As much as Blue Jays fans want Edwin Encarnacion back, the Kendrys Morales signing makes that look unfeasible. But what if there was a way to make space and fix the bullpen in one move?
With the signing of Kendrys Morales earlier this month, it seemed like the Blue Jays officially bowed out of talks with Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. With another 1B/DH type on payroll, there was no reason to potentially have three of those on the roster at a significant chunk of change. Especially since the Blue Jays need someone to play the position every day.
But what if there was a way to both bring Edwin back into the fold and fortify a notorious sore spot at the same time?
Let’s start with the obvious. Edwin will cost a lot of money, Morales costs a fair bit of money and Justin Smoak … exists. It makes no sense to re-sign Edwin, and have one of these very expensive bats sitting on the Blue Jays bench for a majority of the games, relying on John Gibbons to pick exactly the right spot to use the bat.
Plus, let’s be clear. Last year, batting off the bench was not Smoak’s strong suit. He made 16 appearances as a pinch hitter last season and accounted for three singles and three walks. Despite getting on base, Smoak’s bat was meant to bring in runs, and he only brought in one. Those aren’t efficient numbers in pinch hit situations, and certainly won’t be useful over a full season.
So if Edwin re-signs and Smoak becomes expendable, where would he go to fulfill that two year, $8.5M contract he signed for some reason last year?
Enter the Blue Jays’ faithful trading partner, the Colorado Rockies.
The team that was willing to bequeath Troy Tulowitzki to the 6ix has a Pikes Peak sized hole on their roster at first base, with only rookie Jordan Patterson and late bloomer Stephen Cardullo licensed to play the position and residing on their 40-man roster. So they could use a first baseman, and Smoak comes a lot cheaper than forking out a projected $13M for Mike Napoli or paying the same amount of money for faded Twitter star Logan Morrison.
So what do the Rockies have that the Blue Jays could use? More importantly, what are the Rockies trying to get rid of?
This is where we get to the second namesake of this article.
Jake McGee was bad news to all Blue Jays fans whenever he entered the game for the Tampa Bay Rays. So much so that he earned special mention on the site when the Rays traded him in the off-season for spare outfielder Corey Dickerson. In that piece, I predicted that Jake would soon learn how tough it would be to prevent balls from flying into the Rocky Mountain Air.
Sometimes it’s all too easy to call.
As part of a supposed bullpen makeover with Chad Qualls and Jason Motte, the left-handed McGee started the season as Colorado’s closer, but was unable to keep the job the entire year. He never found his rhythm as closer for the Rockies, most notably in a five-run blowup against the Dodgers in April, and a four-run disaster against the Padres on June 10th where he tweaked his knee. The next day, he was placed on the DL. By the time he returned on July 2nd, the closer job was in the hands of Carlos Estevez. McGee finished the season with a 4.73 ERA, a 1.577 WHIP and the lowest K/9 rate (7.5) of his career.
However, the Rockies still have reasons to like him. In his season review at Purple Row, Connor Farrell noted that McGee did improve in the second half of the season, as his ERA dropped to 3.05 and he was allowing fewer extra base hits, which was a main part of his struggles early on.
But there are three reasons why Colorado is likely shopping the reliever, as the Sporting News suggested Tuesday.
One, his Coors Field metrics were abysmal. McGee adapted to Denver like this kid adapted to fire ants.
Farrell noted in his piece that McGee’s splits were more favorable away from the Rocky Mountains, and the stats hold true: 2.91 ERA on the road last season, 6.38 at home. Opposing batters were hitting .311 against the 30-year-old in the Centennial State.
Two, McGee enters arbitration for the final time this year, and he’s projected to earn $6.1M according to MLB Trade Rumors. If Colorado is paying that kind of money, they can’t afford to only use him away from Coors Field. Even then, both blowups mentioned earlier in the piece occurred on the road in the NL West.
Three, McGee could be redundant. Reports are swirling that the Rockies are in play for local boy Mark Melancon to come home. There is mutual interest from both parties and if he signs a $50M contract, then McGee’s $6M tag looks excessive and unnecessary.
So conditions are right to move McGee. Why should the Blue Jays be interested?
He’s a lefty.
OK, there’s more than that. He’s a cost-controlled lefty, at least for the next year. Even if the Blue Jays bring back Brett Cecil, they can still use another left-handed arm, especially a power arm like McGee who’s career K/9 still sits at 10.5. Strikeouts were at a premium for last year’s bullpen, and strikeouts are the best outs according to advanced metrics.
He’s also AL East battle-tested. His stats in the five parks are remarkable, posting sub-.200 batting averages in Fenway, Camden Yards and the RogerSkydome. The highest is bandbox Yankee Stadium, and even then it tops out at .231. That held true last year. In four games against AL East opponents, McGee gave up just one hit.
So he seems like a good fit, but what would the Blue Jays have to do to get him?
I reached out to Farrell and two other writers at Purple Row for their opinions, and results were favorable. First in what it would take to get McGee:
@NeoAC18 sorry if this is late. The Rockies are really looking for either a MLB 1B bat or upper minors arms. Someone like Zach Jackson fits.
— Connor (@rockiesVSconnor) November 16, 2016
— Adam Peterson (@playerTBNL) November 16, 2016
Then I asked if Justin Smoak would fit that bill:
— Bryan Kilpatrick (@purplerowBK) November 16, 2016
@NeoAC18 Smoak and a projectable arm would definitely work I think.
— Connor (@rockiesVSconnor) November 16, 2016
So if Smoak and Ryan Borucki would get the job done, then the Blue Jays can land the insurance needed in case Cecil moves on, or the second left-handed arm the bullpen has needed since the days of Dan Plesac. One that can come into high-leverage situations and mitigate Roberto Osuna‘s use to make sure he doesn’t burn out. It seems like a winning move.
Granted, the Blue Jays have been down the “let’s trade a position player for an arbitration-bound power reliever” before, and, well, thanks for coming out, Drew Storen. However, McGee’s shown to have a stronger mental makeup than Storen, not needing to reside in the closer role to be effective. That strong second half last year came while he was setting up Adam Ottavino, and McGee wasn’t the Rays closer until 2014.
Even if this move doesn’t result in the Edwing flying around the RogerSkydome infield in the future, it’s still a smart move for a team that can afford to go into the market to land a Napoli, or Mitch Moreland to play first base. It’s time, Blue Jays. Bring me Jake McGee.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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