The Blue Jays Payroll Deception

For a team that didn’t make a single move during a very busy day at the Winter Meetings, the Blue Jays sure managed to rile up their fan base yesterday. Rogers messing with the Blue Jays payroll is always a sore spot with fans, and with a pair of articles by Blue Jays beat writers Gregor Chisolm and Shi Davidi, it has come to the forefront yet again.

All off-season, the speculation has been that the Jays have anywhere between $15-20M to spend (depending on what happens with Dioner Navarro) to help fill the remaining holes on the roster. This has been met with plenty of optimism since that should be more than enough to add a couple of bullpen arms and maybe even address the second base situation.

All of a sudden, that figure has been called in to question. From Davidi:

“The Blue Jays have roughly $119 million in guaranteed salary and arbitration projections for 16 players in 2015, and a reasonable guess for total payroll is in the neighbourhood of $140 million.

But Anthopoulos also must account for the $5.6 million in potential buyouts on the 2016 options for Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Maicer Izturis, R.A. Dickey and Ricky Romero whether they’re exercised or not.

Factor in roughly $3 million more for 0-3 service time players plus another $3-4 million cushion to pay players called up to cover injuries, and the Blue Jays are suddenly in the neighbourhood of $131.5 million, perhaps leaving Anthopoulos with only $8.5 million to work with (a number that could be lower if reports that the Blue Jays are sending about $3 million to Seattle to equalize salaries between Michael Saunders and J.A. Happ are true).

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Is the Blue Jays Offense Actually Better?

As Alex Anthopoulos and other members of the Toronto front office depart the Hilton San Diego Bayfront after a quiet 2014 Winter Meetings, the team’s focus has shifted to the need to upgrade in the bullpen.

The Blue Jays’ relief corps finished 25th in all of baseball with an ERA of 4.09 in 2014, and that was with decent performances from Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan, who have since left the squad. In fact, the only real locks to return are left-handers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder the team is working on the pen. After all, they’ve done plenty with the rest of the roster already. With a flurry of November moves, the Jays have dramatically changed the makeup of the team. The defense is better, the starting pitching has more upside and of course, the offense improv – wait a minute…

The offense? At the recent Pitch Talks event, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi referred to the offense as “clearly better.” And he’s definitely not alone there. In fact, it has sort of become the accepted viewpoint as the off-season has moved forward. But is it actually true? The club has definitely added some big names with Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the Blue Jays offense as a whole being better…colour me skeptical.

In an effort to find out, I decided to break down each position with a lineup change.
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The Blue Jays and the Need for an Ace

There is no denying that Alex Anthopoulos has done a fantastic job in the past month retooling the Blue Jays for a run at the playoffs in 2015. He has upgraded at positions that didn’t drastically need upgrades with the signing of Russell Martin and the acquisition of Josh Donaldson, and he has opened up money to fill the rest of the teams holes with the trades of Adam Lind and J.A. Happ, the latter of the two which netted Melky Cabrera‘s replacement for about half of the cost (due to the Blue Jays paying the difference between Happ and Saunders’ contract). Most are saying that the only remaining issues are finding a second baseman and adding a reliever or two, but in reality, those take a backseat to the Blue Jays need for a number one pitcher.

With the offence set to be one of the most potent in the league, the Blue Jays may be able to afford a platoon of Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis out there everyday without suffering too much. The bullpen is known for being a place where pitchers can come out of nowhere and succeed, so even that isn’t such a big concern.

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Transaction Analysis: The Michael Saunders Trade

Winter meetings? What winter meetings? Last night, Alex Anthopoulos continued his mission to finish his roster early, so that all he has to worry about when the league’s GMs meet in San Diego next week is his suntan. So far, so good I’d have to say.

After upgrading a couple of positions that the Jays were though to be pretty set at, AA finally got around to addressing one of the team’s most glaring holes, specifically the Melky Cabrera-shaped one in left field. In a move that should shock nobody, the Blue Jays and Mariners swapped pieces they had deemed expendable, with the Jays acquiring outfielder Michael Saunders for probable fifth starter J.A. Happ.

