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The Shapkins Defender – The Jays Probably Won’t Sign Any QO’d Free Agents and That’s Fine

Welcome to The Shapkins Defender, where I inhale your toxic screeds and spit out the fresh oxygen of optimism, like a tree that kind of understands WAR. (Just don’t ask me to explain it.) Let’s get to it!

For this edition, I don’t have a specific argument to parse through. Instead, I want to talk about the general thirst around Blue Jays world this offseason. There have been various pieces mulling over the possibility of acquiring a Gerrit Cole or a Zach Wheeler or a Marcell Ozuna. And, well, I don’t think it’s gonna happen. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing either.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re all on the same page here. We all want the Blue Jays to be good. Sports are way more fun when your favourite squadron is good. And with so many talented kids debuting last year, it seems like the goodness is within grasp. And I certainly won’t complain if the team goes out with a dollar-sign-emblazoned sack and throws it at somebody in order to smash open the next competitive window.  But I think it makes sense for the front office to have one more year’s worth of patience before getting bold. And I’ll try to explain why.

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First off, this rebuild is not actually that egregious yet, relatively speaking. The Jays are at three losing seasons in a row. The Reds are at six. The White Sox are at seven.  The Padres are at nine. (The Nationals had six in a row before their current run of being good. The Cubs had five. Atlanta had four.) So, as painful as it’s been these past few years, it’s not at some ridiculous outlier status. And in 2017 and 2018, they were half-assedly trying to win and weren’t embarrassingly bad or anything. (Would you have guessed the Jays won 76 games in 2017? I certainly would have guessed lower before I looked it up.)

Secondly, some have argued that the Jays need to strike now because next year’s free agent class doesn’t have anyone at the level of Cole or Strasburg or even Wheeler. While that may be true, the Jays seem headed towards a situation where they will have plenty of surplus to trade from. The catching situation is already generating scuttlebutt this year, which should only get louder as Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno start pushing towards the majors. On the infield, even if guys like Logan Warmoth and Kevin Smith can’t get back on track, they still have Jordan Groshans barreling towards an already-crowded infield. And that could push someone into the already-crowded outfield. So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect them to have lots of currency on the trade market.

Thirdly, although a rebuild is not everyone’s idea of fun, you want to make the most of one while you’re in it because it allows you to do certain things that competitive teams can’t do. You can take on contracts from teams that want to dump salary, give youngsters lots of development time, flip veterans for prospects, etc. You can stockpile weapons and ammo while the other teams are at war.

But one of the main benefits of being a rebuilding team, if not the main one, is better draft position. And the upcoming draft is probably the best draft the Jays are going to have in this rebuilding cycle. The previous two mediocre seasons yielded 12th and 11th draft positions, respectively. And like most Jays fans, I am wishing and hoping and thinking and praying that the 2020 Jays win way more than the 67 games of 2019. (They have about 17 AAAA starters now, which should prevent another year of Edwin Jackson and Ryan Feierabend tossing batting practice to other teams.) That means the coming draft, where the Jays will draft 5th, is probably going to be as good as it gets for this front office.

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So, what happens if the Jays go out and sign one of those guys with a QO attached, such as Cole or Wheeler or Ozuna? They would forfeit their second-highest pick and the slot money that goes with it. The 2020 pools haven’t been released yet. But looking at 2019 can give us a vague idea of the damage. The Tigers had the 5th pick in the most recent draft, which came with a total pool of 10.4 million smackers. Their second round pick had a slot value of 1.58 million, a bit over 15% of the total. (The Jays had a pool of 8.4 million last year. 10.4 million, subtract 1.58 million, and you’re around 8.8 million. So, signing a QO’d free agent would essentially knock the Jays’ pool back to where it was in the previous two drafts, give or take.)

And while some might scoff at the MLB draft because it isn’t quite as impactful as other sports, it’s still an important part of rebuilding. Just look at some of the recent World Series winners. The Nationals picked up Rendon, Strasburg, Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper while they were picking high in the draft. The Cubs added Baez, Bryant, Schwarber and Almora in their drafts while tanking. And up until a few weeks ago, I would have mentioned the drafts that created the 2017 Astros here as well. Unfortunately, they shitted out a giant asterisk-shaped turd onto their legacy. So, forget them. (I guess major World Series scandals come once every hundred years or so? I think Ken Burns might need a cigarette right about now, if you get my meaning.)

But the point is that a good draft, or drafts, can have a significant impact. And willingly chopping 15% off of what you can do is probably a tougher pill to swallow that it might seem at first glance, especially when you consider that injuries prevented the Jays from maximizing their returns when trading away some of their most-valuable pieces, such as Donaldson, Giles and Sanchez. Also, there are plenty of decent players on the market without QOs attached, such as Ryu, Gibson, Keuchel, Moustakas, etc. (For what it’s worth, FanGraphs projects Wheeler to be worth 3.1 WAR in 2020. Those four other guys I just mentioned are all just behind, between 2.7 and 2.9.)

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Turning David Phelps into Thomas Hatch might turn out to be a nice little pickup. Same for turning Aaron Loup into Jacob Waguespack. Getting Trent Thornton from Aledmys Díaz worked out okay. But these moves are nibbling around the edges. The upcoming draft might be their best chance to really inject a hefty, franchise-altering stream of talent into the system. Even more so than the Stroman trade. And I suspect that they don’t want to hamper themselves in any way because a rebuild is sort of like firing an arrow, or a slingshot. The harder you pull back, the more reciprocal force you can generate in the opposite direction.

And since the team seems poised to be getting better and better from here on out, that means they can’t hold onto the arrow for much longer. I say just pull it back another smidge before letting fly because, once it’s gone, it’s not coming back.

If you think the front office has to put their wallet on the table tout de suite, send your hot takes, diatribes, harangues, tirades and jeremiads to me at [email protected] or @darraghfilm on Twitter, or just leave a comment below.

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