- John Lott of The Athletic examines the seven recent PED suspensions doled out to Blue Jays Latin American farmhands in a subscription-only post. Of course, there are lots of difficult issues surrounding this subject, due in large part to the difficult incentive system facing these young players. In the case of the Toronto prospects, they were caught using the kinds of unsophisticated substances that MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem says are easy to detect. Of course, this isn’t a problem facing only the Blue Jays. The Latin American signing and development system, which typically involves so-called buscones and very youthful players, has long been riddled with problems.
Blue Jays Rumors
Feb. 9: The Blue Jays have announced the signing.
Feb. 8, 8:54pm: Axford has indeed agreed to a minor league contract with an invite to Major League Spring Training, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
7:46pm: The Blue Jays and free-agent right-hander John Axford are in agreement on a contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). The Canadian-born Axford is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council. Details of the arrangement aren’t yet clear, though given his rough 2017 season, it’s possible that Axford agreed to a minor league pact with a Spring Training invite.
Axford, 34, struggled with the A’s last season in the second year of a two-year, $10MM contract, pitching to a 6.43 ERA with a 21-to-17 K/BB ratio in 21 innings out of the Oakland ’pen before being designated for assignment and released. However, he’s a year removed from a solid 3.97 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and 0.82 HR/9 with a 54.2 percent ground-ball rate through 65 2/3 innings in 2016.
Those numbers are largely in line with the overall production that Axford posted from 2013-16 in 241 innings with the Brewers, Cardinals, Indians, Pirates, Rockies and A’s. Axford has long shown the ability to miss bats (career 10.2 K/9) but has also had some longstanding issues in finding the strike zone with regularity (4.6 BB/9). His penchant for racking up strikeouts has led to multiple stints as a closer, as he’s saved 144 games in the Majors, including a 2011 campaign in which he led the National League with 46 saves for Milwaukee.
[Related: Toronto Blue Jays depth chart]
If he ultimately joins the Toronto relief corps, Axford would add an experienced arm to a group that largely lacks a track record. Roberto Osuna, of course, has emerged as one of the game’s top young relievers, and southpaw Aaron Loup has more than five years of big league service time under his belt. But, right-hander Ryan Tepera is the only other reliever on the roster with more than two full years of big league service time.
Joe Biagini, Carlos Ramirez, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza are all 40-man options, but Biagini is the most experienced of the bunch and has not yet established himself in the Majors after a rocky 2017 campaign (mostly spent in the rotation). The Jays do have some veteran options that’ll be in camp as non-roster invitees this spring, including Al Alburquerque and and Jake Petricka (who reportedly agreed to a minor league deal earlier today).
The Blue Jays are showing “continued interest” in free-agent righty Andrew Cashner, tweets MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, though he’s one of several starters they’re eyeing. The Jays have a need for a fifth starter to round out their rotation, and Morosi suggests that they’re hoping to fill that vacancy on a one-year deal. It’s not a surprise to see the Jays (or any team, for that matter) preferring a one-year term on the free-agent market, but Cashner reportedly entered the offseason in hopes of securing a three-year pact.
It’s possible that the crawling pace of the offseason has lessened his demands to an extent, but there’s been no indication that Cashner is willing to jump on a one-year offer to date. The 31-year-old made 28 starts for the Rangers last season and posted a 3.40 ERA, albeit one that looks to be largely smoke and mirrors. Cashner’s 4.64 K/9 rate was the second-lowest in the Majors, and his 3.46 BB/9 rate was worse than the league average. Overall, his K%-BB% of just 3.1 percent was the worst of any qualified pitcher in baseball, leading fielding-independent metrics like xFIP (5.30) and SIERA (5.52) to paint an unflattering picture of his work.
The said, Cashner’s fastball averaged better than 93 mph, his 48.6 percent ground-ball rate was comfortably above the league average, and he demonstrated the home-run suppression skills he’s shown for much of his career despite a move to a hitter-friendly setting in Arlington (0.81 HR/9). Cashner did rely less on his four-seam fastball with the Ranges than he ever has in previous seasons, instead favoring more cutters/sinkers. Some clubs may believe that altering that pitch selection a bit could restore some his strikeout prowess.
The Blue Jays currently project to have Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada in the top four spots of their rotation. Joe Biagini was their most frequent fifth starter in 2017, though he struggled in a move to the rotation after enjoying success as a reliever in his 2016 rookie season, when he was a Rule 5 pick. Prospect Ryan Borucki is close to big league ready and could conceivably step into the mix, though it stands to reason that the Jays would prefer to ease him into a big league job rather than throw him directly into the fire in the season’s first couple of weeks (without much of a veteran fallback option in place, should he struggle).
The Blue Jays have agreed to a minor-league deal with righty Jake Petricka, according to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation (via Twitter). He’ll have the opportunity to earn a $1.3MM base salary with $500K in incentives if he can crack the MLB roster.