It’s a trade that seems to make a lot more sense from Toronto’s perspective than Seattle’s, but the Mariners seemed to have soured on Saunders to such an extent that they were determined to move him this off-season. They were also reportedly interested in adding depth to their starting rotation, so they’ve filled one hole while creating another. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have addressed a need in left field, while creating an opening in the rotation for one of Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris and unburdening themselves of Happ’s $6.7 million salary.

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Blue Jays Fill OF Void with Trade for Michael Saunders

Last night, in a bit of a surprise, the Blue Jays non-tendered 3 players: Justin Smoak, Andy Dirks, and John Mayberry. The reason it was a surprise was because many felt that Toronto would hold onto at least one of Mayberry or Dirks until they filled the hole in LF created by the free agency of Melky Cabrera.

While much of the focus was placed on the approximately $6.5M that the Jays saved (vs. arbitration projections) with those moves, many fans and writers also began to speculate that a move for a full-time LF must have been imminent.

Well, those people were right.

Today, Alex Anthopoulos continued his makeover of the Blue Jays, as he traded lefty J.A. Happ and his $6.7M price tag to the Seattle Mariners for left-handed hitting outfielder, Michael Saunders.

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Will Trading for Josh Donaldson Work Out for the Blue Jays?

Well I think it’s safe to say that nobody saw this one coming. The Jays might have been considered unlikely candidates to win the Russell Martin sweepstakes, but at least their interest had been well reported. In acquiring Josh Donaldson, Alex Anthopoulos donned his trusty ninja cowl and shocked the baseball world by landing an MVP-caliber player that nobody believed was even available.

At its core, this was a swap of team-controlled third basemen. Of course, since Donaldson has undoubtedly been the superior player, Toronto was required to throw in prospects Franklin Barreto, Sean Nolin, and Kendall Graveman to make up the difference in value. “Throw in” is probably doing those prospects a bit of an injustice, but we’ll worry about that in a minute. For now, let’s just focus on the upgrade the Jays have made at the hot corner. Here are the career numbers for the third basemen.

G PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ UZR/150 WAR
Brett Lawrie 345 1431 .265 .323 .426 104 6.3 7.9
Josh Donaldson 405 1691 .268 .347 .458 127 12.1 15.3

Across the board, Donaldson stands out as the better option. The only thing Lawrie has on him is prospect pedigree and a passport.

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5’s Are Wild, Jays acquire Josh Donaldson from A’s in swap of Third Basemen

The Blue Jays have acquired All-Star Third Baseman Josh Donaldson for Third Baseman Brett Lawrie, and prospects Sean Nolin, Franklin Barreto and Kendall Graveman.

There was already a feeling that there was something different about this Jays offseason, as the Jays had already spent more on one FA than all others combined in Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure as GM. Now they have dealt the Canadian born Brett Lawrie.

Last season Josh Donaldson posted a .255/.342/.456 triple slash line and is highly regarded for his defense. For those who are more sabermetrically inclined, Donaldson is coming off back to back 6+ fWAR seasons and the 3rd most fWAR over the last 2 seasons only behind MVP’s Mike Trout and Andrew McCutcheon. Donaldson is a “Super 2” Arbitration eligible which means he has 4 more years of control.

Graveman projects as a swingman in the bullpen and Nolin seems to be maxed out as a number 4 starter. As for Barreto, he was a back end of the top 100 guy according to Jordan Gorosh of Baseball Prospectus’ Prospect Team and doesn’t profile as a Shortstop longterm. Lawrie is a piece that many may not be so warm to moving, mostly due to his defense and birth certificate, though if they loved watching Lawrie’s defense, they will also love Donaldson’s. Donaldson is an even better defensive third baseman by the metrics.

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