This is the 13th entry in MLBTR’s Taking Inventory Series.
The non-waiver trade deadline is just 19 days away, and over the coming weeks there will be several teams that at one point looked to be fringe contenders but are now gravitating toward marketing certain veteran assets. One such club is the Blue Jays, who are reportedly open to offers on their short-term veterans. There’s an important distinction to make between that and operating as a full-on seller; there’s yet to be any serious indication that the Jays are interested in a lengthy rebuild. In fact, Toronto has reported interest in acquiring Dee Gordon and has reportedly scouted Jose Quintana.
It’s easy to get caught up in the dichotomy of “buyers” versus “sellers,” but the lines are nowhere near so black and white for most clubs. The Jays could look to move some expensive assets right now — the veterans they’re reportedly open to moving are relatively well compensated and have been injured and/or haven’t performed up to standard — while also adding some longer-term pieces for a reloaded run in 2018 and beyond. That said, here’s a look at what they have to offer, both in terms of short-term pieces and higher-impact, long-term pieces (if a larger tear-down is eventually settled upon).
Marco Estrada, RHP (starter) | Salary: $14MM (approx. $6.27MM remaining)
The most interesting name among the Blue Jays’ rentals, Estrada was in the midst of a brilliant season before an awful month of June and a clunker in early July torpedoed his ERA. That said, the righty still has intriguing peripherals, with 9.8 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 and a fastball that’s noticeably harder than it was in 2016 (though still sits at an average of just 90.1 mph). Estrada’s chase rate and swinging-strike rate are both the second-best of his career as well. Estrada has a history of back issues, but if a team believes him to be fully healthy and thinks June was largely an aberration, he could be a significant upgrade to a big league rotation for two months or so.
Francisco Liriano, LHP (starter) | $13MM ($5.83MM)
Consistency was always an issue for Liriano before he signed with the Pirates, but his previous control issues came back to haunt him in Pittsburgh last year, prompting a trade to Toronto. He was sensational down the stretch in 2016, but the Jays have had the bad version of Liriano for much of the current season. The 33-year-old’s strikeout and walk rates have both raced in the opposite direction of last year’s excellent post-trade marks, and his 44.9 percent grounder rate is his worst since 2012. It’s cliche to call Liriano “mercurial” or “enigmatic” at this point, but the labels fit. If a pitching-needy team feels like it can solve Liriano, the cost of acquisition won’t be too high.
Jose Bautista, OF/DH | $18.5MM ($8.57MM)
After a terrible April, the “Joey Bats” of old emerged in May — a month during which Bautista was one of the very best hitters on the planet. He followed that up with another terrible month in June, though things have started to even out a bit more recently. It’s been a roller coaster ride for Bautista in 2017, but the strikeouts are up and the power is down; the result to this point is a .234/.349/.400 slash that wRC+ and OPS+ grade as roughly league average. Considering his lack of defensive value, that line won’t cut it. The Jays could market him this summer, but it’ll be tough to get much in return, even if they eat some salary.
Joe Smith, RHP (reliever) | $3MM ($1.34MM)
Smith hasn’t pitched since June 14 due to shoulder inflammation, but he’s most of the way through a minor league rehab stint and has been good when healthy. He’s sporting a 3.41 ERA with considerably better peripherals (13.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 46.5 percent ground-ball rate) through 31 2/3 frames. Assuming he gets healthy, Smith could be an affordable bullpen piece that’ll draw plenty of interest.
J.P. Howell, LHP (reliever) | $3MM ($1.34MM)
Howell (shoulder soreness) is also on the disabled list and partway through a minor league rehab stint, though his season has been much different than that of Smith. The 34-year-old has been limited to just 8 2/3 innings this year because of said shoulder troubles, during which he’s posted an 8.31 ERA and walked more batters (seven) than he’s struck out (five). A healthy Howell is a nice bullpen piece, but teams aren’t going to give up much to get him given this year’s injuries.
Darwin Barney, 2B/SS | $2.8875MM ($1.29MM)
The 31-year-old Barney can play both middle infield positions and has a strong defensive reputation, but his bat has been nonexistent in 2017. Through 168 PAs, he’s hitting .231/.277/.295. He was a valuable bench piece in Toronto as recently as 2016, though, so a team could speculatively pick him up on the cheap and hope for a bit more with the bat.
