One of the ways the Blue Jays were looking to improve their roster in the 2017/2018 off season was in addition by subtraction. By cutting those who were deemed to be at or below replacement level and signing or trading for players with upside, the team hoped to “raise the floor” and secure better support for their star players. I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how those players (along with some who were believed to be traded at their peak value) fared during the 2018 season. In the first part of this series, we will take a look at players who were active in either MLB or MiLB in 2018.
Ezequiel Carrera had his best offensive year in 2017, putting up a 108 wRC+ and 0.9 WAR along with some uninspiring defense. He made it through the winter and most of Spring Training on the Blue Jays roster before being essentially replaced by Curtis Granderson and released on March 11th. He ended up signing a minor league deal with the Braves and had 93 plate appearances for their AAA team in Gwinnett, hitting .146/.228/.220 and a 27 wRC+ before being released on May 17th.
Carrera then signed another minor league deal with the New York Mets on May 18th, putting up a 49 wRC+ in 65 plate appearances. He hit the disabled list in June, and didn’t play again until he was sent to the Venezuelan Winter League. Carrera played for the Tigres de Aragua along with Blue Jays’ minor leaguers Yeltsin Gudino and Kevin Vicuña, ending with a slash line of .317/.406/.404 in 215 plate appearances. He is currently a free agent.
The non-tendering of Ryan Goins in late 2017 was a move that surprised much of the Blue Jays fanbase (and Marcus Stroman), but Goins found a new home in early 2018 with the Kansas City Royals. The Royals needed a back-up infielder who could play multiple positions, so they signed him to a minor league deal. Goins then broke camp on the major league roster. In 120 plate appearances, he put up a .565 OPS (49 wRC+), striking out 29 times and walking only four. Defensively, he put up a 1.4 UZR at 2nd base, 0.4 at 3rd base and -0.1 at shortstop. He was DFA’d on June 26th when Jorge Bonifacio, who was serving an 80 game suspension for PED use, returned. Goins elected free agency and signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the AAA LeHigh Valley Iron Pigs, Goins put up a .606 OPS/70 wRC+ in 143 plate appearances playing all around the diamond at second base, third base, short stop, in the outfield and as the designed hitter.
The oft injured Brett Anderson was slotted into the Blue Jays’ rotation to close out 2017, making 7 starts. He signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics in the offseason and was called up on May 7th. He made all of four starts before landing himself back on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain. Anderson was reinstated on July 8th and made 9 starts this time before his next trip to the disabled list – this time with a strained left forearm. He was reactivated mid-September and made four additional starts to close out the season, but was left off the A’s post season roster. He finished the year with 80.1 innings pitched and a 4.48 ERA (4.17 FIP). Batters had a .770 OPS against him, and he accumulated 0.5 bWAR.
Dominic Leone is an outlier on this list, as he was traded to the Cardinals as a valuable asset to acquire Randal Grichuk. Leone still has many years of control and potential value left, but his 2018 was far from excellent.
Leone put up a 4.15 ERA in 16 games to start the season, giving up 6 earned runs (3 homers) in 13 innings. He left a game on May 5th after a couple warm up pitches, hitting the DL the next day with nerve issues in his pitching arm. He spent all of June and July on the 60 day DL, then most of August rehabbing in the minors before being activated on August 26th. He pitched 11 innings down the stretch to a 4.91 ERA, but with a lower OPS against of .629, down from .817.
Rob Refsnyder was traded to Tampa Bay on March 27th, where he played both in the corner outfield spots and as the designated hitter. In 40 games with the Rays, he hit .167/.314/.274, with a .588 OPS and a 74 wRC+. This earned him a DFA on June 19, and he was then sent outright to AAA on June 22nd. In 51 games with AAA Durham he improved to a .760 OPS, playing mostly in the outfield. He signed a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training with the Arizona Diamondbacks in November of last year.
Similar to Dominic Leone, Joe Smith was traded away as a player of value to Cleveland at the trade deadline last year. In the offseason, he signed a two year, $15M deal with the Houston Astros. Smith made 23 appearances in 19.2 innings to start the season with a 5.49 ERA (4.84 FIP/3.87 xFIP) before landing on the DL for most of June with a right elbow injury. He returned just before the All Star break, and pitched 26.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA (4.06 FIP/3.78 xFIP). His OPS against dropped from .714 to .593, and he ended the regular season a 3.74 ERA with 11 holds and 2 blown saves. Smith made one appearance in the playoffs, taking the loss during ALCS Game 3 after giving up a home run to Steve Pearce.
