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Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

On Jay Bruce, His Demands, And An Offseason Reality Check

“Please don’t Jays.”

And with that statement it became clear to me how fully broken our little game of off-season broken telephone has become.

This comment, said earnestly, as far as I could tell, was about Jay Bruce, after I retweeted this utterly hilarious report from Jerry Crasnick last Wednesday evening:

I can’t blame anybody for thinking that the Jays might be in on Jay Bruce, because it sure as hell has been tossed out there enough. And I can’t blame anybody for dry heaving at the thought of the Jays giving him a contract like that. But the idea that the Jays are even all that interested in him seems to be entirely based on the fact that they nearly dealt for him in the spring of 2016 — a time when he was an upside play, coming off a 93 wRC+ season (and a 78 wRC+ season before that), who would have cost them only one year of Michael Saunders, and had a team-friendly contract situation (he was owed $12.5 million for 2016, and if he was any good, he had an option for $13.5 million for 2017, with a $1 million buyout).

This shouldn’t have to be stated, but liking a guy at $12.5 million for one year with an option, and liking a guy at five years and an $80 to $90 million (utterly preposterous as that demand is for a player like Bruce — an alright defender with pop, but also a .319 career on-base), is very much not the same thing. So, y’know, “please don’t Jays,” seems maybe a touch unnecessary here.

I hope.

What isn’t untrue, though, is that the Jays are once again probably working on some decidedly unsexy moves. Bruce or otherwise.

Since the second half of last week was an absolute clusterfuck, let me remind you of last Monday’s Daily Duce, in which I wrote about Dan Syzmborski’s much-too-early ZiPS projected standings for 2018, and casually mentioned that it’s “a certainty that the Red Sox and Yankees both go out and add better players than the Jays do before all is said and done.”

While entirely true (mostly), this notion understandably angers some Jays fans. One such fan, commenter “AD,” responded thusly:

Why is it a certainty the red sox and yankees will add better players over the winter? As fans we shouldnt accept this shit from rogers. But i do worry shatkins will play it too safe ( go for bruce etc) and not get the high impact guys. They dont seem nearly as bold as AA was

These are some fairly fundamental — not to mention evergreen — Blue Jays questions. And since it’s been a while since we’ve discussed this sort of stuff around here, it seems like a good chance to go a bit deeper, and to… y’know… give a bit of a reality check. So let’s!

  • Why is it a certainty the red sox and yankees will add better players over the winter?

Uh… because they’re the Red Sox and the Yankees? I mean, I know that’s not going to be a satisfying answer, but those are the two richest teams in the American League, they’re aggressive, they’re almost always going to be contenders, which makes them extremely desirable places to play, and they’re in win-now mode with strong young cores.

I suppose it’s possible that they don’t have enough heavy lifting to do this winter in order to grossly outspend the Jays (or that the Yankees are so close to the luxury tax threshold that’d prefer not to go over), but they almost certainly will anyway — especially if you count the fact that the Yankees kept Masahiro Tanaka, who last week decided not to use his opt-out clause, toward that end.

And I mean…. seriously? We need to debate this? Really?

  • As fans we shouldnt accept this shit from rogers.

The Jays’ payroll was $164 million this year and is expected to stay steady. Right now, according to Cot’s, if the Yankees tendered all their arbitration eligible players and then didn’t add any other salary this winter, they would be at about $155 million. It’s not always just about payroll level, but how you spend it — which is to say, having guys like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez still on pre-arb deals is really helpful!

Yes, ideally the Jays’ payroll would be higher, but Rogers has to answer to shareholders — that’s just the way it works, unfortunately — and $164 million is not exactly pitchfork and torches territory. I can’t tell anyone to not think that Rogers sucks as a company or sucks as the owner of a baseball team, but the other thing here is, precisely in what way would our not accepting this shit manifest? Whining? Whinging, perhaps? Whinnying? Uh… yeah, I’ll pass on that shit, thanks.

