Looking at where the Blue Jays could save some money with arbitration-eligible players

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Snodgrass
5 months ago
Much of the attention this week has been on the official start of free agency and the rumblings that come from the annual GM Meetings, but there are a few more important things coming up on baseball’s off-season calendar.
Teams must decide by November 17 whether to tender offers to arbitration-eligible players or let them become free agents. The Blue Jays have a few arb-eligible players who could ultimately be let go in order to open up some more wiggle room for additions.
Cam Lewis took a look at the salary projections for all 13 of the eligible Blue Jays this winter. Most of them are no-brainers, but I’m going to go through a few cases that aren’t as simple.

Adam Cimber – (Projection: $3.2 million)

Cimber had a year to forget in 2023.  After pitching over 70 innings the past 2 years, the 33-year-old had pitched in only 20 forgettable innings in 2023.  His massive workload between 2021 and 2022 would rank 4th in the entire league with 142.1 IP could have had something to do with his out-of-character poor performance.  
In addition to his poor performance in 2023, multiple trips to the injury list did not help his cause. His ERA ballooned to 7.4 ERA after a 2 ERA in the past two seasons.  He had a negative WAR for the first time in his career and did not look like the pitcher of old. In addition to all of this, his overall velocity was way down and less effective for all his pitches.  
While it’s easy to point to stats that say Cimber did not have a good year, you can also point to his historical success where he consistently had an ERA that hovers anywhere from 2.00 to 3.00. However, it could also be seen as the start of a major regression for the 33-year-old. His average exit velocity took a major hit, his barrel rate was way up, in zone swing and miss was way down and his Chase Miss percentage was also down. While Cimber never had a fastball that was blazing fast, it’s hard to justify bringing back a relief pitcher who throws under 90 to come back strong after such an injury-plagued year with other candidates available.  
With at least six spots in the bullpen set in stone (Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson, Yimi Garcia, Chad Green, Tim Mayza, Genesis Cabrera), we don’t have to take a chance on someone at that price tag who might not bounce back. Toronto could easily bring back someone like Jay Jackson, or use an internal option, such as Bowden Francis or Hagen Danner.  
I can see this going either way, the Jays could see what they have from him in spring training and cut him or keep him based on performance.  Either way, he should not be counted on to be a major factor in the 2024 season.  If the Jays were to not go through arbitration, it could save up considerable capital if you included the next person on this list. 

Cavan Biggio – (Projection: $3.7 million)

Biggio had another Biggio type of year, and it’s very likely he will go through arbitration this year unless a deal is struck. Biggio played six positions this year including one at shortstop, displaying his defensive versatility which is his greatest strength even though his defense this year did not particularly grade out well on Stat Cast.  Biggio showed a bit of pop in his bat with runners in scoring position hitting well in decent sample sizes. However, his overall numbers fall short of someone playing every day and is someone considered more of a filler guy. Biggio’s greatest value is being done whatever is asked of him on the defensive end, while anything offensively should be considered a bonus. And that’s pretty much what happened with a slashing line of .235/.340/.370 for an OPS of .710, the best in the last three seasons.  
I believe that the front office values defensive versatility above all else for role players, and Biggio offers that to the team. His bat can fluctuate mightily, between batting in the middle of the order at the end of the year to having barely functioning hitting capabilities at the start of it. I think this is best displayed between his 1st half and 2nd half statistics where he batted nearly .300  compared to his .197 first half. He reduced his strikeout numbers while also improving his walk totals. While yes, he only hit two home runs during the second half, his overall RBI numbers were higher than in the first half. This screenshot shows Biggio’s xwOBA which he ranked first displaying his quality of contact to end the year.
The 28-year-old is a relatively cheap option at the back of the active roster and provides decent overall value on this roster given that he has bounced around the diamond his whole career. Biggio is expected then to get a 900k increase from last year which seems reasonable but that might not be the actual number considering his poor first half. This new contract would put him around the 77th highest-paid infielder in the league per AAV, ahead of infielders such as Dylan Moore, Nico Hoerner, and Orlando Arcia.  
It seems that Biggio is looked on favourably by the front office and fans should expect him back in 2024. But if the club really wants to go all in, in this year’s free agency, then Biggio could be non-tendered leaving money and space for an internal option.

