Blue Jays Confidential: There’s nowhere to go from here but up, right?

Baseball Central discussion between Kevin Barker and Jeff Blair on why this deadline was a harsh reality for Blue Jays brass, telling them exactly what other organizations thought about their players.

Each week Blue Jays Confidential will ask a panel of Sportsnet Blue Jays Insiders and personalities to weigh in on issues big and small with the team, and around Major League Baseball.

1. Straight-up: Given the low return and the — granted small — chance of improving his trade value with a better second half, do you think the Blue Jays should have held on to Aaron Sanchez, at least thought the end of 2019?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Absolutely. Derek Fisher is just a guy, and guys are always available.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
I’ll just leave this here. Can’t say enough how much I’m hoping he turns it around with Houston. That would be awesome to watch.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
Well, given that I wrote this about a week ago, I’m a hard yes here. I’ve had a lot of conversations about this since the deadline and understand where the Blue Jays were coming from on this one. They weren’t willing to bet on a resurgence and find themselves potentially in possession of a middle to high-leverage reliever on a $5 million salary ahead of next year’s deadline. That’s how you end up with the 2020 edition of Corey Copping.

The only way to get a decent return was to bundle him with Joe Biagini and a prospect and you can reasonably argue that Derek Fisher with six years of control is a better bet than what good starter Sanchez might return next July. Still, in playing the latter out, you also have Sanchez starting for another five months, and while maybe there’s too much baggage, but perhaps the sides even talk extension. Let’s see if the Astros help Sanchez start shoving again.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
I’ll say this much: the return doesn’t overwhelm me. Fisher turns 26 soon and will be out of options next year. The ZiPS projections at FanGraphs forecast a pretty forgettable .217/.301/.397 slash line for Fisher in large part because he strikes out a lot. The evaluators I asked weren’t convinced he’s more than a fourth outfielder long-term. Not exactly a franchise-altering move by the looks of it.

Yet the more I think about Aaron Sanchez, the more it hits me that his value just wasn’t high. Those of us who watched him in 2016 will remember the upside, but who is he now? Even after some strong outings his ERA is over 6.00 and he looked like a non-tender candidate a few weeks ago. Realistically you weren’t getting a top prospect back. Waiting it out for a bigger return in the winter would have been reasonable, but no one can accuse the Blue Jays of not giving Aaron Sanchez chances over the last few years. Now it’s Fisher’s chance to prove himself.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
I was stunned that Sanchez was traded, for no other reason than I thought that he would never have less value on the trade market than he did right now, and selling super-low on a guy is never a good idea. Now, maybe that was more true at the end of June, or before his last two starts, in which there were more than a glimmer of his old self. Still, it feels like the return might have been greater had the Jays waited to move him until this winter or next July.

But how much of that feeling comes from knowing and really liking Sanchez the man, and rooting for him to succeed through all the struggles of the past two and two-thirds seasons? The raw and emotionless data suggests that he’s been the worst starting pitcher in MLB this season and that’s he’s nearly three years removed from any level of success. The more I think about that, the more I think that maybe the Jays would have non-tendered Sanchez in the off-season and the Jays were in “get what you can while you can” mode for him, so if they needed to put him in a package to get a player they appear to really like in Derek Fisher, they had no problem doing it.

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2. What does the Aaron Sanchez trade do for the likelihood of Anthony Kay joining the Blue Jays rotation at some point this summer?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
I’d say it’s a slam dunk. Unless Edwin Jackson is looking for work.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
I could see it, based solely on the fact the Blue Jays rotation is currently filled with tumbleweed. But the club would probably like for Kay to have some modicum of success at triple-A before challenging him with a higher level. It seems he’s going through an adjustment period with the big-league baseballs they’ve been using in triple-A this season, and you want to give him as much runway as possible to overcome that. Kay competing for a rotation spot next spring in Dunedin seems most realistic.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
Nothing. As I wrote the day of the trade barring a miraculous turnaround the Blue Jays want Kay to finish up the season at triple-A and then reassess where he’s at. I’d expect we’ll see someone off the Mike Hauschild tree before Kay pitches again.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
I’d say there’s a real chance we see Kay this summer. He has to be added to the 40-man roster over the winter anyways, so if he excels in Buffalo there’s no harm in promoting him now and seeing what he can do in the majors. First things first, though. He has to pitch far better at triple-A.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):

