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Toronto Blue Jays, Trades, and One-Stop Shopping this offseason

Many teams have multiple needs in the upcoming offseason.  Might the Jays receive a better package if they could provide multiple players in a package deal, filling multiple holes?

The offseason is the time of dreams.  Teams play the game of “if only”, as in “If only I could find a good closer, I might be able to contend in 2019” or “If I could only get an upgrade at catcher and first base, I would have a real shot at a wild card next year”.

One option to filling these needs is the free agent market.  But not everyone can afford $129 million for a Patrick Corbin (or $420 million for a Bryce Harper!).  Which leads to the second option – trades.

The Jays have several players on their current roster who might make strong trade candidates in their own right.  But what if the jays could find a team with multiple needs, and provide a package of players who fill those needs?  Might they be able to extract a “one stop shopping” premium in such a trade?

Let’s start with what the Jays have to offer.  I see five primary trade candidates:

  1. Marcus Stroman is a good player with ace upside.  Problem is, his two remaining years of team control are likely to be rebuilding years for Toronto.  Those years are worth more to a contender than they are to Toronto.
  2. Ken Giles has a perfect 22-for-22 save conversion record in 2018, with a 0.42 ERA, a K/9 over 11 and a 100+ mph fastball.  Admittedly, he lost focus in non-save situations but a contender with multiple save opportunities might prefer to use him as a pure closer anyway.  Problem (see Stroman, above) is that he has only two years left of team control, and a rebuilding team does not really need an elite closer.
  3. Justin Smoak has only one year left on his much-maligned 2016 extension (funny how you don’t hear as many complaints these days).  He is regarded as perhaps the clearest, and most decidedly available, first base upgrade of the offseason.
  4. Kevin Pillar is not a DFA candidate.  He has had four straight seasons of 2 WAR or better, is still only 29, and is projected to earn only $5 million in 2019 arbitration.
  5. Reese McGuire or Luke Maile are both cheap, under 30, and both come with 4+ tears of team control.  There are plenty of teams looking for an upgrade at catcher this offseason.

So who might be a good trade fit, and which players might the Jays be interested in?

The Rockies might be an exceptional fit.  Their production from the catcher position in 2018 was 26th in baseball, and their production from first base was even worse at 29th.  But that is just the beginning.  Of the 64 players who played a minimum of 200 innings in centre field in 2018, the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon ranked …. 64th defensively.   With the way the ball carries, Colorado needs a top-defensive centre fielder more than most.  And finally, of the 10 playoff teams in 2018, only two had a primary closer with an ERA over 4.00.  The Indians (Cody Allen‘s meltdown) and … Colorado.  In return, might the Jays ask for Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies’ #1 prospect (and 11th in baseball per Baseball America)?  He is blocked at short (Story) , third (Arenado) and possibly second (LeMahieu) at Colorado.  He would immediately become the Jays’ top 2B prospect, and he is mlb-ready in 2019.

The Mets could also be an interesting fit.  They claim (?) to be looking to contend in 2019.  In a recent mlb.com article, their greatest need was identified as relief pitching.  Might a “Hundred-miles-Giles” at a projected 2019 arbitration salary of $6.6 million be of interest, particularly since MLBTR projects such high contracts for free agent closers like Craig Kimbrel ($70 million) and Zach Britton ($33m)? And relief is not the Mets only need – in 2018, their production from the catcher and first base positions both ranked 25th in baseball.  In exchange, the Jays might ask for Jared Kelenic, the #6 pick in the 2018 draft and already #72 on the BA top 100 (#62 on the mlb.com list) at 19 years old.  A 5-tool outfielder with good instincts and an already-professional approach, JK should make it to the bigs in 2021 or 2022 – just when the Jays young corps will be peaking.

Although the Halos will be in the market for both a first baseman and a catcher, the most pressing need is clearly pitching.   And Blake Parker (the Angel pitcher with the most saves in 2018 – fourteen) had a decent 3.26 ERA, but with a 4.04 xFIP.  Might the Angels part with outfielders Jo Adell (BA#10) or Brandon Marsh (BA#85) in the right deal?

Some might say that the Jays’ need for starting pitching is so acute that the Jays should only trade for starting pitching.  Personally, I do not agree – but if that is the focus, there are other alternatives.

Houston’s contract with Brian McCann ended in 2018, with the result that the Astros are looking for a catcher.  There are options on the free agent market (MLBTR projects them to sign Wilson Ramos for 3/$36m) but notes that Ramos will have plenty of other suitors.  Houston has also been identified as a potential Smoak suitorHouston is one of the few teams with deep starting pitching – might they be willing to part with one of their young pitching prospects – a Josh James or a Corbin Martin, perhaps?

Of course, when you think of high-ranked pitching prospects, Atlanta has a way of entering the conversation.  The Braves are expected to be strong suitors for J.T. Realmuto, but so will be about half the teams in baseball.  If Atlanta fails, there are free agent options (McCann, Grandal, Ramos) but they will be expensive, in their 30s, and most come with issues about health and decline.  Might Atlanta prefer to gamble on a far cheaper option with more years of team control, particularly if they lose the JTR sweepstakes?

The Braves could also be interested in Giles – their current closer, Arodys Vizcaino, battled injury throughout 2018 and ended with an xFIP of 4.21.  MLBTR projects the Braves to gamble on Cody Allen, and his five blown saves in 32 attempts in 2018.  Might Giles and his 22-for-22 save conversion rate in 2018 be more attractive?  The Braves have a number of near-mlb-ready pitching prospects that the Jays could target.

And there is one other obvious trade partner possibility.  A team whose production from the catcher position was 30th out of 30 in baseball in 2018.  A team whose 1.6 WAR from the first base position was almost entirely due to an outlier performance from a mid-season acquisition who is now a free agent.  A team who will likely be losing their closer to free agency this offseason as well, without an obvious in-house candidate to replace him.  Clearly, the Jays should be targeting a trade with Boston, right?

Next: Steamer projections like Vlad Jr in 2019. A lot.

The bottom line

There is something to be said for the Jays targeting smaller trades, acquiring multiple “lottery tickets” in exchange.  But if you believe (as I do) that the Jays have the foundations of a legitimate contender in the near future, it might make sense to target one or two high-upside pieces rather than a handful of lower-probability players.  And one way to achieve that higher return would be to package multiple players.

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