Santiago Espinal – (Projection: $2.5 million)

Espinal had a very rough follow-up to his All-Star season. After slashing a .282/.340/.382 line between 2021 and 2022, the 28-year-old managed an OPS of just .645 in 2023. Espinal’s plate appearances reduced drastically this year (2022: 491, 2023: 254), he played a bit more against righties however had a sub-700 OPS playing against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers.
While his walk/strikeout rates stayed pretty much the same, his biggest strength, his defence took a massive hit.  Espinal is someone who can technically play multiple positions however, it is his bat, paired with the troubled defence that kept him from out of the lineup in favour of players such as Cavan Biggio. For reference, Espinal was the 129th highest-paid infielder in 2023 around guys such as Jon Berti, Dylan Moore, and Orlando Garcia. 
Currently, the options in the infield revolve around David Schneider, Orelvis Martinez, Ernie Clement, Cavan Biggio, Espinal, and possibly Otto Lopez and Addison Barger. If Espinal were to be brought back, he would be fending these guys off all season. I think the debate on whether to bring Espinal back should be had with the progress of some of our other players.  If he is brought back, could he be used as part of a trade package? 
Picture this: the Blue Jays have roughly $40-50 million to play with this offseason which they will need to use to resign key players such as Vlad. If they were to decline Espinal, Cimber would free up another 5.7 million dollars in addition to freeing up playing time for an infield prospect. At $2.5 million, that’s a slight increase of $400k from his 2023 salary which after arbitration is not a substantial investment, however diverting that money elsewhere could prove to be more useful depending on how ready the front office believes in their internal solutions.  

Danny Jansen – (Projection: $5.2 million)

With Danny Jansen, we have an interesting case for a different reason. He’s approaching free agency and the Blue Jays should consider locking him into a multi-year contract.
Once just another catching prospect, Jansen has officially established himself as a core player these past few years through his exemplary play behind the plate and solid production. When healthy, Jansen is easily a top-10 catcher in the league who can hit for power and provide good defence. He understands the pitching staff well, is loved by fans, and hits home runs. The 28-year-old’s home run totals have been climbing each year for the last four seasons providing complementary power to a lineup devoid of it this year. 
At $5.2 million, that would put him in the same value category as guys such as Austin Hedges and Max Stassi for the 14th most-paid catcher in the league. Jansen in 2023 was paid as the 21st highest-paid catcher in the league which seems like a fair raise. It’s an absolute bargain if you ask me. 
Kirk and Jansen (maybe Varsho? Depending on how freaky you’re thinking), are the only MLB-caliber catchers in Toronto’s system, so keeping production from this spot is crucial for the success of the team in the short and long term. The team had the second-best production at the catcher position, just behind the Orioles according to Fangraphs.  
Keeping that production in a lineup with holes will be crucial for next year. And while yes Kirk was the main reason for this production, Jansen has also only accumulated 301 plate appearances compared to Kirk’s 422. Keeping Jansen healthy is the main concern, if he were, it would change the dynamics of the team.  
It might be time to seriously consider a long-term extension for Jansen as a veteran on the team.  What would be the point in delaying the process unless there was another option available? While only in his second year of arbitration, Jansen will hit free agency in 2025. With a lot of players possibly heading to free agency in 2026 such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Chris Bassett to name a few, making decisions now will help solidify where the team is going. With recent renovations in Rogers Centre, the club is surely not interested in a long rebuild, so this should be a massive priority.  
I could see a contract ranging from four to five years maybe totalling around $50 – $60 million, but that’s just a guess. Catcher is a premium position, if Jansen can get more consistent health-wise, it would be a great signing, especially it being a homegrown player. If you would like to read more about a Jansen extension, Tammy Rainey wrote an excellent piece last winter.


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