Stoeten Opens Gregor’s Box – 01/09/17


The Griff Bag and the Benny Fresh chat seem to no longer occupy their places on the Blue Jays online landscape, and while that’s a horrible loss for all of us (but especially yours truly), we do still have one last major chatbag to be hijacked: Gregor Chisholm’s Inbox.

And while it may be the Griff Bag’s infinitely less bent cousin, and I may actually be mostly giving actual, serious answers here — and, sadly, not calling people goddamned morons — I hijacked the shit out of his latest one for anyway.

So let’s do it to it!

As always, I have not read any of Gregor’s answers. If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, submit it to Gregor in his post and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!

What do you think makes the most sense for the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista? A) One-year deal with a high salary. B) Multiyear contract with a lower average annual salary. C) Not bring him back at all.

— Josh, Waterdown, Ontario

Uh… none of the above?

This right here gets straight to the nut of the problem Bautista is facing. As true as it is that there’s no such thing as a bad one year contract, if you’re giving up a draft pick — which the Jays would essentially be doing by walking away from the pick they’re due to receive when José signs elsewhere (assuming he does so before the draft in June) — you really only want to do it for a quality player who’ll contribute to your team for a while.

I wrote a little about the value of draft picks earlier this winter, and found some great work by the Hardball Times that pegged a pick in the Jays’ range as being worth about $8 million, as best as they could quantify it. That’s not a number that would be universally accepted — a team may see things differently depending on a bunch of variables, like their market (i.e. if they’re particularly reliant on draft picks, or particularly not) and how close they feel like they are to contention — but it seems to me like a pretty fair penalty to apply for our purposes.

What it means for Bautista is that if he gets a one-year deal for $20 million, the “true” cost to a team is more like $28 million, which is a hefty price to pay for a guy projected to only a couple of wins (who maybe isn’t the most fun to have around, either). Especially when you worry that his decline at the plate in 2016 was as real as his definite and irreversible decline in the field over the last two seasons.

The cost of the pick is easier to swallow on a longer-term deal, but just how long do you want to sign him for? Given the way his market looks, there’s no need to go beyond one or two years. Shit, there may not be a need to go beyond one year.

If you’re offering him two years at $30 million, add in the pick penalty and the expected age-related decline and it’s still a high price to pay for his expected production. And if you’re offering less than that, he’d probably rather just take a one year and go back onto the market next season.

So… a one year deal on a not-so-high salary seems like the way to do it. Something like the qualifying offer, which this year was $17.2 million — and which the Jays were prepared to have been on the hook for anyway, had he taken it — would make sense enough (though I guess it’s not too far off the $20 million idea I suggested was too much a couple paragraphs ago). Even lower makes even more sense, and at this point Bautista may not have much of a choice — and coming to terms with that might be what’s delaying his signing more than anything.

As for not bringing him back at all, I don’t think that makes sense at this point. Granted, the Jays know him best, and maybe their willingness to possibly let him leave tells us something about what they think about his health and his bat speed and his personality and everything else, but it would be a huge mistake to turn up their noses at this bargain. Like, if they think he upsets the clubhouse chemistry, they should remember that he sure didn’t upset it enough to prevent the team from back-to-back ALCS berths (and he almost single-handedly dragged them into the World Series, or at least a Game Seven, with his performance in Game Six in Kansas City in 2015). And making a cheap bet on his ability to bounce back from a down year is a no-brainer.

Do you believe that the Blue Jays ever had any intention to sign Edwin Encarnacion, or was the offer only made because they knew that he would not accept it that early in free agency?

— James H., Fredericton, New Brunswick

Uhhh… yeah, I’m pretty sure the Jays’ new front office showed last winter with David Price what they think about making token offers for the sake of appearing interested in a player. And while it’s cute to think that the unbelievably dumb fallout from their decision to not formally offer Price a contract may have driven them to offer a show contract to Edwin, there’s a pretty compelling reason to think they were entirely serious: Paul Kinzer has never suggested they weren’t.

If you’re the agent getting skewered for how you cost your client $20 million and there’s even a hint that the offer from the Jays might not have been an honest one, you’d be damn sure that information gets out there somehow. You might not come out and say as much yourself, but it’s not like these agents don’t have media connections they can leak favourable information to — and it’s not like we didn’t see exactly that over the course of this saga.

Plus, the Jays’ offer was the biggest one Edwin received! Obviously nobody thought it would be at the time, but still. If it was a bluff, it would have been a hell of a shitty and reckless bluff — one that would have blown apart the club’s entire “real” offseason plan if they’d been called on it.

As much as we want to dislike the Jays’ approach here, and as much as a whole lot of that’s fair, we probably don’t need to invent an extra layer of backfired devious bullshit to get mad at.

Are the Blue Jays going to become more of a hit-and-run team next season with the loss of Encarnacion and potentially Bautista?

— Scott M., Peterborough, Ontario


Oh, should I elaborate? OK. So, other than the fact that it’s bad idea to take the at-bat out of good hitters’ hands like that, and that playing small ball is almost always counterproductive (though I’ll grant that the hit-and-run isn’t egregious like the sacrifice bunt), it’s… uh… it’s not like they’ve replaced those two guys with speed on the base paths. If you thought Eddie and José were slow, get ready for Kendrys Morales to blow yer fucken mind. And don’t think Steve Pearce is going to be a whole lot better, either.

