The Blue Jays are expected to be looking for starting pitching at the upcoming trade deadline. Might they find the arm they need from an out-of-the-box source?
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Going into the 2022 season, the Jays’ starting rotation looked to be an area of strength. But injuries to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson, and inconsistent performance from Yusei Kikuchi, have raised questions about the need for a starting pitching upgrade at the upcoming trade deadline.
Much of the trade speculation has focused on the conventional partners: teams who are out of contention with strong pitchers to offer. Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle of the Reds, Frankie Montas of the A’s, Martín Pérez of Texas – all good candidates. But what if the Jays were to consider a less conventional source?
Let’s talk about the San Diego Padres.
The Paddies are strong playoff contenders. Their 46-31 record is the 5th best in baseball, as is their 3.48 team ERA. But their team 98 wRC+ is 20th in the majors, and the combined 89 wRC+ of their outfielders is 23rd. They have been rumoured to be looking for a hitting upgrade, but they are estimated to be just $600,000 short of the luxury tax threshold and ownership is said to be reluctant to exceed that limit for a second year in a row.
So what can they do?
One solution would be to package one of their non-performing large contracts with prospects, to essentially buy cap space. Wil Myers has a 2022 salary of $20 million and a cap hit of $13.8 million, and Eric Hosmer has a $20 million salary with an $18 million hit. But they both have significant negative trade values, so the prospect cost would be substantial – even if the Padres could find a buyer.
The other option is a bit more counterintuitive. Have you ever heard the meme that a team can never have too much starting pitching? Well, the Padres have too much starting pitching, with a rotation of Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Sean Manaea, Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, MacKenzie Gore, and Nick Martinez. The other option for San Diego would be to trade one of these starters for a bat.
The problem is, most of the power bats in which the Padres might be interested are not cheap. Nelson Cruz of the Nationals has a luxury tax hit of $15 million, and his teammate Josh Bell has a $10 million hit. Even Andrew Benintendi (who has been struggling of late) has a 2022 cap hit of $8.5 million.
The only two pitchers on the San Diego team with a seven-digit luxury tax salary in 2022 are Yu Darvish (salary $19 million, luxury tax salary $21.5 million) and Blake Snell ($13 million and $10 million). A non-contender like Washington or Kansas City might hesitate to take on a salary of this magnitude in a year where the benefit to their team is marginal, so a simple Darvish-for-Bell type trade might be difficult.
So what could the Pads do? Well, they could trade one of Darvish or Snell to a contender who (a) needs pitching help and (b) has deep enough pockets to bear the full salary in 2022 and beyond. The return might not be all that great, assuming that the acquiring team assumed the full salary, but San Diego could then trade for a Cruz or Bell-type hitter – possibly using some of the prospects they received for their pitcher.
So let’s talk Blue Jays.
Suppose the Padres were willing to move Darvish, on the basis that he would free up the most cap space and that he only has one more year of team control. Per Baseball Trade Values, Yu’s cost should not be high – BTV estimates it at $1.2 million. Assuming a small premium, a package of a decent #7 starter (think Thornton/Hatch/Castillo/Kay) plus a few lottery ticket prospects might be enough. And even if it were higher – think Lopez/Pearson/Jimenez – it might still be acceptable from the Jays’ perspective.
There would of course be the additional cash cost. $19 million (even for half a year) is not a small number, particularly when it could be argued that the Jays do not really need another playoff-calibre starter (assuming Berrios + Gausman + Manoah). But you could equally argue that even a solid #4 starter will cost close to $10 million per season, plus the higher prospect cost, and that the extra $5 million-ish that Yu would cost for a half year is well worth it for the insurance value.
A similar argument could be made for Blake Snell, whose 2022 ERA of 5.62 might be misleading, given his 3.82 xERA. Snell would come at a lower cost ($12.5 million in 2022, $16 million in 2023) but with potentially higher injury risk (Snell has pitched 130+ innings only once in his career) and a less impressive recent track record (his xERA was over 4 in four of his six previous seasons, including 2020 and 2021). Still, if he could be had for a less-than-extortionate price, he could be a more than sufficient replacement for Ryu. Toronto might even enhance the $10 million luxury tax salary reduction by adding a few dollars, or taking on another (small) contract
The bottom line
It is not at all certain that San Diego would consider moving one of their starters to free up cap room to enhance their hitting. But if they did, it might create an opportunity for the Jays to acquire a quality starter at a less-than-extortionate price. Given Ryu’s injury and Stripling’s low historical innings pitched (he has pitched over 102 innings only once in his career, and that was in 2018), that might be an opportunity too prudent to pass up.
*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.