You can dream and scheme all you want but the bottom line remains the same for any professional sports team: the value of your players on the trade market is what another team will give you in return. It’s not how you or the national media value the player; it’s how your peers see him.
And so the simple truth is we really don’t know how much J.A. Happ’s recent outings have damaged his trade value.
Will the New York Yankees look at the way things spun out of control on the left-hander Thursday night at Fenway Park and overlook the fact that going into the game Happ had some of the best numbers in MLB against the Boston Red Sox since 2016? Does that stinker plus the one Happ threw against the Yankees themselves lower the quality of player they’d send back in return? Or as many suspect will Happ’s value depend on who else is available? In other words, is he Plan B as opposed to Plan A?
Know this: less than three weeks from the trade deadline the four Blue Jays players who seemed form-fitted for the trading block at the start of the season have seen their value diminish.
Happ likely less so than Marco Estrada, whose glute injury will force him to skip his last start before the All-Star break and who was likely the least-valued of the four. Or Josh Donaldson, who has been limited to 159 at bats due to a pair of baffling injuries and will be life and death to get back on the field before the deadline. And then there’s Roberto Osuna, the closer who would command a princely return but who is in legal limbo pending a resolution of his domestic assault case. Osuna will start pitching in the minor leagues this weekend and when he comes off the suspended list on Aug. 5 the Blue Jays have already said he will pitch if the law allows. He will spend the rest of the season and winter as trade bait. Nah, we’ll just say it: he will be the most significant post-waiver trade deadline move of 2018 for somebody (looking at you, Houston Astros.)
This is what is referred to as a sub-optimal situation for an organization that has no chance of making a wild-card run and needs to manage its resources to find or create another window of opportunity in a division with the re-emerging dynasty that is the Yankees and the even harsher reality that is the record-setting Red Sox. And part of that resource management is not under-estimating what you have in hand. Translation: you can’t just back up the truck.
So just for yuks, let’s take a look at the Blue Jays as they head into the All-Star break. Who should stay, who should go? Who forms the core? Is there even a core?
The easy answer is Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and Bo Bichette and…
I’m still looking. Gimme a sec.
Hah! Just kidding: look, you can close your eyes and picture a Blue Jays lineup made up entirely of home-grown prospects within the next three seasons – Guerrero, Jr.; Bichette; Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.; Cavan Biggio; Danny Jansen; Logan Warmoth; Kevin Smith; Anthony Alford; Jonathan Davis, with a few position shifts factored in here and there – and my goodness we haven’t even got around to the pitching.
But that presumes everybody stays healthy or at least synchronizes their injuries somehow which doesn’t often happen. In other words? As much as prospect porn is sprinkled liberally at every level of the system let’s agree that for the next two seasons or so we want to keep at least some of the current Major League roster, OK? That being said…
The Keepers: Don’t even bother calling us, dept.
Here’s where you can put Guerrero and, likely, Bichette because they will be the offensive core of this team out of the middle of the lineup and at the top – maybe even leading off – respectively. You never know entirely about prospects, but you need to take some things on faith in this game and the analytics and eyeballs both rave about these two. If it’s me, there’s a chance I’d listen to something for Bichette because he isn’t the offensive prospect Guerrero is. But you’d have to catch me on the right day, and it ain’t today.
The Keepers: Let me get back to you, dept.
Both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are under contract through 2020 and that’s a pretty solid pitching foundation if they’re healthy. They aren’t as young as you might think they are, but each answered serious character-building tests early in their careers and contributed in the bright lights of the post-season. You’d just like to see the character building stuff stop, you know? Enough already. Stroman is pitching well right now and dominated the Atlanta Braves in his last outing and there is a real sense that there are people in this organization who wouldn’t mind seeing him out of the clubhouse. But not at any cost. Not yet. Sanchez is the more favoured of the two among organizational people, but you’d think he needs to be healthy for the other guy to be moved.
The Keepers: We kind of like these guys, but if you give us this guy in return, dept.
Randal Grichuk has come as advertised: defence, home runs and strikeouts. Many strikeouts. Teoscar Hernandez, meanwhile, has the kind of middle of the lineup potential that you can see playing well along with Guerrero, Jr., when he joins the team in 2018. (As an aside, let’s all agree that chances are really, really good that Guerrero starts in the minors next season until he reaches that magic service time level that will prevent him from being a Super-2.) Neither of these guys are all-stars but they’re fine as part of a bridge to a bright, new future. You can put Justin Smoak – a switch-hitter with power who plays premium defence at less than $10 million – Gurriel, Jr., and Ryan Borucki in this category, too.
Call Now: Operators are standing by
Ryan Tepera has become the Blue Jays ersatz closer because of Osuna’s absence and, yeah, he ain’t cut out for the role on a contending team. Problem? Nobody else in the organization is cut out for the role, so Tepera would have some utility for the Blue Jays operating under the assumption that Osuna ends up elsewhere. Tepera has stuff, though, and while a contender would likely shy away from giving him a steady diet of high-leverage work in September, that stuff would play in the fall if utilized properly. The likes of Kevin Pillar, Aledmys Diaz and Devon Travis wouldn’t start for most playoff teams, and it’s debatable how much value they’d bring back in return as bench players. Yangervis Solarte is intriguing; not a total butcher in the infield and a switch-hitter, he is a spirit-is-willing kind of player. He’d have value as long as he wasn’t making the final play in a Game 7 and you kept him away from some of the games sharper objects. Did we mention you can have anybody you want in the bullpen? How about a nice Biagini to go with it?
The are you kidding me, dept.
The Blue Jays would move on from Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales – one National League team executive called on Martin in spring training and was interested in off-loading another bad contract, finding no joy in the Blue Jays response – but Martin has $20 million left on his contract for next season and Morales is owed $12 million in 2019. Truthfully? I can see somebody making a play for Martin but it would take the Blue Jays to kick in a crapload of money or take a similar contract in return as a make-weight. Don’t get me started about Troy Tulowitzki, who seems to have spent as much time on anti-gravity machines as he has on baseball fields. He’s owed $34 million guaranteed over the next two years with a $4 million walk-away payment in 2021. That dwarfs the $15 million the Blue Jays paid out to tie the can to B.J. Ryan in 2009 and that makes him untradeable… er, just like Vernon Wells was untradeable, right?