Plus, as much as the Jays, rightly, want to get younger and more athletic (and, I think, maybe exploit a quickly disappearing market inefficiency for run-preventing position players), they sure aren’t there yet. And they sure haven’t rid themselves of guys who can’t be trusted to put the bat on the ball in those situations — *COUGH* Uption *COUGH* *COUGH* Smoak — either.

So… yeah, no.

Could the Blue Jays use some of their top prospects, like Angel Perdomo and Conner Greene, as relievers to strengthen the bullpen?

— Jesse, Le Mars, Iowa

Well, sure, they cooooould. But it’s a pretty bad idea.

We need only to look at Roberto Osuna stuck in a 70 inning role, and the fact that Aaron Sanchez may well have ended up down that same path if he took another year or two to blossom, to understand why.

I know the old school types fell all over themselves to cheer on the idea of breaking pitchers in through the bullpen like they used to (which should have been your first hint that it was probably a bad idea), but we saw last year with Sanchez how difficult it is to build a young pitcher’s innings load up after having his development as a starter derailed by a couple seasons in the bullpen.

The counter is that young arms only have so many bullets in them, so you might as well use them before they blow up, but I think the new regime is more cognizant of the problems that arise from it than the old one was. (Or maybe it’s just that they’re more invested in the club’s future, whereas Anthopoulos may have seen his eventual exit coming, especially after it became clear in the fall of 2014 that Rogers was looking to hire a baseball man, like Dan Duquette or Ken Williams, above him).

There’s an economic issue with this approach, too, because you’re starting a player’s service clock very early. Take Osuna, for example: assuming he stays healthy, he’s on track to go into his first year of arbitration next winter with only about 210 big league innings under his belt. Granted, they’ve been very important innings, obviously, but had he been allowed to develop as a starter the club would have received a whole lot more bang for their buck. To take the first example I came across, Collin McHugh hits arbitration for the first time this winter after three full years in the Astros’ rotation. He’s thrown 590 big league innings in his pre-arb years. Houston got a whole lot more value out of him before he started getting expensive than the Jays will have from Osuna — and a not insignificant amount more than Sanchez, who will also hit arbitration next year, and currently sits at 317 big league innings for his career.

The other issue is, of course, whether those youngsters can even help the club very much. For every Osuna who succeeds there is at least one Miguel Castro who doesn’t. Marcus Stroman struggled in his first cameo as a reliever, even, and that was despite having been a dominant closer in college. Plus, I’d kinda like to see Greene do better than the 15% strikeout rate he had against High-A and Double-A hitters this season (and just 10% in the AFL) before he goes and faces big leaguers (the league average strikeout rate was 21% in 2016, and for relievers it was 22.7%). And Perdomo might want to actually, y’know, get beyond Lansing before we start making big league plans for him.

The Jays do need bullpen help, for sure, and they might look to guys from within the system, but I’d bet hard against them giving those spots to guys who look like their best starting pitching prospects. Let them fail as starters first.

Do the Blue Jays really think they can get through a whole season with Aaron Loup as the lefty reliever? I think they need to get Jerry Blevins or Travis Wood.

— Millan, Grand Manan, New Brunswick

Do you really think that the team on Opening Day is the team that’s going to be here the entire season? Yes, lefty relief depth is a problem, but they don’t NEED to go get anybody right now. Especially at whatever price those relievers may still be asking.

Someone unexpected could emerge in Spring Training, someone could end up on waivers, or they could find a trade. Or maybe Aaron Loup is actually better than people give credit forOr maybe their key right-handed relievers will be good enough against lefties for it not to matter so much.

Given that the solutions are Jerry fucking Blevins and Travis friggin’ Wood, this can’t be the biggest problem in the world. Relax.

Would it make sense for the Jays to add a starter? Using Francisco Liriano in the ‘pen fills a lefty need and it also adds starting depth. Two birds, one stone?

— Paul L, Moncton, New Brunswick

It would make sense for the Jays to add to their starting pitching depth, yes. And obviously they could use another lefty reliever. But it doesn’t make much sense to move Liriano to the bullpen.

I get the fantasy, for sure. Shit, maybe I’d try it in a video game or something, too. But this scheme would mean spending $14 million not just for a lefty reliever, but $14 million for a lefty reliever who won’t want to be there (Liriano is in his free agent walk year), has never pitched for more than a few weeks in relief before, can give you 200 innings as a starter, and is probably not going to be all that much of an improvement on what already have or what you can get for much less. All for the price of downgrading your rotation!

Also, the idea that you’re actually adding starting depth this way is dubious. If someone gets injured mid-season it’s going to take a while for Liriano to get stretched back out, and — guess what! — you’re back to square one as far as lefty relief goes.

No, I much prefer the way the Jays appear to be doing this: adding depth starters like Gavin Floyd on minor league deals with an eye to bringing them into the big league bullpen depending on how everything shakes down this spring. Would be nice if one of those was actually a lefty! But that’s the kind of flexibility that makes sense, not trading a not-insignificant rotation downgrade for whatever bullpen upgrade Liriano might give you. I saw a recent Jeff Blair piece where he rolled his eyes at the notion of building a bullpen easily and cheaply on the fly, but it’s kinda true. The Jays have started with messy bullpen situations each of the last two years and eventually figured it all out. Expect more of the same.