Blue Jays Mailbag: Stroman's Tweets, and What a Rogers Sale Could Mean
Plus, Andrew Stoeten writes about the team's need for corner outfield help, and what to expect from Justin Smoak in 2018.
Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Blue Jays' offseason is hardly in full swing yet, but it's slowly coming to life—a fact that could be slowed by a new revelation about Rogers potentially looking to sell the team. A lot of heavy lifting, on both the sale front and the roster construction front, still needs to be done, but things are actually starting to take shape.
Where that actually takes the Jays and their fans remains to be seen, but there are at least some new things to talk about in this week's version of the ol' mailbag for once! So let's dive on in!
And remember, if you have a Blue Jays question you'd like me to tackle for next week, be sure to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I have not read any of Griff's answers.
Is it reasonable for teams not to alert their players directly when a teammate is non-tendered, traded or otherwise released? I can imagine that in the 90s or even early 2000s, that would be a huge hassle, but these days with everyone being connected by smartphone, why not give your own players a heads up?
This question, of course, is a reference to the tweets from Marcus Stroman at the end of last week, when the Jays cut ties with his good friend Ryan Goins, declining to tender him a contract and instead opting to trade for Aledmys Diaz of the Cardinals. The reality may simply be that these moves came together so quickly that there really wasn't a whole lot of time to contact a bunch of players before they were announced. All this stuff has to be filed through the league, so it's not like the Jays can just hold off on an announcement and feel confident that the information isn't going to get out—especially when you're dealing with a situation like a league-imposed hard deadline, as they were.
That said, I have a little bit of sympathy for Stroman here, even if, were I the Jays, I'd be trying very hard to impress on him that making his feelings so public doesn't do anybody any good. I especially have sympathy if, as some have told me they read it, he actually meant it was Goins who found out over social media.
Whatever the case, if the team is going to get dragged on social media by one of its own players when these things happen, it perhaps behooves them to consider getting out in front of these things, whether it's "reasonable" to do so or not.
Should we welcome the sale of the team?
This question, of course, comes straight out of today's headlines, after Rogers CFO Tony Staffieri admitted to reporters that the long rumoured idea that the company is considering selling the Blue Jays is indeed true. "Rogers Communications Inc. is considering selling assets such as baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and a stake in media company Cogeco Inc. to free up capital for other investments, Chief Financial Officer Tony Staffieri said," reported Natalie Wong of Bloomberg on Tuesday evening.
Most Jays fans will be delighted by the prospect of ownership changing hands, but I must admit that I wonder if that catharsis will ultimately be justified. And I think the only real answer one can give to the question of whether a sale should be welcomed, at this point, is that it entirely depends on who's buying.
Rogers, for all the griping it has caused over the years, has tremendously deep pockets, and in recent years has actually been shown to use it a little bit on the Jays. The team's payroll was at just $70 million (USD) as recently as 2011, and in 2017 was over $163 million. That's a significant jump, and one that puts the Jays in the upper third of teams in baseball—or at least on the very cusp of it. (Based on the very reliable figures at Baseball Prospectus, the Jays had the 11th highest payroll in the league in 2017, at $9 million higher than the 12th-place Mets, and within $1 million of ranking 9th, $2 million of ranking 8th, and $3 million of ranking 7th.)
Granted, there are ways in which the company is compelled to spend more on the club than perhaps it would like to.
Back in 2012, Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe and Mail reported that "because of revenue-sharing arrangements among MLB teams, MLB employs a firm in Denver, Bortz Media and Sports Group, to conduct assessments of markets to monitor TV rights values," and that "according to sources, the Blue Jays roughly adhere to the formula provided by MLB in its TV payments to the club."
In addition to doing something close to right by the Jays in terms of local TV money, the club has benefited enormously from the national US TV deals the league has signed in recent years, as all teams do. A 2013 piece at Awful Announcing suggested that clubs get about $50 million each per year based on deals with ESPN, TBS, and Fox. As of 2013 clubs were also getting about $5 million each from MLB Advanced Media.
And then there's the fact that, over the course of the league's two most recent CBAs, the teams in MLB's 15 biggest markets have lost their ability to receive revenue sharing dollars. In the past the Jays could—and did—claim low enough earnings to be compensated as one of the league's have-not clubs, but now that they can't, placing the onus on the club to better generate revenue for itself, Rogers has seemed much more interested in spending to win.
Most of these pressures to spend would be felt by a new owner, too, but we can certainly see in other markets that such things don't always translate to spending in the way that it has under Rogers' stead in recent years. Will the next owner be as willing to set payroll so high? It's not a simple question. The list of billionaire Torontonians involved in sports ownership isn't exactly deep. And the fact that Rogers is looking to move away from an asset like the Jays maybe suggests that selling the club to MLSE, which is 37.5 percent owned by Rogers, isn't in the cards.
