Blue Jays Mailbag: Pursuing Darvish, Non-Tender Candidates, and Sanchez's 2018 Role
Andrew Stoeten discusses the chances of Toronto landing an impact arm like Yu Darvish, arbitration eligible players who might be non-tendered, and revisits the Aaron Sanchez starter vs. reliever debate.
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
MLB's offseason remains a slow-moving affair, but we're inching ever closer to the point where teams—maybe even the Toronto Blue Jays!—actually start making some transactions as they shape their rosters for the year ahead.
But having so many storylines up in the air just means that the possibilities for how the offseason will ultimately play out remain limitless. More or less. Which is to say, Blue Jays fans are still daring to dream, and I'm still daring to throw cold water on those dreams. Now onto the mailbag!
And remember, 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. As always, I have not read any of Griff's answers.
Shouldn't the Jays just go get Darvish (6/150) already? They've got 2 guys leaving nxt year making 26m total, plus maybe(?) gives u insider edge on cheap Ohtani for 6 yrs? I realize Yu has a say in it.
Well, yeah. Yu has a say in it. You can't just "go get" a free agent—teams don't do their winter shopping like they're in a supermarket. And you especially cant just "go get" a top one—especially not at this point in the process this year. Right now it appears as though free agents are waiting to see where Ohtani lands, and perhaps even more importantly, where Giancarlo Stanton lands. Those two moves are going to significantly change the offseason plans for a couple of the league's top teams, and they're going to make the teams that miss out that much more desperate. Darvish and his agent, as well as the agents for Jake Arrieta, JD Martinez, etc., seem to believe that the offers are only going to get bigger once they're clearly the top talents available. Until that happens, there's probably not a whole lot any club could do to sign them, apart from offering to overpay them dramatically. Teams simply don't operate that way, so acting like the Jays should be and then getting upset at them for not is pretty unfair.
That said, I would absolutely love to see the Jays go after Darvish, precisely for the reason that you state. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are the only big league calibre starting pitchers that the Jays have under contract for 2019 right now. The club might have some help coming in the form of Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, T.J. Zeuch, Conner Greene, Nate Pearson, etc., but that group is and will remain very untested, and by far the most exciting among them, Pearson, the 100-mph thrower that the club picked 28th overall in the 2017 amateur draft, is the farthest away.
At this point it would behoove the Jays to add a frontline starter for beyond 2018 in any way that they can, and Darvish absolutely is that.
Next season will be Darvish's age-31 year (his birthday is in August), and though he suffered through injury troubles from 2014 to 2016 (including missing all of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery), he made 31 starts this season, and looked as good as ever doing it (provided you don't look at what he did in the playoffs). His 29.7 percent career strikeout ranks him third among starters since 2012, just behind Jose Fernandez and Max Scherzer, and just ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, and Noah Syndergaard. Darvish gives up a few more free passes than those guys, so he's probably in a tier just behind them, but he's at or near the very top of it.
Of course, all the things that are great about Darvish double as reasons why it's unlikely that the Blue Jays will land him. An owner like the late Mike Ilitch in Detroit used money to make a destination not as desirable as the New Yorks, LAs, Chicagos, or Bostons of the world into a place where top free agents would regularly go, but Rogers, likely by its very nature as a publicly traded company, has only rarely been able to do the same. And no matter who has been running the club during the Rogers era, concern about future payrolls has been ever present. It's just not a situation where it seems like ownership will often say "do something bold and don't worry about it if it doesn't work out," the way that we see, say, the Red Sox make free agent mistakes (Pablo Sandoval, for example) that never seem to hamper them the next time they need to spend big. It's dumb and it shouldn't be, but with rare exceptions like Russell Martin and AJ Burnett, it's the way it is.
The only thing that might give me a little bit of hope on the Jays being able to land Darvish is the fact that he's seen first hand what this city, and this country, and the Rogers Centre itself are like when the Jays are a winning team. Winning is great wherever you go, I'm sure, but the thing the Jays have, that Darvish saw with the Rangers in 2015 and 2016, can be pretty damned special. Maybe there's some kind of an edge in that for the Jays. But first they'd have to actually want to spend the money—and feel unafraid of spending that money—to be able to use that edge. And even then, it's probably not nearly as good an edge as the really glamourous teams can offer anyway.
So, unfortunately, I just don't see it happening.
More importantly, if it did happen, it wouldn't be because the Jays had just "gone out" and signed the guy. There's a whole lot more to it than that.
Sign Ben Revere to a one year contract
Offer Brett Lawrie a minor league look
I mean, I see how you've identified the fact that the Jays could use an outfielder and a versatile infielder, which is good, but the thing about Revere and Lawrie is that they are, in fact, quite bad. Revere's last two seasons have produced on-base percentages of .260 and .308, and wRC+ marks of 47 and 77. He's bad. And that weirdo Lawrie just missed an entire season because of injury, was hardly durable before then, and is coming off OBP years of .301, .299, and .310. In 2016 it looks like he tried to add more loft to his swing, significantly cutting down on the number of ground balls that he hit, but in the process striking out a ton—his 28.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016 was nearly double what it was in his Blue Jays days. All of which is to say, he is also bad.
Hard pass on these two.
Which arbitration eligible players will the Jays non-tender by Friday's deadline?
That's a tough question, and it's going to be interesting to see where the Blue Jays go with this. The Jays have 11 arbitration eligible players this year, seven of which are slam dunks to be tendered a contract: Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, and Dominic Leone. That leaves Tom Koehler, Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Goins, and Aaron Loup on the bubble—so let’s look at their cases more closely.
