The deadline for MLB clubs to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players came and went this eveneing, and the Jays have announced that all but two of their group will be given contracts. The two that have been non-tendered are Ryan Goins and Tom Koehler, both of whom are now free agents.
The Koehler non-tender was not a particularly surprising one, but the Goins one was somewhat.
Not long after we learned that something rather specific had made Goins expendable: the club has acquired former All-Star shortstop Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals in exchange for minor league outfielder JB Woodman.
Well this is interesting.
First the non-tenders…
MLBTR’s arbitration projection pegged Koehler for $6 million in 2018 salary. He was a durable starter for the Marlins for a number of years, but really went sideways this year. He’s out of options. And though he was decent out of the bullpen down the stretch for the Jays, the reality is that the Jays will surely be able to take a flyer on somebody with similar risk and low upside for a lot less money. Or, at the very least, for less.
The loss Goins, however, doesn’t merit the same kind of shoulder shrug. He has played 449 games for the club since 2013. He has been a wizard in the field for the club, though was a little off in 2017. He’s been a fan favourite — especially when that fan is Jerry Howarth. He had people stumping for him to take over for José Reyes. He produced 1.5 WAR in 2015, and had his incredible run with runners in scoring position this year. He’s been all over Marcus Stroman’s social media feed. He trotted home from third base right after The Bat Flip. He should have caught that damn popup.
He’s been a significant player on this team for a number of years.
Because of all that it feels a little strange that this is the end of the line for him with this team. But also, he’s bad. I mean, sure, his glove work has been superb at times, but over 1,397 plate appearances he’s slashed just .228/.275/.335. His line in 2017 was a little better than that career mark, but not enough — certainly not enough for a guy who played in a ridiculously high 143 games for the Jays this year.
He’d have perhaps still had a place on this team if the guys on the depth chart in front of him were a little more durable, but the reality of the Jays’ situation is that they have to build a roster that can withstand the strong possibility — or perhaps likelihood — that Troy Tulowitkzi and Devon Travis will miss significant time. Goins, who has been 1.3 wins below replacement over the last two seasons, simply wasn’t going to be that guy. He could have worked as the fourth player on the middle infield depth chart, but combine the fact that his arbitration projection was $1.8 million with the club’s recent addition of Gift Ngoepe and the near-readiness of Richard Ureña (and perhaps even Lourdes Gurriel), and that was never going to be an easy roster spot for him to hang on to.
Enter Aledmys Diaz.
…and Then the Trade
There really is a whole lot to like about this one right here, I think. It’s not a slam dunk to provide value — nor is it even a slam dunk to work out in the Jays’ favour — but they’re taking a nice little roll of the dice while giving up a piece that doesn’t feel terribly significant.
First, because I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Woodman, here are a few tweets to give you an idea of what the Jays just gave up:
This is a strong deal for the #BlueJays. Woodman is a valuable young player, but flawed and well down the ladder of Toronto's outfield prospects.
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) December 2, 2017
Woodman is a former second-round pick who has some tools, but there are massive contact issues here that probably prevent him from reaching his ceiling.
— Christopher Crawford (Not Adrian Beltre) (@Crawford_MILB) December 2, 2017
Underachieving 2nd round pick. Above average RF, who can play CF in a pinch. Alot of pop in the bat but Ks a ton. Potential is there but a college bat so not holding my breathe.
— Ron SnowMexico (@BrandonHolmesNL) December 2, 2017
Given that it’s the Cardinals, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him surface in a few years having turned into something. But the Jays have a bit of a surplus right now when it comes to these ‘tweener outfielders in the minor leagues, and what the Cardinals are giving up here in Diaz — though the fact that they’ve soured on him enough to relinquish him for Woodman certainly might tell us something — is quite interesting.
It was rumoured back in July that the Jays had been scouting the Cards’ Triple-A affiliate in Memphis, so I wrote a post about it, where I zeroed in on Diaz as somebody they may well have been targeting.
The Cardinals have perhaps soured a little on the 26-year-old who put up 2.7 WAR as a rookie last season and made the All-Star game in San Diego. Diaz was sent packing for Memphis after slashing .260/.293/.396 through the first 71 games of this season, and the Cards haven’t missed a beat with his replacement, Paul DeJong.