  • But i do worry shatkins…

Not “shatkins.” Never “shatkins.”

It’s time to grow up, kids.

  • … will play it too safe ( go for bruce etc) and not get the high impact guys. They dont seem nearly as bold as AA was

Few GMs are as bold as Alex Anthopoulos was, but when did “bold” become synonymous with “good”? Nothing against AA, but he bolded his way to some incredible moves — the Josh Donaldson trade, for example — and bolded his way into some real disasters, too. Boldness for boldness’ sake isn’t a virtue, I don’t think.

Again, not a satisfying answer, but the thing is, does locking in more long-term money to old players really seem like the thing to do here? I mean, yes, in the world where 2018 will be the last ever season of baseball, perhaps it would. But there is value in keeping an eye firmly on the future, too — in making sure that, when Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are providing crazy amounts of value as they blast through the league in their pre-arb years making the league minimum, there is enough money in the budget to keep guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna around (and maybe even Josh Donaldson, too), rather than having it tied up in decline years of free agents signed in a futile push to make 2018 something that it’s very clearly not. The Jays can be a very good team next season — they might end up good enough to make the playoffs and have a nice run, even — but they really aren’t in position to go out and start acting like they’re a piece away from the World Series just yet. Maybe enough will break their way that they might feel like that by July 31st, and they owe it to themselves to find out, and to put themselves in the best position they can to find out, without mortgaging the future, but that’s really about as far as they ought to go.

And the thing is, if you think back to those “bold” trades that Alex made, a lot of the time they were of the quantity-for-quality variety, which meant that the Jays weren’t always giving up the best prospects in the world, and which really makes the ones he hit on feel like wins. The thing about that, though, is that you still have to pay down the line for shedding future depth that way. In the winter between 2015 and 2016, the Jays spent over $30 million on signing J.A. Happ, re-signing Marco Estrada, and trading for the salaries of Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez. Those players certainly ended up having better seasons than guys they’d traded away, like Dan Norris and Jeff Hoffman, but if the Jays had kept many of the young arms they dealt in AA’s last year, they would have been able to better use that extra $30 million. Of course, if they hadn’t dealt those young pitchers they may not have made the playoffs at all, and therefore may not have had that $30 million to spend anyway, so I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have done what they did — I’m merely trying to illustrate why trading a bunch of prospects who don’t pan out can still be damaging down the line in its own way.

Going back to the free agent idea for a second, the thing is, even if the Jays were to want to go out and do it that way, who are these high impact guys the Jays are supposedly going to “play it too safe” by avoiding anyway?

Take a look at MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents, for example. Granted, they don’t include Shohei Otani, but still, the list is only seven names long before it hits its first reliever (Wade Davis), who is then followed by a mid-rotation starter (Lance Lynn). And ahead of those guys? Lorenzo Cain will be 32 in April, will likely get a four or five year deal, and plays the same position that’s ideal for Kevin Pillar, Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, and Dalton Pompey. Mike Moustakas is bad and plays a position, third base, the Jays have covered both now and far into the future, one way or another. Masahiro Tanaka chose not to opt out and will remain with the Yankees. First baseman Eric Hosmer makes no sense for a team with Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, and a need to get DH at-bats for Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Russell Martin, and maybe eventually Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That leaves J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, and Yu Darvish at the top of the list. And while, sure, the Jays could certainly use one of those guys going forward — I especially like the idea of a club set to lose both J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada to free agency at the end of the 2018 season going out and bringing in more than just a fifth starter. Ensuring that the Jays will have Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and one other top starter going forward certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea. But is Darvish or Arrieta going to take the Jays’ money? Is anybody going to take their money long-term right now, with the future of the roster up in the air until the Donaldson question is solved?

