In the scenario where the Blue Jays find themselves sellers at the trade deadline, how might they handle the process?
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It’ OK – you can start hating me for even mentioning this scenario
But after yesterday’s game, the Blue Jays were 7.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot, with 5 teams they would have to beat to get there. It is possible that Toronto could go on a run between now and the July 30 trade deadline, but given the injury issues that the team has faced that is far from guaranteed.
So imagine the scenario where, by the end of July, the Jays find themselves in a similar position – significant games out with 5+ teams to leapfrog. In that scenario, it might well behoove the Jays to take advantage of a trade market described as being “in shambles” with so few good starters available and shift their focus to 2022.
So who might they sell?
Even if the Jays gave up on 2021, they would almost certainly still see themselves as contenders in 2022. So – barring a sweetheart deal – players with multiple years of team control would likely be off the table. Which means that the most likely candidates would be those players who would otherwise be free agents after 2021: Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Marcus Semien.
It is of course possible that the Jays might extend any or all of these players before the trade deadline. In that event, they would likely not be moved. But if a Ray or a Semien indicated that they were not willing to extend (at anything less than a crazy-high price) then a trade might be the next best option.
Where might they go?
This is pure speculation of course, but the team with the lowest production (by WAR) from the shortstop position so far in 2021 is Oakland. Suppose the Jays were to trade Marcus back to his old team, and further suppose that the Jays were to eat a large portion of his salary? (since Oakland is said to be <ahem> “cash conscious”) Oakland is currently leading the AL West, but the Astros are only a single game behind and the A’s might not relish the crap shoot of a wild card game. Might the Jays get an attractive return?
Regarding Ray and Matz, there are several teams who could be good fits. The Cubs are leading the NL Central, but only by a half-game over the Brewers. And the total WAR that the Cubs have earned from their starting pitchers so far this season is only 1.1 – dead last among all 30 mlb teams. Matz’ 1.0 WAR or Ray’s 0.7 would add to that total nicely. And all 5 of the pitchers currently in the Cub rotation are right handers (Ray and Matz are lefties, of course).
Alternatively, a team with a significant injury in their rotation might need an experienced backfill in a hurry. Is Tyler Glasnow’s partial UCL tear season-ending – and if so, do the Rays need another starter? The Yankees were counting on Luis Severino in the second half – how bad is his recent groin injury? And the Mets are leading the NL East – but is Jacob deGrom‘s sore shoulder really a “no issues” situation, given that he has already had side, forearm and shoulder issues this year (and it is only June)?
What might the Jays get?
A contending team is unlikely to part with assets from their current team, so the answer would likely be prospects or bench players with upside. But as long as I am playing the scenario game, imagine the following.
The Jays deal Marcus, Robbie and Steven, getting high-quality prospects in exchange. They add a few prospects of their own, or players who are not fundamental to 2022 (a Rowdy Tellez, for example) and trade the package for a young starter with multiple years of team control. Think Luis Castillo, or Germán Márquez, or José Berríos. They then use the innings made available by the departure of Ray and Matz to give some of the current young starters an extended look. Players like Hatch and Thornton and Kay (and hopefully Nate). With a good half-season of starts, the Jays would have a better understanding of what they have in these players – which would give them a better foundation for trade and free agent decisions in the off-season.
Before the trade, Toronto would speak to all three of Marcus, Robbie and Steven to make it clear that the Jays value them and would like to be in the discussion when those players hit the free agent market this offseason (remember my assumption that none of these players are willing to sign an extension). Ideally, the Jays would be able to pull a Chapman (remember when the Yankees traded Chapman for Gleyber Torres, only to re-sign Chapmen that off-season?) with one or more of those players.
The bottom line
It is possible that the Jays could find themselves sellers – in a sellers’ market – this trade deadline. If appropriately managed, this might give Toronto a chance to significantly enhance their team in 2022 and beyond.
*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.