Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Looking to 2015

Busy summer.  I'll try harder.

I had a thought last night, and remembered that I have an avenue for with which to write those thoughts down when relevant.  As such, here goes.

I don't exactly have a ton of faith in the 2015 version of the Jays, as it stands right now.  I think, for the most part, that AA assembled his team for three years with the Dickey and Reyes/Buerhle trades.  It can't be a coincidence or a mistake that AA traded off all of his high-level prospects in the 2012 offseason, meanwhile having most of a team signed through 2015.  Obviously the idea was to win during those years, and then figure it out in 2016/17 when that comes, since the strong low-level farm system would graduate to the bigs by those years, and all kinds of contracts would be off the books.

The reason I don't have faith in the '15 club, of course, is because it's going to be more-or-less the same club that didn't win enough in '13 and '14.  There was reason to have faith this season, because of all the injuries and starts from Chien-Ming Wang.  It's not the same team, obviously-- full season of Bautista, full, non-tumored season of Melky, solid performances from starters-- but this team is still like 15 games back in the division.  And that's a Baltimore team who hasn't gotten anything out of Matt Weiters, and a combined 0.8 fWAR from Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Davis.

Anyway, my somewhat verbose and mostly opinion-based point is that the team will be fairly similar next season, and even with the 5 wins of regression that the O's are due, it still might not quite be enough.

Dickey, Buerhle and Hutchison* are all practically guaranteed to be back next year, as are Bautista, Edwin, Lind, Reyes, Lawrie and Navarro.  Those are the expensive guys, at least-- there are guys like Stroman, Tolleson, Mayberry, Cecil, Goins, Valencia, the bullpen, etc. who are either 0-3 players making the league minimum, or are hitting arbitration salaries and are cost-controlled.  None of whom will make a shitload of money, so we won't really worry a whole lot about that, whether they even get contracts offered to them or not.  The bulk of the money is being paid to the first 8 guys I named there.

*- Hutchison might get to Super-2 and has had a pretty reasonable season.

The Jays have $96MM committed to salary for 2015, before totalling in arbitration salaries, club options and league-minimum salaries.  So that's not including, say, the ~$500k owed to the guys making the minimum-ish (Gose, Stroman, Goins, Loup, Redmond, Jenkins, Tolleson) or the relatively small salaries owed to Cecil, Mayberry, Valencia, Francisco, etc., assuming they're all retained, which they won't all be, or the cost of retaining McGowan ($4MM), Happ ($6.5MM), Morrow ($9MM), Lind ($7.5MM) or Thole ($2MM?)-- I expect McGowan and Morrow's options to be declined.  Once all that fun stuff is tallied up, we're looking at something like $125-140MM already committed to 2015.**

**- I'm using this spreadsheet, taken from Cot's, plus guesstimating on options, arbitration, and non-tenders on this one.  I'm certainly not an expert on arbitration salaries, so I sort of guessed there, but I don't think that should be so far off that it takes away from the point.

I have Happ, Thole and Lind getting their options exercised, Morrow, Santos and McGowan getting declined.  McGowan could get his exercised, I suppose, given that his bullpen slash against is .205/.279/.377.  I also have Juan Francisco, George Kottaras, Munenori Kawasaki and Dan Johnson being non-tendered, with Danny Valencia and Jon Mayberry getting an arb offer to go along with the obvious offers to Lawrie, Cecil and Hutchison.  Don't think Delabar got enough service time this year to get super-2.  Either way, I don't think it's going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

The big thing with that spreadsheet, however, is the subtraction of Melky Cabrera, Casey Janssen and Colby Rasmus.  That's $19MM off the books, with practically all of that going to Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes, and Dioner Navarro's raises, plus arb raises, so the Jays have right around as much committed to next year ($~130MM) as they spent this season ($137MM), and there will be holes on the roster 7 days from now.

The Jays have already announced that they plan on extending a qualifying offer to Melky, which should be in the $15MM area, and I'd guess that there is some mutual desire to sign Melky back for another couple years.  I'd ballpark his deal at 3 or 4 years, somewhere around $11-14MM/season, though it really depends what kind of discount he'd give the Jays, and how much we agree with his defensive numbers pulling his salary down.  If we trust Fangraphs or Baseball-reference, Melky's defense has cost the Jays about a win this season.  There's also the PEDs thing.

Rasmus has a replacement, and has in fact already been replaced, so let's not worry about that.

Janssen's departure will leave a pretty obvious hole in the bullpen.  Sure, that could be patched up by moving people around (i.e. letting Loup/Cecil/whoever close, calling up Jenkins or Delabar or Rasmussen full-time), but at the end of the day, Janssen has been really solid since becoming a reliever, save for the half-season immediately after getting sick and losing a bunch of weight and strength.  It seems as though Janssen is gone, because I expect someone is going to see 4.5 years of success against 0.5 seasons of poop and call it a hunch.  I'd totally be on board with having Janssen back next year, though, and expect to be very sad when he signs with Tampa Bay or Oakland, even with the reduced strikeouts.

