TORONTO — On a housekeeping day across baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays non-tendered three players, but played things relatively safe in keeping the most polarizing name around.
With the Monday deadline to tender contracts for 2020 to players on the 40-man roster coming and going, it was no surprise to see catcher Luke Maile and relievers Derek Law and Jason Adam non-tendered, sending the trio off into free agency.
One player the Blue Jays ended up deciding was worth a raise is utility player Brandon Drury, who’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $2.5 million in 2020, up from the $1.3 million the 27-year-old made this season.
It’s debatable whether he even earned that sum in 2019.
Drury, who was seen as the main piece coming over from the New York Yankees in the return for J.A. Happ ahead of the 2018 trade deadline, slashed just .218/.262/.380 with 15 home runs and a well below average 66 wRC+ in his age-26 season, which included a number of long and horrific slumps.
Through it all, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins continued to talk up the infielder’s exit velocities and versatility.
This is another vote of confidence.
Drury ended up appearing in 120 games with the Jays in 2019, playing six different positions at a somewhat acceptable level defensively.
The only spots he didn’t play were catcher and centre field, while his best position seems to be the hot corner, where he graded out with plus-2 Defensive Runs Saved in 59 starts.
The versatile glove leaves him in line to fill a utility role once again in 2020, backing up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third base, filling in for Cavan Biggio at the keystone on occasion, as well as dabbling in the outfield.
The one difference?
This time the leash won’t be nearly as long and with a minor-league option remaining, Drury will need to perform from the get-go in spring training.
Parting ways with Maile, who hit just .151 in 129 plate appearances, leaves just two catchers –Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire — on the 40-man roster, which stands at 37, so you can expect Atkins to troll the veteran market for some Triple-A insurance.
Law’s non-tender and Kevin Pillar being let go by the San Francisco Giants means Low-A right-hander Juan De Paula, who had a 9.17 ERA with Lansing, is the only player left on either roster from the April trade.
Law registered a 4.90 ERA across 60.2 innings with the Jays, while Adam pitched to a 2.91 mark in 21.2 innings.
Closer Ken Giles, starter Matt Shoemaker, and recently-claimed reliever Anthony Bass were the arbitration-eligible players tendered contracts by the Jays.
In addition to Pillar, another notable non-tender in a different city was the Houston Astros cutting bait on right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who, after combining on a no-hitter in his Astros debut, underwent right shoulder surgery to repair a capsule tear and won’t be ready to start the 2020 season.
Capsule tears are often a tricky recovery and there’s some talk the 27-year-old could miss most of the year while rehabbing.
The Jays traded Sanchez, along with reliever Joe Biagini and outfield prospect Cal Stevenson, to the Astros at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for outfielder Derek Fisher, who struck out 43 times in only 93 at-bats once the 26-year-old joined Toronto.
SANDERS OFF TO PITTSBURGH
Ben Cherington’s hiring in Pittsburgh was expected to leave some collateral damage in Blue Jays Land, as the former Boston Red Sox GM attempts to put together his own front office with the Pirates.
That worry came to fruition Monday when Jays scouting director Steve Sanders was hired away by the Pirates, a source confirmed.
The Jays’ internal policy is to allow members of the front office to leave for promotions, but any sort of lateral move is seen as iffy, so expect Sanders to take on a bigger role than just drafting in Pittsburgh.
Hired from the Red Sox in September of 2016, Sanders presided over three drafts in his time with the Jays, coming away with first-rounders Nate Pearson (2017), Jordan Groshans (2018) and Alek Manoah (2019) in three drafts that were universally seen as strong by the scouting community.
Sanders’ exodus comes at a key time with the Jays holding the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft next June — their highest pick since Vernon Wells was selected with the fifth pick way back in 1997 — but there’s plenty of time to shuffle the front office deck before the NCAA baseball season gets underway in February.
FIVE SIGNED TO MINOR-LEAGUE DEALS
The Jays signed five players to minor-league pacts Monday, including three right-handers with major-league bullpen experience in A.J. Cole, Justin Miller and Gatineau, Que., native Phillippe Aumont.
Also inked were second baseman Andy Burns, who led the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in hits last season, and outfielder Patrick Kivlehan, who became the first player since 2013 to hit 25-plus homers with the Herd after he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in May.
All five received invites to major-league spring training.
Looking to build bullpen depth from the fringes of free agency, Cole, Miller and Aumont will all have an opportunity win a roster spot in March, but all three will be playing from behind on minors deals.
Cole, heading into his age-28 season, is the most intriguing, as the lanky righty and former top prospect was only moved to the bullpen full time in 2018, and seemed to start adjusting this year, posting a 3.81 ERA in 25 appearances with the Cleveland Indians.
As usual, Cole’s stuff started to tick up in short stints, with the velocity on his four-seam fastball jumping from 91.6 mph as a starter to 94.4 mph out of the bullpen.
Miller, meanwhile, has 156.1 big-league bullpen innings under his belt across five seasons, pitching to a 4.43 ERA for the Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals.
In 15.2 innings this year, the 32-year-old registered a 4.02 ERA.
Aumont, selected 11th overall by the Seattle Mariners in 2007, is trying to author a feel-good story, having not pitched in the majors since 2015 with the Philadelphia Phillies.
He spent 2019 with the Ottawa Champions of the independent Can-Am League, where he claimed pitcher of the year with a 2.65 ERA and 145 strikeouts across 118.2 innings.