There has been speculation that the Blue Jays should consider trading for another power bat. Who might be the best fit?
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In a recent article for the Athletic, writer Jim Bowden suggested that the Jays should acquire another power bat. He suggested that the Jays should acquire 1B/DH Josh Bell from Nationals for SS/2B Leo Jimenez and RHP Trent Palmer. Bowden suggested that Bell, a switch-hitter, might be a particularly good fit for a predominantly right-handed Jays batting order.
I place less weight on the lefty/righty mix in a batting order than most. Conventional wisdom has it that left-handed batters hit right-handed pitchers better, and vice versa. So, not surprisingly, the righty-heavy 2021 Jays had a 116 wRC+ against lefties, second only to Houston’s 117 in the majors. Pretty impressive! But the Jays’ 111 wRC+ against righties in 2021 was also second in the majors. So splits were not an issue.
So far in 2022 (insert small sample size caveat here) the Jays have a 103 wRC+ against right-handed pitching (15th in the majors) and a 102 against lefties (13th). So again, the issue does not appear to be splits.
It follows that, if the Jays were looking to add a boomstick, they should not limit themselves to a left-handed or switch-hitting player. A right handed bat who could *hit* would also feed their bulldog.
So what would the ideal trade candidate look like?
First, he would have to be better than just good. Josh Bell has a lifetime wRC+ of 117, which is good but not uber. His 178 wRC+ in 2022 is almost certainly not sustainable, given his .378 BABIP and .428 wOBA are both extreme career highs. The Jays should aim higher. And the player should be good against both left and right handed pitching, to maximize his flexibility and his value.
Next, he should play for a team that is underperforming, and that would potentially be open to a trade. Ideally, he should be a rental (teams are often loathe to trade controllable young talent) and carry a high enough price tag that the selling team would be motivated.
It might help reduce the asking price if the player had an unlucky start to 2022, by which I mean that his Statcast expected stats are significantly better than his actual ones. Like a Matt Chapman, who has a .189/.285/.369 stats line but x-stats of .231/.336/.453.
And finally, one of the major concerns that the Jays have with having a full-time DH is that they need the occasional game at DH for players like George and Vladdy. So this player would have to be comfortable with only starting at DH perhaps 70% of the time, and being an uber pinch hit bat off the bench in the other games. That would likely require a veteran player who has little left to prove for his next contract.
So let’s talk about Nelson Cruz.
Cruz has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last 5 years. His 137 wRC+ from 2018-22 is tied for 17th in baseball. His 127 wRC+ against righties is 38th in the bigs over that period – just ahead of players like Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson. He is on a one-year, $15 million contract with the Washington Expos Nationals, whose current 11-22 record is the third-worst in baseball. Cruz has won multiple awards, but has never won a World Series, so he might be more than amenable to being traded to a team with legitimate 2022 World Series aspirations. And, at age 41 with nothing left to prove, he might well accept (or even embrace?) a less-than-full-time role.
And in terms of “Boomstick”‘s 2022: his stat line of .170/.245/.277 is not pretty. But a lot of this is likely due to bad luck. His Statcast x-stat line so far this year is a far more robust .255/.347/.478. That .478 xSLG would put him third on the Jays, behind only Vladdy and George.
Per Baseball Trade Values, Cruz’s trade value is negative $3 million. So the Jays should be able to acquire him at minimal prospect cost, if they assume his full 2022 salary. Or might it be possible to package Cruz with one of Washington’s strong relief arms (like a Victor Areno or Tanner Rainey) to bolster the Jays bullpen?
The bottom line
You can make a strong argument that the Jays do not NEED another power bat. When Bo and Matt and Teo and Lourdes start coming around (and their x-stats strongly suggest that they will) the Jays will likely become a top-5 offense, just as they were in 2021. And it is equally possible to argue that a power DH is a lower priority than another uber bullpen arm, or possibly even another starting pitcher. But a team needs to be opportunistic, and take the opportunities to improve as they come. And, as 2021 painfully taught, every incremental win has value.
*Featured Images 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.