Controlled Through 2018
Josh Donaldson, 3B | $11.65MM in 2017, $17MM in 2018
To be as clear and up-front as possible, there’s been no serious suggestion that the Jays are willing to even entertain offers on the 2015 American League MVP. Donaldson missed about six weeks of the season due to a calf injury (which played a huge role in the team’s poor first half) but has been productive, albeit not quite his dominant self when healthy. Through 193 PAs, he’s slashing .261/.383/.484 with nine homers and nine doubles. The Blue Jays won’t move Donaldson unless they’re seriously considering at least a medium-scale rebuild, as moving him would almost immediately signal a white flag of sorts for the 2018 season. If Donaldson is made available (a big “if”), he’d require an enormous package of talent featuring multiple top prospects and/or MLB-ready commodities.
J.A. Happ, LHP (starter) | $13MM in 2017, $13MM in 2018
Moving Happ wouldn’t quite be the 2018 concession that a Donaldson trade would represent, but he’d still require a notable package of young talent to acquire. After reinventing himself following a trade from Seattle to Pittsburgh in 2015, Happ has maintained much of that newfound excellent in his second go-around with the Jays. Elbow inflammation cost him a couple of months of the 2017 season, but he’s been strong since returning from the disabled list. Dating back to Opening Day 2016, Happ boasts a 3.27 ERA, 7.8 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 256 innings. He’s a solid and fairly priced mid-rotation arm, meaning he won’t come cheaply in a trade.
Steve Pearce, 1B/OF/2B | $6.25MM in 2017, $6.25MM in 2018
Pearce hasn’t hit nearly as well as he did with the Orioles in 2014 or the Rays in 2016. His .259/.320/.430 slash is solid enough, and he’s still a power threat against lefties that can play multiple positions on the field. But he, too, has spent time on the DL this season, and his salary isn’t necessarily cheap if he can’t rediscover some of his 2014 or 2016 form at the dish.
Aaron Loup, LHP (reliever) | $1.125MM in 2017, arb-eligible through 2018
Loup can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground, but his walk rate has soared in 2017 while lefties have clobbered him. I doubt he’s going to be anyone’s Plan A or B, but he could still change hands on deadline day even if the Jays aren’t punting on the 2018 season. He’s a non-tender candidate after the year but has a decent track record against lefty batters.
Justin Smoak, 1B | $4.125MM in 2017, $4.125MM in 2018 (plus $6MM club option/$250K buyout for 2019)
The Yonder Alonso of the East, Smoak has gone from busted prospect to All-Star in short order thanks to a revamped swing plane and, as he tells it, some offseason work with a sports psychologist. The contract is so affordable that even if he takes a bit of a step back, he now looks like a bargain. This time last year, most were curious as to why the Jays offered him a two-year extension. Now, any team looking for help at first base or DH — and there admittedly aren’t many — would love to buy into his new approach. The lack of a market and his highly affordable contract make a deal seem unlikely, though.
Jeff Beliveau, LHP (reliever) | Not arbitration-eligible until 2018-19 offseason
Beliveau has proven to be a nice find on a minor league deal for the Jays, having tossed 32 innings with a 3.09 ERA, 12.1 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in Triple-A prior to a big league promotion. It’s been more of the same through his first 14 1/3 innings back in the Majors; he’s worked to a 3.14 ERA with a 15-to-4 K/BB ratio. The sample of work is pretty small, and Beliveau was out of the Majors for most of two seasons due to 2015 surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The value here isn’t huge, but a team looking for some left-handed relief help might kick the tires.
Marcus Stroman, RHP (starter) | $3.4MM in 2017, arb-eligible through 2020 (Super Two)
Speaking of unlikely, a Stroman trade would only happen if the Jays elected to completely tear things down. I don’t expect that to happen, but as a pitcher who has already reached arbitration and is going to make a nice raise on an already decent salary in arbitration, Stroman would be the one long-term rotation piece I could see moving in that scenario. Again, though, it’s not likely.
- Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH | $10MM in 2017, $11MM in 2018, $12MM in 2019
- Troy Tulowitzki, SS | $20MM annually 2017-19, $14MM in 2020 (plus $15MM club option/$4MM buyout for 2021)
- Russell Martin, C | $20MM annually 2017-19
Morales and Tulowitzki aren’t hitting well enough for anyone to really consider taking on either of those deals in a trade, though the Jays wouldn’t mind shedding the cash. Martin’s offense is down somewhat in 2017, but he’s still been a valuable backstop, even if he’s slightly overpaid. That said, he’ll turn 35 this winter with $40MM on the books beyond the current campaign, and there aren’t too many clubs lining up to acquire a catcher in the first place.