Looking back at the return on recent Blue Jays trades

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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ken Giles throws against the Boston Red Sox. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

There’s a divide between the head and the heart over the merits of trading away established big leaguers for prospects.

The heart wants to hold on to these players and can’t bear the thought of them in another team’s uniform. The head tells you that now is the best time to trade them so as to ensure that you get someone with something more than promise in return.

Over the past two seasons, the Blue Jays have spent July and August emptying their active roster and filling their system with players who can, just maybe, raise their ceiling and become a part of the team’s future.

As we ponder the likely and impending trade of Marcus Stroman, let’s take a look back at the past two seasons of in-season transactions to evaluate where the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves. Though it might be too early to pass final judgment on some of these deals, we certainly have more evidence to form an opinion than we did at the time of their execution.

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July 2, 2017 – RP Jason Grilli to Texas for OF Eduard Pinto: Grilli was beloved for his work in 2016, but was gassed by the time he was traded, with an ERA north of six. Pinto scuffled through stops in Dunedin and New Hampshire, and is now with the indy ball Ottawa Champions.

July 31, 2017 – SP Francisco Liriano to Houston for OFs Teoscar Hernandez and Nori Aoki: Even with his unsatisfying 2019 season, Hernandez has proved to be a decent return for two months of Liriano. It’s still an open question as to Hernandez’s role on a contending team in the near future, but at the very least, the book isn’t closed on that notion.

July 31, 2017 – RP Joe Smith to Cleveland for OF Samad Taylor and SP Thomas Pannone: Smith had pitched exceptionally well for the Jays that year, meriting a return of two minor leaguers. Pannone has now pitched 82.1 big league innings with a 5.14 ERA, but has at times shown signs of being a role player capable of staying on a big-league roster. Taylor just turned 21 this week, and has a notable speed tool, but has yet to show much more.

June 28, 2018 – 1B/OF Steve Pearce to Boston for IF Santiago Espinal: Espinal has had moments since coming to the Jays. Not “World Series MVP” moments, mind you, but he did contribute down the stretch to double-A New Hampshire’s Eastern League championship. Espinal is repeating the level at 24 years old, so he’s likely on the low end of a very deep infield chart.

July 26, 2018 – SP J.A. Happ to New York (AL) for UTIL Brandon Drury and OF Billy McKinney: The Blue Jays took a slightly different tack with this trade, taking players with major league experience and just enough youth on their side that you could see some upside. A year later, both have contributed below-average offence, and are tenuously hanging on to their spots on the roster, with Drury on the bench in Toronto and McKinney in Buffalo.

July 26, 2018 – RP Seunghwan Oh to Colorado for OF Chad Spanberger, OF Forrest Wall, and RP Bryan Baker: There’s a hint of potential to the return in this trade, though to be fair, all three players are older than Vlad and Bo, and none have yet advanced past double-A. Spanberger put up big numbers previously, but has taken a step back in New Hampshire. Wall has some promise, and receives plaudits, but the numbers don’t inspire awe. Baker is a big (6-foot-6) reliever with nine saves who has touched 100 m.p.h. with his fastball. And you can always use more of those.

July 30, 2018 – RP Roberto Osuna to Houston for RP Ken Giles, SP Hector Perez, and SP David Paulino: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Jays managed to eke out a respectable return for a talented young player, even if his off-field actions made him unplayable in Toronto. Judging the ultimate return on this deal will depend on what can be extracted for Giles in trade this year, though his return to form as a reliable closer helps immensely. Perez is scuffling at 23 years old in double-A, while Paulino has pitched just seven times in Buffalo this year.

July 31, 2018 – RP John Axford to Los Angeles (NL) for SP Corey Copping: Copping has been starting depth for Buffalo and not much more. Axford returned to the Jays, but is slowly working his way back from injuries.

July 31, 2018 – RP Aaron Loup to Philadelphia for SP Jacob Waguespack: Waguespack strikes out enough batters to have earned himself two appearances in Toronto, though the profound depletion of the Jays’ rotation is likely the larger reason for being summoned. He’s depth, which they sorely need at the moment. At 25, there’s not a lot of reason to see much more upside.

August 31, 2018 – 3B Josh Donaldson to Cleveland for SP Julian Merryweather: Considering the cost, Merryweather’s post-Tommy John surgery recovery has been monitored closely by fans. While stories of hitting 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun during his rehab have warmed fans’ hearts, Merryweather is still a long way from contributing.

For all that in-season transactional activity over the last two seasons, the Blue Jays sent out 10 major league regulars, and in return, they have received one legitimate closer, a streaky outfield bat, three marginal big leaguers and a lot of question marks. And certainly, very little that looks like key pieces on a future contender.

If fans are anxious at the idea of sending Marcus Stroman elsewhere, you can’t blame their hearts for doubting whether if the team will ultimately be better off for the transaction.

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