Koehler, who—according to MLBTR’s projections—is due about $6 million in arbitration, seems like a no-brainer to get non-tendered. Uh… I think. I know the Jays are wanting for pitching depth, and that Koehler was actually rather decent for the club down the stretch (a 2.65 ERA and 18 strikeouts to six walks in 17 innings, mostly as a reliever), but that just doesn't seem like a good use of that money. Then again, he was a durable back-end starter for the Marlins for four years before things went sideways in 2017, and if the Jays think that they can get a bunch of innings out of him, it's not entirely crazy for them to tender him a contract. I'm skeptical of that, though.
Whether or not Goins gets a contract will come down to how the Jays feel about their depth. Richard Urena and the recently acquired Gift Ngoepe are similar players to Goins, but there isn't a whole lot behind them in the all-glove, no-bat infielder department—plus, Urena is still probably best served playing every day in the minors. So, with a projected salary of $1.8 million, I think Goins probably gets tendered, but probably for the last time.
Carrera might not be tendered a contract on a team with a proper complement of outfielders, but it would be hard to see the Jays, as constituted, getting rid of him. I'm sure that just like we do, the front office sees the huge potential for regression in his bat, and the rough edges in his game (to put it politely), but my guess is that they'd keep him as insurance while still hoping to upgrade at his position. With a projected salary of $1.9 million, it's not a big hit if they do keep him, and that amount shouldn't be prohibitive to trading him down the line, should that be where the offseason ends up going (as we all hope and pray that it does).
The last guy on the bubble is Loup, who was a fairly reliable member of the Jays' bullpen in 2017, and by some measures certainly pitched better than he had in 2015 or 2016. His ERA of 3.75 looks nice enough (especially compared to 2016's 5.02 mark), and he was worth more than half a win per FanGraphs. But those aren't exactly the best stats with which to evaluate relievers. Looking deeper, free passes were a problem for Loup in 2017, as he issued 34 walks in 57.2 innings (though five of those were intentional), and hit six batters (a number that I'm sure will feel low to anybody who actually watched him all year). And while his 64 strikeouts were impressive, and his BABIP was quite high, I think there are enough red flags—for example, this was his third straight season with a .340-ish BABIP, which hurts the argument that he was just unlucky, and left-handers slashed .268/.356/.366 off him, which is higher than you'd expect to see from a guy viewed as a lefty specialist—that there’s a chance the Jays might look elsewhere. But, again, with the depth chart looking as it does (Tim Mayza put up some very nice peripherals in the big leagues late in the season, after having a great year in the minors, but there's not much behind him, and he'd perhaps be better served having to pitch his way onto the team rather than being handed the job with no safety net), with a projected salary of $1.8 million, maybe there's sense in keeping Loup. The real reason to non-tender him, I'd think, is that there are a whole lot of relievers on the market, and the Jays might be able to put that money toward someone better (Tony Watson, I presume?).
Is Alex going to ship the Blue Jays front office away to Atlanta?
No, but there could certainly be more defections to come. Thing is, it's not surprising at all to see GMs in new jobs looking to hire people they are familiar with, who they value, who they like working with, and who they know like working with them. That's a perfectly natural and common thing. One just sort of wishes that a lot of folks around here could have been able to better recognize such facts when Mark Shapiro arrived and quickly made a couple notable hires out of his old front office in Cleveland.
Given his injury history and past performance as a dominant reliever do you think Aaron Sanchez would be better utilized as a multi-inning shutdown reliever rather than an oft injured starter? In my opinion getting ~ 80 high leverage innings from Sanchez is far more valuable than hoping for good health and 180 innings that are not likely to happen.
Uh… he had blister. I understand being frustrated by the fact that he barely pitched this year, but this isn't a guy whose arm is falling apart—so far as we know. The idea that he's some major health risk—above the level of any pitcher, which is already pretty high because of the nature of repeatedly throwing a ball upwards of 95 or 100 mph—is based on what, exactly?
He was healthy in 2014, making 20 minor league starts before coming up in late July to pitch out of the Jays' bullpen. Yes, he had a muscle strain in 2015 that led to him missing time and then coming back as a reliever. In 2016 he made 30 starts and LED THE AMERICAN LEAGUE IN ERA. And then last year dealt with the aforementioned blister. Let's not act like this is some kind of crisis and then preemptively strip away the chance for him to provide a ridiculous amount of value. Pitching 80 high leverage innings is obviously a long way from nothing, but no, it is not "far more valuable" than "hoping for good health and 180 innings that are not likely to happen." It is, in fact, not more valuable at all. It is less valuable. Significantly less valuable. I mean, it's not like pitching out of the bullpen is some magical way to avoid injury. Sure, some guys' bodies can't hold up to the rigors of a starter's workload, but to believe that's true of Sanchez because of a blister??? Take that away and he's basically a guy who got hurt one time. Hardly anything to be so terrified about.
And we haven't even yet touched on the fact that the Jays, as it stands right now, only have four starting pitchers for 2017! And only two for 2018! You really want to rush into taking one of those away???
By no means am I ruling out the idea that one day we might have to face the idea that Sanchez is best utilized out of the bullpen (where, again, his value is far less than it is as a starter). Nor am I saying that the blister is nothing or that it necessarily needs to be a catastrophic arm injury that tells us a pitcher needs to be shifted to the bullpen to preserve his health. If Sanchez has a year in 2018 like he did in 2017, or in 2015, you'll be a whole lot closer to making sense on this. But there is absolutely no reason to give up all that value just yet.