- Teoscar Hernandez’s trade from the Astros to the Blue Jays gives him the opportunity to become a potential replacement for a player he grew up idolizing, writes Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. Jose Bautista’s 54-homer breakout came the year before Hernandez signed as an amateur with Houston, and the 24-year-old tells Griffin that his countryman and childhood idol has already been an invaluable mentor. “The day that I got here (Sept. 2), Bautista came to me and told me a lot of things,” says Hernandez, who credits Bautista with giving him advice on his hitting as well as his off-field routine. “For me, he’s one of the awesome guys that I ever met. He’s every day telling me something new.” Per Griffin, the Jays plan to give Hernandez “every opportunity to earn an everyday role” in 2018 and beyond.
Even after locking up righty Marco Estrada to a one-year extension, the Blue Jays are planning to pursue starters over the offseason, GM Ross Atkins tells Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). Toronto aims to line up eight or nine hurlers capable of taking the ball in the majors, Atkins says.
If it wasn’t clear already that the Jays won’t be entering a rebuilding phase, the move yesterday to re-up Estrada for $13MM seemingly decides the matter. Toronto already has about $90MM committed after that contract hit the books, and will zoom quickly past $100MM as it settles out some significant arbitration cases — including Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Pillar, and Roberto Osuna.
Given the array of commitments, it makes sense that the Jays won’t stop with the return of Estrada. Four rotation jobs are locked up already, presuming health, with Estrada re-joining Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and J.A. Happ. Beyond that, though, there are some questions.
Joe Biagini failed to run with his rotation opportunity this year but remains an option. Toronto has received good innings of from summer acquisition Tom Koehler in a relief role, but he’d be a risky tender given his $5.75MM salary this year and struggles from the Marlins’ rotation. Brett Anderson has had some quality outings down the stretch, though he’ll be a free agent (and was bombed tonight). As Steve Adams noted in discussing the Sanchez signing, youngster Ryan Borucki has flown up the system this year, though it might be optimistic to expect him to take a job out of camp.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of hurler the Jays end up pursuing. The club could compete the job between in-house options and some non-guaranteed or cheaper veterans. Alternatively, it might promise the fifth slot as a means of drawing in a preferred player. If there’s more willingness to spend, perhaps Toronto could go somewhat bigger for a mid-range starter, as it did in its most recent contracts with Estrada and Happ.
It’s been previously reported on multiple occasions that the Blue Jays and right-hander Marco Estrada had mutual interest in a reunion, and that interest came to fruition on Wednesday. The 34-year-old Estrada, who was slated to hit free agency at season’s end, will instead forgo that opportunity in order to return to the Jays on a one-year, $13MM extension, the team announced. Estrada is represented by TWC Sports.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Estrada, who stormed out of the gates with a 3.15 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 through his first 11 starts before falling into a prolonged slump. Estrada would go on to yield 43 earned runs over his next 40 2/3 innings (nine starts) before once again largely righting the ship. In his past 11 outings, Estrada has turned in 3.74 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9.
On the whole, Estrada’s ERA hasn’t fully recovered from the brutal stretch of starts spanning June to mid-July. He’s sitting on a 4.84 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.48 HR/9 and a 29.7 percent ground-ball rate. That grounder rate is the lowest of his career — a dangerous pairing with his lofty HR/9 rate. However, Estrada’s 31 starts are already a career-high, and he seems likely to top his previous career-high of 181 innings in 2017 as well. That’s no small feat for a player that was slowed tremendously in 2016 by a herniated disk in his back.
Estrada will slot back into the starting five behind Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ next season, as the Jays hope for better health from their rotation (specifically, Sanchez and Happ). There’s no clear in-house option for the fifth slot in the rotation, as righty Joe Biagini has struggled in his first chance as a big league starter. Prospect Ryan Borucki posted quality numbers across three minor league levels, and veteran Brett Anderson has looked sharp in four starts as he auditions for a 2018 job. If none of those options entice president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins, the Jays will have myriad options from which to choose on the offseason free-agent market and trade market.
