Blue Jays Management Continues to Criticize the 2015 Trades – Was the Price They Paid Worth It?
From November 2014 to July and August 2015, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made a series of trades both big and small to finally push the Edwin Encarnacion–Jose Bautista core over the edge and into the playoffs. The Blue Jays went on to win the American League East and deep into the American League Championship Series before eventually bowing out to the eventual World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals. For what it’s worth, the Blue Jays would have stomped the New York Mets, as well.
With a reinvigorated fan base, Paul Beeston handed over baseball management to Mark Shapiro, at the time with the Cleveland Indians, and its safe to say that he wasn’t a big fan of Anthopoulos’ wheeling and dealing that left the upper ranks of the Blue Jays farm system depleted. Seeing a loss in power or philosophical disagreements coming quickly, Anthopoulos rightly moved out to Los Angeles for a lessened role with the Dodgers, and Shapiro brought in Ross Atkins to be the new general manager.
Despite the return to playoffs after a twenty-two year drought, Shapiro will often mention in interviews that the team has been frantically trying to rebuild the farm system, insisting that they inherited a mess in the minor leagues and an aging, injury-prone big league squad, and that its difficult competing now with limited assets in the upper minors to fix the on-field product. It might lead some to question, are the Blue Jays better off? To answer this, we’ll ignore the fact that there’s a pair of banners hanging in Rogers Centre at this very moment that probably wouldn’t have been there had these trades not gone down. Instead, we’ll look at who left the organization, who remains, and the current state of the franchise.
28 November 2014 – Black Friday
- Blue Jays receive Josh Donaldson
- Athletics receive Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman, Franklin Barreto and Sean Nolin
This will go down as one of the more lopsided trades in Blue Jays history, but at least they were on the right side of the Michael Young-esque steal. Even with a solid MLB start to Graveman’s career and a rough but encouraging start to Barreto’s, this one isn’t even close. Donaldson quickly won an MVP in 2015 (over Mike Trout!) pushing the Blue Jays to their first playoffs appearances since 1993. Verdict: Win
30 July 2015
Daniel Norris finally started putting it together late in 2017, and Matt Boyd stopped being a punching bag for fly ball-prone teams. They’re learning to pitch at the highest level and doing a pretty good job of it. This one hurt at the time, but the sting was lessened when that banner went up in Rogers Centre in 2016 after he shoved in the final two months, putting up a 2.7 fWAR and coming in second in the Cy Young voting. Labourt might end up being the oucho in this trade, as he had a very good 2017 split between Double-and-Triple-A. Verdict: Win, but lack of SP depth was felt in 2017
30 July 2015
- Blue Jays receive Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins
- Rockies receive Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco
Troy Tulowitzki is a gem. LaTroy Hawkins tied that whole bullpen together. At the time, this was the biggest coup of the season, with what some thought might be an even more lucrative trade than the one for David Price. The Rockies also acquired Toronto’s best minor league arm at the time in Jeff Hoffman, and he’s had some ups and downs in Colorado to start his career. This was the only trade that saw the Blue Jays move a big piece of the MLB roster in Jose Reyes, who struggled both on and off the field afterwards. He’s now with the Mets, and Castro has ended up with the Orioles but has struggled at the MLB level. Verdict: Leans Blue Jays
31 July 2015
One of the quieter Anthopoulos trades in 2015, AA added a bit of bullpen depth with Mark Lowe, who had a career year in 2015, posting a 202 ERA+ with Seattle and Toronto. Blue Jays fans also got to see the lanky righty do a provocative dance during the Division Title-winning Champagne celebration as an added bonus. Of the three names shipped to Seattle, Rasmussen is the only one with MLB experience at this point (and not with the Mariners), and some of the other guys have been mostly forgotten. Verdict: Win
31 July 2015
Jimmy Cordero was decently regarded at the time, but both he and Tinoco has sputtered out in their development. Revere went on to lead the Blue Jays order through the late summer and October, putting up 0.3 fWAR. Should he have batted leadoff? No, but the team was raging at the time and no one could beat them until they arrived in Kansas City. Verdict: Win
8 August 2015
At the time I didn’t understand the trade, and to be honest, I still don’t. Dawel Lugo was leveraged by the Diamondbacks to acquire J.D. Martinez at the 2017 trade deadline, so I would say it’s a huge win for them, even without considering that Pennington had a negative fWAR (-0.1) with the Blue Jays in 2015. Verdict: Hard Loss
The only players from the above trades that remain Blue Jays are Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson. Three of the prospects the Blue Jays traded away have since been traded away again. Brett Lawrie is currently out of the game. Cordero, Tirado, Tinoco and Nolin were big names at the time, but have failed to advance in their development with their new clubs. Overall, the biggest losses the Blue Jays were subjected to were, in Fangraphs WAR since being traded:
- Kendall Graveman – 3.4 WAR in three seasons
- Daniel Norris – 2.4 WAR in two seasons
- Jeff Hoffman – 1.1 WAR in almost one full season
- Franklin Barreto – -0.2 WAR in less than one season, with big potential
So of everyone traded, Graveman has had the biggest impact, with Daniel Norris not too far behind. In contrast, let’s look at what the players acquired did in their tenure with the Blue Jays, including multiple seasons from Tulowitzki and Donaldson:
- Cliff Pennington – -0.1 WAR
- Mark Lowe – 0.1 WAR
- LaTroy Hawkins – 0.3 WAR
- Ben Revere – 0.3 WAR
- David Price – 2.7 WAR (in two months)
- Troy Tulowitzki – 2.9 WAR
- Josh Donaldson – 21.4 WAR, MVP Award
It’s not even close. Even if the prospects who left Toronto in 2015 have decent careers, it’s hard to imagine any of them outperforming Josh Donaldson alone, who not only brought a division title back to Toronto, but won and MVP award. Any time you can bring in and MVP award and (nearly, deservedly?) Cy Young Award winner while making a postseason push, you absolutely do just that.
In Shapiro’s defense, though, there was a serious lack of depth, mostly evident in 2017, atop the Blue Jays minor leagues. While guys like Mat Latos, Mike Bolsinger and Cesar Valdez receiving starts late in the year while the Blue Jays struggled to piece a winning streak together, that’s when losing guys like Kendall Graveman and Daniel Norris hurt the most. But…you don’t get there without trading those guys.
As promised, Shapiro and Atkins have significantly replenished the farm system since 2016, while somehow maintaining most of their stars and competitiveness at the MLB level. They have acquired C Reese McGuire, P Thomas Pannone, 2B Samad Taylor and OF Teoscar Hernandez since taking over. Not to mention two excellent MLB Amateur drafts and some significant international signings. It’s understandable that their highest priority was rebuilding the farm. That being said, the repeated criticism of Anthopoulos’ 2015 moves is getting a bit tired, and it’s totally unnecessary. Hindsight is 20/20, but Flags Fly Forever.
*Featured Image Credit: Joy FC- JFtC
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.