Imagine you have the ability to travel back in time to correct any mistake you wanted. Armed with the knowledge of the present, you could change the course of human history for the better. You could prevent the Titanic from sinking, or the Hindenburg from exploding, or you could share the knowledge of penicillin long before Alexander Fleming left a jar open. You could save countless lives with this power, or with just a few minor changes, you could travel back to 2010 and turn the Toronto Blue Jays into a dynasty.
It easily could have happened on its own. Thanks to the exhaustive resources at Baseball Reference, I was able to add up all the future rWAR drafted by each team between 2010 and now. 2010 was Alex Anthopoulos’s first year as general manager of the Blue Jays, and during his six-year tenure, the Blue Jays drafted over 30 more wins than the next closest team.
Altogether, Toronto has drafted 147.6 future rWAR this decade, but that success didn’t translate onto the field. The problem is that only a small percentage of those wins stayed in Toronto or entered the organization at all. Take a look at Toronto’s five most successful selections.
Kris Bryant: 25.1
Aaron Nola: 19.6
Kevin Pillar: 15.6
Noah Syndergaard: 15.4
Marcus Stroman: 14.6
The year before Anthopolous took over, the Blue Jays also drafted Yan Gomes but AA later dealt him away for Esmil Rogers who put up -1.0 rWAR with Toronto.
Kris Bryant was originally selected in the 18th round of the 2010 draft, but the recent high school graduate instead fulfilled his obligation to the University of San Diego. In a 2015 interview with Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Bryant said, “there was definitely a chance [I would sign with the Blue Jays], but I didn’t get offered anything, so obviously my only option was to go to school.”
Aaron Nola was also drafted by the Blue Jays out of high school. Nola was originally selected in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft, but instead went to LSU. Syndergaard was part of the trade package that brought R.A. Dickey to Toronto.
Bryant, Nola, and Syndergaard represented 60.1 wins (or 40.6 percent of the rWAR drafted this decade) that the Blue Jays weren’t able to keep. It’s not unusual that a team doesn’t sign a late-round high schooler, and there’s no telling what would have happened to Bryant or Nola’s development had they not gone to college. Bryant has no regrets about where he wound up and credits his time in San Diego for making him the player he is today. For the Blue Jays, though, it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened. Assuming this alternative timeline doesn’t spiral into darkness, the Blue Jays’ success might not have evaporated after 2016.
What if you, the time traveler with a weird sense of priorities, went back in time to tell Alex Anthopolous how the rest of the decade would shake out? What if the Blue Jays had instead used the $2 million they spent signing Deck McGuire to sign Bryant? What if instead of taking a chance on high schooler Tyler Beede in the first round of 2011, they had instead taken a chance on high schooler Aaron Nola?
Let’s assume that with the Blue Jays, Nola and Bryant would have made their major league debuts in the same year: 2015. Nola debuted as a 22-year-old which seems like a reasonable age for a pitcher drafted out of high school, and Bryant apparently needed until April 17, 2015 to get his defense major league ready (unless that was just malfeasance on the Cubs’ part. Say, whatever happened to that grievance he filed?)
With both Nola and Bryant in the organization, there’s less need to trade for Josh Donaldson or Dickey. Over 2015 and 2016, there were few third basemen better than Bryant, but Donaldson was one of them. Even in Bryant’s MVP 2016, Donaldson was just as good. While it’s preferable to have Donaldson, Bryant was making close to the minimum in 2016 meaning the Blue Jays would have had an extra $11 million to spend in free agency. Also, not making that trade means that the Blue Jays could have held onto Kendall Graveman, who had his best season in 2016 in which he dealt 186 innings of roughly league average pitching.
All told, Graveman was worth 3.5 rWAR in 2016 which actually would have the fifth-best in the Jays’ 2016 rotation behind Noah Syndergaard, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sánchez, and Marco Estrada. With Nola and Stroman eyeing spots at the back of the rotation, perhaps the Blue Jays still would have decided to deal Graveman, but instead of getting Donaldson, they would have improved upon their bench of Ezequiel Carrera, Darwin Barney, Ryan Goins, and Melvin Upton, Jr.
The 2016 Blue Jays finished four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East that year. Replacing Dickey (0.4 rWAR) with Syndergaard (5.0 rWAR) could have erased that deficit on its own never mind what extra value they would have gotten from Nola, Graveman, and Stroman. Maybe the Blue Jays would have fared a little better against Cleveland had they faced them in the ALDS rather than losing the championship series in five games. Even if they didn’t, Toronto would have been better setup for 2017 and beyond.
Bryant has been healthier and less expensive than Donaldson. Nola, Syndergaard, and Stroman at the top of the rotation would have had more longevity and upside than a top three of Stroman, Estrada, and Happ. It’s impossible to tell for sure what would have happened. Having Bryant, Nola, and Syndergaard doesn’t make the playoffs any less of a crapshoot. Still, it’s hard to argue that the Blue Jays would have been worse off with all of that talent in their organization.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.