On Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays came to terms with outfielder Ezequiel Carrera on a one-year contract to avoid arbitration. The Blue Jays, a file-and-trial team, have a 1:00 pm ET deadline on Friday by which they must either reach an agreement or exchange figures with all of their arbitration eligible players. After this deadline the club will only consider multi-year extensions in lieu of seeing the arbitration process through.
The one-year, $1.9 million contract signed by Carrera makes sense in a vacuum, and in fact is exactly what he was projected to receive by MLB Trade Rumors back in October. The outfielder made $1.2 million when first eligible for arbitration last winter and the $700,000 raise is fair and reflective of his .282/.356/.408 performance in 131 games played in 2017.
Carrera has been worth 1.6 WARP over 827 plate appearances (1.2 WARP/600) across three seasons in Toronto, which cements him in the “good bench player but not someone you should rely upon as a starter” category. What makes this signing slightly unsettling for some Blue Jays fans, however, is that alongside Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce, Carrera makes three outfielders signed to, or soon to be signed to, major league deals. The outfield still needs help on the top end and this agreement doesn’t preclude a run at the highly sought after Lorenzo Cain, but it could potentially take away opportunities in the short term from a quartet of young outfielders.
For arguments sake, let’s say the Blue Jays sign Lorenzo Cain and he agrees to be the everyday right fielder. With Kevin Pillar’s defensive prowess buying him another season in center, left field falls into the hands of another Pearce and Carrera platoon, with the optionable contracts of Teoscar Hernandez, Dalton Pompey, Dwight Smith, and Anthony Alford all bound for the minor leagues. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
At this very moment, given that we simply haven’t seen enough consistent performance at the highest level to blindly depend on them, I don’t think anyone would argue that a bit of seasoning in Buffalo or New Hampshire would hurt any of the four. But what if Teoscar Hernandez spends the month of March crushing balls around Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and looks a whole lot like the guy who had 14 extra base hits and a .302 TAv in September? What if Anthony Alford is an on-base machine and appears to be the ideal solution to the revolving door of leadoff hitters the club struggled with last season?
What this Carrera signing does is raise the floor for the outfield jobs and almost perfectly encapsulates the modus operandi of the Shapiro and Atkins tenure: protect from the replacement level through low risk options without suppressing the ceiling of the roster. Having Carrera in place for $1.9 million pushes Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford to earn the job and supplant the veteran, rather than running the risk of an under prepared rookie getting the job by default. If the best case scenario occurs and space needs to be made available for Hernandez and/or Alford in the short term, one or both of Pearce and Carrera can be sent to the bench, or to another organization altogether thanks to their cost-effective contracts.
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