It almost goes without saying that once the draft passes, teams shift their focus to the summer trade market. It happens every season, and there’s plenty of speculation that this year’s One True Trade Deadline will spur teams into action a bit sooner than in years past. It’s only logical, as clubs now know they won’t be able to augment their roster in August.
Nary a season goes by where pitching isn’t in extreme demand on the midseason market, and Madison Bumgarner’s impending free agency (paired with the Giants’ generally poor play) has fans of pitching-needy clubs frothing at the mouth as the wonder where the postseason legend will land and what he’ll net the Giants. But Bumgarner isn’t the only near-lock to be traded in the next two calendar months.
The Blue Jays are widely expected to field offers for both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and The Athletic’s Jayson Stark even wrote today that Toronto has “signaled they could be aggressive” in trying to move both. For a team in their position, there’s little reason to hang onto the duo beyond the 2019 season and plenty of reason to explore the market earlier rather than later. The Jays aren’t contending this season, both starters are healthy, and it’s unlikely that an additional month is going to dramatically alter a rival team’s evaluation of the righties.
That’s not to say they’re going to shove the pair out the door, but the Jays are also surely cognizant of the fact that an interested buyer would be willing to part with more for Stroman’s final 17 to 18 starts of the season than they would for his final 10 to 11 starts of the season — the difference between a mid-June swap and a late-July swap. Of particular note in this instance, both Stroman and Sanchez are controlled through 2020.
Stroman, 28, is earning $7.4MM in 2019 — an eminently affordable sum when considering the fact that he’s thrown 69 innings with a 2.74 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and a sizable 57.6 percent ground-ball rate. That grounder rate is in elite territory already, but it’s actually down a bit for Stroman, who has topped 60 percent in each of the four prior seasons. He’s among baseball’s premier ground-ball specialists and, after an injury-wrecked 2018 campaign looks to be back on track — if not better than ever.
Stroman’s 10.4 percent swinging-strike rate is the best of his career, and his 30 percent chase rate on pitches out of the zone is his second-best mark. He’s throwing his slider more often than ever before and doing so quite effectively, which may explain the uptick in whiffs and the slight downgrade in grounders. Stroman has never limited home runs better than he has so far in 2019 (0.65 HR/9), and Statcast pegs his expected weighted on-base average at a career-best .304. No one is going to mistake Stroman for a shutdown ace, but pitchers of his caliber are still difficult to come by midseason — particularly when they’re more than just a rental piece.
As for Sanchez, the 26-year-old may never again match his peak 2016 form and will always come with concerns surrounding the blister and fingernail issues he cannot seem to escape. He exited his last outing with a fingernail issue, in fact, but there’s no indication he’s headed for the injured list. Sanchez is also throwing his breaking ball at a career-high rate and, like Stroman, has enjoyed a career-high swinging-strike rate (plus a career-best 8.4 K/9). Sanchez’s control has been wobbly in the seasons since his 2016 All-Star season (5.0 BB/9 over his past 201 innings), but he’d be more affordable than his teammate both in terms of salary ($3.9MM) and prospect cost.
A team might be able to dream on that ’16 season and hope that some mechanical tweaks can help to improve upon his control, but the aforementioned finger issues will also be considered when determining what to surrender. So far in 2019, Sanchez has a 3.75 ERA in 60 innings, though his control troubles lead fielding-independent metrics to peg him more in the mid-4.00s. He’s not a Stroman-level grounder specialist, but he’s above average in that regard (51.2 percent in 2019; 54.1 percent career).
While both hurlers will generate their share of interest, Stroman should have the broader appeal and bring in a larger return. In fact, while the most frequent pitcher mentioned by fans in our weekly MLBTR chats is without question Bumgarner, it’s arguable that Stroman is even more appealing than the Giants’ lefty when looking at the total package. He’s earning $4.6MM less in 2019, controlled for an additional season and, over the past three years, has thrown more innings with similar results. The two pitchers get those results in different ways — Bumgarner more through punchouts and pristine control; Stroman through extreme grounders and limiting homers — but both are generally quality arms.
This needn’t turn into a debate over who is the better target (though feel free to do so if you wish). The broader point that’s worth underscoring is that the Jays will have a pair of very available arms in the near future — including a pitcher who figures to be among the more desirable targets on the market this summer. For a team that’s building around a nucleus of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and other young players (Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, etc.), having two controllable starters — and a very good closer — ready to sell to the highest bidder puts the organization in position to further add some exciting pieces to that emerging core.