2019 Trade Deadline Crucial for Blue Jays and Ross Atkins

 

The Toronto Blue Jays are entering the Trade Deadline as sellers, but how that unfolds will determine a lot for the organization

 

 

 

 

The Blue Jays are 34-57 and 24.5 games out of first place at the All Star Break. That should not come as too much of a surprise considering general manager Ross Atkins and the front office as a whole made no effort to hide their willingness to punt the 2019 season.

 

After two straight playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, the Blue Jays are looking at their third straight playoff-less season, and their first season as a team that is openly rebuilding.

 

In 2017 and 2018, likely due to ownership’s urging, the team decided to go against conventional wisdom (trading veterans as the competitive window started to close) and decided to make ill-fated attempts to win Wild Card spots in each of those two seasons. It became painfully clear fairly early on in both seasons that the team simply was not good enough.

 

However, that decision to delay rebuilding, or at least delay moving veterans, came with a price.

 

By delaying the inevitable by a year, deciding to start the rebuild at the 2018 trade deadline rather than the 2017 deadline, it forced the team to sell most of their prized assets in a position of weakness.

 

Josh Donaldson was injured all of the 2018 season and was traded with 4 weeks of control left and one functioning leg.

 

Roberto Osuna was traded in the midst of a domestic violence suspension that torpedoed his value. In a normal situation, an elite closer with two and a half years of control left would have been a game changing trade chip, but instead he was a player moved for optics and a diminished return.

 

J.A. Happ was not only traded with two months of control left, but in the four starts prior to the trade he had a 7.41 ERA and 0-3 record in 17 innings (4.98 FIP).

 

Needless to say, last year’s trade deadline turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the organization. Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong.

 

Their three biggest trade assets were moved for Julian Merryweather, Ken Giles, David Paulino, Hector Perez, Brandon Drury, and Billy McKinney.

While Giles was a nice lateral acquisition, collectively that group was not exactly the haul that fans were hoping for in return for Donaldson, Osuna, and Happ when the 2018 season began, but due to injury, legal issues, and simply a bad trade respectively, those returns were reality for the Blue Jays.

 

What if Atkins moved those players one year prior to that? What would the returns have been? I guess we will never know, but that wasted opportunity certainly hurt the team’s short-term ability to potentially add more impact young talent to the organization.

 

CHANCE FOR REDEMPTION

As bad as 2018 was from a trade asset standpoint, the opposite might be true in 2019. The last of the inherited veterans on the team will be moved in Marcus Stroman and Giles (an extension of Osuna). Aaron Sanchez could be moved as well but chances are his trade value is somewhere between awful and non-existent given the type of season he has had, so I will exclude him from this group for now.

 

Stroman and Giles in particular present great value at the trade deadline, especially as both have an extra year of control in 2020.

 

As Jeff Quattrociocchi went over in a recent article, the team will likely be able to extract some value out of Freddy Galvis, Justin Smoak, Daniel Hudson, and possibly Eric Sogard as well, but the primary trade chips are clearly Stroman and Giles.

 

In an era of baseball where teams are holding on to good prospects with a vice grip, it will still be pretty difficult to add top prospects in trades, even with assets at peak value, but these two are clearly the biggest assets Atkins has put on the trade market in his career.

 

ADDING MORE TALENT TO EXPEDITE TIMELINE 

The best part about rebuilding, well, the only good part, is the development of young players. While the first month of the season looked bleak in that category, the past month or so has been a complete 180.

 

Despite the disappointing numbers (versus expectations) for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the young core of position players that were expected to filter their way up to the big leagues have done so. Vlad, Danny Jansen, and Cavan Biggio are up, Bo Bichette is likely a Galvis trade away from the 25-man roster, and  Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has surprisingly been added to that group with a much needed move to the outfield and offensive explosion this season.

 

While young players come with a lot of volatility due to age and lack of big league performance, that looks like a very good core on paper, with Randal Grichuk in the outfield as well due to contract.

 

The reason why the returns for Stroman and Giles are so critical is because the team missed a huge opportunity to add more high upside pieces to that core in previous years by not selling talent at the right time.

 

The team simply needs to add more high upside talent to the roster. The AL East has two teams that already develop talent at a higher level than possibly any other team in baseball (Yankees and Rays), as well as the Red Sox who just won the World Series and have proven they are willing to spend money to add elite talent.

 

The Blue Jays do not want to waste more of Guerrero’s seven years of team control, and speeding up the process will require much better front end talent matching his timeline.

 

While Atkins and the front office have done a great job stocking the farm system via draft and international signings, plus adding depth to it in small trades, the one thing that hasn’t been done effectively is extracting appropriate value in bigger trades, either due to trading at the wrong time or not trading at all.

 

This is a critical time for Atkins and the Blue Jays. If they trade Giles and Stroman for a lot less than what they are perceived to be worth, then there isn’t much left to trade, and they would have failed to turn veteran trade chips into appropriate young talent during their transition years.

 

However, if they happen to make great trades, and even add useful depth pieces with the smaller trade assets, then suddenly a team with exciting young position players already on the big league roster, more assets acquired in trades, and a whole bunch of payroll flexibility to spend on improvements down the road looks a lot more interesting.

 

CONCLUSION

The team cannot turn back time and get appropriate value for veterans long gone. They took a chance, it failed, and they have to move on. However, this month is a chance for redemption. I would not be expecting a top 50 prospect or anything like that coming back to the Jays in any move they make this month, but two top 100 caliber prospects, some intriguing lottery tickets, and added depth is not an unreasonable ask.

 

Now let’s see what actually happens.

 

 

 

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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.