I honestly don’t think it changes things with Kay at all. I believe that T.J. Zeuch and Julian Merryweather will get a chance to make some starts with the big club at some time over the next two months, and I think if Kay earns the opportunity, he’ll get it too. So far he seems to be in way over his head at triple-A, but there are plenty of prospects who need a second trip through a level to find their footing. If Kay has a strong August in Buffalo, we’ll see him in September. If not, we won’t.

Anthony Kay; Blue Jays; Pitching Prospect; NY Mets; Marcus Stroman
Prospect Anthony Kay pitching for the National League Futures Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on July 7, 2019. (Alex Trautwig/Getty)

3. Does the Sanchez trade also all but guarantee the Blue Jays will have to acquire at least one — if not two — veteran, inning-munching starters this winter?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
They need to add two Major League-ready starters. The only way any of these moves make sense is if they package some of this stuff along with a surplus young player or pitcher to bring in Major League-ready starters.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
I definitely foresee a couple low-risk starting pitcher additions through free agency not unlike the signings of Matt Shoemaker and Clay Buchholz last winter. It’s not like the Blue Jays have much money on the books, and if it works out you have a piece to shop at the deadline.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
For sure. Remember that they still have a year of control on Matt Shoemaker, so that’s a starting point. Nate Pearson is coming at some point next year, Ryan Borucki is in the rotation if healthy and they’d love for one or two of Trent Thornton, Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley or Jacob Waguespack to cement spots for next year over the next two months. Really though, they can’t count on that happening. Better would be to aim higher than innings-eaters and get some dudes who can be part of something.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Yep, I’d say so. Near the top of the depth chart you have Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton. Beyond that you need another seven quality starting options, at least one of which should come from free agency. I see no reason that the Blue Jays should limit themselves to bargain hunting, either. If they expect to compete in 2021, why not add a quality free agent on a two- or three-year deal now?

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Presuming health, next year’s Blue Jays’ rotation looks, at the moment, like Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton and two of Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Jacob Waguespack, Zeuch, Merryweather and Kay. I am really looking forward to seeing what Thornton and SRF do the rest of this season, and if Waguespack can keep having decent-to-good outings every time out. They’ll still need more stable and relatively predictable help, though. And if the kids on offense continue to show that they’re ready for the big time, I would hope the front office takes the cue and starts fishing in the deep end of the starting pitching waters.

4. Given Derek Fisher is out of options next season, where do you see him fitting in to the Blue Jays plans — including geographically — for the remainder of 2019?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
He’ll be locked into a life and death battle with Billy McKinney. Can’t wait!

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
He’ll join the Blue Jays immediately and likely split time with Teoscar Hernandez in centre field going forward. The club needs to let Fisher play as much as possible and find out if he can finally replicate his triple-A success in the majors — particularly considering he’s out of options next season. I do feel for him because he’ll have zero rope with casual fans if these next two months don’t go well. It’s no fault of his own, but many will be ready to bury him if he struggles initially, not unlike the way Randal Grichuk was widely written off when he slumped early in his Blue Jays career.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
He’s getting some run, especially given the reaction to the deal and has both the talent and prospect pedigree to deserve a real chance. He’s going to mostly see time in centre and right, with Charlie Montoyo wanting to let Lourdes Gurriel Jr., be it for now in LF.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Chances are, Fisher plays all three outfield positions and contributes at DH at the major-league level. The Blue Jays want to find out what they have here, and no better way to see than by mixing Fisher into the starting lineup regularly.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590)
He’s a Blue Jay for the rest of this season, and he’s going to get every chance to show that he’s the guy that Ross Atkins and company have been dreaming on for however long it’s been that he’s been on their radar. Reports on him suggests that he doesn’t have the arm to play right field, but we’ll see, since he’s going to get plenty of time there and in centre. Fisher will only play left field when Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. gets a day off or a DH day, but I think that’s his ultimate destination on the field, with Gurriel either in centre or right. It seems like it’s Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney for one spot, unless the Jays keep the DH open to float guys through.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

