Here’s an idea for the Toronto Blue Jays to take advantage of the situation their rivals are in and use them against each other.
Although the Toronto Blue Jays are 37-41, they could still pose a threat to division tyrants New York and Boston. The Jays are currently 15 games back of the division-leading Yankees and 10.5 games behind Seattle for the second Wild Card spot. I don’t have to tell you that this season has been a mess, but if there’s a way we can make the Yankees or Red Sox squabble, even just for a minute, I will take that as some consolation. How would the Jays do that you may ask? Well, the non-waiver July 31st trade deadline is approaching, and the Jays should be one of the more active teams. Maybe it won’t be the fire sale everyone is expecting, but the team will be looking to retain assets on several players with expiring contracts.
Names that will be used as possible trade bait could include the likes of Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Steve Pearce, Curtis Granderson, Marco Estrada, and Ryan Tepera, which our very own Jeff Quattrociocchi wrote about last week. The biggest name mentioned above is former AL MVP Donaldson, but the player with the most value might be Happ. The bagged milk enthusiast has been regarded by many as the best starting pitcher available this deadline.
The 35-year-old lefty is 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 106 strikeouts and 2.0 WAR in 97 innings pitched. The 2.0 fWAR is good enough for 11th best in the American League and 18th overall in Major League Baseball among starting pitchers. In fact, Since August 4th, 2015 Happ boasts a 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 478 strikeouts in his last 500.2 IP.
Now, there were rumblings, chatter, talks, and rumours or whatever you want to call them that the Seattle Mariners and division rival New York Yankees have shown interest in acquiring Happ.
#Yankees and #Mariners both interested in #BlueJays LHP J.A. Happ, source said, and here is one reason why: The AL rival #RedSox have an @MLB-best .813 OPS against RHP but only .672 against LHP. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 18, 2018
What would the price be? I have no idea, but just looking at the Yanks’ farm system a name that stands out is 23-year-old outfielder Clint Frazier. That may be shooting for the stars a bit, but Frazier did speak out about how he was disappointed to be still playing in the minors and a fringe player at this point. To be fair to the situation, he is stuck behind a crowded outfield in the Bronx that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and, Jacoby Ellsbury.
Although, the Yankees did try to trade Gardner and Ellsbury last off-season, but couldn’t find a suitor. Gardner has a $12 million dollar team option for next season, but has produced 2.0 fWAR in 62 games this season and been a strong point for them. Ellsbury is still dealing with hip issues and has yet to play a game this season and the already 34-year-old is owed a guranteed $47 million beyond this season. Unless the Yankees are willing to eat a large portion of that deal, I don’t see Ellsbury being moved.
With that being said we can finally get back to my original point of sticking it to the Yankees and using the Red Sox to do it. An interesting idea came to mind today while I was sipping my morning tea. When the Blue Jays first acquired Pearce the thing that most stood out about him was his ability to hit LHP. Since 2014 Pearce has put together a 135 wRC+ in 479 plate appearances against LHP, which ranks 27th in baseball. Pearce is just coming back from a stint on the DL, but the 35-year-old is having a strong 2018 campaign batting .319/.360/.553 against LHP and .267/.333/.500 against RHP in 77 total at bats. Something I noticed while combing through his stats was that Pearce had been a menace to Happ over his career batting .357/.424/.964 with five home runs in 28 at-bats against him. Looking further into Pearce’s numbers vs. pitchers around the league I stumbled along these little tidbits.
Some of this can undoubtedly be attributed to sample size, but I believe there’s enough to make a case for Pearce being a Yankee killer, even if they don’t acquire Happ. I guess what I’m saying is that it’d be a real shame for the Yankees if Pearce were to get traded to a particular team from Boston. Is there a fit for Pearce in Boston? Well, the Red Sox did recently DFA Hanley Ramirez, who mostly played first base and DH for them, something Pearce could do and has done in Toronto this season. Also, the Red Sox as a team are 25th in the league against LHP with a wRC+ of 86. Pearce would fill a significant need for Boston, and there should be interest.
Now, while the Yankees would for sure not have any use for Steve Pearce, it’d be in their best interest that he doesn’t end up a Boston Red Sox. You can’t possibly allow another team to acquire someone who’s owned 2 of your best starting pitchers. Maybe this opens up the possibility of a three-team trade with Pearce and Happ being sent to the Yankees, and then Pearce flipped to another team? I don’t know.
All I know is that it’s in the Blue Jays’ best interest to create leverage and make what they’re selling as appealing as possible. Some people say trading within your division is a bad idea and I’d agree with that most of the time. But stealing away prospects from a divisional rival for players on expiring contracts seems like a smart thing to do. If the Yankees or Red Sox experience any success, then so be it, the focus should always be on getting the best possible return for your assets.
The Yankees and Red Sox are currently only separated by half a game in the AL East and play each other 13 more times including the final weekend of the season. Every competitive edge matters in a race this close and with the way the standings are shaping up, I don’t think either team wants to face Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez in a one-game playoff. Even though the Blue Jays won’t be making the playoffs in 2018, it doesn’t mean they can’t use this season and the circumstances in front of them to improve their team and take advantage.
Could they really strong arm the Yankees into giving them Clint Frazier by using Pearce and Happ as leverage? Who knows. What I do know is the first of those 13 games featuring the Bronx Bombers and Red Sox is June 29th. So let’s get those Rogers phone lines fired up and glue a handset or Blackberry to Ross Atkins’ face.
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