The Blue Jays are getting down to their final roster cuts of the spring, as their Opening Day roster starts to really take shape. So naturally in this week's mailbag—the third installment of my homage to Richard Griffin's old jam at the Toronto Star—we've got questions about trading for Mike Trout (!), blowing up the roster at the July 31 trade deadline, plus an attempt at re-litigating the Justin Smoak contract.
Uh… and so much more!
And if you have a Blue Jays question you'd like me to tackle for next week, be sure to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, on with the show…
Vlad Jr., Tellez, SRF [Sean Reid-Foley], Pillar, Gurriel, Alford
Which team says no?
I'm not sure either team says no, as whomever answered this call for the Angels front office would probably have missed the chance to say anything in the rush to get a change of pants after he or she pissed themselves laughing.
I mean, I get that we're all excited about what 17-year-old Vlad Guerrero Jr. did in Rookie ball last season, and there are some other names in there who Jays fans can genuinely hope have futures in the big leagues for this club, but oh my God. Oh My God.
Trout has produced 47.7 wins above replacement in his five full big league seasons (plus a 40-game cameo in 2011). Nearly 10 wins per year. The odds of any one of those players being worth 10 wins over the course of the entire rest of his career are not particularly good. Literally! Ten wins is a hell of a lot for guys who, for the most part, we aren't yet even sure can succeed at Double-A.
The odds of all of them combining for 10 wins before they reach free agency aren't even all that good. Such is the way prospects work.
No two farm systems are created equal, so this is maybe a bit too pointless a comparison, but just for fun (and because of how staggeringly grim I think it's going to be), let's look at the Blue Jays' top 10 prospects from 2010, according to Baseball America, and see how they've done over the seven seasons since then, by total career WAR. Let's see, there's Zach Stewart (-0.5), then J.P. Arencibia (0.8), Chad Jenkins (0.1), David Cooper (-0.3), Henderson Álvarez (5.3), Jake Marisnick (2.4), Josh Roenicke (0.1), Brad Mills (-0.4), Justin Jackson (--), and Carlos Perez (1.1).
A whopping 8.6 WAR! And, depending on whether Jenkins lands anywhere, and how you count Roenicke's new deal with Pericos de Pueblo in the Mexican League, about half of them are out of baseball already! Of course, the Jays' awful system of that era is obviously not exactly representative of every group of top prospects (two years later their list would include Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, and Daniel Norris), but my point is that we need to be somewhat realistic about our expectations for prospects. Especially in relation to the best player since at least peak A-Rod, or perhaps even peak Bonds.
Not only that, think for a second what the Red Sox gave up for Chris Sale (an outstanding pitcher making less than half as much per year as Trout, but hardly the value-add Trout would be, and on a three-year deal instead of Trout's four): Yoan Moncada, ranked the No. 2 prospect in baseball by Baseball America (and 5th best by Baseball Prospectus), Michael Kopech (ranked 32nd by BA, 36th by BP, and 7th by Keith Law at ESPN Insider), plus more on top of that.
As for our hypothetical Jays package, Guerrero ranked 20th for BA, but was down at 48 for Law, and didn't make BP's top 101. The quantity of the rest of the guys doesn't make up for the lack of quality at the top. For the best player in the world, who is still a half-decade away from turning 30, you'd better be getting some kind of a slam dunk sure thing. And probably two or three.
Do you see one of those in this hypothetical? Because I sure as hell don't.
I mean, sure, a big part of Sale's trade value is the contract, but would anybody in the world take this much less for Trout than the Red Sox got for Sale? The Angels would have to be shitfaced drunk, and the other teams that didn't step up and offer more than this laughable package would have to be in some kind of a coma.
Which isn't to say that Alford and Gurriel and Tellez and Reid-Foley might not still be useful big leaguers one day, or maybe even more than that. Or that Pillar might not be able to keep hitting enough to ride his glove to 3-win seasons for a while longer. It's just… oh my God.