The options with Janssen are to re-sign him in the $5MM/yr range, or to go find someone else that can be in the bullpen in his place.  If it's going out and finding a closer, it's going to cost at least that much.  If it's going out and getting a random warm body, it's probably going to be a cheaper option that perhaps isn't quite as reliable, but at the end of the day, pre-illness Janssen was on pace to be worth about a WAR.  Not a horribly difficult amount of production to replace.

My issue with letting him walk, though, is that there are already holes in the bullpen with Janssen.  They won't keep Sanchez in the bullpen (they had better not, anyway), and McGowan probably isn't worth exercising a $4MM option for.  When your third best reliever, and best righty, is Todd Redmond, there may be an issue.

Let's just assume that Melky and Janssen re-sign, and for simplicity's sake, for $10MM and $5MM respectively (backload the contracts, see if I care).  That's $15MM on top of ~$130MM.  $145MM for:

Thole Navarro
Lind Encarnacion Lawrie Reyes Valencia Izturis
Bautista Mayberry Gose Cabrera

Dickey Buehrle Hutchison Stroman Happ
Loup Cecil Janssen Redmond

Depth/minor leaguers.

That last category can include whoever it needs to to fill the roster, though 4 relievers probably isn't enough-- Pillar, Tolleson, Kawasaki, Goins, Pompey, Delabar, Sanchez, Nolin, Jimenez-- but it's probably not incredibly important unless one of those people takes over for someone listed above (injury, for example) and pulls a 2 WAR season out of their ass.

$145MM is an $8MM or so increase compared to this year.  Don't you think that if an extra $8MM next year is fine, that an extra $8MM this year would have been too?  Like at the trade deadline?  Or even before the year?

I guess you could decline Happ's option and trust Nolin/Graveman/Sanchez/Norris to fill the rotation, or stick Graveman in the bullpen, or trade Buehrle for absolutely nothing other than salary relief, but that's all kind of academic at the end of the day-- this team apparently wasn't good enough to win and they should have a pretty similar, albeit worse roster next year, even if they can re-sign Melky.

That's because it's not all money; the bulk of these guys are getting older.  Hutch/Stroman/Gose/Lawrie are obviously exceptions to that, but there's a lot of people on the wrong side of 30 in this team.  Reyes (currently 31), for example, isn't really providing a whole lot of defense at short these days.  Bautista (33) just played his first full season in 3 years, while Edwin (31) and Lind (31) have both missed time with injury.  Dickey (39) has been, by definition, average for the last two years, and Buehrle (35) probably isn't a 3+ WAR pitcher going forward.  Happ, Izturis, Navarro, Tolleson, Valencia, Mayberry, McGowan and Redmond will all be at least 30 at some point next season.  I'm not saying these guys all suck, or will suck next year, but it shouldn't surprise us if we see some decline, since typical peak is age 27-29.

The plan was to win last year.  The plan was to win this year.  The plan is still to win next year, before turning it over to the next wave.  Stroman, Sanchez, Hutchison, Lawrie, Norris, Pompey and Gose, another year or two down the line, looks like a pretty good foundation to build around.  Beyond that, I don't think it's a mistake that Bautista, Encarnacion, Dickey, Buehrle, Janssen, Melky, Navarro, and Happ all have contracts whose guaranteed years expire either after this season or next (Romero and Morrow were supposed to fit in to this as well).

The Jays have just $27MM committed to 2016 (options, buyouts and arbitration take that up to a conservative estimate of $65MM, assuming Bautista and Edwin get their options exercised, $5MM each for Hutch and Lawrie in arb, $4MM for Cecil; Options for Dickey, Thole and Izturis bought out). That leaves a shit tonne of room to extend guys like Stroman, Sanchez and Hutchison if needed, but it also leaves room for guys in the farm to develop and find themselves in the bigs with plenty of payroll flexibility.

Beyond that, the Jays have been incredibly aggressive in the last couple drafts, trying to stock themselves with as much high-upside talent as possible. This year, though, they went ahead and grabbed a bunch of college guys who will hopefully be ready to contribute around 2016-2017, or will at least be close enough to the bigs that they can be useful trade bait.

I realize this may all sound a bit convenient, and predicting the future isn't exactly easy at any point in time, so I guess the big takeaway from all of this is that even if they're terrible in 2015, which they won't necessarily be, the Jays have 1 player under a guaranteed contract for 2016 and beyond, and that's Jose Reyes. Even if there isn't some grand plan for 2016, there's no way that everyone that's on the team right now will be both (a) good, and (b) willing to re-sign here come 2016. The combination of money to spend (even if Rogers is holding out on us!), some quality young guys in the bigs right now, and some really good recent drafts might make this a cheap little juggernaut a couple years from now.