How the Toronto Blue Jays Should Handle the 2018 Trade Deadline

 

Jays From the Couch has some ideas as to how the Toronto Blue Jays should approach the upcoming Trade Deadline

 

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At the start of play on July 4th, the Toronto Blue Jays sit a whopping 14.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.

 

Combine that daunting deficit with superstar third basemen Josh Donaldson still being sidelined with a calf injury, not set to return any time soon, and it has become quite clear that the Blue Jays will be sellers during the upcoming July 31st trade deadline.

 

General manager Ross Atkins already began his wheeling and dealing on June 28 when he traded 1B/OF Steve Pearce to the Boston Red Sox for 23-year old infield prospect Santiago Espinal.

 

While that move adds depth to the minor league system, and potentially a useful piece if Espinal’s ability to hit more line drives and fewer groundballs can be sustained as he moves up the ladder, the reality is with trades involving players with two or three months of control left the value coming back will be limited.

 

The team does have intriguing players with expiring deals to trade for more minor league depth, and possibly something a little better. While J.A. Happ remains the main trade chip with Donaldson injured, the Blue Jays should be able to get something of value for Marco Estrada (if he is healthy after last night’s injury), Curtis Granderson, and Tyler Clippard. There is also time for Donaldson to come back and become a trade piece, likely in August during the waiver trade period.

 

So obviously, trading players who are not under team control beyond 2018 should be the top priority as the team begins to retool for next season.

 

However, what the Blue Jays need to start doing this month and in next year’s trade deadline, as it was alluded to in this Fangraphs piece, is to go all in for 2020.

 

Team president Mark Shapiro and Atkins need to identify the players with value who do not project to be part of the 2020-2025 teams, and maximize the return on those players as soon as possible. Not only to add more talent to the 2020 team, but to systematically open spots on the big league roster for younger players to start taking over.

 

The reason 2020 looks like a logical year to build for is because of the projected timetable of the team’s top prospects, specifically top ten ten prospects in baseball Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Both players, along with the likes of Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, and Anthony Alford, will likely be called up for good some time in 2019 (possibly after the Super 2 cut off in June), and all of them could conceivably see their first full seasons in the big leagues in 2020. That list does not include Ryan Borucki who is on the big league squad now, or Sean Reid-Foley, along with others on the cusp of being ready for the Majors.

 

The more impactful young talent that Atkins can acquire over the next two trade deadlines, specifically ones that fit the 2020 timeline, the better the chances are of lining up a large quantity of prospects to come up and peak around the same time.

 

The issue is, the Blue Jays likely will not get those types of prospects in return for rentals, but what about the players with more team control?

 

Ross Atkins explains:

“Here’s how we’re articulating that to other teams,” Atkins said Friday evening as the Jays kicked off a nine-game homestand. “Essentially, we have what we feel is a very good team and a lot of attractive pieces. We have a lot of players that are on expiring contracts and we have a lot of really talented players that are under control. So to say that we won’t have discussions on players that are under control is not a stance we ever take, but for them to frame the value for us and do the homework on their end is the thought process we have and how we’ve communicated that to other teams. That’s not any different from how we think about that in the off-season. That’s not any different from how we think about it when we’re not a month away from a deadline. It’s very similar. There’s obviously a heightened focus on players that are expiring, for obvious reasons. We never want to paint ourselves into a box.”

 

From the looks of it, Atkins is open to moving players with more years of control left, and that is where the Jays might be able to get more prospect quality rather than quantity. Teams are valuing prospects more than ever, so in order to part with them, more years of control will be extremely valuable for the team trading those young pieces.

 

Looking at the players on the Blue Jays that have more than three months of control left, but may not factor into the 2020 and beyond time frame, here is a breakdown of who they are and whether they should be moved at this year’s trade deadline.

 

Marcus Stroman
2018 Salary: $6.5 million
Contract status: Arbitration eligible through 2020
Years of control after 2018: Two

 

Stroman is realistically a player the Blue Jays might want to hold on to for the 2020-beyond years. However, that would involve an extension that buys out his free agent years, and that will not be cheap. The front office has to decide what they want to do with Stroman relatively quickly.

 

Verdict: Now might not be the best time to move him anyway since he is coming off injury, but this winter or next trade deadline will be critical in determining which direction they want to take with him. The more years of control he has left, the more value he will hold in a deal. Hold, for now.

 

Aaron Sanchez
2018 Salary: $2.7 million
Contract status: Arbitration eligible through 2020
Years of control after 2018: Two

 

Sanchez is a bit trickier since he has not been healthy or anywhere near his 2016 level over the past two seasons. He was shown glimpses in 2018, but is once again out with an injury. With Scott Boras as his agent, an extension is likely not going to happen, so he should be a trade chip either in the winter or next trade deadline when he is healthy and pitching well.

