Is the time right for the Toronto Blue Jays to trade the future for the present, by trading top prospects for a win-now player?
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It was August, 1992. The Blue Jays were 72-55, two games up on the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East and generally considered to be legitimate World Series contenders. But they needed one more top-of-rotation arm to put them over the top. So, on August 27, they traded Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson to the Mets for David Cone. Kent went on to win four Silver Slugger awards, five all-star berths and one MVP award. A heavy price to pay … but the World Series win made it worthwhile.
Fast forward to July 30, 2015. The Jays are 50-51, tied for second place and six games behind the Yankees. They had just traded for Troy Tulowitzki, but still needed pitching help. So they made a second trade, sending Daniel Norris (Baseball America’s 18th highest ranked prospect) and two other pitchers to Detroit for a half-season of David Price. Price would go 9-1 with a 2.30 for the Jays over the remainder of the season, contributing to a first-place finish, though the Jays lost to the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
In both cases, the Jays gave up very valuable prospects. But they did so because they believed that they were ready to take the next step, and that they were only a player or two away from being serious contenders.
Which brings us to today.
The Blue Jays’ farm system is ranked 7th strongest in the majors, with five prospects in the Baseball America top 100. Players like Nate Pearson, Austin Martin and Jordan Groshans have the potential to be key pieces of future Jays teams. But they also have enormous trade value, right now. Which begs the question – is this the right time for the Jays to consider using their prospect capital in an all-in, holy-cow-Batman level trade acquisition? Are the Jays close enough to win it all within the next 2-3 years?
Let’s talk about Luis Castillo.
The Reds are reported to be listening to offers on Luis. Castillo has been in the league for four years, and has been top-30 in ERA and SIERA over that time. But he has really picked it up over the last two years. His ERA and SIERA have both been top-15 in the majors, and his expected Statcast stats are even better. In 2020, his xERA of 3.04 was better than Cole, Kershaw, and Ryu. And did I mention that Luis only just turned 28, and he is in his first arb year with a total of three remaining years of cheap team control? And that his 97.7 AVERAGE fastball velocity in 2020 was second in baseball (to some guy named deGrom, in case you were wondering). Baseball Trade Values ranks his contract as the 4th most valuable pitcher in baseball, just behind some guys named Bieber, Buehler and Woodruff.
So would “The Rock” look good in powder blue? Wrong question. The better question is, would the Jays be willing to pay the price for a pitcher of this calibre? Is this the right time for the Jays to start trading the future for the now?
If the Reds are serious, the bidding for Castillo would be intense. So the price would also be intense. As in “3 of your top 10 prospects” intense. Like Martin/Groshans + Kirk + SWR level.
It’s OK – you can start breathing again.
One of my colleagues here at JFtC suggested that the package might be made marginally more palatable by trading some quantity for quality. As for example – the Reds would be losing Castillo, have already lost DeScalfani to the Giants, and will likely be unable to retain Trevor Bauer. So they need pitching. Specifically, they need cheap, young, mlb-ready pitching with multiple years of team control and some upside. Might a Kay / Hatch / Zeuch / Borucki / Thornton / Merryweather (or possibly even more than one) be of interest – and might their inclusion allow the Jays to replace a Kirk or SWR with a lower ranked prospect? Do the Reds see upside in Derek Fisher‘s 2019 average exit velo of 92.3mph (17th best in baseball) enough to want to gamble on him? Or could they be tempted by Rowdy Tellez‘s 136 wRC+ in 2020? Or a possible resurgence by Randall Grichuk? Or could the Jays take on an expensive contract (like a Moustakas) to reduce the prospect cost?
Trading prospects and existing players for your new #1B starter has the secondary advantage of preserving cash for other acquisitions. So if (for example) the Jays were considering trading for Yu Darvish and the 3/$59m remaining on his contract, might replacing him with Castillo free up some of that $20m annual value to pursue a J.T. Realmuto or George Springer or D.J. LeMahieu? Or might that added payroll flexibility make the $25m+ annual cost of a Lindor signing just a bit more possible?
The bottom line
It is always dangerous trading prospects for a single uber player. Particularly when they are among your very best prospects. But young, cheap, innings-eating, legitimate #1 pitchers do not often come available on the trade market. And if Castillo or his clone is not at the top of Ross Atkins’ Christmas wish list, he should be.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.