Around the same time the Orioles were finalizing a two-year deal for Andrew Cashner, the Toronto Blue Jays signed a better pitcher at about half the cost. After multiple arm and shoulder surgeries, Jaime Garcia isn’t what he once was, but the 31-year-old was an average starter last year and should repeat that level of production in the coming season. For $8 million over one year plus a $2 million buyout on a $10 million option for 2019, the Blue Jays are paying for less than average.
Garcia fits the mold of many of the Blue Jays’ moves this offseason. In addition to other formers Cardinals Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays have also acquired multiple low-cost, quality players like Curtis Granderson and Yangervis Solarte, allowing for the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle to make a run for the playoffs. On the other hand, if the season goes south, the team has plenty of flexibility to take the franchise in a different direction and try to reload as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. get closer to the majors.
Injuries took away the bulk of Jaime Garcia’s prime. He barely pitched in 2013 and 2014, and wasn’t ready at the start of 2015, either. He had a resurgence in 2015, though, making 20 starts and pitching like a top-of-the-rotation starter, with a 3.00 FIP and 2.43 ERA. Garcia was more good than ace for the first part of 2016, but still showed some flashes of greatness before falling apart at the end of the season. The Cardinals traded him to the Braves, and he had a roughly average season, putting up a 4.25 FIP, 4.41 ERA, and 2.1 WAR over 157 innings for a combination of the Braves, Twins, and the Yankees.
The lefty pitched better for the Braves than he did with the Yankees. In New York, struggled to throw strikes, pitching in the zone just 40% of the time — well below his career average of 48% — and experiencing a similar dip in first-strike percentage. Even with those issues, he was only slightly below average as a starter for the Yankees. Assuming his 21% HR/FB rate was more a reflection on the small 37.1-inning sample and not his true talent level, he didn’t pitch too poorly.
When Garcia is going right, he has four — maybe even five — above-average pitches: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, slider, and (on occasion) a curve. The pitch mix and the velocity hasn’t changed at all from when Garcia was really good, but the effectiveness of the four-seamer and slider pitches has gone down. The ground-ball-inducing sinker and changeup still worked well, as both pitches have the same movement at different speeds to fool batters.
Back in 2015, all of Garcia’s pitches generated ground balls, but last season, hitters got the ball in the air on the four-seamer and slider. The former exhibited less downward vertical movement, likely resulting in fewer ground balls, while the latter featured more horizontal movement than in the past, meaning that the pitch was probably catching more of the plate against right-handed hitters when he tried to backdoor it.
The projections say Garcia will fall somewhere between average (Steamer) and slightly below average (ZiPS). Garcia falls in line with most of the other low-cost moves the Blue Jays have made this winter.
Toronto began the offseason in a bit of a predicament. They were situated well behind both the Red Sox and Yankees in the projected standings. Their best player, Josh Donaldson, was (and remains) signed through just 2018. There were likely some calls for the Blue Jays to start a rebuild. By trading Donaldson, they could have received multiple good, young pieces and saved $23 million. Instead, they’ve gone halfway in trying to contend next season. Generally, that’s a bad thing, but for the Blue Jays, it makes sense. Pushing the window of contention down the line while sacrificing the present has been rather popular of late, but that route doesn’t make sense for every team. It will rarely make sense for any team that is close to contending, like the Blue Jays.
Toronto hasn’t gone all-in this season, but they have added a collection of players who serve to raise both the floor and the ceiling of the club. Blue Jays second basemen and shortstops put up a 72 wRC+ last season. Their corner outfielders were essentially replacement level. That’s four of eight positions from which the Blue Jays got no production — and five of nine if you include designated hitter. Add in Russell Martin month-long absence from the lineup, and it is almost shocking that Toronto managed to win 76 games. Here’s how the Blue Jays have responded to those issues.
- Acquired Yangervis Solarte. The utility infielder can play everywhere. Two seasons ago, he put up a 119 wRC+ and a three-win season. He’s currently projected as a league-average player, has two reasonable options after this season, and the team gave up a lottery ticket to trade for him.
- Acquired Aledmys Diaz. Another utility-type player who can play shortstop, Diaz put up a 133 wRC+ in 2016, but hit very poorly last season before losing his job to Paul DeJong. Diaz projects as slightly below average, but he is under control for five more seasons and the team only gave up a non-prospect. He might not be likely to ever repeat 2016, but he’s only 27 and possesses considerable upside relative to the cost.
- Signed Curtis Granderson for $5 million. Granderson is now 36 years old and probably isn’t an everyday starter, but the lefty can be expected to hit well against righties, making him a good platoon partner for Steve Pearce. He is projected to be an average player at minimal cost.
- Traded for Randal Grichuk. The former Cardinals outfielder is a few years from his breakout 2015 season, and he might be depreciating some, but he’s a good baserunner, plays good defense in the corners, and he’s been a roughly average player the last few seasons. He’s also only 26 years old, has three more seasons of team control, and the team only had to give up a good reliever and a prospect who hasn’t yet found the strike zone.
On the position-player side, the Blue Jays have added at least two — and possibly four — average major leaguers to ensure they don’t end up with massive holes to surround their stars. They’ve done so cheaply without harming their long-term future. Jaime Garcia does the same on the pitching side, potentially allowing Joe Biagini to soak up quality innings out of the pen. If things break wrong, they can trade Donaldson at the deadline and regroup for 2019 when they have just $56 million in commitments.
If things go well for Toronto this season, the future still looks bright. Maybe then they try to bring back Donaldson or sign other free agents to extend their current run with a younger core. Our projections currently have Toronto as an 85-win team. That would put them in the hunt all year long. It’s easy to look up at the Yankees and Red Sox and assume there is no hope, but the Blue Jays have a few great players, several great prospects, and now they have more quality depth to fill potential holes. It’s a sneaky-good offseason for a team in a tough spot.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.