While one AL East seller has begun to unload some of its most marketable inventory, the Blue Jays have yet to come to an agreement on any trades. However, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (via Twitter) that the Jays are ramping up their efforts to trade impending free agents J.A. Happ, Tyler Clippard and John Axford, so as not to be left with too many pieces to move at the eleventh hour as the non-waiver deadline approaches.
Similarly, SNY’s Andy Martino tweets that the Jays have dropped their asking price on Happ recently. While the Toronto front office was at one point asking other clubs for players considered to be among those organizations’ top three or so prospects, they’re being a bit more “realistic” with the deadline approaching, Martino hears. Exactly what the lower asking price entails remains unclear, and it certainly doesn’t seem they’re intent on rushing a trade just yet. For instance, Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweets that the Yankees still believe the asking price on Happ to be too high.
Beyond the trio of Happ, Clippard and Axford, however, the Jays appear to have other pieces they’d either like to move or, at least, are willing to move. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand writes that Toronto is also shopping both right-hander Marco Estrada and, a bit more surprisingly, infielder Yangervis Solarte. One exec from another club tells Feinsand that the Jays’ prices on their movable assets remains “extremely high,” however.
While much has been made of Happ’s availability, the other players listed in tonight’s reports haven’t been covered at such great length. Both Clippard and Axford are playing on supremely affordable $1.5MM base salaries after earning roster spots as minor league invitees to Spring Training. Both veteran relievers have improved their control (dramatically so, in Axford’s case) while largely maintaining their strikeout rates. Clippard’s bottom-line ERA (3.61) tops that of Axford (4.24), but fielding-independent metrics favor Axford fairly substantially. Either reliever, though, could help to bolster a contending club’s middle-relief contingent.
As for Estrada, he hasn’t pitched since July 3, owing to a left glute strain. He’d been out on a rehab assignment, but Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith tweets that he was forced to exit today’s start due to a blister on his middle finger. That significantly clouds the chances of Estrada returning before the July 31 deadline, but considering the fact that he’ll still be owed $4.26MM of this year’s $13MM salary come Aug. 1, he could certainly clear waivers and be marketed in August. Estrada hasn’t been at his best this season anyhow, though, struggling to a 4.72 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 with 1.51 HR/9 through 89 2/3 innings of work.
The inclusion of Solarte on Feinsand’s list is a bit more surprising, given that the Jays can control him through the 2020 season at affordable rates, should they choose. The 31-year-old Solarte hasn’t performed that well in 2018, hitting just .240/.294/.424 in 418 plate appearances. But, Solarte’s walk and strikeout rates remain solid, and he’s making hard contact at the same clip he did in 2017. Despite maintaining a knack for squaring up the ball, Solarte’s .244 BABIP sits well south of his career mark of .272. Given his ability to handle second base or third base (plus some shortstop in a pinch), plus a pair of club options for the 2019 ($5.5MM) and 2020 ($8MM) seasons, Solarte should draw fairly widespread interest.
One player who the Jays don’t appear keen on dealing, however, is righty Marcus Stroman. Heyman tweets that several teams have checked in on Stroman, but there’s a “strong belief” throughout the industry that Toronto will hang onto him. Stroman has another two seasons of club control remaining beyond the 2018 season, and the Blue Jays would be selling low on him in some regards.
While clubs are increasingly willing to look past ugly ERA marks in favor of other more telling metrics, it still seems likely that Stroman’s 5.42 ERA and certainly his increased walk rate would weigh down his trade value. Stroman, though, has maintained similar strikeout, swinging-strike, home-run and ground-ball rates in 2018; his unsightly ERA is tied somewhat to his worsened control but also to a fluky low 61.6 percent strand rate. Certainly, other clubs see plenty to like when looking at Stroman in spite of sub-par traditional stats.
None of that even touches on perhaps the team’s most enigmatic trade piece — third baseman Josh Donaldson. At this point, it’s not clear that Donaldson will return before the non-waiver deadline. The remainder of his $23MM salary will assuredly clear waivers next month, meaning he’ll have a bit of time to prove he can return to form and showcase himself for contending clubs before the Aug. 31 deadline for postseason eligibility. With Donaldson and Estrada both likely to clear waivers, the Jays could well remain active on the trade front even if they move their top rental commodities in the next week.