Unfortunately, he had surgery last month after he ruptured his Achilles tendon during a workout. Jeff Luhnow recently announced that he will be out for 6-8 months, which means he will likely miss at least half of his 2019 season.
In case you weren’t reminded enough last season, 2016 Wild Card legend Francisco Liriano was flipped to the Astros at the trade deadline last year for Teoscar Hernández. Liriano signed with the Detroit Tigers in the offseason and made 26 starts for the team in 2018, missing only three weeks with a hamstring strain. He pitched 133.2 innings in total to a 4.58 ERA (5.11 FIP/4.71 xFIP), accumulating zero bWAR. Liriano’s innings pitched and number of starts would have ranked 2nd on the 2018 Blue Jays, and his 4.58 ERA would be third among starters (fourth if you include Thomas Pannone’s six starts).
The acquisition of Tom Koehler at the end of 2017 was a bit of a head scratcher. Struggling as a starter, the Jays tried him as a reliever, and the experiment went well. In 17 innings mostly in relief, he held batters to a .699 OPS, carrying a 2.65 ERA during that stretch. Koehler was arbitration eligible and his projected salary of $6M was too expensive to tender him a contract. He ended up signing a one year, $2M contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, including another potential $1M in bonuses based on games pitched, games started and games finished.
Sadly, Tom Koehler never threw a pitch in a regular major league game in 2018. He injured his right shoulder early on in Spring Training and was placed on the 60-day DL to start the season. He underwent season ending shoulder surgery in late July, and he was released by the Dodgers in November.
Jose Bautista’s mutual option was declined at the end of the 2018 season, and he remained a free agent until mid-April when he was signed to the Atlanta Braves by former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. He played in 12 major league games from May 4th to May 18th, hitting .143/.250/.343 with a .593 OPS and a 60 wRC+. He was released on May 20th and signed with the New York Mets two days later. Bautista had over 300 plate appearances in 83 games with the Mets playing mostly in the outfield. He was a much improved player during that stretch, batting .204/.351/.367 with a .718 OPS and a 106 wRC+.
Bautista was then traded to a contending team at the deadline, the Philadelphia Phillies, and was excellent. In 27 games, he hit .244/.404/.467 – good for a .870 OPS and a 141 wRC+. As a whole, Bautista’s defense took a real dive from his 2017 season. In nearly 600 innings in the outfield, he posted a -3.8 UZR (-5.2 in right field), down from the 0.3 he put up with the Jays. He is a free agent (again).
2016 All Star and Captain Canada Michael Saunders finished out his 2017 season back with the Blue Jays. His 2018 season rivaled Oliver Drake’s, save for continued releases rather than waiver claims. He signed a minor league deal with Pirates on the 21st of February, and was released two days later. He received an invitation to Spring Training for the Kansas City Royals on March 3rd, but was released three weeks later. Next came a minor league deal with the Orioles on April 2nd, and he made it all the way until May 15th before being released. Finally, the Chicago White Sox inked him to a minor league deal on May 21st, but also released him a month later. During 38 AAA games in 2018, he hit .158/.273/.248 with a .521 OPS. Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Rockies on December 31st.
If you thought Jeff Beliveau’s 7.47 ERA with the 2017 Jays was rough, you ought to see his 2018 ERA with Cleveland: 11.57. He pitched a total of 4.2 innings in 9 games, giving up 6 earned runs (including 2 homers). He was sent outright on June 5th to AAA, and hit the DL on July 15th. He never returned from the DL, and was released on August 8th.
All three of these catchers unsurprisingly did not spend the majority of 2018 in the Major Leagues. Raffy Lopez signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres, and saw the most major league time of the three. He played in 37 games at the Major League Level, batting .176/.265/.284 (.549 OPS). He was traded on November 1st to the Atlanta Braves for cash.
Miguel Montero signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals, and made their opening day roster. He played in four major league games, became a dad again, and was DFA’d upon his return. He hasn’t played since April 5th.
Mike Ohlman didn’t see any major league playing time in 2018. He signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, then was traded to the Red Sox on March 24th. He spent the rest of the year with their AAA affiliate. He is currently a free agent.
In summation, the only player from this list who would have helped the Blue Jays in 2018 is Francisco Liriano as the rest they were either injured, ineffective or replacement level. In fact, most of these players wouldn’t have even helped the 2018 Buffalo Bisons. There are still bounce back opportunities for some of these players in 2019, but we can safely say the Blue Jays didn’t suffer any significant losses by letting them go.