 

Verdict: Now does not appear to be the best time to move him, but given who his agent is, he should be moved when his value increases.

 

Roberto Osuna
2018 Salary: $5.3 million
Contract status: Arbitration eligible through 2020
Years of control after 2018: Two

 

Not a good year for Osuna with the legal issues and suspension. There is not much information on the actual incident(s) that caused his legal troubles yet, but obviously with his suspension, now is clearly not the time to trade him.

 

Verdict: Wait. Either move him in the off-season if he comes back strong in August and September, or hold him until this time next year and see what his value is at that point.

 

Kevin Pillar
2018 Salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: Arbitration eligible through 2020
Years of control after 2018: Two

 

Pillar has been fantastic value for a 32nd round pick in 2011. However, his bat continues to flounder with no upside in sight. While he is still a useful player, currently at a 1.1 WAR heading into Wednesday’s game with the New York Mets, and projected to finish the year around 2.0, his defense has declined and his bat has been consistently bad (wRC+ of 81, 85, and currently 81 over the past three seasons).

 

Verdict: The time to sell is now. He has two years of control left after this season, does not cost much, and does not figure to get any better. If anything, he will get worse as he ages and his body feels the brunt of years diving around on turf. He should be moved at the deadline.

 

Justin Smoak
2018 Salary: $4.1 million
Contract status: Team option for 2019
Years of control after 2018: One if option is picked up

 

While team president Mark Shapiro and Atkins were heavily criticized for the extension given to Smoak in the summer of 2016 (by myself included), they could not have asked for a better end result. Smoak was an all-star in 2017, hitting 38 home runs with a 3.5 WAR, and $/WAR of $28.3 million, while his contract in 2017 and 2018 will be a shade over $8 million total. Clearly it was a win for this front office. He has not been quite as productive in 2018 (projected to finish around a 1.5 WAR), but that is still quite a bit of surplus value for what he makes, and his team option of $8 million in 2019 (if his plate appearance stipulations are met) is reasonable.

 

Verdict: If there is a market for a first baseman, then Smoak should be traded. With Kendrys Morales being unmovable, giving him more reps at first base would not be a bad thing, and youngster Rowdy Tellez is on the 40-man roster in case they want an internal replacement to fill-in until they find a more long-term option.

 

Yangervis Solarte
2018 Salary: $4 million
Contract status: Team options for 2019 and 2020
Years of control after 2018: Two if options are picked up

 

Solarte’s infectious enthusiasm and surprising pop has been a pleasant surprise in this middling 2018 season for the Blue Jays. Considering he has two team friendly options for 2019 and 2020, can play multiple positions, and has displayed 20 home run power, there should be a market for him in a trade. On the flip side, the Blue Jays acquired him in the first place for a longshot lottery ticket prospect in Edward Olivares, and the team does not benefit by trading him for a similar prospect. There needs to be a clear upgrade if they flip him this summer.

 

Verdict: He should be available for a trade, but only for real value. He fills a hole in 2019 and is a popular player, so no need to trade him for less than fair value, but if a team out there is ready to give up something useful, then the trigger should be pulled.

 

Ryan Tepera
2018 Salary: Minimum
Contract status: Arbitration eligible through 2021
Years of control after 2018: Three

 

Verdict: He is a non-elite reliever in his 30’s. I will not summarize any further. Move him this month (if he is healthy).

 

Seunghwan Oh
2018 Salary: $2 million
Contract status: Team option for 2019, which becomes a vesting option if he makes 70 appearances.
Years of control after 2018: One if option is picked up

 

Verdict: See Ryan Tepera.

 

Clearly, the Blue Jays have a fairly decent amount of trade assets that are inexpensive, movable, and controllable beyond 2018. If they want to gear up for 2020 and add as much quality prospect surplus as possible, they will likely have to start moving those pieces while settling for prospect depth with the expiring contracts.

 

As Donaldson’s 2018 has proven, waiting too long to trade a player can have huge drawbacks. The team lost a lot of value by holding on to Donaldson in their quest to become a second wild card team in 2018, and they should not make the same mistake with other players who might be able to fetch value this summer and make the transition to 2020 a lot easier.

 

 


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Srikant Kabse is a long time baseball fan, accountant, and writer. He currently resides in New Jersey, but grew up in Scarborough Ontario where his love for the sport and for the Blue Jays began as a child. Aside from baseball, Srikant’s interests include fitness, basketball, and traveling.

Srikant Kabse

Srikant Kabse is a long time baseball fan, accountant, and writer. He currently resides in New Jersey, but grew up in Scarborough Ontario where his love for the sport and for the Blue Jays began as a child. Aside from baseball, Srikant's interests include fitness, basketball, and traveling.