It’s been a disappointing overall year for the Jays, who opened the season with just one win in their first 10 games and never fully recovered. However, despite their poor performance, the Blue Jays never seemed intent to listen to trade offers for anyone controlled beyond the 2017 season. While Josh Donaldson and J.A. Happ drew plenty of trade speculation, the Blue Jays indicated that their intent is to field a contending team in 2018. Their lone trades involved Francisco Liriano (whose contract they ate, along with that of Nori Aoki, in order to effectively purchase young outfielder Teoscar Hernandez from the Astros) and setup man Joe Smith — both impending free agents.
Estrada, like Liriano and Smith, was set to be a free agent following the season and was a speculative August trade candidate. However, the Jays were only three games out of the AL Wild Card race when Estrada was claimed off revocable trade waivers, and they ultimately pulled the righty back after the claiming team (reportedly the Yankees) was more interested in blocking other contending clubs from getting their hands on Estrada.
Certainly, the team may alter its contention-oriented trajectory in 2018 if it stumbles out of the gates and finds itself similarly out of the postseason picture come July. At that point, there’d be plenty of sense in aggressively shopping Donaldson, Happ and Estrada as well, assuming each is healthy and performing reasonably well. For the time being, however, the Estrada extension serves as further proof that Toronto won’t be looking to market Donaldson this offseason and will instead try to supplement its core with an eye toward returning to the postseason for the third time in four years.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- There’ll be plenty of roster needs for the Blue Jays to address this offseason. As Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes, the bullpen will be no exception, though manager John Gibbons says he feels good about the unit as a whole with the season winding down. That includes some optionable arms, as Nicholson-Smith explains in ticking through the hurlers on hand. Among them is Dominic Leone, who spent fewer than 20 days in the minors this year (despite being optioned on four separate occasions) and therefore will come with another option season for the 2018 season.
After reaching the ALCS in the previous two seasons, the 2017 Blue Jays stumbled out of the gate to a brutal 2-11 start and simply never got on track. The team did have some good stretches and was still hanging around the wild card race in late August, so it could be tempting to write the season off as a by-product of some brutal injury luck, as several Jays regulars spent significant time on the disabled list. It could also be argued, however, that the injuries simply exposed some underlying issues with the roster that would’ve prevented Toronto from contending even at full strength.
A rebuild isn’t in the cards given the talent (and big contracts) still on hand, so the Jays are planning for a big rebound in 2018. Here are a few of the areas that need to be addressed in order for the Jays to return to contention…
1. Make the lineup less one-dimensional. The Jays ranked at or near the bottom of the league in just about every major offensive category except for home runs and walks, and this lack of versatility led to the third-worst offensive fWAR (9.0) of any club in baseball. Justin Smoak’s breakout year was countered by Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales having sub-replacement level seasons, plus the light-hitting duo of Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney getting the bulk of playing time at the middle infield spots thanks to Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis missing much of the year. Lengthy DL stints for Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Steve Pearce also didn’t help matters.
A general lack of speed and positional versatility is baked into the Toronto roster given the presence of so many veteran players. If the Jays are looking to add contact hitting, defense and perhaps more stolen bases into the mix, two positions that stand out are right field (which we’ll address in the next point) and second base. The Jays simply don’t know what they have in Travis due to his already-extensive injury history, so getting a more reliable middle infield option is necessary. Shortstop is another question mark thanks to Tulowitzki’s own continued injury problems, though he’s probably untradeable because of his big contract. An everyday middle infielder that could play second base but handle short in a pinch would be ideal for the Jays, as it would give them flexibility in the increasingly-likely event that Tulowitzki or Travis will again hit the DL.
The Jays could also consider trading a veteran simply in order to create room for more versatile players, even if it wouldn’t free up any payroll space. The Jays would have to eat money to move Tulowitzki, Morales or maybe even Pearce, but they could cut down on that financial outlay by taking on another “bad” contract in return. Dealing one of those big contracts to add a somewhat pricey corner outfielder, starting pitcher or reliever in need of a change of scenery would allow Toronto to address a need while technically not really creating another roster hole, given how little the in-house veterans contributed in 2017.