Who can the Jays realistically get rid of, in July, if they are out of contention?
In an era where it may only take 86 or 87 wins to get to the wild-card game, I'm not sure how much this is anything Jays fans really have to worry about. A veteran team like the Jays, built to contend, would need to have fallen pretty badly out of the race to start selling off pieces with two months still left in the season. But if things do go sideways, the easy answer here is rather simple: their impending free agents. And there are a number of them.
Bautista. Estrada. Liriano. Grilli. Howell. Smith. Barney. Upton.
Even as mere rentals, that group could definitely recoup some value for the Jays. Of course, if they all have a bunch of trade value, the Jays will probably not be in a position where they'll be thinking of trading them.
Still, if their hand was forced, it could work. The Tigers, though they still have a problematic, aging roster, did quite well for themselves with their mini-rebuild in 2015, adding Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer, and others in their deals for David Price, Yoenis Céspedes, and Joakim Soria. Perhaps the Jays could keep their competitive window open a little bit longer by taking a half step back in the middle of this year.
It's hard to see them doing anything beyond that, though. Let's be honest: the Jays will be a legitimate World Series threat for as long as an at-his-peak Josh Donaldson is here. Even if all those free agents leave for nothing, the 2018 Jays' roster will still include Donaldson, Tulo, Martin, Sanchez, Stroman, Happ, Osuna, Morales, Pearce, and Travis. The front office will be able to take another shot at the playoffs, and it's hard to see the fan base—or Rogers—having much of an appetite for anything else.
After that, all bets are off. They might figure out a path to stay competitive—keeping Donaldson would be a massive start—or we might see a couple lean years as the club starts to focus on grooming and finding more of the young players who will be the core of their next contending roster. There might be a temptation from the front office to begin that process early if things go really awry in the first four months of the 2017, but since the question said "realistically" I think we have to stop at just the guys who'll leave for nothing if they're not dealt.
Even more realistically, the Jays will contend.
Is Spring Training really an enjoyable tourist thing? Completely meaningless baseball, incredibly small samples, Florida - it all doesn't seem attractive to me.
Well, if you're going to spring training looking for meaningful baseball you're definitely going to be disappointed. And I'd be lying if I said I like the idea of spending my tourist dollars in Trump's America right now, as opposed to somewhere like Mexico or… literally anywhere else. But spring training definitely has its charms!
The atmosphere at the games is super casual (by chance I sat just in front of Tony LaCava once!), and the parks are intimate—especially Dunedin's um… rustic Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. You're out in the sun and smelling the grass and taking a brief respite from the cold, Canadian winter, striking up conversations with fellow fans, drinking light beers, indulging in the kind of bizarre excesses that you only find in the States (I'm thinking here of the complimentary basket of Danishes that you get at Lenny's in Clearwater).
Florida is Florida, I know. Sometimes you're probably going to feel like you're in some kind of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas nightmare, but there are actually way cooler bars and cooler people than you might expect in downtown St. Pete (the Bends, the Blue Goose, and Engine No. 9 at 1st Ave and MLK are worth a night), there's a Dali museum there, there are plenty of great, small Cuban and Mexican and Latin American food joints if you care enough to seek them out, and the locals in Dunedin have always been super friendly and the place has got a Florida-quaint kind of downtown with a few bars, too.
Uh… vacationing is just about going to see how the locals eat and drink, right?
Anyway, I don't know about being down there for weeks at a time—I know the media folks eventually get to griping about it—or signing yourself up for too many games, but they're a relaxed kind of fun, and I certainly will recommend it as a road trip destination. The last time I went we hit Nashville, Mobile, the Daytona 500, Dunedin, Chattanooga, and Louisville, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Even the Dunedin parts!
What contract would Smoak have gotten on the open market this off season had he been a FA?