A deal with MLSE, however, would make a whole lot of sense. As mentioned in the Bloomberg piece, Rogers still values the Jays as content for its Sportsnet network of channels, but Staffieri says that it doesn't necessarily have to own the team to get that benefit, citing the company's massive NHL rights deal. Were MLSE to own the club, not only would Rogers get a whole lot of money in a sale (granted, some of it would technically be its own), it would keep that content, while also being able to give up games to TSN—whose parent company, Bell, also owns 37.5 percent of MLSE—during the Memorial Cup, NHL playoffs, and other events that end up relegating the Jays off the main Sportsnet channels anyway.
I think a sale that looked like that should certainly be welcomed by Jays fans. It's hard to gauge what MLSE would do, with respect to payroll, based on how its operated the teams it owns that are in leagues with hard salary caps, but you look at the current state of the Maple Leafs, Raptors, and Toronto FC, and you certainly can't question the commitment to winning—at least not since the sale to Rogers and Bell.
If it were a private person, or group of people, who were buying the team, though, those are uncharted waters. Having a private owner, and therefore decisions less rooted in appeasing the stockholders, would definitely be a good thing for the club. But would that person have the wealth or the willingness to run the kinds of payrolls we've seen from Rogers in recent years? You'd hope so, but I really have no idea.
What's a realistic expectation for Justin Smoak in 2018? Lots of slaps last season but only three in his last 30 games or so.
You're absolutely right that the end of Smoak's season got pretty ugly. He produced just two home runs and a 71 wRC+ over 26 games from Sept. 1 onward. That would be a fairly major concern if not for a couple things. One, in an end-of-season press conference, GM Ross Atkins admitted that Smoak had been dealing with contusions at the end of the year (one from a foul ball off his toe, another from getting hit by a pitch in the leg), which may have sapped some of his power. And two, he continued to walk as much, and strike out as little, as he had all season.
The second point should be especially comforting to the Jays and their fans, because it's Smoak's transformation from a guy who struck out in a third of his plate appearances in 2016 to a guy who struck out just 20 percent of the time a year later that was so central to his breakout. That he didn't revert back into his old habits suggests that, when back at full health in 2018, he should more or less pick up where he left off.
The real answer isn't quite as simple as that, though. Smoak was especially good in his 124 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2017, slashing .331/.413/.565, and striking out just 12.6 percent of the time. Perhaps the strikeout rate can stay steady, but his .340 BABIP in the split probably can't. I look at the 124 wRC+ he put up against right-handed pitching, based on a .252/.338/.518 slash line, and figure that's probably a more realistic target. A little lighter than that is what Steamer projects for him, which is a .248/.336/.475 slash line, good for a 113 wRC+.
Those maybe aren't All-Star numbers, but considering what the expectation on him was a year ago, Jays fans should take them in a heartbeat.
I know you prefer another MI, but i think Diaz is big upgrade on Barney even if he isn't the 2016 version, and basically Gift is what Jays fans think Goins is, a no bat defender with legit D, and speed.
I think you're absolutely right about Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe being a big upgrade on Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins, but this right here simply isn't good enough.
Jarrod Dyson really doesn't do anything for me. Projections aren't the be-all, end-all, especially when we're talking about ones based almost entirely on minor league stats, but Steamer sees his bat (85 wRC+) as being just ahead of Anthony Alford (82 wRC+) and behind Dalton Pompey (89 wRC+), and I tend to agree. Or, at the very least, I just don't see how he's better enough than those guys to warrant giving him that spot—especially one in an outfield corner, where the bar for offensive production is significantly higher than in centre.
And pairing him with Teoscar doesn't work for me at all, either. It was great to watch Hernandez blast a bunch of home runs in September, but his .305 on-base, and especially his 39.7 percent strikeout rate, says that he surely could use more seasoning in the minors.
Those two plus Pillar plus the return of Carrera and Pearce in left field? Woof.
I know we're supposed to believe that Diaz is the "versatile middle infielder" the Jays have been looking for, but I really think they need another one—someone who could spell Devon Travis or Josh Donaldson when they're injured, but also play in the outfield every day if the roster is at full health. The upside Diaz showed in 2016 suggests that he can maybe be that guy, but that's putting a lot of stock in a bounce-back season.
Ideally, they don't rely on Diaz nearly so much. Ideally, they get a proper right fielder and a better player to move into the left field mix. Ideally, Ngoepe (who can still be optioned to the minors) would be in Buffalo.
Even if they can't quite do all that, at the bare minimum they really need to a lot better in right field than what you've got there.