Petricka, 29, is a former second-rounder who has delivered good results at times in the majors. Between 2013 and 2015, he posted a 3.24 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over 144 1/3 innings. Despite the middling strikeout and walk figures, Petricka allowed only five home runs in that span. With a mid-nineties sinker, he has traditionally delivered big groundball rates (61.5% career).
Unfortunately, injuries and performance lapses arose more recently. A hip procedure cost Petrickamost of 2016. And he managed only 25 2/3 innings last year, allowing twenty earned runs but also posting a 26:6 K/BB ratio. He ultimately underwent a nerve transposition and flexor tendon debridement procedure in October of 2017.
At the time of that surgery, it was estimated Petricka would need to lay off for at least three or four months. The White Sox ended up non-tendering him rather than working out an arbitration salary. (He projected to earn $1.1MM.) With just over four years of MLB service on his clock, Petricka could still be tendered a contract in the future.
Petricka’s current status isn’t fully clear, but in all likelihood he’ll be handled with some care as he works back to full health. Whether or not he’ll have a real shot at earning a MLB pen job in camp, Petricka could well represent an interesting option for the Jays at some point in the coming season.
- Aledmys Diaz tells Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith that he informed the Cardinals early in the offseason that he’d prefer to be traded if the team couldn’t find more regular at-bats for him in St. Louis. The Cards obliged that wish, though the trade that sent Diaz to the Blue Jays doesn’t necessarily create an immediate path to regular playing time, either. Diaz, though, spent much of the 2017 season in the minors, and it seems certain that the Jays envision him as a big league piece to at least fill a reserve capacity. “It’ll be nice to look down the bench and see a little more firepower,” said manager John Gibbons of the additions of Diaz and Yangervis Solarte. Indeed, that duo should be a more productive pairing than Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, each of whom signed minor league deals elsewhere this offseason. And, with a pair of injury question marks up the middle in the form of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis, it’s certainly not difficult to see Diaz and Solarte both getting their fair share of reps in 2018 with Toronto.
Former MLB righty David Aardsma has announced on his podcast that he’s officially calling it quits as a ballplayer and joining the Blue Jays front office as coordinator of player development. The 36-year-old, a former first-round draft pick, last pitched in the majors in 2015 and spent some time at Triple-A in the following season with the Toronto organization. Over nine years with eight MLB organizations, Aardsma ran a 4.27 ERA over 337 frames. He’ll surely be remembered best for a two-year run with the Mariners in which he closed out 69 games and maintained a 2.90 ERA. MLBTR — which once hosted Aardsma on its own podcast — wishes him the very best in his new pursuit.
Here are a few more stray notes from around the game:
- Lefty Phil Coke is hoping to reinvent himself as a knuckle-baller, according to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation (via Twitter). The 35-year-old, a nine-year MLB veteran, spent some time last year with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes but has had a tough time gaining traction in recent seasons. Coke had long utilized a varied arsenal and shown good velocity from the left side, so he ought to have some interesting potential accompanying tools to go with his new knuckler.
- Of course, looking at the state of the market is just not possible without examining the general lack of action. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic again offers some worthwhile perspective in a subscription piece, chiding both the player and team sides for “bickering” over pace-of-play discussions when what’s needed is a joint commitment to evolving the game — and, no doubt, an effort to deal with the dangerous rise in labor tension. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, meanwhile, asks whether certain unsigned free agents could actually decide to open their own spring camp. Different players and agents have different takes on the concept; what’s most notable, perhaps, is the fact that it’s even a topic of conversation at all.
- Even if there’s a resolution to the current impasse, it seems there’ll likely be a broader, ongoing conversation about where the game of baseball is headed when it comes to player-team relations. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper argues that the current rules regime creates skewed incentives that do not reward teams that try to contend but come up a bit short. He discusses a few possible ideas, promoting in particular a “tank tax” that docks organizations in the draft if they put together consecutive sub-70-win campaigns. Cooper suggests this kind of mechanism could function similarly to the soccer approach of relegation. Ultimately, the MLBPA may need to begin considering more drastic measures, Nathaniel Grow writes at Fangraphs. He raises the possibility that the union could strategically disband to open the door to an antitrust lawsuit. While that threat might be utilized first as a means to gain leverage in future CBA talks, Grow explains that it could be a realistic option at some point.
- Those interested in getting the full range of opinions on top prospects from around the game will want to check out the latest top-100 lists. The Baseball Prospectus staff and Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel have graded out the game’s best pre-MLB players from their perspectives.
There may not have been any formal extension negotiations between the Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson, but that doesn’t mean the Jays haven’t been exploring the possibility internally. To the contrary, GM Ross Atkins said at a recent PitchTalks event that the Blue Jays have placed their own valuation on Donaldson and suggested that the team has a good idea of how far it’d go in an effort to extend the former AL MVP (subscription link via The Athletic’s John Lott).