If the Cardinals feel that Diaz is surplus to requirements, he certainly would check off some boxes for the Jays. He’s primarily a shortstop (for now), but he played a little bit of second base this year, as well as left field. He’s in the last season of the four year, $8 million deal he signed coming out of Cuba, but is still arbitration eligible beyond this season. At the very least he would be in the mix, with Rob Refsnyder and perhaps Lourdes Gurriel, to take over Darwin Barney’s role on the Jays next year (and maybe even Ryan Goins’, depending on what the club thinks of his apparently not-so-great glove). But with what he showed in 2016, if he could get back to something closer to that, he’d be a potential left field candidate, a legit second base insurance candidate. Or maybe even a guy who could be your stopgap third baseman between the Donaldson and Guerrero eras, if we want to get real ridiculous about it. Which we do! It’s a ridiculous time of year! As clearly evidenced by the fact that these are far too many words about a guy who I have to believe isn’t gettable for the price of Joe Smith.
It turns out that Diaz was gettable for a lower price! Though that may have something to do with the fact that he slashed .253/.305/.388 in 46 games in Memphis, then managed just three hits and no walks in 13 PA as a September call-up.
Which is to say, he’s not without his flaws. This isn’t a straight-up heist — despite the way the Jays’ tweet about the acquisition tried to paint his numbers. He has the potential to be just as bad as Goins at the plate, and probably quite a bit worse with the glove (at least at shortstop). In 1,499 career innings at shortstop he’s posted a DRS of -13 and a UZR of -9.4. And in 2017 his 78 wRC+ wasn’t much better than what you’d expect out of Goins.
That’s the bad news. But there’s a whole lot of good news here, too. For one, if Diaz can neither hit nor play the field, the Jays will still have Ngoepe, who Atkins referred to as a “70 defender” on that At The Letters podcast last week — plus Ngoepe isn’t out of options, so he can be stashed in Buffalo until he’s needed. (Diaz also has an option, as Matt W of Bluebird Banter reports.)
And then, of course, there’s the ceiling. Diaz slashed .300/.369/.510 in 2016, on his way to an All-Star appearance. He hit 17 home runs, struck out just 13.0% of the time, walked 9% of the time, and played decent enough defence over 111 games to have ended up at 2.7 fWAR, and 3.8 WAR per Baseball Reference. What went so sideways for him in 2017, I have no idea (the lingering effects of a broken thumb suffered in August 2016, perhaps?), but the fact that he’s been a far, far, far more valuable player in his career than Goins makes it really clear why the Jays went this way. I don’t think anybody should just believe that he’s going to go straight back to his 2016 self again — though hopefully the Jays have some ideas on how they might be able to fix him — but that it’s even possible means this is a pretty great addition.
The Jays now have Diaz, Ngoepe, Gurriel, and Ureña among their options to cover for Tulo and Devo (and Josh Donaldson, god forbid), and perhaps even in a a corner outfield spot, with another infield addition likely still to come. That’ll do. Especially if Diaz takes nicely to his new scenery and returns to something closer to what he showed in 2016 — especially because Diaz is under club control through the end of 2022!
Let’s go back to Matt W for the contract stuff:
2017 was the last year of the original contract Diaz signed with St. Louis, worth $8-million including a $2-million signing bonus and $2-million salary for 2017. While the Blue Jays can unilaterally renew Diaz’ contract like any other 40-man player without enough service time for arbitration, it won’t be at or near the minimum as usual. The Collective Agreement only allows for a maximum 20% cut in salary from year-to-year (this doesn’t apply to free agent deals), so they will have to pay Diaz at least $1.6-million in 2018.
In other words, for about the same price as Goins would have cost, they have the chance to be quite a lot better off, and for quite a lot longer, too.
Again, there’s absolutely a chance that this doesn’t work out for the Jays — and the Cardinals wouldn’t have made the deal if they didn’t think that’s the likely outcome — but with the cost so minimal, and the payoff potentially very nice, how could they not have taken the chance?