This is one part of a multi-part review series in which I’m going to look back at interesting things from the 2018 Blue Jays season and what it means for the future of the team.
The Blue Jays made three buy-low trade acquisitions last winter to add depth to the Major League roster. Two worked out well for the club, one didn’t. But, as Meat Loaf says, two out of three ain’t bad.
First, they sent former second-round pick J.B. Woodman to the St. Louis Cardinals for Aledmys Diaz. About a month later, they made another deal with the Cardinals, sending breakout reliever Dominic Leone and former top-100 prospect Conner Greene to St. Louis for Randal Grichuk. Finally, they dealt depth prospects Jared Carkuff and Edward Olivares to the Padres for the versatile slugger Yangervis Solarte.
Ultimately, these acquisitions served to raise the floor of the Blue Jays roster. Rather than going after big and expensive players, the front office opted to add solid depth to the team, especially in areas in which the Jays had players who had struggled with injuries. The team had Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins make 821 plate appearances in 2017 in the wake of injuries to Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, and Devon Travis, so improving in that realm was necessary.
The Jays rolled into 2018 expecting, I think, to have Tulo start at short, Donaldson start at third, and Travis start at second. Diaz, then, was expected to be Tulo’s high-quality backup while Solarte could fill in for Donaldson or Travis if necessary while also providing a powerful platoon bat.
What ended up happening was the disaster scenario. Tulo would miss the entire season, Donaldson only played in 36 games before getting dealt prior to the end of August, and Travis, despite having the healthiest season of his career, wasn’t effective at the plate. As a result, Solarte and Diaz both ended up being everyday players.
Solarte started off the season hot and quickly emerged as a fan favourite. By the end of April, he owned an .848 OPS and had smacked seven homers. By the end of May, that OPS had fallen to .791. By the time August rolled around, it was down to .690. Solarte would go on the disabled list in mid-August and miss a month of action. Amidst the influx of September call-ups, he just kind of got lost in the shuffle when he returned.
All told, Solarte slashed a .226/.277/.378 line with 17 homers over 122 games. He also posted a -1.3 WAR according to FanGraphs, which was far and away the worst on the team. Solarte went from the endearing fan favourite who mashed bombs and jumped around and clapped and got people fired up to a frustrating player who struck out too often and didn’t hustle enough. The exclamation point came when Solarte booted a pop up in Boston against the Red Sox that led to the team being swept.
Actually, I think this clip perfectly personifies the season Solarte had:
Yangervis Solarte (unfortunately) slides face-first into third. pic.twitter.com/jfSKyZmlML
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 3, 2018
Grichuk was the exact opposite of Solarte. He got off to an impossibly bad start to the season in which he looked like he was being dared to close his eyes at the plate. For the month of April, Grichuk slashed a .106/.208/.227 line and struck out 24 times in 66 at bats. He went on the disabled list for the entire month of May and then remembered how to hit. After coming off the disabled list, Grichuk slashed a .271/.319/.553 line and, amazingly, managed to finish as Toronto’s top player in WAR according to FanGraphs.
His full-season .803 OPS was the best of his career since 2015 and his 25 home runs represented a career-high. There were a lot of good Grichuk moments from the season, but his “Randal Grichuk is a Blue Jay” moment came when he hit a mammoth bomb and then, on defence, made a game-saving catch.
Aledmys Diaz was kind of in the middle of the two. While Solarte started off like hot fire and completely cratered and Grichuk went from a donkey to a noble steed thanks to one DL stint, Diaz just flew under the radar and got his job done.
For the first third of the season, Diaz had mediocre numbers at the plate, hovering in the mid-.600 OPS zone, but, at the very least, you knew he provided a good glove at short and could hit for power. As the season went along, Diaz quietly came one of Toronto’s most consistent offensive contributors. He would finish the season with a .263/.303/.453 slash line and a career-high 18 bombs while playing a very good short and third base.
All told, the Jays got themselves a positive contribution of 3.7 WAR from Diaz and Grichuk and a negative contribution of -1.3 WAR from Solarte. That’s ultimately a net positive from three players in exchange for… Leone, who posted a 4.50 ERA in 24 innings, Greene, who walked 6.4 batters per nine in the minors, Woodman, who got released mid-way through the year, Olivares, who had a .750 OPS as a 23-year-old in High-A, and Carkuff, a 24-year-old reliever in the minors. So, uh, yeah. There wasn’t really anything of value given up there.
Looking to the future, I think it’s pretttttyyyyy safe to say Solarte won’t be back next season. The Jays will likely look to deal to somebody who needs a versatile body, but it’ll probably be hard to find a taker on his contract which features a 2019 $5.5 million team option and a 2020 $8 million team option with a $750k buyout in each year. I would guess the Jays just bite that buyout.
Diaz and Grichuk certainly seem like they should be back with the Jays next season given the fact they were two of the team’s best players in 2018. That said, both players could serve as good buy-low-sell-high options for the team. Grichuk, who’s under team control for two more seasons, was paid $2.8 million in 2018 and will be due for a raise this winter. Diaz is under control for four more season and can’t go to arbitration until after the 2019 season.
I certainly wouldn’t suggest a trade is inevitable with either player, but given the fact the Jays won’t be competitive for another couple of years, the front office could explore flipping either of these two players for prospects. If the return is good either could go, but I imagine Grichuk is the more likely flip candidate. He’s only under control for two more years while Diaz can be a cheap utility guy for four more.
Regardless, the raise the floor thing worked out pretty well for the Jays. I mean, the team sucked ass so it didn’t help that much, but the front office turned a bunch of nothing into a little bit of something.