Stroman? Donaldson? No way.
Jays From the Couch takes a realistic approach to the 2017 trade deadline for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is rapidly approaching. Hug Watch has been moved to a prime-time spot. Fans are reviewing their team’s farm systems, and those of almost all other 29 teams, looking to pillage top prospect lists for fifth starters or ready to sell the farm for a corner infielder. Quite simply, it’s the most fun – and often most annoying time of the Major League Baseball season.
Debate within the Toronto Blue Jays fan base is ripe as to whether the team of veterans that has lost consecutive American League Championship Series and is off to a 43-49 start (no, it’s not early anymore) is going to sell or buy at the trade deadline. The answer, of course, is “yes.”
The Blue Jays are not in a situation to be aggressive buyers. If they go 10-3 by the end of July, they might consider buying, but even then, they have FOUR teams to take down within their own division and SIX for a Wild Card spot. As of this writing, their playoff odds via Baseball Prospectus sit at 5.4%, above only Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland – all teams which have conceded to selling in 2017, some of which have already made moves.
Also no. At 43-49 and managing to lose a lot of fluky, weird games and being devastated by injuries through May and April, it’s easy to say they’re a bad team – but also worth mentioning they’ve been incredibly unlucky after a pair of seasons where they were the exact opposite. Yes, they’re old and slow, but there’s a good team in there that just hasn’t clicked. Sure, these players are tradeable (except maybe Troy Tulowitzki), but the Jays would have to eat unspeakable amounts of salary and end up paying players to contribute to other teams. Their returns would also be minimal at best.
Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano
While he’s struggled in 2017, Estrada has put up two very strong seasons in recent memory, and a team searching for starting pitching depth going into the playoffs would be smart to make a run for the change-up artist. The Astros, Dodgers, Rockies, Nationals, Indians and Yankees all look to be potential fits and have farm systems with deep pools of talent. Two months-plus of Estrada won’t net a premier prospect, but could he land someone to fill in the rotation in 2018 and 2019 while the Jays young arms develop in the minors? Maybe.
Francisco Liriano presents a similar opportunity. He likely won’t stick in a playoff team’s rotation, but that devastating slider applied properly in the bullpen against left-handed batters and potentially as a long man to eat up important innings in the playoffs could be a huge add for teams with rotation and bullpen deficiencies. I’m looking at you, Dodgers and Nationals.
Thinking of the NL West again, Jose Bautista would look great in Dodger Blue – or potentially Rockies Purple or whatever the heck the Diamondbacks are wearing lately. While Bautista has professed his love for Toronto over the past half-decade, and we’ve professed it right back – a change of scenery might do him some good, especially if he can start lofting balls into the thin air of Colorado or Arizona. His return, again, likely won’t be great. But with mutual options and a potential for a post-deadline breakout in the West, Bautista has some sneaky trade value for any team that might come asking for him. Plus, you know it would give the Blue Jays fans something to root for as the leaves begin to change and the team falls further out of contention.
The times, they are…becoming quite different. The bullpen is no longer a stable for old men in the autumn years of their careers but a proving ground of elite fastballs, devastating change-ups, cutters and sliders. Teams with “elite bullpens” are immediate contenders and often favoured to win playoff series, with Cleveland (2017), New York (2016) and Kansas City (2014-2015) leading the trend. The Blue Jays currently have some building blocks of their own in Ryan Tepera and Roberto Osuna. They also have Jeff Beliveau, Aaron Loup and J.P. Howell at their disposal, effective bullpen arms who could make a huge impact for competing teams going into a playoff run. While the pieces received won’t be top prospects, worthy major leaguers from today or tomorrow, they can be had in the right deal, and the competition for their services could be strong.
The Blue Jays also have Tim Mayza, Chris Rowley and John Stilson hanging out in beautiful Buffalo, New York right now as well, who could potentially turn late-season auditions into bullpen roles in 2018 – or convince the brass that the bullpen will once again need to be addressed in 2018.
The Blue Jays are currently a flawed team with a lack of starting rotation depth, high-on base batters and a sucking void at second base when Devon Travis is not in uniform. There is no overnight fix, rip-off-the-band aid deal out there to make the Blue Jays a greatly improved team. An approach where they sell off some veterans, acquire some bench assets and potentially some MiLB depth would be ideal. But where do they go this July?
- Make a decision at second base: The Blue Jays have an immensely talented fan-favourite at second base in Devon Travis. Potentially a top-10 second baseman when healthy, Travis has combined for just 213 games over two and a half seasons – but he’s also posted a 6.1 bWAR in that time frame. Ideally, his leg issues fade by the end of 2017 and the Blue Jays are set at 2B for years to come, eventually leading to Lourdes Gurriel, Bo Bichette or someone else in the system earning that post. This is fine if you don’t mind punting on 2017 – but there’s been an awful lot of talk about bringing in Dee Gordon, who’s owed $51 million through 2021. Bringing in Gordon seems more like a “win in 2018 at any cost” kind of move, and just not one we’d expect the current Blue Jays front office to pursue. Maybe if he can move to left field in the future.
- Address the starting rotation depth: The Jays were blessed in 2015 and 2016 to spend very little time on the disabled list, but that hasn’t been the case this season. Forewarned in Spring Training this season, we knew this could be an issue, and sending out the likes of Mike Bolsinger and Lucas Harrell to pitch desperation innings versus the Red Sox, Orioles and Rays has…not gone well. There’s a paucity of starting rotation depth throughout baseball, so this is no easy move, and it becomes more difficult if they are to sell off MLB assets such as Francisco Liriano or Marco Estrada. So maybe they’re approach should be “get what you can” out of these guys, hoping you acquire the next Tanner Roark or Zack Godley in the process.
- Make a deal to properly utilize Steve Pearce: Read: Fix Left Field. Steve Pearce has been excellent, but let’s face it: he’s not a great LF. While ideally he is playing 1B or DHing, those positions are currently filled by immovable objects Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, both who have extremely limited positional availability, and both who are unlikely to be traded any time soon. If LF is the only way they can utilize Pearce, stick to it. Enough of Ezequiel Carrera as anything more than a bench bat/pinch-runner/fourth outfielder.
- Get younger. The Blue Jays are old and slow. There’s really no argument against that fact. The top teams in the MLB right now are the Astros and Dodgers, built on mostly youth with a young core, and they’re built to compete for a long time. By unloading Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays free up an outfield spot for Dwight Smith Jr., albeit just a temporary fix until Anthony Alford is ready or Dalton Pompey finally recovers from his concussion issues. While trading Estrada or Liriano likely doesn’t bring in immediate replacements at the end of the starting rotation, it’s worth looking into seeing what the team can get from them. Joe Smith as well.
There’s no reason for the Blue Jays to stand pat when they have assets in place that can improve upon their team in 2018. That being said, there’s no reason to sell off all of the veterans, either. If you’re expecting an all-new Blue Jays roster in 2018, it’s going to be a disappointing 10 months or so. However, if the Blue Jays wisely move expiring contracts, strengthen their rotation depth and hold on to their controllable leaders, the turnaround back to a competitive team could come sooner than expected.
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