So… Adam Lind for ol’ Marco “Polo Erik” Estrada, eh? I learned to come to grips with this one a lot more easily than you might have believed back in October when I wrote about his season at some other site.
“Salivating to get rid of Adam Lind this off-season just for the sake of it? Because he seems replaceable? Because of what he can’t do?” I wrote at the time. “I don’t get it. At all.”
The market spoke quite differently, it turns out.
What Lind can’t do, and what is required to make him a viable roster piece, put a significant damper on his market, with reportedly only the Brewers and another team seriously engaging in talks with the Jays (the White Sox were the second club, according to Ken Rosenthal, though Alex Anthopoulos didn’t specify despite openly admitting the dearth of interest, and interestingly, Roch Kubatko of MASN reports that the Jays asked the Orioles for Steve Pearce — a cheaper, right-handed 1B/DH of the same age — but were rebuffed).
A lot of fans seemed aghast that Marco Estrada — a serviceable swingman, despite the fact that STEAMER projects him to be basically replacement level, with his poor 2014 outweighing the pair of solid years preceding it — was all that the club could get for one of the best hitters against right-handed pitching in all of baseball, but there was obviously more at work when it came to this deal.
Comments from Anthopoulos aren’t always necessarily the most reliable, but surely there’s a logic to the GM’s fears of getting locked into Lind for another season. For the Jays that would have meant once again locking in tight budget dollars to already-strong area of the club (offense), with still-glaring holes in the bullpen, at second base, and in the outfield. It would have meant needing to use a roster spot on a player to platoon exclusively with Lind. It would have made it more difficult to rotate guys like Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion through the DH spot, and would have forced either the oft-aching Edwin or Lind and his chronic back issues to always be on the turf when facing right-handed pitching.
And don’t underestimate the term “locked” there, either. As easy as it is to say that the Jays, even if they were hellbent on moving on from Lind, should have been able to get something for him, at that salary — which became guaranteed when the Brewers picked up his option — that’s not necessarily so. The parallels aren’t exact but consider Billy Butler, whose $12.5-million option was declined by the Royals following the World Series. “Country Breakfast” certainly had a worse season than Lind did, but he still mashed left-handed pitching to the tune of a 137 wRC+, and there is far more consistency to his track record than there is in Lind’s, his health history is impeccable, and 2014 was the only season in which he’s looked like a platoon guy (84 wRC+ against right-handers). Yet the Royals simply walked away. Granted, the gap between their salaries isn’t insignificant, and surely someone will pay him handsomely, as the Mets just did with Michael Cuddyer, but these guys just don’t have a tonne of value. And as Fairservice wrote in an excellent piece at FanGROFs, another issue is that “Lind and Butler have home runs in their past but, in 2014 in particular, they failed to show the pop associated with great offensive players. They became line drive/singles hitters, guys with high contact approaches but little ability to generate any other value whatsoever.”
Drew’s colleague Jeff Sullivan also looked at Lind’s 2014 production recently, noting that he “is coming off a six-dinger season, with a BABIP closer to .400 than .300,” and that none of his home runs went to the pull side, after hitting fourteen to right field the previous year. These are not insignificant concerns, and as Sullivan rightly points out, “generally you bet against BABIP when it comes in an Adam Lind kind of form.”
Hence the rough market — which is one that is, of course, made even more coarse by his defensive limitations, his injury troubles, his total lack of value on the basepaths, and the fact that only 14 teams other than the Jays play with a DH, many of whom already have players firmly entrenched. A market existed for Lind at all, it seems — at least at this early point in the off-season — because, as Sullivan’s piece tells us, the worst position in baseball in 2014 was Brewers first baseman, with a combined -4.6 WAR between the pylons dragged out to man the spot over the course of the season.
Sure, it’s a bit outlandish to suggest that the Jays wouldn’t have been able to simply give Lind away later on in the off-season, but it’s not as crazy a worry as we might have thought. Organizations are getting smarter all the time — certainly smarter than me. And besides, giving him away isn’t exactly the ideal outcome.
As it stands, the Jays got an asset for Lind. Marco Estrada is maybe not an acceptable return when viewed strictly in a WAR vacuum. He’s not likely to be as valuable on the field as Lind, but that’s not really the point. He’s also not paid as much — he gives the club the flexibility to use those dollars elsewhere. Neither is his contract guaranteed — he can be non-tendered, and all the money saved, if a trade for one of the Jays other starters doesn’t materialize, or he can be cut during camp, with the club being only on the hook for 1/6th of his salary. He can pitch out of a bullpen that’s in need of relievers. He can take J.A. Happ’s role as the fifth/sixth/seventh/eighth starter, in the event that Happ is traded. He can function as much-needed depth if one of Mark Buehrle or R.A. Dickey is traded, leaving Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Daniel Norris as the club’s four/five/six.
Or, yes, he could do none of that. He could be non-tendered, cut, or traded, and the Jays could reallocate the dollars currently earmarked for him. Much like the on-field concerns about carrying Lind, having Estrada right now is very much about flexibility.
Flexibility for flexibility’s sake, of course, isn’t a panacea. What’s crucial is how that flexibility gets used. And as far as that goes, I understand the skepticism about this deal from fans — especially from readers here who got used to my banging the drum for Lind’s utility because of the numbers he put up against right-handed pitching, and those who strain to frame it strictly as a financial issue (i.e. “Why can’t they raise payroll, keep Lind, and have the dollars to do the other things they want to? Why do they have to save?”). But every team has a budget, and there is plenty of reason to believe that Alex Anthopoulos did this understanding the value of a player like Lind and the market for him just as well as everybody else did.
The howls that the GM is just doing something cheap and stupid for the sake of doing something cheap and stupid almost never hold up to the slightest scrutiny, and this is no different. But whether he ultimately makes good on his ability to improve his club through the flexibility afforded him by this deal remains to be seen, and ultimately that’s what it will be judged on.
Image via John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports