Toronto Blue Jays: Five ways they could win the draft

SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 5: Commissioner Allan H. Bud Selig at the podium during the MLB First-Year Player Draft at the MLB Network Studio on June 5, 2014 in Secacucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 5: Commissioner Allan H. Bud Selig at the podium during the MLB First-Year Player Draft at the MLB Network Studio on June 5, 2014 in Secacucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The upcoming 2020 draft will be remarkable for many reasons. Does a remarkable draft imply remarkable opportunities for the Blue Jays?

The 2020 draft will be unusual for many reasons – the 5 round limit, the $20k cap on free-agent signings, etc.  Do these unique factors – and the economic factors which caused them – create opportunities for Toronto?

They might.  Particularly if the Jays were (as they appear to be) in a stronger financial position than many other teams, and willing to use some of that financial strength to their advantage.

So how might they do that?

First-round slippage

The Jays are picking 5th in the first round.  Most forecasters believe that Spencer Torkelson and Austin Martin should go 1-2 in some order, followed (again, in some order) by Asa Lacy, Emerson Hancock, and Nick Gonzales. But the four teams picking ahead of Toronto – Detroit, Baltimore, Miami, and Kansas City – are also four of the teams with the lowest revenues, and potentially four teams who would be most affected by the 2020 projected $4 billion MLB loss.  The slot for the #1 pick is over $8 million, and Torkelson and Martin are both represented by Scott Boras.

So imagine the scenario where a player like Tork tells Detroit that he expects top dollar – Adley Rutschman money – and Detroit et al tell him that they just can’t afford it. Torkelson (or Martin) slips to the Jays at #5, where they get a chance at a crazy-good player (albeit at a crazy-high price)

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Buying picks

As a general rule, teams can not trade or sell their draft picks. There is an exception, however, for competitive balance draft picks.

So imagine a scenario where a team like Baltimore, who holds the first competitive balance pick (#30 overall) is hurting financially to the point where the $2.4m slot value for that pick is problematic.

They could, of course, take a lesser player, who is willing to accept much less money.  Or they could trade the pick to Toronto for a player or players whose signing bonuses have already been paid. Or (if the Orioles were REALLY hurting) they could package that pick with a player like Alex Cobb, who is still owed $15m in 2021 as a Jay Bruce-style salary dump.

Game the market

There are players whose value and draft position are hard to predict.  Like J.T. Ginn, who was drafted first round by the Dodgers in 2018 but elected college instead.  Ginn has plenty of talent, but he had Tommy John surgery in early 2020, which increases his risk.  Ginn is projected to go in the 25-40 range, and so would ordinarily be unlikely to fall to the Jays with their second pick at #42. But Ginn is likely looking for top dollar, after passing up a $2m+ payday in 2018.

Suppose the Jays agreed to pay him first-round money (say, $2.5-3.0m), even if he were taken at #42?  He might then tell teams that he would not sign for less, which could end up with his still being available. The Jays might have to punt some combination of rounds 3-5 to afford him, but it could be argued that two elite prospects are better than one elite and four maybes.

Play fair with the 5th rounders

Some writers have speculated that teams will try to take advantage of their 5th round picks.  They would tell a young player “he slot for this pick is $300k-ish.  I will offer you $100k.  If you refuse, you will have to sign for $20k.  Your choice”.  If the Jays were one of the teams who did NOT do that – who told their highest-ranked 5th rounders that they would be paying full slot or close to it – those kids might still be available for the Jays.

Target the $20k crop

Under the 2020 rules, any prospect not signed in the first five rounds can only receive a maximum $20k signing bonus.  This largely takes the money out of the equation, forcing young players to choose which team to sign with based on other factors.

The Jays might have a good story to sell – pointing out how they led the league in increasing MiLB salaries; how they have invested in a new, state-of-the-art training facility (where the players might be spending time if there is no 2020 MiLB season); how they have a reputation of accepting player differences and not forcing everyone into cookie-cutter conformity; and how they are a young, up-and-coming team who is projected to be serious World Series contenders in 2024 (when many of these young players would be reaching the majors).

Next. Blue Jays and the MLB/MLBPA Short-Season Dispute. dark

The bottom line

The 2020 draft will be difficult.  But in that difficulty, there is an opportunity for a team that is willing to think creatively and take a few well-calculated financial risks.  I hope that the Jays might be that team.