Toronto general manager Ross Atkins says competitive baseball teams are increasingly less willing to part with top prospects when they tool up for a playoff run. So while the Blue Jays didn’t get a blue-chip minor leaguer when they traded veteran left-hander J.A. Happ to the New York Yankees, Atkins was pleased to get a pair of major league-ready players instead.
The Blue Jays continued their rebuilding process Thursday, sending Happ to the Yankees for infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Bill McKinney. The trade came hours after the Jays shipped reliever Seunghwan Oh to Colorado for minor league infielder Chad Spanberger, outfielder Forrest Wall and a player to be named or cash.
Drury, who is expected to join the Blue Jays when they start a three-game series with the White Sox in Chicago on Friday, creates a potential snarl in the Jays infield, where Yangervis Solarte, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Aledmys Diaz and Devon Travis are already fighting for playing time. But Atkins said positional depth is necessary for any playoff-calibre team.
“This game will forever be about depth,” Atkins said Thursday on a conference call. “You can never have enough of it.
“Having that as a challenge is where you want to be when you become a championship organization,” he added. “We’ll have opportunities for guys to play, there’s no doubt about that. If it means that someone goes to triple-A, that is a good scenario for an organization.”
Happ, who turns 36 in October, is 10-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 20 starts and was a first-time all-star, picking up the save for the American League at this year’s midsummer classic in Washington, D.C. He joins a rotation that includes Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray.
Atkins called Happ a steady professional who helped the development of younger pitchers on staff, including up-and-coming lefty Ryan Borucki.
“In the three years I’ve known (Happ), he’s only become more and more driven and more and more focused, and it’s really inspiring to be around him,” Atkins said.
Happ has a US$13 million salary in the final season of a $36 million, three-year contract, and the Yankees are responsible for the remaining $4,543,011.
New York began the day 5 1/2 games behind Boston, the AL East leader. The Yankees were just 14-14 in their previous 28 games.
A 12-year major league veteran, Happ is 102-82 with a 3.95 ERA for Philadelphia (2007-10), Houston (2010-12), Toronto (2013-14, 2016-18), Seattle (2015) and Pittsburgh (2015).
With the acquisition of Drury and McKinney, Atkins said the Blue Jays would pivot to the difficult task of trying to obtain young, controllable pitching.
“We’re at the point now where our position player talent is very, very strong, and it would be hard to really upgrade,” he added.
Drury, who turns 26 next month, was acquired by the Yankees from Arizona in February and began the season as their starting third baseman. He went on the disabled list after the team’s eighth game because of blurred vision and migraines, and he lost his job to rookie Miguel Andujar.
Drury has played in just 10 games for New York since and has spent most of the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he is hitting .294 with five homers and 30 RBIs in 55 games. He has a $621,900 salary and has 2 years, 99 days of major league service, making it possible he could be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time next winter.
The 23-year-old was selected by Oakland with the 24th overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft, was traded to the Chicago Cubs with Addison Russell and Dan Straily for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammell in July 2014, then dealt to the Yankees along with Gleyber Torres and Adam Warren for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.
McKinney has played two games for the Yankees, filling in on March 30-31 because of injuries to other outfielders. He is hitting .230 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs in 62 games this year for Class A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Scranton.
Toronto also claimed right-handed pitcher Oliver Drake on waivers from the Los Angeles Angels, and said Drake will report to the Major League roster.