Like Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland is a glove-first first baseman. Moreland is a lefty, while Smoak is a switch-hitter who is strongest from the left side. Moreland was a worse hitter than Smoak in 2016 according to wRC+ (87 to 90). Like Smoak he had a stronger season in 2015—117 wRC+ to Smoak's 108—but he generally hasn't been a good hitter. In 2,762 career plate appearances, Moreland has hit .254/.315/.438 and produced a wRC+ of 98. In 2,887 PA Smoak has slashed .223/.308/.392, which looks a grade worse, but because of all his time in pitcher-friendly Seattle works out to a wRC+ of 95. The way first base defence is calculated benefits Moreland when you're looking at WAR, but public metrics like UZR (which the FanGraphs version of WAR I'm quoting is based on) doesn't account for things Smoak seems to do well, like scooping balls from the dirt and in general being a good "target" and a receiver for his fellow infielders' throws.
They're basically the same guy, and Moreland signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Red Sox this winter. Had they both been on the market that number would have been a little less.
So, yes, the Jays could have done better than signing Smoak to an extension when they did. But to gripe about it—which I assume you're doing—misses internal logic that I honestly think was reasonably sound.
Back in December at Blue Jays Nation I wrote that the Jays knew that if they had let Smoak reach free agency they could have been confident in getting "a worse player for less, but you obviously don't want a worse player than Smoak. They could have [gotten] a better player for more, but they wouldn't have known how much better or how much more until free agency began—and the 'more' would have impacted what they could do elsewhere, while the 'better' might not have been better enough to justify the 'more.' Or they could have just re-signed a workable player in Justin Smoak for workable dollars and avoided having to try to thread that needle altogether."
It's not a sexy explanation, or an ambitious one, but it's an explanation. And if he ends up backing up Steve Pearce most of the time this season, as seems entirely possible, what does it even matter?
Are the Blue Jays being tricked by Spring Training Mat Latos? No way he makes a Top 30 On The Roster appearance
You seem to be unfamiliar with the state of the Jays' pitching depth! Or, perhaps, pitching depth in general.
Latos has hardly been lights out this spring—especially in the results department, where he's been uneven to say the least—but he's an intriguing arm that the club will proooooobably want to hold on to, especially with him still capable of touching 93 and 94 (and maybe even higher) on the radar gun, according to some reports. He's on a minor league deal, and he's told reporters that he'd be willing to go down to Buffalo and earn his way back into the big leagues, but that's easy to say when you're trying to look the part of team player. It won't be quite so easy if there are other teams interested in him at the end of camp, when he can exercise an opt-out clause in his contract. .
That clause definitely complicates things, because—to answer your question—no, it's not outlandish to think he makes a big league appearance for the club at all.
The way things have gone this spring, and with another strong outing on Sunday, I'd guess that Mike Bolsinger is ahead of Latos for the swingman spot at the very bottom of the Jays' 25-man roster (the fact that Bolsinger is out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers only helps his case), but keeping Latos will have a pull for the club, too, as he could certainly get a shot at some point, either as a reliever (ideally) or a spot starter. News on Monday morning of an injury to Bo Schultz perhaps clears a path for him to start the year in the majors—though with the way he's pitched that seems unlikely, and my guess would be the Jays rather send him to Buffalo with the knowledge that he has an excellent shot of still being in their plans if he pitches well. That appears to be the team's plan, as Mike Wilner says the Jays have informed Latos that he won't be making the Opening Day roster.
But that doesn't mean he won't factor in at some point if he accepts the minor league assignment. After how incredibly healthy their pitchers stayed last year, it's easy to forget that Felix Doubront, Scott Copeland, and Todd Redmond combined to make eight starts for the Jays in 2015. Beyond Bolsinger and Latos, who do the Jays even have right now? Lucas Harrell? Brett, or possibly Brent, Oberholtzer, or possibly Oberholzer?
It's not a situation where the Jays are going to go pissing away a warm body if they think he might be able to do anything that can help them. That being the case, Latos is likely going to remain on the fringes of this roster, meaning a call-up could happen at any point.
(Or maybe they'll cut him the second after I hit "publish" on this, what do I know???)