“We do have that number,” said Atkins during his presentation. “We have come up with a clear walkaway that we would be willing to commit to him to extend (the contract) for him to remain a Blue Jay probably for the rest of his career.”
Unsurprisingly, Atkins didn’t delve into the specifics of what that number would entail. Donaldson said recently that to his knowledge, the Blue Jays hadn’t engaged his agents at MVP Sports in extension talks, though one can imagine that the team will explore that possibility in the coming weeks once Spring Training gets underway. That’s typically the timeframe for players and clubs to negotiate extensions, though Donaldson could be one of the tougher players to pry away from free agency.
The 32-year-old got off to a slow start in 2017 but finished with an absurd .302/.410/.698 slash and 22 homers over his final 227 plate appearances, and he’s been on the short list of the AL’s best players for the past half decade. While Donaldson will hit the open market at an older age than most premier free agents, he’d still be primed for a massive contract in free agency, assuming a typically excellent year at the plate and in the field.
On a related note, Atkins also addressed the excruciatingly slow free-agent market, noting that teams appear to be less inclined than ever to push past their comfort levels to win the bidding on a player, calling it “good business to walk away and not [exceed] your value.” Atkins also touched on the fact that free agency tends to reward older players, noting that the “aging curve has been potentially overcompensated in the past.” Atkins did note that the Jays value experience (their signing of Curtis Granderson certainly seems to back that up). While other teams throughout the league surely do as well, it does seem as though the dollar amount associated with that value has declined in precipitous fashion.
How highly the Jays value the experience of Donaldson (financially speaking, that is) and how they’ll proceed with him will continue to be a pressing topic in Toronto for the next six months or more. If no long-term pact is worked out this spring, the question will shift from one of signing Donaldson long term to one of whether the Jays should trade the well-rounded slugger this summer.
Should the team finds itself buried in the AL East, that’ll be a fairly easy question, but if not, the Jays could face the unenviable task of balancing the short-term benefit of chasing down a Wild Card spot with the long-term benefit of bolstering their farm system with a franchise-altering trade of their best player. The Jays would have the option of making a qualifying offer to Donaldson and recouping some value in the 2019 draft, of course, but they’d almost certainly be able to top that value on the summer trade market.
Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna has lost his arbitration case, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. The right-hander had filed for a $5.8MM payday in his first trip through the arbitration process, but he’ll instead take home the $5.3MM salary that Toronto filed for. That amount represents about a $4.75MM raise in his first arb year, and falls just $300K shy of the $5.6MM figure projected by MLBTR’s Matt Swartz.
Osuna has shown excellent command of the strike zone over the course of his three MLB seasons, evidenced by his phenomenal 6.15 career K/BB ratio (a figure that ranks third among qualifying relievers from 2015-2017). He’s posted a solid 2.86 ERA during that time, though ERA estimators such as FIP (2.69), xFIP (3.23) and SIERA (2.64) don’t quite agree on his true talent level. Regardless, Osuna is one of the top closers in the game of baseball, and he’ll be rewarded for it this season.
Fellow first-time arb-eligible closer Ken Giles will earn $4.6MM after winning his case. Giles has tossed 36 1/3 more big league innings than Osuna with better run prevention, strikeout and ground ball results. However, the arbitration process values saves heavily, and because Osuna has 95 career saves (30 more than Giles), he’ll out-earn his Houston counterpart by over half a million dollars this season.
Osuna was an international signing of the Blue Jays in 2011. He pitched his way onto the big league roster out of spring training camp in 2015 at the age of 20, and earned his first career save just two and a half months later. He’s been an anchor at the back of the Jays’ bullpen ever since. Barring an extension, he’s set to pitch three more seasons with the team prior to reaching free agency following the 2020 season.
- With the Blue Jays seeking a starting pitcher and likely not having the funds to land a top free agent, Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com lists potential options for the club. Given that the Jays have in the neighborhood of $10MM to spend, Chisholm explores Jason Vargas, Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner and Jaime Garcia as possible fits. Other choices could include Brett Anderson (in whom the Jays do have interest), Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz and old friend Francisco Liriano.
- The Blue Jays and Brett Anderson have “some mutual interest” in a reunion, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports, though Toronto is still considering other starting pitching options ahead of the veteran southpaw. Anderson signed a minor league pact with the Jays last summer after he was let go by the Cubs, and ended up tossing 33 1/3 innings for Toronto over seven starts, posting a 5.13 ERA, 5.9 K/9 and 2.44 K/BB rate. Nicholson-Smith’s piece contains several other available pitchers that could be fits for the Jays as they look for rotation depth.
- In another piece from Nicholson-Smith, he writes that the Blue Jays are still looking for catching help, most likely a veteran on a minor league deal that can compete with Luke Maile for the backup job behind Russell Martin. Further help could come from within the organization, however, as some evaluators feel prospects Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire could be ready for big league promotions by midseason.