5. Between l’affaire Giles, criticism around baseball and from certain loud corners of the fanbase surrounding the returns for Stroman and Sanchez, what needs to happen between now and the end of the season for the Blue Jays front office to build some street-cred?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Honestly? I think that ship has sailed.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
What needs to happen — the team winning more games than it loses and contending for the postseason — won’t happen between now and winter. That’s the only thing that will reverse the animosity and vitriol this front office is currently experiencing. They could certainly do a better job of messaging to casual fans, shelving the alienating front office speak in favour of a warmer, more understandable approach. But will that really change anything? I doubt it. They’ll be unpopular until they win. Just like Alex Anthopoulos was.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
If they’re worried about that, not good. They don’t need to win the moment, they need to win in the aggregate. If their player evaluation is right, than they will. I’d hope they have enough conviction in what they’re doing and how they scouted to not give a rat’s heinie about the background noise.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
The Blue Jays aren’t winning the fan base over before the end of the season. If anything, the frustration might build as the loss total approaches 100. That’s OK. The Blue Jays are playing the long game here. But if this team sticks around .500 for much of 2020 and pitching starts to surface in the majors, fans will view this rebuild (and by extension the front office) much differently.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
I don’t know that Giles was a “l’affaire”. You can’t blame the front office for not trading him at the beginning of June, and he’s been a distressed asset ever since. I actually give them credit for not moving him, since he should have much more value on the market this winter or next July. Really, I don’t think there’s anything the front office can do the rest of this year to build up street cred with the portion of the fan base that reacts poorly to every move they make.

We’ll find out in a month who the players to be named in the Eric Sogard deal are, and regardless, lots of people will say they didn’t get enough. It’s tough to take the opinions of fans who become scouts on draft day and deadline day seriously. Nobody had ever heard of Simeon Woods Richardson, but the Jays got ripped off for Stroman? Maybe they did, but if the truth, as one insider said, is that if the draft were be to done over again today, SWR would be a top 10 pick, then that changes things. If he’s a top 30 overall prospect in two years, that changes things too. There are people who are never going to be happy because Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins aren’t Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos, and that may not even change if the Jays win. They need to keep doing what they believe is right, though, and they’ll be judged on the ultimate results. If it doesn’t work, then somebody else will get the chance.

6. There’s nowhere to go but up from here, right?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Sure. Unless bottom hasn’t been reached yet.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
There better be. As far as we know, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are only under contract through the end of 2020. If they go into that season without extensions, and the team is as bad as it is this year, the water could reach a boiling point. Personally, I believe this front office deserves to see its rebuild through to an outcome, one way or the other. Changing management in the middle of a process like this only sets the franchise further back. That said, 2019 ought to be the nadir. With a talented and young position player core already in place at the major-league level, the club needs to win far more games next season than it will in the current one, demonstrating clear and encouraging progress towards contention. Then, in 2021, the club ought to be competing for a playoff spot and playing meaningful games into September.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
The Baltimore Orioles pretty much guarantee that.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
You’d like to think so, but in reality, things could definitely get worse. A few injuries to key young players would set this rebuild back faster than anything else. But the tear-down is just about complete now. Aside from Giles, there aren’t even many veterans left to trade. That means we should expect the Blue Jays to build back up, starting with players coming up within the system and eventually moving to free agency and more aggressive trades.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Nope! With a starting rotation that has exactly ZERO full seasons in the major leagues under its belt and a bullpen with exactly ONE proven high-leverage reliever in it, it could get pretty ugly the rest of the way. The Blue Jays have 20 games left against first-place teams (Yankees, Dodgers, Houston, Atlanta) and 13 against the potentially playoff-bound Rays and Red Sox. Except for Tampa Bay, that’s a lot of high-powered batting orders this very young pitching staff still has to deal with. Beating up on the Royals, Orioles, Mariners and Rangers should be fun, and should be enough to avoid a 100-loss season, but there could very well be more than a few heartbreaking 11-8 losses the rest of the way.

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