OAKLAND, Calif. – As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline drew closer and closer, the chatter and speculation started to weigh on Aaron Loup, uncertainty lingering in the back of his mind. Since being selected in the ninth round of the 2009 draft out of Tulane University, the 30-year-old lefty with the funky sidearm delivery had carved out a home for himself with the Toronto Blue Jays. Over seven years he appeared in 369 games, good for seventh all time in franchise history and tops among southpaws, living through lean years and high times.
That’s why the end of his tenure with the Blue Jays hit him hard Tuesday, a trade – to the Philadelphia Phillies for triple-A right-hander Jacob Waguespack – leaving him with mixed emotions on a day he knew was coming but still found difficult nonetheless.
“I’ve been here so long it’s really the only thing I’ve known, as I was drafted as a Jay, came up as a Jay, so there’s definitely some hard feelings there having to leave,” Loup said as he finished packing up his locker. “I’m going to miss a lot of the guys, a lot of the teammates, the coaches – they basically taught me everything I’ve known from when I got called up to now. But on the other hand, I’m excited. I’m going to a first-place team right now and a playoff race, got a chance for a fresh start and to pitch well for them and hopefully make a playoff run.”
The Blue Jays are facing a far different reality over the final two months of the season, resetting themselves for the future rather than building for the present.
Loup’s final game with the team was Monday’s 10-1 thumping from the Oakland Athletics, a performance that led to a post-game meeting. He was one of two players traded ahead of Tuesday’s cutoff, and among the six big-leaguers dispatched over the past month.
“It’s definitely a little unusual – it can be tough. We get like family here,” said reliever Ryan Tepera. “Me and Loupy signed one day apart in 2009, he signed July 3, I signed July 4, and all we’ve ever known is the Blue Jays. It’s sad to see Loupy go, he’s been a great friend, a great teammate, good competitor. Happy for him though, going to a new organization, it will be good for him. But turning things over, it’s a little weird.”
Russell Martin described the sell-off experience – which started June 28 with the trade that sent Steve Pearce to the Boston Red Sox – in similar terms.
“It’s just strange,” he said. “It’s weird.”
This is all new for Martin, who before last year’s 76-86 finish had only once before experienced a sub-.500 season, way back in 2010 when the Los Angeles Dodgers went 80-82.
He’s made nine separate trips to the post-season, and more typically he’s on the team adding players for a push, rather than dispatching players for a roster reset.
“I’d definitely rather be on the other side of that – when you’re a buyer it means you’re right in the middle of it,” said Martin. “Right now, this is what a rebuild is, I guess, you move pieces around, get some younger players. As much as you hate to see guys leave, they’re leaving because they’re going to teams that are going to compete and make it to the post-season, so wish them the best and hope it works out for them.”
The Blue Jays had hopes of avoiding this July fate, but Kevin Pillar points to the injuries that have sidelined Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and insists this team never had a chance.
Maybe, but the sell-off came as no surprise.
“With where we’re at and the way the season’s gone it was only a matter of time and we knew that,” said Pillar. “Selfishly as a player, depending on where you’re at in your career, there’s a difference in feeling. I still have some time left until I become a free agent, I’m happy here, I want to be part of something here. For guys headed to free agency, if you get traded, you’re going to a place where you have a chance to win. If you’re reliving the feelings we had in ’15 and ’16, the baseball becomes a little bit more fun, the opportunity you have is a little bit more exciting.”
Any excitement the Blue Jays enjoy now is likely to be fleeting, as the process of sifting through their farm system and absorbing the hard knocks inherent to that lies ahead.
“I think everybody knew it was always a possibility, depending on how the year was going,” manager John Gibbons said of the sell-off. “It’s part of the business. You understand it. You never like to see some of the guys go, especially some of the ones I’ve been with.
“I’ve been with Loupy a while now. (Roberto) Osuna I’ve been with awhile. [Steve] Pearce, John Axford, you bond with these guys and you’ll miss that. But it’s part of the business and it’s kind of a compliment to them too, that somebody out there thinks that they can help them.”
Of the 10 players coming back in the six trades the Blue Jays made, only two are immediate big-leaguers: Brandon Drury and Ken Giles, who’ll be joining the team in Seattle on Thursday.
Giles, the troubled closer who punched himself in the face after one bad outing and had an on-field exchange with Astros manager A.J. Hinch, will get a chance to handle the ninth.
What he looks like with the Blue Jays will be interesting, as the Blue Jays could always try to flip him for more assets down the road. Tepera also has designs on the role.
“Being in the bullpen, everyone’s goal is to be the closer and there’s no doubt I want to be the closer,” he said. “I’m not going to bow down to him or whatever it may be but I’m in the bullpen for a reason and I want to close games. It’s Gibby’s decision, I’m going to have to live with it, but I’m going to compete and that’s all that matters.”
Some Blue Jays were still trying to wrap their mind around the return for Osuna, struggling to reconcile the teammate they knew at the ballpark with the person who was charged in the assault of a woman.
“Osuna was one of my guys,” said Martin. “He used to watch me play in my L.A. days, and I always thought that was pretty cool. We were having our physicals at my first spring training (in 2015), he was just a pup and he’s like, ‘Man, I used to watch you when you were with the Dodgers,’ and then he became the youngest to 100 saves. I love the kid. Everybody makes mistakes. Some mistakes are worse than others. I don’t know what happened in his situation.
“I just know as a competitor baseball-wise, he’s an amazing talent, he’s going to continue to be an excellent pitcher for a long time, so I’m sad to see him leave but I understand the circumstances. I wish him the best and hopefully he’s able to get through the rough patch he’s going through right now.”
Said Tepera: “He’s an unbelievable pitcher and was a huge part of this team, but it’s a different situation and I think they (the front office) felt like they needed to make (the move). Osuna when he was here, was a teammate who carried us through the playoffs and I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully a new change of scenery changes his career.”
Loup wasn’t in need of a change of scenery, necessarily, but he got one, and now he’s in position to capitalize on a young Phillies team looking to get over the hump. They’ve done their suffering and now have designs on a deep playoff run, like the kind the Blue Jays enjoyed not so long ago.
“When I first got called up (in 2012) we weren’t very good and then we made a few changes, you could see we started to head in the right direction and then ’15 and ’16, finally, it came together with the acquisitions of guys like Josh Donaldson, Russ, Tulo,” said Loup. “We got that good veteran presence, guys that were used to winning and knew how to win, it rubbed off on everyone else and we started playing well. Then you get to now when we’re not playing so well, but you can see a lot of young guys, a lot of great talent and it’s not going to be long before the team is playing well again and pushing for another playoff run.”
The Blue Jays certainly hope that holds true, while Loup won’t be around to find out.