year. By comparison, Thames set a career high at 1.6 last year, and is at 3.4 over his five big league seasons. In reality, Thames is a bit of a one-trick pony, while Shaw can add value to multiple facets of the game when he’s right.

There’s also the fact that Shaw is arbitration eligible one more time in 2021, which could add to his value in a few different ways. If he bounces back the way that he’s expected to, he could be a bargain for the Blue Jays for two seasons worth of production. And if the front office decides they want to go with a different long-term option to go along with their budding young core, Shaw could be seen as more valuable because of the way his contract is set up. Even in a worst case scenario if he can’t sort things out in 2020, the Blue Jays can simply cut him loose at season’s end and not have to worry about a buyout.

You could definitely make the argument that the Blue Jays could have found room for both Shaw and Thames between first base, DH, and their ability to bounce around elsewhere, but that also would have come at the expense of opportunity for others, such as Rowdy Tellez, or maybe one of their many outfielders. Since Thames signed for the bargain rate of just four million guaranteed, I think it’s fairly safe to say the Blue Jays weren’t interested, and it’s fair that they want to see what they have in guys like Tellez, or possibly others like Derek Fisher or Anthony Alford.

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More importantly, they already found the veteran insurance they wanted for Tellez at first base by signing Shaw, and it’s understandable if they want to allocate money, and even roster spots in another way. While it’s a shame to see Thames go elsewhere on such a bargain deal, the Blue Jays shouldn’t feel bad about this one, and should be better off if they were choosing between the two.

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