Maybe! And if so, I certainly wouldn’t say don’t go out and sign Darvish — and I especially wouldn’t say don’t go out and sign Otani if that’s in any way possible. Uh… speaking of which:

DO IT, DAN EVANS! But realistically, I don’t think that’s going to be how it goes. Which is OK! The Jays don’t have to win the whole damned off-season to have hope. As ZiPS suggests, there’s already a pretty good core here. There will be next year, too, with Guerrero and Bichette that much closer to the big leagues (if not here already), and guys like Donaldson, Happ, and Estrada either re-signed or dealt away for more pieces of that next core.

I mean, if the Jays want to prove me wrong and go out and spend to the luxury tax and really do some serious shit in order to push hard this year and keep the talent level high for when Bo and Vlad arrive, I’m sure as hell not going to complain. But another year like 2017, with a little lower expectations, a little better health, and better hits on the offseason moves they do make? That would be an honest-to-goodness beauty. And would keep the future right on track, too.

  • Kristen Sprague

    No one in the Jays front office could possibly think that kind of money and term to Bruce is good idea. I`ve liked their moves post AA with the exception of EE (both sides mucked that up). Let`s see more creativity from them.

  • MovieJay

    Yeah, I’m not really that into Bruce. He looks older than Donaldson but is actually 2 yrs younger. On my wishlist are Otani, Chatwood, and a middle-infielder of the Lowrie/Josh Harrison variety. Those guys would vastly improve our team while not destroying our payroll or our farm.

  • The last 4 or 5 paragraphs truly are a solid assessment of the team’s current state of affairs. That said, the comments about “bolding” into successful/unsuccessful trades, and how “boldness for boldness sake isn’t a virtue” infer that AA’s moves were haphazard and reckless. My assessment of the situation is that AA used a wealth of resources (big scouting staff, seasoned front office execs, input from coaches, etc), combined with a ridiculous work ethic, to explore every avenue to improve the team. He was the ultimate opportunist, which didn’t work sometimes, but paid dividends more often than not. I’m sure Atkins and Shapiro will also do their best to improve the team, but we had something special in AA – far beyond boldness for boldness sake.

  • AD

    Agreed, as much as I hate rogers I can’t say the payroll hasn’t been decent the last few years at the very least. However, the Red Sox and Yankees didn’t get to where they are now just by signing a bunch of high priced players. They made some very shrewd trades and drafted very well. The yankees got a really good CFer (Hicks) for a backup catcher (Murphy). Thats the kind of trade good GMs make. And its also time to move past certain players who are hurting the team (Pillar comes to mind). You need good, patient hitters in this division and the Jays don’t have enough of them. One bat and one arm is not good enough. The FO needs to get creative within their budget and make trades from where the surplus is (OF etc). Trade prospects (excecpt guerrero and bichette) if you have to. If you want to win next year, no point in half assing it. Then you might as well rebuild and trade JD.

  • The Original Mark

    I love the idea of signing one of the pitchers (ideally Otani) to lock up the top 3 in the rotation for a few years. Similar to what they did with Estrada and Happ a few years ago.

  • ErnieWhitt

    The problem with free agency is that most free agents are kinda terrible and also getting old. In a perfect world your drafting and international spending have built such a pipeline of talent that you can only deal in the truly exciting players who top the lists, but the reality is that you have to shop in the Steve Pearce aisle at some point. If those deals work out you can end up with unexpected value.. if they don’t: 2017 kinda happens.

    There is nothing wrong with identifying Bruce as a player who could help the team. It just feels like whoever signs the guy will be paying top dollar for a few years where he has an 80-90 wRC+ mixed with ones near 110.

  • Kris

    Jays Bruce’s contract demands are out of line with what the market is paying for players of his skill set. Last off-season set the market for all bat and no glove corner OFs and it wasn’t 5 years 90 million. Also the trade market at the deadline wasn’t too hot for players like Bruce. Most media types are saying 2 to 3 years for Mr. Bruce. I am saying 2 years at 25-28 or 3 years under 40.