PHOENIX – Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline is two weeks away, and what the Toronto Blue Jays do before the Aug. 1 cut-off in their first July under Mark Shapiro will be revealing about his approach to augmenting a contender.
General track record says the president and CEO will be conservative in trying to make deals, but an executive’s past moves aren’t always indicative of what one will do in the future. Decision-making is situational and clearly Shapiro is working with a host of different variables with the Blue Jays than with the Cleveland Indians. Since the organizational and financial frameworks are different, so too will be the thinking, and the Toronto market affords him opportunities he lacked before.
That being said, how much the weightings are altered on the three primary factors that drive trade deadline decisions – market supply; what a team is willing to give up; and how much salary a club can add – is unknown. Then there are considerations such as how much of an impact an addition will make and how real the opportunity is, so things can get tricky.
Some precedents worth keeping in mind:
-In 2007, when the Indians were second in the American League Central, a half game back of the Detroit Tigers, Shapiro, then the GM, acquired outfielder Kenny Lofton from the Texas Rangers on July 28 for catching prospect Max Ramirez. They ended up winning the division.
-On July 30, 2011, the Indians dealt away first-rounders Drew Pomeranz and Alex White as part of a four-player package sent to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez. At the time, Shapiro, then the president, said it’s not a deal he would have made, but approved the trade because of his trust in Chris Antonetti, who was then the GM. The Indians finished 80-82 that year, missing the playoffs, but Jimenez helped the 2013 club reach the post-season.
-In 2005 and ’08, Indians teams in the mix stood pat and didn’t reach the post-season.
The Blue Jays have experience boom and bust in past deadlines. Last year, of course, former GM Alex Anthopoulos had a banner week, acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins for a team that went on to win the American League East.
Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick made a habit of bolstering his teams in July and August, most famously adding David Cone to the 1992 World Series champion team and Rickey Henderson for the ’93 champs. But he also picked up Mookie Wilson for the 1989 division winning team and Tom Candiotti for the 1991 club.
“I think what happens when you go out and make deals like that, the players feel like, ‘Hey, we’re trying to win, players, front office, we’re trying to win,’” says former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. “That gives you a little boost.”
This year’s team is due a significant boost at the end of this month of the beginning of August when Jose Bautista returns from a turf toe injury, but selling that as a deadline-like add can be tricky.
“You can (sell that) in this situation because they’ve been playing pretty well without him – so if you look at it that way, then yes,” says Gaston. “If you look at it the other way, you’re just getting back to where you need to go.”
On the flip side, Gaston adds: “You can’t get on management all the time because sometimes you just can’t make the deal, they can’t get the guy. We were fortunate last year that we got those guys but it doesn’t happen all the time.”
Will it happen this year? Let’s consider the factors at play:
Market Supply: The Boston Red Sox acted quickly and paid a high price in prospect Anderson Espinoza to acquire lefty Drew Pomeranz precisely because the trade market for starting pitching is so weak. Oakland A’s lefty Rich Hill, who left Sunday’s start against the Blue Jays after five pitches because of a popped blister, is considered the top rental available, and doing better for a pitcher with control beyond this year is going to be prohibitively expensive.
One industry source says there are a handful of lower-tier starting arms available, think of a scale like Jeremy Hellickson to Jon Niese, to eat innings. The Blue Jays pulled off one such deal along those lines earlier this season with their clever buy-low acquisition of set-up man Jason Grilli, and their evaluators may need to identify another change-of-scenery candidate.
The market is expected to be deeper for relievers, although developments regarding Aaron Sanchez will dictate interest in that regard. High-end position players like Jay Bruce and Carlos Beltran would make some sense for the Blue Jays, although the acquisition cost may be too high. Whatever they do, they’ll need to ensure the incoming player can make an impact and isn’t just window-dressing.
Prospect Capital: From the Josh Donaldson deal through last summer’s trade deadline, Anthopoulos flipped 15 minor-league pitchers plus a premium shortstop prospect in Franklin Barreto to upgrade the big-league team, and that put a dent in the farm system.
Still, the Blue Jays system isn’t as barren as it’s sometimes made out to be, and enough pieces remain for a move or two without endangering the organization. Frontline prospects like centre-fielder Anthony Alford and right-hander Conner Greene were asked about regularly last year, although moving Alford now would be selling low as injuries and underperformance have spoiled his season thus far.
The emergence of arms like Francisco Rios and Angel Perdomo has also deepened the pool of secondary prospects that could potentially be used. The challenge will be in making an add without subtracting too heavily from a group that includes Alford, Greene, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Rowdy Tellez, Richard Urena, Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris and 2016 first-rounder T.J. Zeuch.
Adding Payroll: An inability to add money kept the Blue Jays from making moves before the 2014 deadline, while last year Anthopoulos made sure to keep some payroll liquid to spend in July. Shapiro is believed to have done the same thing, and with the Blue Jays currently leading the American League in average attendance at 39,274, good for fourth overall in the majors, he may even have more room.
Now, one mitigating factor in that regard is that the Blue Jays budgeted for significant gains in attendance and other revenues in order to maintain payroll in the $140 million range it was at last year, covering the decline in the Canadian dollar. So the big revenue numbers so far aren’t an unexpected windfall. Still, the off-field success is creating the conditions for the Blue Jays to perhaps increase their payroll.