Against the Idea of the Blue Jays Rebuilding

The 2016 Blue Jays are finished, having been killed off by a playoff-specific mutation of a pitching staff. If it’s any consolation, 97% of all baseball team-seasons end with some sort of disappointment. But seasons end abruptly, even the good ones, and the focus has already shifted. The 2016 Blue Jays aren’t really to be discussed anymore. From this point forward, it’s all about the 2017 Blue Jays, and beyond.

There’s no possible way you’ve missed that this is going to be a challenging offseason. The resurgent Blue Jays in large part built their identity around Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion. Two of those players are about to become free agents, and both of them are likely to leave. It’s hard to picture the Blue Jays without them, and it’s a hell of a lot less fun to picture the Blue Jays without them. The Jays were pure baseball entertainment, and Bautista and Encarnacion became area icons.

With them probably gone, it makes you wonder if the Jays should rebuild. The roster isn’t particularly young, and earlier today Dave laid out the argument for why the Blue Jays should take an intentional step back. I’m here to argue *not* for that. Dave and I didn’t set out to do this on purpose, but it just so happened that we have differing perspectives. You can choose to go along with whichever one you prefer.

With any opinion column, it’s helpful to understand the various biases going in. So let me tell you here: I don’t have any rooting interest for or against the Blue Jays, but my mindset is one against the idea of losing on purpose. Not that Dave was saying the Blue Jays should tank. I don’t think anyone believes the Blue Jays should tank. But I tend to see the upside in half-decent rosters. It’s why I don’t think the White Sox should tear down, either. I think there’s some value in building to finish 86-76. And I don’t see the Blue Jays as being out of talent.

It’s easy to focus on Bautista walking, and Encarnacion walking. And, hell, Michael Saunders will walk, too, along with Brett Cecil and some others. The Blue Jays are likely to feel like a very different ballclub. But, really, all any fan wants is to be able to support a winner. When a team is successful, the fans will find their new favorite players. Josh Donaldson remains, and he’s one of the very best players in the game. Aaron Sanchez remains, and he’s one of the better young starters in the game. The same probably goes for Marcus Stroman. Then you have quality support players in Troy Tulowitzki, Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, and Roberto Osuna. And more? I don’t know. I don’t want to just list the whole 40-man roster. But there are still good players. There’s one of the best players.

Let’s deal with some on-paper facts and estimates. I built out a 2017 version of the Blue Jays’ 25-man roster, based on what’s in-house. Of course, it’s incomplete; every organization right now is incomplete, in terms of having what it’ll want to have. But I put together 25 guys, and my best estimate of their team projection is a record somewhere around 82-80 or 83-79. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because I imagine that’s roughly what you would guess off the top of your head. The whole roster projects for a payroll right around $125 million. The Jays might be expected to begin with a payroll around $140 – 150 million. Many people believe they could operate with a significantly higher budget. I’m not here to argue that point; if the budget goes up, that makes everything easier.

But let’s just work with these assumptions. That wouldn’t leave room to do much more than just re-sign one of Bautista or Encarnacion. Holes would remain. The starting rotation does look full, but the bullpen could use an additional two arms. Right now, first base would be a hole, as would DH, and both of the outfield corners. The Blue Jays’ current roster doesn’t feature a lot of depth, unless you’re a huge, huge fan of Ryan Goins. It’s easy to see how it could be better to spread money around. I’ll just make my obligatory Steve Pearce recommendation here and move on.

I don’t love where the Blue Jays are. I don’t know if anyone should — they’re nothing like, say, the Cubs, who’re seemingly set up forever. I don’t think it’s obvious that the Blue Jays should keep trying to win, and nothing here is guaranteed. I just think they should try to win while they have a chance. When I built out the Blue Jays’ 2017 projection, I realized they feel a lot like the Mariners. The Mariners aren’t about to rebuild. There are perhaps some parallels to the Tigers. People used to argue that the Orioles should probably rebuild because they seemingly only had Manny Machado, but they did technically just make the playoffs. The Blue Jays are still on the side of trying their best. I don’t think it would work to their benefit to shed.

As Dave said, the Jays could clear some future space by dealing away guys like Tulowitzki and Martin. That’s true — their remaining commitments are in the vicinity of the commitments they’re “worth.” At the same time, that means there wouldn’t be premium prospects coming back. So those would effectively be salary dumps, and the Jays don’t have high-level catcher or shortstop prospects to plug in. Both Tulowitzki and Martin are presumably on the downslopes of their careers, but it stands to reason that, down the road, the Jays could still make them go away, if they wanted. This isn’t their last chance, in case things go sour. It might just cost them a little bit more, but the deals are unlikely to be crippling.

Looking at some other of Dave’s ideas — there’s no reason why even a decent 2017 Jays team couldn’t plan to make room for Rowdy Tellez, if he shows he deserves it. Again, right now, there’s nothing at 1B/DH, and Tellez could push forward. And Dalton Pompey? There’s room in the outfield to give him 400 – 500 plate appearances if that’s what the team would be interested in. Giving potential chances to Tellez and Pompey wouldn’t require the Jays to try to step back. It could actually be a part of their plan to win again. If they think they might get a second-half contribution from Tellez, or a full-season contribution from Pompey, that would allow the front office to focus elsewhere.

There’s enough in place for the Jays to hang on. If they tried to sell pieces instead, they’d either just be dumping money, or they’d be dumping longer-term assets, like Donaldson or, say, Kevin Pillar. I don’t think the Jays are near bad enough to completely tear down, and so if you’re just dumping money, where is the longer-term core coming from? The Blue Jays don’t have an outstanding farm system, and the only quick way to give it a real boost would be by subtracting a major piece or two. This is how the Jays are similar to the Mariners, but the Mariners understand the value in six months of contention. That would be a hell of a thing to throw away, especially given what the Jays have done to expectations and to their fan base. The fans have once again embraced the organization, and to some extent they’re owed a continued effort to win a world championship.

The Blue Jays are in a worse spot than the Red Sox. That should be obvious, David Ortiz’s retirement be damned. I’m not convinced they’re in a worse spot than the Orioles. I’m not convinced they’re in a worse spot than the Rays. And for as much as the Yankees have already rebuilt, their focus is probably still on 2018 and beyond. The Yankees, in time, will surge, and that’ll make them a terrifying rival. This next season could present another rare opportunity to try to make the playoffs in the AL East without the Yankees really getting in the way.

It seems like a thing worth trying. If it doesn’t work, well, then you get to re-evaluate. In their one down season, the Tigers added Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, and others. They were back to trying to make the playoffs in 2016. If the Blue Jays are struggling come the middle of July, they can take a long, hard look at themselves. At that point, it would be easier to understand something of a sell-off. For now, there’s still enough to win. Still enough, at least, to try to, even should both icons move on to new homes. The Blue Jays have always been more than two players, and continued success is achievable.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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mike sixel
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mike sixel

I agree with you. They can always trade guys off next year.

Also, this might be the last “down year” for the Yankees next year…..for a while.