HOUSTON – Now that a bit of time has passed since the non-waiver deadline, let’s take all the emotion out of the discussion and try to re-assess the Toronto Blue Jays’ inactivity through an exercise in trade equivalency.
For example, the Jon Lester deal, which sent the ace left-hander and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the Oakland Athletics for Yoennis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick.
What would it have taken for the Blue Jays to make that deal with the Boston Red Sox?
Well, while not apples-to-apples, the logical comparable to Cespedes is Jose Bautista, and let’s figure in lieu of the competitive balance pick, which the Blue Jays don’t have to give, the Red Sox would want Aaron Sanchez instead.
That’s already more expensive than what the Athletics paid, but toss in another prospect to satisfy Boston’s AL East tax and more or less we’re at what it would have taken.
Not sure you can blame Alex Anthopoulos for saying no to an ask that probably would have been along those lines.
Then there’s the David Price deal that landed the highly coveted lefty with the Detroit Tigers. How could the Blue Jays have swayed the Tampa Bay Rays?
Again, we’re working in an imprecise science here, but an equivalent to Drew Smyly is Marcus Stroman, Brett Lawrie is a reasonable sub to Nick Franklin, and rather than shortstop prospect Willy Adames, you’d figure the Rays would want someone like Sanchez because, you know, AL East tax and all.
Are the Blue Jays a better team if they surrender a package like that? Probably not to these eyes.
Finally, let’s look at Andrew Miller, the lefty reliever who would have been perfect for the Blue Jays acquired instead by the Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox got double-A left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, a top-100 pitching prospect, in that trade and Sanchez again makes sense as the comparable.
Would you trade six more years of Sanchez after this one for 20 innings of Miller, a pending free agent?
Little wonder Anthopoulos said Thursday that, “the prices for us on the players we inquired about, generally speaking, I think everybody would be happy we didn’t do those deals.”
OK, we’ll give him that.
But that reasoning doesn’t hold up with Martin Prado, who was acquired by the New York Yankees from the Arizona Diamondbacks for middling double-A catcher Peter O’Brien, a one-dimensional hitter who isn’t a very good defender, and player to be named later or cash.
There are several people with the Blue Jays who really like Prado and they could easily have matched, if not beaten, the Yankees offer with triple-A catcher A.J. Jimenez alone. But the minimal return suggests this deal was more about dumping salary than getting talent back for the Diamondbacks.
The Yankees took on all of the $3.6 million remaining in Prado’s salary this season plus $11 million in each of the next two years, and despite protestations to the contrary, the ability to take on salary may be the one area where the Blue Jays couldn’t compete on that one.
“We absolutely had the financial resources to add at this trade deadline,” Anthopoulos declared with a definitiveness he’s lacked previously. “Any deal that we felt was a good baseball deal, the finances were certainly there for us.”
So why then not add Prado, if money wasn’t an object?
Sure, there are some legitimate concerns about his decline in performance this season, and with the volume of groundballs he hits and the way teams shift defensively, that could be a real problem over the next two years.
And given his splits – .881 OPS against lefties/.642 OPS versus righties – he could be little more than a very expensive platoon player over the next two years.
Now if you live large like the Yankees – who also added Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley and Stephen Drew last month, each expensive and dodgy – who cares, as long as they’re better than what’s already on the roster. And each was an upgrade for them.
Prado would have been an upgrade for the Blue Jays, too, but not if they’re worried about how he might affect their payroll in 2015, when they have $93 million committed to eight players, one of whom is no more than a lottery ticket in Ricky Romero.
If they spend at similar levels to this season, that leaves roughly $50 million for 18 players, with Brett Lawrie, Brett Cecil, Nolan Reimold, Danny Valencia, Juan Francisco, Steve Delabar and Dan Johnson all due raises through arbitration. Drew Hutchison and Munenori Kawasaki might also get to arbitration as players with Super 2 service time status, and all that is before the options for Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Dustin McGowan and Josh Thole or attempts at re-signing pending free agents Melky Cabrera, Casey Janssen and Colby Rasmus are even considered.
Given that, the $11 million hit on Prado is far too restricting on future payrolls, and there are no guarantees that the Blue Jays could dump his salary during the off-season.
Along those same lines, adding someone like San Diego’s Joaquin Benoit (who wasn’t traded), as pricey as it would have been in terms of prospect capital, would also have acted as an anchor on the 2015 payroll with a $9.5 million hit (an $8 million salary plus a $1.5 million buyout which would be budgeted for in 2015).
Throw in all the Blue Jays’ waiver-wire bottom-feeding during the summer and the spring’s bungled attempt to sign Ervin Santana via deferred money from Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, and Jose Bautista, and the facts offer a pretty sound challenge to Anthopoulos’s claim that he “absolutely had the financial resources” to swing a deal.
When a team has money and a depth of talent, it acts like the Tigers, dealing away Smyly and Austin Jackson to get Price, unworried about how the lefty’s projected $20 million salary will impact the 2015 payroll.
When a team has money and no prospects, it acts like the Yankees, taking the unwanted contracts of other teams and gladly paying them as long as the players offer an upgrade.
When a team has prospects and no money, it acts like the Rays, flipping top-end talent once it gets too expensive to sustain itself with younger, cheaper replacements.
And the Blue Jays?
Until proven otherwise, they look like a team with a good payroll in the upper third of baseball, but also what appears to be a rigid cap that even a golden opportunity at the playoffs can’t nudge upwards, and a handful of coveted prospects that it can’t afford to give up because their cost-effective production will be crucial in years to come.