As the Blue Jays continue their rebuild, a natural question arises: How much should they expect to get for their best trade chips?
With apologies to pending free agent Justin Smoak, the two most valuable players likely to be dealt this summer are Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. The 28-year-old Stroman and 26-year-old Sanchez both sit at peak ages. Moreover, they offer more team control than typical trade candidates, offering both the remainder of this season and all of 2020 before they can test the open market.
The Jays are rumored to be seeking near-major league-ready talent in exchange for their two talented right-handed pitchers. The question then becomes: Is that a realistic return for Stroman and Sanchez? In other trades involving pitchers offering roughly one-and-a-half years of club control, what did those teams get in return?
We found four examples from the past decade of pitchers who were dealt under similar circumstances. Running through each of them illustrates potential worst- and best-case scenarios for the Jays’ tandem.
Here, then, are those one-and-a-half guys:
Date Traded: July 31, 2014
Return: Willy Adames, Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin
At the time of the trade, Price was a Cy Young winner and a four-time all-star in his age-28 season. He would go on to lead the league in innings pitched (248.1) and strikeouts (270) between his time in Tampa Bay and Detroit, with one of the best fielding-independent pitching marks (2.78) in the American League.
The Rays tried to make a hybrid deal, acquiring then-exciting shortstop prospect Willy Adames along with two young major leaguers in Smyly and Franklin. The haul was considered light at the time: Adames was hitting .269/.346/.428 in the Midwest League, albeit in his age-18 season. He wouldn’t make his first top-100 prospect list until the following spring, eventually topping out as Baseball Prospectus’s No. 15 prospect before the 2018 season. After a promising 2018 debut, Adames’s numbers have sputtered this year.
Meanwhile, the Rays saw a lefty with promising stuff in Smyly, figuring they could teach him to adopt Tampa Bay’s high-fastball approach that worked with multiple other pitchers in their system. Smyly dominated in seven stretch-run starts for the Rays that year (1.70 ERA) before injuries chipped away at his performance and eventually washed out his career. Franklin was a former first-round pick who the Rays hoped to resuscitate into an everyday big-league player. That plan failed spectacularly.
As for Price’s tenure for the Tigers, it lasted only until the following summer, when the lefty ace moved onto Toronto into a blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays that sent, among others, current ace Matt Boyd to Detroit. You may have heard about it.
Date Traded: July 29, 2009
Return: Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp
This was the first of three times Lee would be traded in his final one-and-a-half years before free agency. At the time of this first trade from Cleveland to Philly, Lee was a month shy of his 31st birthday, near his peak. He’d won the Cy Young award a year earlier, then made 22 above-average (albeit not elite) starts for Cleveland to start the 2009 campaign. Lee pitched well down the stretch for the Phillies, then absolutely dominated with the Mariners after an off-season trade to Seattle, before becoming a stretch run and playoff force for Texas in the latter half of 2010.
Only one player going the other way in this trade did anything notable in the majors, but one has proven to be more than enough. A talented right-hander who’s carried some injury concerns with him throughout his career, Carrasco has nonetheless emerged as one of the best pitchers in the American League, twice finishing in the top 15 in Cy Young voting and striking out more than 200 batters in a season on three separate occasions.
This would be an ideal outcome for a Sanchez or Stroman trade: a young pitcher who offers six-plus years of controllable service time, and turns into a front-line performer with his new team.
Date Traded: July 29, 2010
Return: Anthony Gose, J.A. Happ, Jonathan Villar
Oswalt was in his age-32 season, a few years older than Price was when he was dealt (and older than Stroman and Sanchez are now). He still had some juice left in the tank, though, delivering a 1.74 ERA for the Phillies for the rest of that 2010 season.
The return is full of players whose profiles changed significantly long after the deal was made. Villar flopped as an Astro, and was a non-factor until six years later with the Brewers. Happ was already an established major leaguer at the time of the trade, having finished second the year before in Rookie of the Year voting. But the lefty’s underlying stats weren’t particularly good that year, or with Houston after the trade, or with the Blue Jays and Mariners thereafter, as Happ needed a second-half 2015 cameo with the Pirates and pitcher whisperer Ray Searage to revitalize his career (which would include a second, far more successful tour in Toronto). Another player who would eventually find his way to the Jays, Gose’s hitting was so non-existent, he eventually switched from outfield duty to pitching, though he never panned out at either position.
Date Traded: July 27, 2018
Return: Eddie Butler, Rollie Lacy, Alexander Ovalles
This is a tougher comp, because Hamels was 34 years old and a homer-prone liability with Texas at the time of his trade to the Cubs, serving out the rest of a $22.5-million salary in 2018 to boot. But the North Siders thought they could turn him around in Chicago, with Wrigley Field looking positively cushy compared to Arlington’s house of horrors for pitchers. At the time of writing, Hamels has re-emerged as a steady, strikeout-per-inning presence in the middle of the Cubs rotation.
Because this was a buy-low deal, neither the established major leaguer Butler nor B-level prospects Lacy and Ovalles were (or are) expected to amount to much.
Given this range of outcomes, what should the Blue Jays do with Stroman and Sanchez? As I wrote last month, Stroman’s better-than-average ERA looks far more sustainable than Sanchez’s. Stroman has adjusted well to changes in hitters’ approach, throwing fewer sinkers that can be launched into the bleachers and more sliders that don’t necessarily land on the barrel of opponents’ uppercut swings. He’s done so while maintaining his elite groundball rate. Meanwhile, Sanchez continues to struggle mightily to throw strikes, a trait that’s going to severely dampen any trade interest in him this summer, and that’s before we mention Sanchez’s extensive history of injuries.
Stroman would thus seem a better candidate for a contract extension than Sanchez, assuming current trends hold. Then again, the same results that make Stroman attractive to the Jays could be enough to entice another team into an impact deal, like the one Cleveland got for Cliff Lee, or even the second David Price trade, which transported Matt Boyd from Toronto to Detroit.
The Jays should certainly gauge the market for both pitchers. Whether or not one or both ends up switching addresses should depend on how this latest batch of one-and-a-half guys are perceived by the rest of the league.