A few thoughts Blue Jay a week and a day before Opening Day.
*The unpredictable Off Season for free agents has continued to be just that. But the overall trend is unmistakable- owners are rethinking their former free-spending ways and looking more towards youth, less towards grizzled, star veterans. It is, as I’ve pointed out here before, rather logical – there’s no big payoff for having even great veterans like Albert Pujols hauling in league-topping types of salary when they’re approaching 40, and for every Pujols (who at least gives some good return on the money early in the multi-year contracts) there’s a Jason Heyward. Average at best and declining only 2 years into a $100 million + deal. So while Yu Darvish, Wade Davis and Eric Hosmer got old-fashioned, blockbuster deals (and Jake Arrieta finally got the $25M a year he was said to be holding out for, albeit only for 3 years rather than the 7 or 8 he hoped for), there’s also Lance Lynn, a solid, highly-reliable starter, settling for a one year deal and “Moose” Moustakas, eventually going back to his beloved Royals- but for less money than he’d turned down months earlier.
For my money, by the way, the Jays should have been in on Lance Lynn and outbid Minnesota. I wrote a couple of months back that he might be the under-the-radar bargain pitcher of the winter, and it seems he was that. His numbers aren’t quite what Arrieta’s are, but unlike Jake, Lance seems to be consistent rather than on a steady decline. Likewise, his numbers are better than Alex Cobb’s, and Cobb just signed with the Orioles for 4 years at about $14M a year. Even with Aaron Sanchez (knock on wood) not dealing with those blisters this spring, and the signing of Jaime Garcia earlier, Toronto could do with another solid starter. One wonders if they couldn’t have picked him up at JA Happ-type money for two years. Doing that would have allowed Garcia to have gone to the bullpen to supplement Aaron Loup on the left-side and, of course be available for the rotation should one of the others go down with injury. All that said, I still do like Toronto’s rotation this season…
*One wonders if the dirth of huge contracts given or even offered this Off Season won’t help the Jays re-sign Josh Donaldson to an extension. They broke off talks not long after they agreed on a walloping $23M+ for this one season. Donaldson of course will be a highly-coveted free agent next winter, and from what the insiders say, is waiting to cash in 9-digit style and would be happy if that comes from Toronto, but equally OK with moving along.
Donaldson is unquestionably a star, a 100% effort all the time guy who can, when hot, carry a team by himself. As of a few months ago, I’d have wagered as long as he stays healthy in 2018, he’d be in line for a 6 or 7 year deal worth $30M a year or more. A shipload of money likely to come from Boston or New York. Now, however… The scene is a lot more grim for players like Donaldson. Yes, he’s a former MVP, yes he’s a great hitter. But he’s also going to be 33 next winter. As well, for all his flashiness and highlight reel dives and catches, his throwing arm makes him -statistically- only a little better than average third baseman. A position that traditionally requires youth and agility. A team looking forward to say, 2021 or ’22 would be hard-pressed to see him playing anywhere but first base if not DH’ing. All things which suddenly seem to come into owners’ thinking.
Donaldson should be quite worried by Mike Moustakas. Moose was this year’s premier free agent third-bagger, and like Josh, one with a reputation for being a “guy’s guy” teammate everyone loves. A hard worker, coming off a career year in which he won the AL Comeback Player award. A season in which his numbers didn’t appear that radically different than Donaldson’s : a .272 average, 38 HR, .521 slugging to Josh’s .270, 33HR, .559 slugging. Granted Donaldson played 35 fewer games due to injury, but that might be a negative for JD. Both guys have posted quite similar fielding numbers through their career.
So it’s no surprise last fall Moustakas turned down KC’s offer of over $17M for the 2018 season. The surprise of course, is that few teams bid on his services and when all was said and done, he was back in Royal blue- for $5.5M a year – a pay cut, not to mention less than a third of KC’s original offer. Oh and did we mention – Moustakas won’t be 30 until September?
If I was Josh, I’d be looking at that and worrying, perhaps phoning up the front office to see if I could get a three or four year deal, for less than I”m making right now, while the getting is good. Even with a great ’18, he could be next year’s “Moose”. If things go wrong and he has an “off” season, he could be next year’s Jose Bautista, sitting on the outside looking in waiting for the phone to ring. Yes, that’s what I’d do if I were Donaldson. But I’m not, and it seems to me he won’t see it that way. The swagger and confidence that makes him so good at the plate will carry over into other aspects of life and he’ll be sure he will be the one exception to the new rule of free agency come spring, 2019.
*next, we’ll start looking at the real fun – not the dollars and cents, but the predictions for the 2018 season!