A bigger-picture move would be to deal Donaldson or Smoak, though such a trade doesn’t seem likely since the Jays will be counting on those two as cornerstones of next year’s lineup. The Jays will certainly talk to Donaldson this winter about an extension as he enters his last year under contract, and even if talks don’t go anywhere, it seems much more plausible that Toronto shops Donaldson at next July’s deadline (if at all) rather than move him this winter.
2. Add a new right fielder. Bautista’s tenure with the club is all but certain to end, leaving a big hole in right field. Teoscar Hernandez, acquired at the deadline for Francisco Liriano, is the most obvious in-house candidate, though he may also not be ready for an everyday role on a contending team. Ezequiel Carrera, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith and perhaps Dalton Pompey are other internal options if the Jays wanted to cobble together a platoon, but right field stands out as a clear opportunity to add a reliable everyday player to the lineup.
While the Jays will have some money to spend, signing the likes of a J.D. Martinez or another top-tier free agent bat doesn’t fit with the team’s usual M.O. A trade could also be somewhat difficult; barring the type of bad-contract swap scenario I mentioned earlier, the Jays don’t have much in the way of MLB-ready prospects to offer in deals. This could be a situation where Toronto uses the money freed up by Bautista’s departure to acquire an outfielder from a team primarily looking to move salary rather than add prospects.
3. Add at least one, preferably two starting pitchers. The Jays head into 2018 with a rotation headlined by Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and (theoretically) Aaron Sanchez, provided that Sanchez can solve the blister and finger issues that limited him to just 36 innings. Sanchez’s injuries have already been enough of a lingering concern that he can’t be entirely counted on until the spring, making it all the more important that the club reinforces its pitching staff.
One spot could be filled by a familiar face, as there is mutual interest in a reunion with impending free agent Marco Estrada. That will be a boon if Estrada returns to his 2015-16 form, though even the inconsistent 2017 version of Estrada has still delivered 176 2/3 IP and 2.7 fWAR.
It seems like any pitching additions will have to come via signings or trades, as Toronto is lacking in MLB-ready starters at the Triple-A level. Joe Biagini could be a candidate for a fifth starter’s role after a full Spring Training of preparing to be a full-time starting pitcher, though his up-and-down performance as a starter this year hints that his ultimate future could be in the pen. The Blue Jays won’t be shopping at the high end of the free agent pitching market, but a mid-range signing akin to their deal with Happ two winters ago could fit. The Jays have already been mentioned as one of the teams potentially targeting Alex Cobb this offseason.
- The Blue Jays have put particular effort into scouting Shohei Otani but realistically, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi writes that Toronto looks unlikely to sign the two-way star. On the plus side for the Jays, Otani has worked out with former Blue Jay fan favorite Munenori Kawasaki and the team seems willing to let Otani both pitch and hit. Beyond those positives, however, the Jays’ relative lack of history in the Japanese player market would seem to put them behind others in the running for Otani’s services.
- The Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays have seen Rays righty Alex Cobb up close in recent seasons, and they’ll be interested when he hits the market this winter, writes Cafardo. Cobb will also attract plenty of interest from outside the AL East as well, as he’ll be a good and more affordable alternative to a free agent ace.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
- The Braves have made a pair of front office hires, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Adam Fisher will come over from the Mets to become Atlanta’s assistant GM, while Perry Minasian is moving from the Blue Jays to take a role as director of player personnel.
The Blue Jays have announced that righty Aaron Sanchez will miss the rest of the season. Sanchez has dealt with blister issues throughout the year (with four separate DL stints) and hasn’t returned since being placed on the disabled list in late July. After breaking through in the Jays’ rotation in 2016, the 25-year-old will end his 2017 season with just 36 innings pitched, a 4.25 ERA, 6.0 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9. Here are more quick notes on AL injuries.