There was much rejoicing and anticipation throughout the land as rumors and innuendo suggested the Jays were one of the three possible landing spots for free agent slugger Prince Fielder. Of course, these stories ended up being mostly bunk but the yearning for Prince is very, very real.
For the purposes of self-flagellation, consider Prince on the Jays for a hot minute. An everyday lineup of Escobar/Rasmus/Bautista/Fielder/Lawrie/Snider/Encarnacion/JPA/Second baseman is pretty enticing, is it not? That team will score a couple runs. But is it enough to get the Jays into the playoff picture? Not so fast.
When it comes to adding or subtracting players, using Wins Above Replacement is the easiest and most logical choice. It doesn’t account for everything but, as you can see below, it does relate very well to actual games won. The eight playoffs teams all fall in the top nine WAR finishers, with only the Red Sox failing to qualify (by a single game.)
The Orioles Nation post linked above shows the very same holds true in previous seasons, the newest iteration of WAR is simply more accurate thanks to the inclusion of baserunning runs.
The Toronto Blue Jays position players posted 21.3 WAR in 2011. The Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox all put up more than 31 WAR apiece. Based on this knowledge and Blue Jays home in the American League East, we can see the team must post at least 35 WAR as a collective on offense. Can they do it?
Look at the 2011 Blue Jays WAR breakdown, by position and main offender at each position:
|Position (name)||2011 WAR||2012 WAR Guesstimation|
|C (J.P. Arencibia)||1.5||2|
|1B (Adam Lind/Prince Pujols)||0.5||6|
|2B (Aaron Hill/???)||-0.8||3ish|
|3B (Brett Lawrie)||2.7||4.5|
|SS (Yunel Escobar)||4.3||4|
|CF (Colby Rasmus)||0||4|
|RF (Jose Bautista)||8.3||6.5|
|Bench (Assorted swine)||2||2|
Remember these aren’t based in much more than the most pie in the sky hope and dreams for the Blue Jays starting lineup. There are massive — MASSIVE — assumptions built in. This total gets the Jays to 37.5 WAR for the offense, placing them in the top 3 in baseball based on 2011 numbers. That is an awful lot to ask.
Can Colby Rasmus bounce back to 4 WAR form while the Jays gets nearly league-average numbers in left from one of Eric Thames & Travis Snider AND Yunel Escobar turns in a nearly identical season to 2011 AND Brett Lawrie stays hot and healthy while playing at a level near Evan Longoria’s rookie year AND the Jays pluck a 3 WAR second baseman out of the ether AND Jose Bautista settles into mere 2010 production levels AND Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind combine to hit better than Billy Butler AND all the main guys stay healthy AND the list goes on.
Impossible? No. But adding a nine-figure contract at first base isn’t enough. Not on its own.
It takes a village to raise a child. The Jays have major hurdles to even reach this fabricated level of play. Waving a wand won’t materialize a 3 WAR second baseman nor will it make Eric Thames and Travis Snider ready for their close-ups or transform Colby Rasmus back to his 4 Win form of 2009. The pitching questions — solidifying the bullpen and rotation depth — are for another day.
Adding one of these monsters gets the Jays close. But it doesn’t get them all the way there. 2012 represents a very unique opportunity. If the league opts to add the Wild Card play-in game right away, the Jays must pounce before potential Wild Card rivals in the AL West get fat on a steady diet of Astros.
The back-end of either of these deals would surely end up a nightmare but a little playoff experience in Toronto in the short term is certainly the dream. If acquiring a player of this profile via free agency gives the team the talent boost required to compete at the highest levels, the Jays front office will think long and hard about pulling the trigger to on such a deal.
Adding high-impact players of this magnitude is a difficult trick to pull off. It isn’t as if you can just trade a mere backup catcher or mid-rotation arm and end up with a franchise cornerstone, right? That just isn’t the way it works in the inequitable world of Major League Baseball.
WAR data comes courtesy of Fangraphs.