Well again this December, we Jays fans find ourselves in a spot watching the opposition (in Boston and New York at least) improve while there’s been little to get much-excited about on the homefront. It’s safe to say few toronto fans are asking for autographed pictures of president Mark Shapiro or his right-hand man Ross Atkins.
That’s not to say that Steve Pearce or Kendrys Morales are bad players. Pearce is a decent enough hitter and with his ability to play first base, as well as (not as effectively) third and outfield, could turn into a sort of “super-sub” utility player, rather like Chris Collabelo two years back. OF course, CC is still kicking around in the system but after last year’s drug susension, his star has fallen and Pearce looks a better bet . Morales should surely hit some homers at Rogers Centre, and other East parks, but is no Edwin Encarnacion. Then again, he comes in at $9 million a year less than EE was offered. given that Encarnacion seems to be drawing little interest from rich teams like the red Sox, he might end up being the fool in that story ultimately, not the Blue Jays. So those two signings are not bad deals for the team, but there’s no getting around the fact that the lineup right now is inferior to the one that bowed out in october to Chief Wahoo’s crew. The team still needs an outfielder or two (I reiterate I personally do not view Melvin Upton as a valid everyday OF for a team which doesn’t covet last place) , a backup catcher – they had two to end the season!- and some bullpen arms.
It’s discouraging to read Gregor Chisholm write on the official team website that there’s not a lot of interest to bring back Jose Bautista; not only is he the face of the franchise, as noted here many times, even on a bad year (like 2016) he motivates the teammates and can drive in 65 , injuries and all, batting lead-off much of the time. And for all the complaints about his ALCS, he has combined to hit 6 HR and drive in 16 in 20 playoff games over the past two falls. A healthy Jose hitting third or fourth in ’17 is likely to be a good bet for 35 homers and 100 RBI, something Pearce or the underwhelming ben Revere (mentioned as a possible replacement) won’t. Rajai Davis , a speedster we know well, has also been mentioned and would add something new to the team, in base running and decent enough defence but , looking at Dexter Fowler’s contract with St. Louis, one might suspect he will pull in close to the same amount the Jays offered Bautista. And a 36 year old who relies on speedy legs is more of a gamble than a 36 year old power hitter. Andrew McCutchen might be a nice fit, but unrealistic given what the Pirates want in return and what limited resources the team has in prospects to give up.
One thing I won’t criticize Toronto for is failing to re-sign Brett Cecil or Joaquin Benoit. Even in today’s inflated salaries, the contracts that pair seem out of the ballpark. To review, Cecil, coming off a mediocre year when he went 1-7 and blew all four save opportunities in just 36+ innings receives over $30 mil over 4 years from St. Louis. the aging Benoit, pushing 40, was excellent in his 25 games here, but was horrible early in the year with Seattle. HE’s getting $7.5M from the Phils for ’17.
Both pitchers would be fine to have in Toronto’s pen, but neither is worth what they got on the market. I’d wager combined, they’re not worth $7.5 M to a team, let alone individually! No questioning that Toronto’s bullpen looks a bit weak right now, particularly in lefties, but one has to wonder how Cecil , who threw a career low 566 pitches last season and buckled under pressure (except , I admit in the Wild Card game) could justify that kind of money . If you like numbers and bow to the “WAR” (a number I find a bit too subjective to take as an exact science) , consider his WAR in 2016 was just 0.3 – meaning that he added one-third of one win to the team compared to using a typical AAA pitcher in his place! Benoit’s WAR was 1.4 in Toronto, but 1.0 overall (taking into account his first half ). Mike trout, for comparison, had a 10.5 WAR – he added ten or more wins to the Angels lowly total. Justin verlander was rated as the most valuable pitcher, surprisingly, with a WAR of 6.6. Now, if we take the current market and think that a top-flight hitter or starting pitcher might be worth $20-25 M per season and lift your team from , say a .500 (81-81) to a wildcard-challenger (around 88 or 90 wins) single handedly, one would surmise that a reliever who will only appear for 50 short outings, maybe 12 or so of which are important, and will only add at most one win to the W column…well, I think we can see their value is quite a bit below what the former Jays pair got.
Perhaps the market will cool down and a few run-of-the-mill veterans like Neftali Feliz or even failed starters like Scott Feldman and Dan Hudson will be around and willing to add their arms to the ‘pen on the cheap come March. In the meantime, while I’d like to have had Cecil and Benoit come on back, given a realistic outlook of the GM having maybe $25 to perhaps $30M left to work with to fill out the 2017 team, I’d much rather have the money go towards a 30+ homer outfielder and a good backup catcher (who can work with our pitchers and hit over the Mendoza Line should he need to play regularly) and take our chances with more guys like Ryan Tepera or Chad Jenkins to fill in the inconsequential middle innings than have Cecil, Benoit and go with Ben Revere in right and a rookie catcher.