Stroman/Sanchez FAQ: Will Blue Jays trade their starters?

Mark Shapiro explains why he doesn’t see the Blue Jays as “rebuilding” but as a “modernizing” team.

At the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas last week, ‘What are you hearing on Stroman and Sanchez?’ was perhaps the most commonly asked question related to the Toronto Blue Jays.

As the week unfolded, I posed some variation of that question many times in an attempt to understand the Blue Jays’ willingness to part with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. On other occasions, rival teams or interested agents were the ones asking.

The widespread interest is understandable given that both pitchers have flashed all-star upside in recent years. Stroman finished eighth in AL Cy Young voting in 2017 and the year before Sanchez won the AL ERA title. There’s talent here, and both are controllable through 2020, which only adds to their appeal.

Despite that talent, Stroman posted a 5.54 ERA during an injury-shortened 2018 season while Sanchez has been limited to 28 starts over the last two seasons due to blister and finger injuries. Trading them for top value won’t be easy at a time where alternatives exist in the free agent and trade markets.

Right now there’s still plenty of uncertainty when it comes to the Blue Jays right-handers, but by looking more closely at some related questions we can hopefully get closer to some answers…

Who’s in the market for pitching?

All kinds of teams need starting pitching this winter, and it appears that every team in this market has checked in with the Blue Jays by this point. Ross Atkins recently described the interest as “significant.”

The Reds have been linked to Stroman on a few occasions, but they’re definitely not alone. Given how thorough teams are now, it’d be surprising if the likes of the Nationals, Phillies and Angels did not at least inquire. Even small-market teams like the Padres, Athletics and Brewers are potential fits on paper because Stroman and Sanchez project to earn relatively modest 2019 salaries of $7.2 million and $3.8 million, respectively.

What are the best comparables?

One point of reference for the Blue Jays could be the James Paxton trade that saw the Mariners acquire Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams from the Yankees for the Canadian lefty.

Big picture, there are some similarities in that Paxton has two years of arbitration remaining before free agency along with some injury troubles of his own. Still, he’d almost certainly have more value than Stroman or Sanchez given how well he pitched in 2018. While the Blue Jays duo missed significant time, Paxton put together his best season yet with 208 strikeouts in 160.1 innings.

In that context, it’s likely safe to assume that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be able to match the return of Sheffield, a well-regarded left-handed pitching prospect who debuted in the majors last year, Swanson, a 25-year-old right-hander who has succeeded in the upper minors, and Thompson-Williams, a 23-year-old outfielder who spent 2018 at Class A.

It only takes one team to make an overwhelming offer, but the Blue Jays probably shouldn’t be banking on that.

Will the Blue Jays lower their ask?

The Blue Jays’ asking price remains high, according to both the Blue Jays and other teams involved. Will either side change its stance? Speaking in general terms, Atkins said that other teams are starting to place a higher value on Stroman and Sanchez. Based on the comments club president and CEO Mark Shapiro made this week, the Blue Jays aren’t about to lower their asking price for the sake of making a deal.

“We can sit back and go ‘If we value our players more than other teams value our players as teammates, as competitors, as athletes and as a talent,’ then we don’t need to make any more trades,” Shapiro said.

Realistically, the Blue Jays still have three chances to trade Stroman and Sanchez after this winter: the 2019 trade deadline, the 2019-20 off-season and the 2020 trade deadline. If the offers are unimpressive now, expect the Blue Jays to wait and listen to offers later.

“It’s just we have to entertain if there’s a way to make the organization better,” Atkins said.

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What would the Blue Jays want in return?

Given that they aren’t likely to compete in 2019, the Blue Jays don’t need to urgently address one particular need. Plus, this front office generally prefers to stay flexible whenever possible.

That said, the Blue Jays’ organizational depth skews heavily to the position-player side already, and trading Stroman or Sanchez would only amplify that imbalance. I’d be surprised if the Blue Jays trade Stroman or Sanchez without getting a big-league-ready pitcher back in the deal.

Who has more trade value?

Two main variables for determining trade value are cost and projected performance. As for cost, Sanchez will earn less than Stroman, a super two player who will go through the arbitration process four times.

When it comes to projected performance, though, Stroman comes out ahead. The Steamer projections at FanGraphs forecast a 4.14 ERA and 2.4 wins above replacement in 194 innings for Stroman. That’d be a vintage Stroman season and one any team would want.

As for Sanchez, Steamer projects a 4.83 ERA and 0.8 wins above replacement in 150 innings – useful, but not season-altering. While Stroman’s ground-ball rate, strikeout rate and walk rate have remained relatively consistent, some of Sanchez’s peripherals have trended in the wrong direction – presumably because of his troublesome finger. An acquiring team would want reassurances that his increase in walk rate and decrease in fastball velocity were temporary setbacks due to injury.

All things considered, Stroman likely has more trade value this winter. Now it’s time to see whether the Blue Jays will cash it in.

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